Archive for July, 2009

Taking Time to Listen

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Sometimes you just gotta know when it’s time to stop, kick back, and let others knock themselves out trying keep up with all the deadlines and obligations.

The time has come for me to face the reality that I can’t keep up this frantic pace that I’ve been living. Blogging is going to have to take a backseat in my life.

chilling out

I can’t continue travelling and speaking, while maintaining a blog, helping out with pastoral duties at my local church, working part time as an academic consultant, desperately hoping for time to write books and articles, squeezing in time for my new passion (quilting), all while being a mommy and wife to two wonderful, but demanding people who despite my protests never fail to ask “Is there anything at home to eat?” Some days it’s easier than others trying to do it all. Many days juggling is a nightmare. Yet I’m thankful to God for the problem that I have. I’m glad to have work to choose from.  All of it work I absolutely love.

But it’s time to make the difficult decision to step back from blogging. I won’t be blogging  here on Something Within as often as I have in the past. In my more insane moments I’ve tried bang out 3 blogposts a week. In my less insane moments it’s been 2 blogposts a week. From now on I’ll be blogging when something comes up that begs for Renita’s spiritually offbeat two cents. Instead of following  CNN’s newswire, I’ll be following my spirit.

I started this blog over over two years ago in the wake of Don Imus’ racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers University Women’s basketball team. As black woman and a HUGE fan of women’s basketball and as someone who had followed Vivian Stringer’s 2007 team to the finals that year, I needed a platform to air my outrage not only at the racism and sexism embedded in Imus’ remarks. I needed a platform to call black women out for seeming to be more upset about being labeled “nappy headed” than being called “hoes.”  I needed a platform other than the pulpit for examining the various intersections and collisions that take place between race, gender, sexuality, politics, class and religion in popular culture.  I’d maintained a website for years, but I needed something more interactive once I felt the urge as a clergy woman and bible scholar to weigh in on popular culture.  “Try blogging,” my 20something year old devotees urged. And I did. I took to blogging like I do everything I set out to learn: with passion. (Hey, I’m a passionate woman. What can I say?)  Interactions with commenters, readers, lurkers, and other bloggers spurred my writings, energized my thoughts, and frequently inflamed my passions. Just as I said in a previous post:

You don’t grow by talking to people who think like you do. You grow as a thinker, and even in your beliefs,  by talking to people who make you want to scream and make you want to throw something at the [computer] when you [read what they have to say]. They teach you how to calm down long enough to think. Think about what you want to say, how best to say what needs to be said, and why you feel you must speak up.

You can sit there and stew and tell yourself that it’s a waste of time to enter the fray. Or, you can leap in and join the town hall meeting, public discourse, the rough-and-tumble world of shaping public opinion.

(See what I mean? You know it’s time to throw in the towel when you start quoting yourself in your blogs. LOL.)

To tell you the truth, I miss writing books. Fortunately, there’s lots here on the blog that can be turned into a book. If I had the time. When I look back over some of the posts I’m downright proud of what I find. “Girl, you wrote your butt off on that one,” I smile and say to myself.  “As for this one over here, you were obviously in a hurry.” If only I had the time to convert this or that post into a book or chapter, I’ve bemoaned over the last couple of months. The time has come for me to do just that.

I invite readers to thumb through the index and (re)read up on what’s here. Drop me a line letting me know which are your favorites and which you’d like to see turned into a book. Maybe I’ll do just that. Don’t overlook the comments. There were plenty of times when I really didn’t speak my mind in full  until I was pushed by something that was said by one of you in a comment. Thanks to all my devoted readers, and special thanks to those of you who took the time to stir the pot by leaving a comment.

Listen: I’m not shutting down the blog. I’m just stepping back from blogging on a regular basis. And while I’m at it I’m releasing myself from feeling pressured to live up to my readers’ expectations that I weigh in on every racist, sexist, dumb, unjust, painful, shameful, idiotic, and wrongheaded thing going on in society, whether it has anything to do with religion and church or not. I will continue to blog when I have something to say and have the time to compose my thoughts. I’ve invited a few friends and colleagues to come over and be guest bloggers from time to time here on Something Within. Some have even agreed. (Wink. Wink. There’ll be a guest blog this coming Monday.) If you’re a writer, and if you’re a long time fan of Something Within and are familiar with the tone and topics covered here, and you want to try your hand at writing a guest column on the blog, let me know soon.

