Dedicated to the Black Church

For the Black Church for Black History Month

These words on exhibit at the Art Institute Chicago, that were written in 1953 struck me.

These words reminded me of how the faith and spiritual practices of our parents and grandparents made a way out of “no way” … it reminds me why a worship experience has to be more than just an intellectual quest, but a spirit moving endeavor to people dealing with a world that seeks to constantly dehumanize them, devalue their contributions, and disrupt any progress sought.

praying hands

“The church’s value in this situation is hard to measure., but to thousands of black voices that cry out within its porcelain-bricked walls it’s the “great home in the wilderness”….In about 720 emotional minutes the church must repair the damage inflicted on its congregation during the preceding 156 hours. It must stroke-in enough goodness and patience to endure the coming week. It must quench the hot thirst for dignity and belonging, kill the urge to sin and make up for the pleasures denied.”

_Gordon Parks, unpublished manuscript for Life Magazine 1953

 

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This is for the Grown Women…

roseAfter being on this earth for six decades, I often find myself confused, perplexed, outraged, and worn out. First of all, my utter dumfoundedment , that I, of all people is ….well…a senior citizen. I mean seriously….You know I am just too cool to get old.
But here I am, looking in the mirror at a face and body that looks like it belongs on someone else , and being brought to the painful realization that this is the new me. It really is disconcerting, because I am so much more me now that I ever was. I am wickedly funny, love to party, and still feel oh so sensual.

But I have to acknowledge, I come from a different era. I came of age in a time when we believed we could make a difference in the world….even better, we believed it was jour duty to make a difference in the world. We championed our ethnicity and culture.
Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud”
“I don’t want you to give me nothing, open up the door and I will get it myself”
If you weren’t “part of the solution, you were part of the problem.”
And we loved being in love; AFRO MAN
“My Girl”
“My Guy”
“Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”
“On the Wings of Love”.

We created manifestations of our belief system; Afros, African inspired clothing; even what we named our children (although we didn’t’ know any African language, we would make up name that sounded anti-establishment and connected to the “motherland”). In doing so, making a generational shift when our naming reflected our biblical faith and family lineage.

Like the elders of my youth, I find myself not understanding the clothes, the styles, the intense individualism, the mistrust of tradition, and the anger of the current generation. I hear words coming out of my mouth that brought forth deep agonized sighs form a younger me when I was assoiled with tales of the “good old days” and the glory era of rules southern respect and hospitality.
I, like the elders before me, find myself disconnected from the music, style, and social landscape of the new arrivals into the adult terrain.
I am trying to figure out “What Had Happened?”
When did my girlish figure turn into this woman?
When did heads stop turning when I walked into a room?
When did Black become not so beautiful?
When did our music that uplifted up become our degradation?
When did we stop fighting to be educated- and it all became “about the money?
When did our blackness become a commodity?
When did our lives become worthless in the face of gun violence of an underground militarized underclass…and that culture being so strong that it constantly fuels a negative narrative of our culture?
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!  confused-black woman

I know!! I have become one of those who talk about “back in the day”, when music was music and we were “Young Gifted and Black”, and brothers were still trying to “holla”.

But that is what happens when you have lived and there is probably more life behind you than in front of you.
Don’t get it twisted…this side of my journey has produced some awesome gifts. I have been blessed to know what it like to live one’s life on purpose.
I have been so shaped and nurtured by elegant determined women in my life, that I realized it is my turn (Lord….this is hard to say…)…it is my turn to “Big Mama” someone else. I have also come to realize I can reinvent myself again and again, ‘cause “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over”. I am more open to life’s mystery than every before.
I am stronger in my faith than I have every been…And I am proud to say…I consider myself (as my friend Glenda Gills says) A M.A.K (middle aged kutie). At this wonderful age, I am pleased to announce that I gladly embrace my aging femininity with a fierce affirmation that only maturity can bring.

aarp-membership-cards-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthing Stories

woman in pain

I am hooked on Hulu where I can indulge in this new American past time; binge watching. At first I was riveted by each episode of the  PBS television series “Call the Midwife”. The diverse stories of women helping women, detailing all varieties of birth narratives and the impact emerging new life has on those already planted. Oh, the dramatic complexities of every season and circumstance: the abused wife, the lonely immigrant, the strangely suspicious couple.

I initially found each story compelling and informative….That is until recently.

