Archive for June, 2009

Feasting on Michael Jackson’s Flesh

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Special thanks to Fal for granting me permission to post her reflections on last night BET Award Show with its special tributes to Michael Jackson. I couldn’t catch the show here in Hawaii, but thanks to Twitter I managed to catch folks’ reactions to the show.

bet awards show 2009I am deeply troubled by the buffoonery of the 2009 Black Entertainment Television Award Show where “blackness” guaranteed BET’s ownership of honoring Michael J. Jackson’s life. Of course, there is an endless laundry list of technical, sexist, homophobic, and simply tone death performances that I could blog about. However, the most compelling issue for me is that we witnessed consumption at “it’s finest” where Jamie Foxx unabashedly highlighted his many upcoming projects and the beauty of his voice, where every five seconds large digital placards of sponsorship appeared before our eyes beseeching us to buy their wares, where Joe Jackson plugs the revival of his singing career, where the infamous golden arches tell our children that they should dream of working at McDonald’s when they “become big kids,” and where we the viewing public further the cannibalization process of Michael Jackson by not turning our televisions off in righteous indignation because consciously or unconsciously we enjoy the thrill of consuming flesh . . . the gossip, the speculations, the betrayals, the “sins,” and yes “if it bleeds then it leads” or in the case of the BET Award Show if it stereotypes black people then it sales.

This only shows that we do not know how to honor our dead. We only know how to consume them and extract the last bit of value from their dead flesh. With Michael Jackson’s death, future record deals will be made from sampling his catalogue, cottage t-shirts industries on each street corner beckoning people to remember Michael through purchasing a t-shirt, increased Itunes downloads of Michael Jackson’s work, juicy gossip to make the workday bearable, legal rangles on CNN about the authenticity of Michael Jackson’s will, biased scholarly debates on Michael’s masculinity, psychological fragility, and his love of children. Of course, I too am guilty of participating in feasting upon his flesh, after hearing the official announcement that he was dead, I raced to Itunes and bought one of his greatest hits albums so that I could remember and honor him.

But does buying an album and then privately consuming the purchase constitute honoring the dead?

Of course, all of this is not to say that consumption in of itself is bad because we need to consume various things to live, however, when consumption becomes the end in of itself and when it is not intimately connected to the idea of mutual replenishment than it becomes capitalism where I take more from you and there is no guarantee that I will give you anything in return unless it too benefits me.

bet awards show

Did anyone else notice that not one of Michael Jackson’s songs that deal with accountability (i.e. the Man in the Mirror), building a peaceful global community (i.e. We Are the World and Heal the World), environmental justice (i.e. Earth Song), critique of globalization/policing (i.e. They Don’t Care About Us), ending global racism (i.e. Black or White) justice and safety of children (i.e. Little Susie/Pie Jesu and Childhood), and the need to be connected to each other (i.e. Will You Be There and Stranger in Moscow) showed up on last night’s BET Awards show? Why not? Because these songs are Jackson’s kryptonite critiques on consumption behaviors.  And BET decided that that’s not what interests his fans, especially his young fans like those of us who are 20something like myself.  But I disagree. Yeah, there was Ciara’s song Heal the World, but my ears don’t allow me to count her rendition. (But that’s another story.)

Hey, I am not saying that Jackson’s pop and romantic tunes should not be celebrated because they should. But something is wrong when not one ballad about healing, community, connectedness, and environmental responsibility was featured in any public or pronounced manner.  That omission says something about where we are as a society. Certainly reminds us that the Black Entertainment Television channel  cares more about black consumption than black legacy.

Someone special told me recently that the way you honor your parents or mentors is not by submitting to their authority or legacy, but by choosing to live your life seeking your purpose so that if your parents or mentors had to choose to live their life over they would choose to live your life because your purpose is enriching the world.

Here’s how musical legend Michael Jackson would have been remembered last night if I were producer of the BET Award Show.  I would have ended the show featuring global cultural workers who enrich the world followed by a musical medley of Man in the Mirror, Heal the World, Will You Be There, and Earth Song set against the video depictions of current political events—political protests in Iran, rape in the Congo, foreclosed houses in the US, fighting in Israel, and Hurricane Katrina—and environmental concerns—erosion of beaches, global warming, pandemics and epidemics of all kinds. All of which was to remind the audience that Michael Jackson cared deeply about people and the current state of the world. Thus, we honor him not only by remembering his soulful music—Billie Jean, Thriller, and so forth—but by choosing to live our lives dedicated to the service of humanity, a life that if Michael Jackson had to live his life over he would choose our interpretation of his best vision. That’s what I think should have been done last night. Or something like that. Anything but how BET and last night’s performers chose to remember Michael last night.

I guess it gets down to this: Can we expect people who live in a consumeristic culture to know how to honor the dead when they don’t even know how to honor the living –without consuming them alive?

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Had to come back on to note the passing of a pop icon from my past.

Part of my routine here in Hawaii has been losing myself in the music on my ipod. Two songs that get me over the hump 20 minutes into my routine there on the elliptical machine continue to be Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” and “Billye Jean.”  Followed by tunes by the Temptations “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.”

White kids had the Beatles back in the day. But we black kids swooned and screamed and mimicked the dances moves  of “The Jackson Five.” And then there was the monstrous album hit “Thriller” in 1982 which sealed his fate as a pop superstar.