So continue dropping by the blog. Better yet, subscribe to this blog’s news feed so you can know instantly when the blog is updated and when I’ve come back on to insert my two cents on a topic everyone is talking about.

In the meantime, that’s me in the photo above. Chilling. Praying. Kicking it. Observing. Reprioritizing. Letting the young ‘uns run around in a panic and pissivity about something someone said or did. Me? I’ll be doing more listening than talking.

Listening for God, in fact.

“If You Knew” says Nina

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I could write about Nina Simone all day long and never get tired. I could write about Nina, and other women like her, Dinah, Billie, Sarah, Carmen, Betty, Abbey and risk losing most of my sanctified readers. Yes, I love Mahalia. But when I was looking around for role models in those early years as a woman in ministry I looked to women like Nina and Dinah as my role models. I preferred stories about women who were not saints. As I said in a previous post about women singers:

Reading stories of women living out of their suitcases night after night, singing under sometimes impossible circumstances, expected by their audiences to bring down the house every time they sang despite whatever was going on in their personal lives, the sexism they faced in the music industry, the betrayal of managers and record companies who cheated them, living with the label of being “difficult” women when they spoke up and spoke out, the multiple marriages they had but never really finding true love, the solace many of them found in the after-hour meals with their band, all of this sounds familiar to me.

After living out of my suitcase for the last couple of weeks speaking here and there, trying to remember my lines and hoping, with God’s help, to live up to my part of the bargain and give audiences what they came looking for and needed desperately to hear, I stumbled on this video this morning of Nina sitting at the piano in a dark supper club under a lone light singing, sweating, and giving her audience what they came for without giving them more of herself than she could afford to spare. What I admire most about Nina is that she learned how to use her aura to her advantage. Her striking black African looks, her unconventional physicality, which were supposed to be her undoing, became  her greatest assets. She made her audiences look at her, really look at a woman who looked like her, something they weren’t accustomed to doing without turning away, and notice the beauty. I like when women performers who don’t look like what women performers are supposed to look come out and make liars and bigots and idiots of their audiences– with talent that leaves audiences crying for more.  Isn’t that what made the Susan Boyle video a Youtube hit?

I’m a sweat-er too. Always have been. Even before “the change”. LOL. So when Nina pauses in the middle of singing “If You Knew” to wipe her forehead with her hands–and looks around the set with an expression that says “why the freak doesn’t someone bring me a towel?” and continues on with the song as though the gesture and expression were part of the song — I smile knowingly. “Pay attention,” Nina says in the video.  There’s something to be learned for you who aspire to be public speakers, orators, poets, preachers, teachers who stand everyday before a class full of students. A lesson in confidence, experience, and self-possession. Sweat and keep singing. Make the sweat work for you. Sing so that they remember the song and appreciate all the passion you put into delivering it.

Open Thread: Black in America Part 2

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

The comments section  is open today for reactions to and impressions of last night’s CNN Black in American Part 2. Whatcha’ think?

By the way, did anyone catch President Obama’s speech last night where he went on the offensive against those trying to sink his health care reform initiative by fanning people’s fears about the ginormous costs associated with reforming health care? How did the president do in addressing those fears?

And what about that last question the president took from a reporter which was not about health care at all but about his thoughts on the recent tale of racial profiling that took place in Cambridge, MA where police arrested noted black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. there in his well-to-do home for what they thought was a break-in but wasn’t? The president really went out on a limb calling out the Cambridge police as “acting stupidly”, don’tcha think? Blogosphere is ablaze this morning with folks having all sorts of things to say about the president weighing in on such a volatile incident.

Oh well.

In the meantime, thought I’d post this  “Poem for 21st Century Children” which I came across recently in Marion Wright Edelman’s The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is so Small.

God, help us to not raise a new generation of children
With high intellectual quotients and low caring and compassion quotients;

With sharp competitive edges but dull cooperative instincts,
With highly developed coomputer skills but poorly developed consciences;
With a gigantic commitment to the big “I” but little sense of responsibility to the bigger “we”

With mounds of disconnected and unsyntesized information without a moral context to determine its worth;

With more and more knowledge and less and less imagination and appreciation for the magic of life than cannot be quantified or computerized;

With more and more worldliness and less and less wonder and awe for the sacred and everyday miracles of life.

