Archive for November, 2008

Grateful To Be Around The Table

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Off to run to the store this morning to pick up a few items I still need in preparing my Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll be an all night cooking marathon here at my house beginning today.  We usually drive down to Atlanta to visit family. But we’re staying put this year and setting our own table.

I must say that I’ve come a long way since the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted almost twenty years ago. It was my first sit down dinner party. I had spent days preparing. When my guests walked into my dining room I mistook their wide-eyed expression for awe at my beautiful blue and white table scape.  I know better now. The table was a stunning blue and white decor. Flowers. Candles. Name cards. And… paper plates, paper napkins, and paper flatware.  I don’t think I was dumb enough to put out paper cups too. But I can’t be sure. I cringe when I remember that first dinner party. Paperware at a formal dinner party seemed like a good idea at the time.

I repeat: I’ve come a long way since that first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted almost twenty years ago.

No more paperware.

Most of all, no more anxiety over things that don’t really matter.

This Thanksgiving I’m just grateful for family, friends, food, good health, and faith in God to see us all through these difficult economic times. With so many people out of jobs this holiday season and leaner times forecasted for the future we should focus on the things that matter most.

God is great and God is good
And we thank Him for our food
By His hand must all be fed
Give us Lord our daily bread

The Martha in me urges me to try my hand this Thanksgiving at making an apple pie complete with a homemade pie crust (thanks to Paula Deen). I’ve put in an order for two cakes to be dropped off here at the house tomorrow, just in case the pie flops. LOL

One thing is for sure: even if the food is horrible my table will be beautiful. I’ve become a sucker for a beautiful table scape.

Hmmm….while I’m out buying more some chicken stock and bay leaves maybe I’ll drop by Pottery Barn for little something extra to go on my table.

Rev. Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell (1917-2008)

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Perhaps you didn’t know nor even notice. But a branch of our tree fell to the ground recently.

Dr. Ella Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell transitioned from time into eternity on Thursday, November 20, 2008, following complications of a stroke back in September. Dr. Ella, as she was called by many of us, was a teacher, preacher, wife, mother and outstanding author. She was hailed by many as the “Dean of Black Women Preachers.” for her multi-volume collection of sermons by black women preachers.

Dr. Ella was the first woman Dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College and also taught at the American Baptist Seminary of the West and the School of Theology at Claremont. Dr. Mitchell was editor of a five volume collection of black women sermons, Those Preaching Women, and with her husband of over 60 years a volume of their sermons Fire in the Well, as well as a joint autobiography of their years together as partners in marriage, ministry, and the movement for justice Together For Good,

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Dr. Ella was the third of four daughters of the late Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Pearson. She completed her secondary school education at the nearby Avery Institute and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama. Dr. Ella graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1943.  The second African-American woman to graduate from Union Seminary, Dr. Ella was licensed into the ministry in 1943 by the Church of the Master in New York City, where she served as Minister of Education for two years. She met and married her husband, Dr. Henry H. Mitchell while they were both students at Union.

In the early 1950s, after taking off six years for childbearing, Ella Mitchell resumed her career as an instructor in religious education at Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now American Baptist Seminary of the West). From there she went on to Fresno State College, where she studied and taught early childhood education. From 1959 to 1973, she served on the Board of Educational Ministries of American Baptists, four years as its president. In the late 1960s, she was instructor of early childhood education at Compton College and at Santa Monica City College.

In 1974 Dr. Ella received the Doctor of Ministry degree from the School of Theology in Claremont, and four years later—after a ministry that spanned 35 years—she was finally ordained at Allen Temple Baptist Church, in Oakland, California.  Dr. Henry and Dr. Ella Mitchell served for many years as co-mentors in the Doctor of Ministry Program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH and were founders of the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies in Los Angeles.

