Archive for January, 2009

Hellraising Friday

Friday, January 30th, 2009

If I blogged about every shocking, offensive, unjust, sad, scandalous, sexist, reprehensible, racist, butt-backward thing that comes across my screen I would have to take my laptop with me to the toilet. There’s no end to the dumb things that’re going on in the world. You gotta choose your battles and choose your rants. Otherwise, you won’t have the energy to fight when you must fight. Nor, if you’re always yelling, will you have the credibility you need to command audiences.

That said.

I am going to break my own rule and make a withdrawal from the credibility bank I’ve built up on this blog to complain about an ad which makes me want to tear my flat screen off its stand and hurl it out the window whenever it comes on. (I know. Sports ads target idiots. Plain and simple. I know that. I’m a big basketball fan whose tube stays on the sports channel to catch games and game highlights. I shouldn’t be surprised. Nor should I waste my energy being offended by sports commercials. But I am.)

In this ad called “The Girlfriend,” a buxom young thing with a mysterious accent that is a mishmash of Spanish, Bulgarian and coquettish girl talks about what she wants in a man. “A leetle, um, faht, a leetle, ooh, ‘air on ees back?” She goes on in her underwear to say she likes a man who watches a ton of football, who goes to strip clubs and who does “whatevvvvver ee wants.” She doesn’t care if he doesn’t buy her flowers and she has no problem with him going to the strip club. She truly understands his needs.Voiceover: “The girlfriend. Jim Beam. The bourbon.”  What?

Surprise. The spouse who lives in my house — who is also a minister, I should say– doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. He says with a grin.

I could pray. But I don’t want to. I’d rather cuss. And blog.

Talk about appealing to male fantasy. Talk about the ultimate bimbo. Talk about stereotyping the foreign woman.

To your battle stations, ladies. Bring your bibles and your weapons.  A black man is in the White House. But the war against sexism goes on.

They Don’t Call It “The Old Ship of Zion” For Nothing

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Sorry I haven’t been able to blog much this week. I’ve been swinging from the chandelier, going from one deadline to the next. I’ve had to do something I haven’t done in while. Study. Research. Read what the experts are saying.I have to do a presentation next week on leadership in the 21st century Black Church and decided that it’ll probably be wise not to depend upon anecdotes with this crowd but look at what experts are saying.

Here’s what blogging has taught me, however. Folks like to talk a lot about the Black church, especially its miserable failures. The sexism and heterosexism it espouses. The flawed politics of its preachers. The crazy antics and moral lapses of ministers. The obscene amount of money churches pour into building grand edifices. All of this is true. And I’ve done my share of criticizing. Even though I’m a minister I’ve even let people air their grievances against the church here on the blog and have sat by and allowed a few to leave comments boasting about how evolved they are for not needing church and for not going. Talk about evolved? I’m evolved for permitting this dribble and not bothering to challenge it. But, hey, I’m evolved.

In preparation for the presentation I’m giving next week I thought I’d share some interesting insights and findings by experts on what church means to many others.

America’s 65,000 African American churches are the most valuable institutional assets that exist in low-income minority communities.

Poor people live among poor people. They don’t limited contact with people who are not poor, or with institutions or organizations that serve as bridges into a broader world beyond the poverty they see every day. The church is the one bridging organization found in high poverty neighborhoods that through programming and Sunday worship routinely bring together the poor and not-so-poor, the poor and the middle class, and the poor and the upper-middle class. Outside of the school where they attend, the church is the one place where poor children are likely to see and routinely interact with people who have achieved a modicum of success and who can talk to them about what it takes to escape poverty.

What separates lower-income and higher-income families and individuals is their ability to access services. For many lower-income families the Black church is the first place they turn to for advice and referral on where and how to access the complex world of social services available to them.

Black men who are religiously involved, in this case we’re talking about Christian men, are more likely to be more sensitive husbands, more attentive fathers, and the kind of men who tend to ponder about the ethical and moral implications of certain choices.

Most youth in low income neighborhood have rarely witnessed marriages that have lasted 10, 15, 20 or more years. Long term marriages are unheard of in the families of lots of today’s youth. Where they are most likely to encounter in-tact family life, and see men involved in the lives of their families, is in the Black church.

People can live with the conflict, stress, disappointment, losses, setbacks, and broken promises that come with living in family. What people cannot live without is the hope that things can and will get better, and the hope that there is a way out. What the church offers people is hope, the belief that things can and will get better, and in the case of the Black church skills for improving one’s life.

Strengthening the safety nets around children so that they can have a chance at growing up and becoming productive citizens has long been an important part of the work of the Black church and its members. 

So, maybe you, Reader, are one of those who find yourself fed up at times with the Black church. Perhaps you are even affluent enough to be able to thumb your nose up at the church and choose the Style section of the newspaper on Sunday as your devotional reading.  It must be nice. There are others, however, who lack your (and my) advantages. They need the Black church and need to be in relationship with those like you (and me) who are well off enough that we can spend time reading blogs.

And quiet as it’s kept, you (and I) need those folks. We need to be reminded that the world is larger than us and that attending church is not just about our listening tastes. It’s also about showing up, being accountable, being available to those who need to see evidence that what God has done for you God can and will do the same thing for them.

I Was Wrong: A Repost

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I posted this blogpiece over a year ago and woke up this morning thinking it was time to repost it on the blog. Why? Just because.

As  someone who throws her weight around alot here in the public square battling it out and taking sides on issues of faith, justice, religion, gender, sexuality,  and public policy, it’s good sometimes to pause, reflect, and remember.  Knowing that I have been wrong  in the past doesn’t  makes me keep quiet about what I want to say. But it does make me take an extra moment to consider how I say what I want to say.  