God, help us to raise children who care.

Come to think about it, exactly how does one go about raising a compassionate, caring child?

learning in school

Now and Then…

Monday, July 20th, 2009

I reconnected with someone very special from my past this weekend. The experience has me still reeling here on Monday morning. And since I was too weepy yesterday in the pulpit to explain to the church who she was to me, I guess I should say here what I tried and failed miserably to say on yesterday.

First, it pains me to admit that I couldn’t place her face when she first walked up to me on Saturday after the Prayer Breakfast. You know what I mean. Someone comes up, and you know the face, or supposed to know, but you can’t remember the name. Your mind races through the files on your hard drive.  The quick search turns up empty. You sense that she was once someone very important in your life, but you can’t seem to locate the file yet with all the information on it. Something about her face told me that I once loved her dearly. The feelings came trickling back before the actual memories did.  And then it slowly dawned on me. Mrs. Vivian Thomas.  The secretary at my old high school. But Vivian Thomas wasn’t just any secretary. Mrs. Vivian Thomas  had been my guardian angel, my confidante, my friend, my play mother during some of the stormiest days of my teenage years.

In my homeroom class I was the designated person to turn in attendance sheets and lunch money to the principal’s office there where Mrs. Vivian Thomas worked.  I took the job because I always looked forward to my talks with Mrs. Thomas as she stood there across the counter with her short brown frame, her warm eyes and gentle smile, and the lovely mole between her lip and nose. I was a mother-hungry girl and knew how to wiggle my way into other mothers’ hearts, even though I never succeeded with my own. Mrs. Thomas had children of her own, but that didn’t keep her from nurturing other young people who came through the principal’s doors.

I know now that Mrs. Thomas looked forward to my morning visits as much as I did. I was a ham, a brooder, a wall flower, a girl with a quick wit who loved the attention she showered on me. Every morning I came in she’d asked me how I was doing, and our conversations about home, boys, school, and life would start from there. Mrs. Thomas knew when I was happy and she knew when I was brooding over something that left me short and snappy.  And she knew how to tease me out of my moods,  love me into submission, and scold me into behaving like I ought. Did I mention that I was something of a terror to my teachers when I was in my early teens? Don’t ask. It’s a long story. I’m just grateful I got through those years.  Fortunately there were three or four colored school teachers who in the course of my childhood  impacted my life by noticing that there was more to my brooding personality than met the eye and found a way to give me the attention and direction I sorely needed back then. I’m convinced that my life would have turned out completely different had it not been for these colored school teachers from my childhood…and Mrs. Vivian Thomas, the high school secretary.

“Renita, get in here and calm yourself down.”
“Renita, what’s this I hear about you acting up in class?”
“Renita, don’t let that boy I’ve been seeing you with talk you into doing something that ruins your life.”
“Renita, you going to college and you’re going to make something out of your life. You hear me?”
“Renita, you’re going to make it baby.”

Mrs. Vivian Thomas is in her 70s now. It was my time on yesterday to beam when she was introduced as a deacon (not deaconess) at her church. She’s also a cancer survivor, thank God. But since time will not be denied what’s due it, Mrs. Thomas walks slightly stooped over and slower than she did decades ago. But her eyes, those twinkling eyes, they are still the same.  And that smile, the one with the power when I stepped in the principal’s office to melt my heart and reassure me things would be alright, it’s still there too.

Mrs. Thomas went home and composed a letter to me Saturday night after seeing me at the breakfast and had someone hand it to me before I went into the pulpit on Sunday. In it she reminded me, encouraged me, and let me know how proud she is of the woman I’ve become. She was also thankful to God that she’d lived long enough to see her prophecy come true.


And so there we were on yesterday. Me, the preacher, standing in the pulpit sniffling and choking up, trying to find the words to thank a woman God decades ago sent into my life to save me from myself.  And there she sat on the front pew Deacon Vivian Thomas weeping and wiping her nose and shaking her head in wonder and gratitude to God.

Here and there, now and then, God allows us glances back at our past and glimpses into the future, permitting us to see a larger view of what God has in store, and has had in store, from the beginning…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)