The last time I saw Dr. Ella was back in April in Fort Worth at the Brite Seminary Black Church Conference where she spoke, along with her husband of over 60 years, Dr. Henry Mitchell, about their long term marriage and co-ministry together. Her mind was as sharp as a tack and her recollections about those early years of ministry as a woman and marriage back in the day to an ambitious man were poignant and telling. Before Fort Worth she was in New Orleans holding court from her wheelchair there at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Church Conference revelling in the love and respect heaped on her by friends and admirers for all her years  as a trailblazer for black women in ministry and black women in the academy. Like another wheelchair bound trailblazer and contemporary of hers Dr. Dorothy Height, Dr. Ella refused to let old age and frail health keep her from meetings and events where the young needed reminding that the struggle did not begin with their generation.

Dr. Ella Mitchell was 91 years old at the time of her death and had been married for 64 years to Dr. Henry Mitchell. In addition to her husband, Rev. Dr. Ella P. Mitchell is survived by their two daughters, one son, and six grandchildren. The funeral will be held Tuesday, December 2nd at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA where Dr. Ella and Dr. Henry Mitchell have been members for many years.

Well done. Well done, Dr. Ella. Now rest from your labors.  We will not forget the model you left us nor the lessons you taught us.

Those who knew Dr. Ella and/or her work, feel free to share your memories.

More Talk about God, the Bible, and (Homo)Sexuality

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

We could, I suppose, move on from the “Blame Blacks…Blame Black Homophobia” discussion and post a new topic today. But I’m not ready. And judging from the emails I’ve gotten, others of you aren’t ready just yet either to drop the discussion. This is one of those that we all need to chew on some more, both those who support and those who oppose same sex partnerships.

I want to believe that Something Within fills a void in blogosphere. It’s one of the few blogs  where Christian conservatives and Christian progressives, thinking women on the Right and thinking women on the Left, folks who go to church and folks who wouldn’t step foot in a church if their life depended on it can air their differences–with passion, but without insult and namecalling. I visit a lot of blogs and weigh in on some of them from time to time, but hardly any of them, at least the really smart ones, are blogs by folks who think much of religion. In fact, most of the blogs I visit daily are blogs where pelting Christians, Christianity, and especially the black church scores you lots of points. I try to set a different tone her on this blog.

So, I admit to you: this week is my first time as a black, a woman, and a Christian minister thinking out loud about the issue of gay marriages.  Strange, isn’t it? Life during all those years as an academic in liberal universities convinced me about the rightness/righteousness of standing against homophobia. But I never gave much thought to going so far as to support gay marriages. Until now. Until this week. Your comments these last few days  have forced me to dig deep and think about why not marriage and to find a way to explain to both myself and others why not marriage.

That said, let’s sit with the topic of gay marriages for another day or two.  Let me say that I appreciate the tone and the thoughtfulness of the comments here on the blog. (A few obnoxiously feral comments tried to make their way onto the board, but were deleted.)  I’m happy to see that both opponents and supporters feel free to speak their mind without fear of being slammed.

Here’s another angle on the topic to consider then.

My friend Ruby writes this morning in response to statements by marriage opponents:

Come on everybody. Our history of oppression should tenderize our hearts not harden it? We who know the bitter blows of oppression should be on the frontlines for justice not even because we agree with the issue but because our experience bend us toward what is right!

Perhaps that’s the issue, Ruby. There are many who do not put the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement on par with each other. Why not? Because they don’t see gay rights as a civil rights issue, perhaps? Because they see gay rights as a lifestyle issue and not a human rights issue, perhaps? Because they think homosexuality is a sin or just plain wrong, perhaps? Because they need convincing, as Therese says in her comment, that there’s a difference between same sex loving people demanding the right to marry and, let’s say, a blood brother and sister  demanding the right to marry, perhaps? Where is the line in the sand even for those in the LGBT community? What kind of sex and sexual unions do you oppose? And for Christian conservatives who write complaining that the word  “sin” hasn’t been used much around here when talking about homosexuality, what makes homosexuality a sin? Because the Bible says so? Come on, you and I both know that there are lots of practices the Bible deems reprehensible and unacceptable that modern Christians don’t take to the streets denouncing (e.g., divorce, sex during menstruation, eating pork, shaving your hair if you’re a minister). Why homosexuality?

