Archive for April, 2009

For Children Who Struggle in School

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I ran across this poem in Dr. Marian Wright Edelman’s beautifully illustrated book of poems, I’m Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children and thought of all the children who are not at the top of the class, not reading 3 grades above level, not on the honor roll, not “gifted and exceptional” in the way many of my friends brag about their children and grandchildren. (Buy Wright’s book for a child you know.)

little school boyThis poem/prayer entitled “Fear” is for children who struggle in school, who hate reading books, who struggle to pay attention, who can’t keep their mind on school for all the drama going on at home, who can’t come up with any good explanation for why they always forget to bring home their homework, who don’t test well, who think they’re stupid, who want to do well in school but don’t know how, who don’t know how to talk to teachers, who don’t like what not being able to keep up makes them feel like but don’t have the vocabulary for talking about this  with anyone.

This poem/prayer is for children who struggle in school.

And this poem/prayer is for parents, grandparents, and guardians of children who struggle in school, as well as for teachers who by their demeanor in class have written off these children as uneducable.

O God,

I’m so afraid I’m going to fail in school.

Please help me not to give up.

I can’t concentrate.

My teacher’s losing patience.

Please send me the help I need to succeed.

 

O Lord, help!

I’m going to flunk my test.

I may flunk my grade.

I don’t want to be held back.

I don’t want my friends to think I am dumb.

I don’t want my parent to be angry.

I don’t want to keep falling behind.

I want to do well in shcool but I need help.

Will You help me ask for help now

or send someone who sees my need, Lord?

bored teen

So What You’re A Christian?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Rumors of Christianity’s death in the U.S. are greatly exaggerated. But like most rumors, they are not totally baseless. According to a recent poll by the American Religious Identification Survey, the number of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86-76 percent. Lots have been made in recent years not just about the number of people in this country who are not Christian, but about the rise in the number of people who claim not to be affiliated with any religion as well as those who boast of being atheist. In fact, the numbers for the latter group jumped from 1990 to 2008 fourfold from 1 million to about 3.6 million. Despite these trends, the U.S. still remains a nation decisively shaped by Christian faith. Where there can be no denying is the fact that slowly but inexorably Christianity is losing its privileged place on the cultural landscape. Christianity and its followers can no longer assume everyone is Christian or that everyone shares the core values of Christianity.

So, what are we to make of this? What does all of this mean if you’re Christian? It means a lot. Hopefully, Christians are paying attention and taking note. Probably not. After all, that’s what it means to belong to a privileged group. You’re usually the last to know that you’re a has been. You’re definitely the last to know (admit) what everyone else sees so clearly.

Christians will do well to sit up and pay attention to this latest bit of news.

Our declining numbers on the American landscape will impact the way we do Christianity.

According to recent religious surveys, Americans can no longer assume there is a broadly based consensus about the superiority of Christian values. The New Testament may declare, “there is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved except by the name of Jesus,” but future Christians are going to have to figure out what that statement means to a generation that prefers having a smorgasbord of religious options from which it can choose.

Nor can one assume that just because one speaks of being a Christian or being born again that others will know what that means or even be impressed. We’re going to have to actually act like Christians, as in do what Jesus would do, to get people’s attention and to convince them to consider belonging to our, um, sect. (Some of the most lively discussions on this blog have been about what it means to be a Christian.)

Your GodHeck, you can’t even assume today there’s a consensus that there is even a God. All you have to do is venture out of your little Christian enclave to find that this is already the case. Talk to a stranger. In polite circles, atheism is an intellectually respectable option. Heck, it’s downright sexy and fashionable to be atheist in some other circles.

The upshot of all of this? American culture is gradually withdrawing the privilege, if not the respect, it once gave to Christianity in general, and to the church in particular. Which is no small thing to consider. Why should churches get special tax exampt status? So, you’re Christian minister. So what? That doesn’t give you the right to expect special hospital parking stickers to get you in to visit a dying member. So what you pray before eating? Everyone else at the table will just keep on talking while you mumble under your breath. So you’re a woman in white, with your bible and church hat, standing on the bus corner waiting for the #7 bus to take you to the Baptist church down the street; why should the teens stop cursing and grabbing their crouches just because you’re standing there?

This isn’t all bad, right? Christians will just have to learn what it means to earn the respect of people, right? We can’t assume people will have heard of Jesus or know anything about The Ten Commandments. We’ll just have to go back and learn the core values of our faith and figure out how to communicate them to a public that finds such talk quaint and novel. Back to basics, right? That’s good, right?

Remember the old Smith Barney commercial featuring the elderly actor John Houseman speaking with a blue-blood, Brahmin clip: “We make money the old fashioned way. We earn it”?

That’s what we’re going to have to do as the soon to be Christian minority. Earn converts. Or, better yet, earn our right to co-exist with other religious faiths.

Before the knee-jerk Progressive in me is tempted to hail all that a religiously diverse world is likely to offer, permit me a moment of grieving.

After all, giving up power is not easy.