A few weeks back I promised to post more on the topic “And You Call Yourself A Christian.”  Here’s one for the books. /font>

Twenty-five years ago when I was a young zealous seminarian studying to be a minister I slipped an unsigned piece of  paper under a professor’s door that read MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN (roughly translated “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting”). I slipped the Aramaic portent of doom under my professor’s door because I believed the position he’d taken on a particular issue on campus at the time proved that he was unsaved, racist, and evil. I was wrong.

I was wrong for wrenching those words from Daniel 5:25 and using them to repudiate someone I disagreed with.

I was wrong for thinking I knew God well enough to know what plans God had in store for my professor.

Whether my professor was unsaved, racist, and evil, as I believed, or not, I had no business doing what I did. I was wrong for trying to get back at him in that militant sort of way that Christians have for settling scores, namely by hurling random passages from the bible at someone I perceived an enemy.

Worst of all, I was wrong for fanatically believing somehow that I was doing God’s will in slipping that unsigned note under my professor’s door.

Karen Armstrong, a celebrated historian of religion, is someone I turn to when I want to understand why religious people do the things they do. Especially religious fundamentalists. Armstrong focuses on the rise of religious fundamentalist movements in the 20th century in her book, The Battle for God which is a great way for describing what fuels fundamentalism whether it’s Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, or Islamic fundamentalism.

Writing about all three fundamentalist movements, says Armstrong: “They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil.”

I certainly saw myself as in a battle with my professor for the soul of our campus. I was convinced, along with other students who shared my religious beliefs, that the battle we were in with the administration was larger than the parties involved, that it was a battle between the forces of God verses the forces of, well, the “un-God.” It was “us” vs. “them,” and, believe me, it feels intoxicating to believe it’s you and God against the world.

However imperfect the word “fundamentalism” may be for describing such a complex phenomenon, it’s as good as any when it comes to trying to capture a position that sees modernity as a threat to God and that urges a return to some idealized past and set of doctrines steeped in a world that’s long gone.

hands in prayerHere’s what I know for sure as a former fundamentalist.

It’s a short bus ride from fundamentalism to fanaticism.

What I mean is that fundamentalists love reading tea leaves. Tragedy and misfortune are a specialty. In fundamentalism, all adversity is a test. Every disagreement is a battle. Every difference of an opinion has cosmic implications. Which explains why fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were quick to get on the news and proclaim that the collapse of the World Trade Center was God’s judgment for the sins of the secular humanists in the U.S.

Whether it’s flying planes into buildings, gunning down medical personnel who work in abortion clinics, strapping on bombs and detonating them in synagogues and mosques, assassinating heads-of-state and toppling governments, brandishing guns and bats at church meetings, labeling those whom you disagree with theologically as evil or the devil, slipping notes of condemnation under a seminary professor’s door, or dashing off long, rambling emails filled with bible verses masquerading as prophecies (of doom) – fanatics are not only convinced that they know God’s will. Fanatics convince themselves that they are doing God a favor by the cruel, unloving acts they commit “against the enemies of God.”

Thinking back on it now, when I wrote my third book, Listening For God, I was not, as the jacket cover says, writing simply about the waxing and waning of the faith. I was writing about the death for me of a particular kind of faith. I still believed in God. I just no longer believed in the kind of God I once believed in. I still read my bible, I just stopped asking it for answers it was never meant to yield. I still believed myself to be a Christian. I just no longer believed there was only one way to be a Christian. That is a hard realization to awaken to when you’re a young black girl from the Protestant south. Things were no longer either black or white, so to speak. And that was a kind of death for me. I still loved and longed for God, and still do. There’s just no place in my heart for a particular sort of belief anymore.

Instead of demonizing him, I should have made an appointment with my professor and talked to him about our differences. I should have risked hearing him out. I should have tried to find common ground. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to see the world through his eyes. I didn’t want to understand him. Above all, I didn’t want him to see how scared I was of him. I wanted to be in the right, and in order for that to happen, someone had to be wrong.

I’ve been in lots of other ideological scuffles since I slipped that note under my professor’s door. I’ve even lived long enough now to become the professor who walks in to find anonymous slips of paper under her door and anonymous emails filled with God talk in her box. When I’m feeling charitable, I smile and remember. I remember what it feels like to be zealous for God. I also remember what it feels to use God to mask your fears.

What made you change? someone wants to know right now. If only, there were simple answers. What makes anyone change? Life. And being open to mystery. As well as being open to contradictions and being wrong, I suppose.

A few years after I slipped that note with the words MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN under my professor’s door, his wife got sick and died a slow painful death. A short time after that, so did my mother.

What say others of you out there?
Have you ever been wrong about something you once believed about God, faith, religion and others you disagreed with?

Black Man Working

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

If we’re lucky, next week we’ll be talking about something other than the fact that a black man is the President of the United States. Well, maybe not. It’s still all so new. It’ll take some getting used to.

I just couldn’t resist, however, posting here at the end of the week these two photos of our new president in his new office there at the White House.

It’s alright, I think, to still be in awe of it all.

I repeat: I wish my fiercely proud father, who was born in the segregated south in the 30s and who never made it past the 10th grade, had lived to witness this week.

That’s right: there are two black men in the White House. Who’s the other brother in the White House? That’s Reggie Love, President Obama’s 26 year old Personal  Aide, road dog, hoops partner, and the man who shadows the president everywhere he goes.

Have a great weekend everyone!
obama in oval office

obama in oval office 2