Now students, you may pick up your pens and start writing…

Blame It On Blacks, Blame It on the Black Church, Blame It On Black Homophobia

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Hold onto your seats. This one took several days to write and is  longer than most of my other blogpiece.  But from time to time when dung is hurled at you you gotta put down your Bible and pull out your shovel. For those of you who read my blog for your classes on  gender, race, and the black church, take note. 

Scapegoating black people seems to be the thing to do these days.

Here’s one for you: Who do you think is responsible for the economic mess the country is in? That’s right. Blacks, along with other low-income/people of color are to blame for the economic meltdown we’re in and for bringing the global economy to a screeching halt.  If black and poor people hadn’t gone out and coerced banks into giving them subprime loans on homes they knew darn well they couldn’t afford, the country wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in. Never mind that the vast majority of subprime loans went to white, middle and upper income borrowers. Never mind that greedy Wall Street Investors were the major purchasers of and investors in subprime loan, and not Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Here’s another for you. Whether Obama won or lost, was the rumor, blacks were going to pour into the streets in a riotous frenzy reminiscent of the riots of the 60s.  Now tell me: did anyone else notice the number non-blacks on election night who took the streets crying, yelling, and dancing a jig when the name of the 44th President of the United States was announced?

And now for the latest racial slander: Black people are to blame for ratifying Proposition 8, the California state ballot proposition that amended the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Never mind that the demographic numbers don’t add up as Daily Kos points out, and that even if blacks had voted overwhelmingly against Proposition 8 other groups in California had already given the ballot the boost it needed to pass.

Admittedly, I don’t live in California so this never reached my ballot. But I have been known to use my moral capital to challenge homophobia in the black community.  But the decision by some to blast black people for Proposition 8 for being homophobic is stupid and morally self-defeating.

Let’s get this out the way now: I am on record for opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians. That said, however, I do not endorse the notion of same-sex marriage.  Civil unions I can endorse with all the rights and privileges thereof, marriage I can not. Marriage, as in matris munium, is between a man and woman. All other pairings are unions. Perhaps I’ll change my mind in the future. Perhaps not. But I’m committed to keeping the lines of communication open and revisiting whatever prejudices and traditions I’ve inherited that need scrutiny and that keep me from being the best friend I can be to gays and lesbians. But I tell you, it’s hard to keep my heart open when the strategy of groups supporting same-sex marriage seems to be to blame the black community for Proposition 8 and to blowtorch the black church for every wrong done against the homosexual community.

wedding bandsListen, the black community has its share of homophobia to attend to, but Proposition 8 passed because gays and lesbians and those who opposed the bill did not do their homework.

Opponents of the bill failed to build coalitions and bridges with communities whose help they needed to defeat the bill. They failed to make black and brown people see what makes gay rights a civil rights issue. They failed to persuade black and brown people that the struggles same sex partners face is similar to the struggles black and brown people face.  They failed to convinced black voters that those in same sex committed unions deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples.  They failed to persuade black voters why they should care about the rights of homosexuals and how the fates of homosexuals and blacks are intertwined and that to help one is to help the other. They failed to  convinced black voters that homosexuality is not a sin. What’s more,  everyone involved failed to show how profoundly counterproductive homophobia within the black community is in light of the grip HIV/AIDS has upon our community.

We tried to do all of that, the LBGT community will probably insist. Try again, I say. Proposition 8 says that you failed. You didn’t get your message across. Try again. You want to convince the world that this is a civil rights issue. Then follow the example of  generations of civil rights workers. Regroup, rebuild, realign, and reframe your moral argument. No, I do not believe that the success or failure of the movement rests solely on the shoulders of the LGBT community. Supporters from within the heterosexual community absolutely must lend their voice to challenging homophobia in the heterosexual community.  One thing is sure, however, you won’t win the voters you say you need by bullying and slandering them.