The thought of Christianity diminishing before me gives me pause. Now I know better as a black woman than to ever claim that America is or has ever been a Christian nation. That’s just not true. But as a woman and an African American, which doesn’t grant you any automatic respect in this society, belonging putatively to the dominant religious group in society has had its advantages. (Grant it, the Jeremiah Wright tableaux reminded us once again that there’s a world of difference between black and white Christianity.) The days are coming to an end, however, when we can claim this, but for at least the next hour it’s probably safe to say that there really is some faint notion in folks’ minds – however warped it may be –of what it means to be Christian. That you love everybody? Well, not that exactly. How about that you feel mandated to try to get along with people you otherwise hate. How about that you feel responsible as a follower of Jesus to improve the world by standing up to unjust people and doing your part to leave the world somewhat  more just and loving than you found it.

That said, can’t say that I relish the day when I wake up to find that I belong to a minority religious sect. Dang, can’t a sister belong to a group that’s in power? Now I’m told that along with my gender and race, even my religion will one day be marginalized. It hasn’t happened yet. But the signs do point to the fact that the day is not that far away.

Ass-umptions

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

When you’ve spent the last two years branding your blog as a blog for thinking women of faith, a blog especially for and about black women in church who rarely get any respect in the marketplace of ideas, a blog where women who preach, teach, worship and wonder about God can think out loud about the comforts and contradictions of the faith, today’s video here on the blog may strike some as odd and out of place.

But when you are also a  middle-aged, silver-hair,  black woman blogger like myself surrounded in blogosphere by bloggers decades younger than you who think anyone over forty-five is irrelevant, then you’ll understand why today’s video touched my heart.

I caught myself crying as I watched Susan Boyles, a frumpy, middle-aged, British woman turn an audience’s assumptions about her into the ignorance that they were. My heart hurt for all the Susan Boyles of the world who don’t look the part for the job and are snickered at for daring to show up for the audition. But my heart also burst with pride for all the Susan Boyles of the world who ignore the assumptions of others and follow their dreams anyway.


Susan Boyle - Singer - Britains Got Talent 2009
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Beware of Tar Baby- A Repost

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

The Uncle Remus story of Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby illustrates how not to behave when baited. The story came to mind this morning when after staring at my computer screen for thirty minutes trying to form my blog topic in my head, praying to God for inspiration, I accepted a request for an interview which I should have at the time refused. I should have followed my first mind, as my Aunt Dora would say, and not taken the call.

Here’s how the story goes: Brer Fox decided one day to set a trap for Brer Rabbit. He made a little doll out of hot tar and turpentine and set it beside the road where he knew Brer Rabbit would pass. Sure enough, along came Brer Rabbit, and he hollered out to the Tar Baby. The Tar Baby, of course, was silent. Irritated that he was being ignored, Brer Rabbit yelled out again to the Tar Baby, who still remained quiet. His dander rising, Brer Rabbit angrily demanded why the Tar Baby just sat there grinning at him. When the Tar Baby still remained silent, Brer Rabbit socked him. Immediately his paw was stuck in the hot, soft tar. Now enraged, Brer Rabbit took a second swing and became even more stuck. In a struggle to get free, he put his hind legs up against the Tar Baby, and of course, he was sure enough stuck now. Brer Fox jumped out gleefully from hiding and claimed his victim.

Putting aside for the moment that there’s more to the Tar Baby story and much that can be debated about its origins, let’s just agree for now that the moral of the story is pretty obvious: when you pass a tar baby in the road, walk on by. Not an easy thing to do.

So, here’s a lesson to learn here in the middle of the week.

In order to manage difficult people and difficult situations, you must learn to manage yourself.

Call it Tar Baby. Saboteurs. Distractions. Call it The Unseen Enemy. Call it whatever you like. Just be sure you recognize it when you see it and try your best not to fall into its trap.

Here’s what happens: a person throws out some enticing tidbit – a comment, a behavior, a style of interacting—in order 1) to make you behave in ways you otherwise would not, or 2) to make you behave in ways you’re known for. Regardless, the point of the bait is to make you react in a manner that throws you off course from what is your true focus.

Tar BabyAt its core, baiting is a power play and is almost always covert in nature.

But don’t be fooled: baiting doesn’t always have to be sinister in motive.

Baiting can be done with the best of intentions, like the woman this morning who introduced herself as a writer wanting to interview me for an article she’s writing on the black church, but who not long into the conversation began sending signals that what she really (or is it also) wanted to know from me “who writes about such things” is whether she should keep or dump her boyfriend. What? Where did that come from?

Ok, so I think I responded gently and with a pastor’s heart. Now I won’t tell you that I answered the woman’s question. But I did manage to hide the fact that I was shocked and a bit put off by the fact that interviewing me for her magazine wasn’t the sole reason for her interview.

But here’s the second lesson of this week.

For about thirty minutes after the conversation I sat in my study fuming, storming, and railing for agreeing to this interview and for letting myself be sideswiped. Eventually I calmed down and went back to staring at the computer. And in the minutes it took me to take the woman’s call and fume at the Universe, I had given away my creative power. I lost the passion and focus I needed to write about what it was I going to write about.

For those of us whose work thrives on creativity and focus, tar babies in the road pose a serious risk to the completion of our work. Granted, it’s not possible always to avoid or perhaps even completely ignore the baits others throw in our direction. But the difference between the woman who succeeds at her work, and those who only dream of succeeding but never fully complete a project, is that the former learns how not to let Tar Baby subvert, wreck, undermine or destroy those rare moments of inspiration which creative work depends upon.

Oh yeah, lesson number three: No matter how much folks slap you on the back and congratulate you on what you did manage to produce despite the distractions. You know in your heart there was a better piece of work in you that got away.