Talented. Gifted. Charismatic. Soft. Gentle. Traumatized. Controversial. Bizarre. Pathetic.

An era in pop music is over. A piece of my past is gone.

jackson the singer

Rest in Peace Michael Jackson. May the best of you continue to live on in creativity, music, and dance.

Rest is A Radical Notion

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

onvacation

If making sure there’s spotty Internet service in my room here in Hawaii is God’s way of seeing to it that I rest from my labors, I am not impressed.

But how do I explain the fact that for the five days I’ve been here on the Big Island in a room overlooking mountains and beach, five time zones away from my normal routine, I haven’t been able to compose one intelligent paragraph? Evidently I write better when I’m pissed. Or feel passionate. Neither of which I feel here in Hawaii. Everything’s surreal to me here. I feel awful about what’s going on in Iran. I was sad to hear about the train derailing in DC.  And I had meant to write here on the blog about fatherhood and masculinity for Father’s Day.

Nothing.

But still I can’t say that I’ve entered that place of sabbath rest our biblical ancestors had in mind in (Gen. 2:4): “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it and abstained from all the work which God created to make.”

It’s taken me me three days to stop checking my email. Four days to stop checking my cell for texts. This morning a co-worker wrote asking for some information I promised to send while on vacation. The information he needs is sitting there on my desktop computer. Another one of God’s jokes, I suppose.

I’m lying around not doing much here in Hawaii, but it’s not like I’m resting. More like just not doing anything productive. Which, believe me, is not the same as resting. I go to the fitness center and work out every day which is no fun. Definitely not resting. More like “working” out.

The beach where we’re staying is beautiful — and baby I do mean beautiful– but, unlike the the many pale faces here with us at the resort,  laying out in the sun has never been my cup of tea. There’s a luau tonight which the young ones will enjoy, and snorkeling later in the week which my baby’s daddy looks forward to. But me? Nothing. It would help if I liked the book I’m reading (recommended by a reader). But I don’t. Heading back to Borders when I finish this post.

Resting is work, that’s for sure. It’s taken me five days to unwound from my normal routine. In this age of 24 hour Internet and 24 hour cable news and constantly charged cell phones, where the lines between work and home have become blurred, where it’s possible to always be on, available and accessible, it takes some time to shut off. Unplug. Chill.

I like 12th century Nachmanides interpretation of the Genesis 2:4 verse better which says:  “God ceased to perform all His creative work.”

But God I’m a blogger. Readers forget you if they click on and see that you haven’t written anything fresh in three days!

The notion of resting from one’s labor was a radical idea when it originated centuries ago. (So was the idea of tithing, mind you, but that’s another post.)  Demanding sabbath rest was the slaves’ way of saying to the Empire, to slavemasters, to landowners, to supervisors, “enough is enough.”  Slaves are not machines.  Even the poor deserve time to themselves, with their families, to breathe in God.

Rest is a radical notion because it says, “the world has already been created. There’s really nothing more that can be added. Everything else is tinkering.” Sit down, be still, and observe God’s creation.

Rest is a radical notion because it says to all,  employers and family alike, “you are not the boss of me.” While I have obligations to you I don’t belong to you. I belong to myself and to my Creator.

Here’s something to consider. The Hebrew word for rested, vyenafesh, can sometimes mean rest, ensouled, breath, to catch one’s breath, sweet fragrance, passion, and inner being. A living being is the more popular translation. Each of us has a nefesh — a soul. Meaning, we are not machines.  Rest is taking the time out to gather the bits and pieces of our self that we’ve given away to others– whether for money or out of  love– and to put our self/our soul back together.

I leave you for now with a story found in a book about renewal.

In the deep jungles of Africa, a traveler was making a long trek. Laborers were engaged from a tribe to carry the loads. The first day of the trip the tribesmen marched rapidly and went far. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But the second morning these jungle tribesmen refused to move. For some strange reason they just sat and rested. On inquiry as to the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

First Black Female Rabbi

Friday, June 19th, 2009

alysa stanton first black female rabbiA blog for thinking women of faith must stop and congratulate  Alysa Stanton on becoming the first black female rabbi.

I remember all that I endured as a doctorate student in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the 80s there at Princeton - the sneers, the condescension, the sexist comments, the racist gestures. I can only imagine what Rabbi Stanton experienced in her journey to become the first black woman to earn her rabinnical license from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

Did I mention that some of my most painful memories as a doctorate student and as a young Old Testament scholar were the reactions of Jewish colleagues to my being a black woman in Old Testament. Even now I still get the question, “So, you really can read Hebrew?”

Hey, but this post isn’t about me. It’s about Rabbi Alysa Stanton, America’s first black, female rabbi who starts on August 1st as the rabbi for Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C.

I had to smile when I read what sisterblogger Prof. Tracey wrote when after congratulating the rabbi on her achievements, she ended with “I respect the hard work for the achievement, but I still can’t help thinking….why?”.

“Ten years ago, if someone said I was going to be a rabbi, I would have laughed,” Stanton, 45, told ABCnews.com. “Me, a spiritual leader?” Like myself the rabbi is a former Pentecostal. Hmmm…I wonder… Oh well, you can read more about Rabbi Stanton’s spiritual journey here.

Rabbi Stanton is the first black female rabbi in this country. And for that she deserves our heartfelt congratulations, our deepest admiration, and our sincerest prayers.