The black church is the real culprit, some claim.  Conservative black preaching incites black voters into believing that defeating same-sex marriage legislation as their Christian mission.  There’s no denying a sexist, ethnocentric, heteronormative worldview of the ancient biblical world has been passed down to us and that many readers are wont to believe that the world behind the text is the world we’re supposed to get back to. Thank God for prophets, preachers, and informed readers who know that God does not call us to reenshrine the bigotries of the past but to devote ourselves toward working toward a more just future. Hence, while some have seen in Scripture prooftexts for racial slavery and women’s submission, others have seen in the same texts cause for revolt from tyranny and injustice. Here’s what I know from being a black woman, a minister, and an activist in the black church. Trashing black (male) preachers and launching postmodern diatribes against the black church won’t get you very far if your goal is to transform the church and root out deeply held prejudices. Blasting the black church only pisses folks in the church off, both women and men. Believe me, you don’t want to piss off church folks. Like most religions Christianity is quite comfortable with “us” vs. “them” ways of dividing up the world and religious folks are quick to arm themselves with militant piety when they sense their faith is under attack.  Blasting the black church will only get you so far.

Civil rights workers of the 60s faced a similar similar challenge when you consider that many of those hurling epithets at them from across the picket lines and and setting dogs on them before hauling them off to jail were God-fearing white Christians who were convinced that God created blacks inferior to whites. But picketing and targeting white churches and exchanging insults with white racist Christians was not recognized strategy of the movement.  King and others sought out and built coalitions with empathetic white Christians who shared their vision of a beloved community. King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written to white preachers who castigated King for a campaign they considered ill-timed and unnecessary is an example of an activist deft at using moral arguments to fight moral arguments. The black church, despite all its warts, has meant too much for too long to too many black people for any of us to think that mocking and blasting its members is a wise strategy. Be a civil rights movement and figure out how to change hearts as well a laws.

While I’m at it: singing black civil rights protests songs won’t win you any points with black people nor lend moral weight to your fight. Get your own protest songs. Why mock our beliefs but steal our music (which draws from our beliefs)? gender

If for no other reason the toll AIDS/HIV has taken our community demands that the African American church look at how homophobia inspired by the church’s teachings has contributed to AIDS/HIV infection and death rates in our community.  At the same time the LGBT community has its own housecleaning it needs to do. Confronting the racism and white privilege within its ranks is one.  Why are elite white gay men the ones always the spokesmen for the movement. Where are the black LGBT members and what role do they play in the setting the direction of the movement? If Jasmine Connick, a black lesbian writer from California, is to believed “it’s been common practice for the gay community to hire black faces, temporarily, to convince blacks to support gay marriage.”  But that’s just about it. And then there’s the hawkish single issue fanaticism of some within the LGBT community that can be a big turnoff.  The “accept  homosexuality or else” posturing of many LGBT members leaves one with the impression that power not justice is the ambitionof this group and privileging one sort of difference over another is what many are after.

Finally, the question that’s blowing up blogosphere seems to be, are black people homophobic? Not all black people, but, yes, many are. Are black people more homophobic? Than who? Aliens? White people? Brown people? Disabled people? No. Here’s what I think.  The working poor as a group tend to be more socially conservative, which includes being homophobic, than those who are wealthy and well-educated.  For all the reasons sociologists can probably explain.  If black people are more homophobic (and I’m not convinced they are) it’s not because they’re stupid and other people are smart-er.  Perhaps it’s an indictment on us all that despite all the marches and speechifying that’s been done, those who continue to hold out in opposing same sex marriages and same sex unions have not been made to see that (homo)sexuality is not simply about sex and power, but love and commitment. Something even heterosexuals will agree is mysterious, elusive, and constantly in need of renewing. Maybe it’s not that black people are (more homophobic). The movement to change the minds and hearts of people to its position failed to persuade enough people. Try again. That’s what it means to be a movement.