For some reason..NOW…RIGHT NOW… I find myself watching the obligatory birthing scene, and I am in tears, peaking though my fingers like a “tween” at a horror movie. Now, for some strange reason, I can’t bear to watch this woman on the screen without remembering myself in my difficult birthing moments. I find the scene almost unbearable. Things I had long, long forgotten now are fresh in my mind; the terror of complications, the exhaustion, the melancholy, and the slow healing process.  My youngest child is now 26.  Why now do I find myself watching these women in travail so unbearable to watch?

I think it is because it makes real for me how difficult, how painful, how unpredictable , how painful bringing something new into the world can be; and at this time in my life I am pregnant with so many things.  There are so many ideas that have been fertilized and have been growing in my spirit.

The yearning to make a meaningful contribution; to create something worthwhile and lovable made me a little giddy at first….and the concept-ion was fluid and warm and exciting…BUT NOW…It has been such a long gestation period…YEARS!  I have been pregnant, expecting new life to come through me…and now it is almost time.

And, I realize, this far along in my spiritual pregnancy, like any other pregnancy, I am sooo uncomfortable. My appearance is altered from carrying the extra weight of what is about to be born. It is hard to sleep, stand, or be still  for very long.  The day is fast approaching when I will have to tear myself apart to push new life into my world.

I hope this new being will be healthy and beautiful, but, whatever it is; a move, a book, a project, it will be uniquely mine. And I realize I am not looking forward to the necessary painful  labor that I must experience.   I realize conceiving is the fun part; thinking great thoughts, brainstorming, imagining…then being so pregnant with possibility.

OHHH…but I don’t want to go into that delivery room.  I don’t want the pain.  I don’t want the tears. I don’t want the agony.

I think, that is why I wince, peaking through my fingers watching women giving birth  on that television program.  I realize that is what I too have to endure. I, like the lion in the Wizard of Oz, feel like I need more courage.

Courage to push through.

Courage to know it will be awful, and I will get through it and heal.

Courage to embrace what lies on the other side.

Slowly…I  manage to pull myself off the couch, and to turn off the screen.

While I am a little shaken by my emotional response, my head is  clearer now.

In fact,  I am feeling the urge to “nest”; to make room for what I am expecting- splash some color here and there, have some “retail therapy“, decorate, get the items I need to create a loving space of nurture…and go get a foot massage.

foot massage

 

#6- Have you ever been made Unclean?

 

black skin white maskHave you ever felt the reside of historical oppression on your skin?
And then forced to breathe the toxin in

Have you ever sat in a place where the ground rumbled with our ancestral rhythms?
(and yet as we grooved,
we danced to the beat of our degradation.)

Culture tainted.

Have you ever seen truth perverted by a lie?
Have you even seen the emperor naked
while the world bolstered his delusion?

Have you ever seen people pimp the name of the Lord
and propagate confusion?

Have you ever seen wisdom buried
in sight of vision- gleefully made blind?

Have you ever seen children sacrificed      Angry-Child
on the altar of convenience?

Have you ever seen nature co-opted
by pharmaceutical spin and greed?
Have you ever seen the line obliterated
between what we want and what we need?

We too…Possessed and …Unclean.

Have you ever seen pain and self-hate call itself
“being real”?

microphone

Have you ever seen another,
whose hue and features you shared,
only to be assaulted with words like “btich’, nigga” and “ho”,
and think Black Lives May Matter
but not our feelings, Yo?

Have you ever looked in the mirror and couldn’t see what you reflected,
because all you could see was
how far you were from the
mainstream Eurocentric normative projection?

God’s image and likeness

restrained and infected.

Have you ever seen so many afraid of others,
within the same human race?
perpetuating suffering and killing right in front of our face.

Have you ever seen a country lobotomized
under the guise of protection?
While the major horror lamented
was the powerful and their erections.anger painting

Have you ever seen beauty bleed
while vulgarity was exalted?

Have you wrestled with spirits that invade and negate?
Contaminating our essence with words, deeds, rhetoric of hate.

Have you ever dared to become unpolluted
Dream justice, while the nightmare kept you awake?

Have you ever wanted,
How to wash clean of this madness
for God’s sake!

group baptism
willing to be shaken to our core,
release the filth that inhabits us
no more.

black woman

 

Justice Denied

What is justice? I mean what is your definition of justice?”
That is the question I was asked on on February saturday meeting of clergy on Congregational LIfe. As I sat filled with a quiet WTF dis-ease in one of those workshop breakout discussion groups in a church.I felt myself shutting down. It was sitcom ironic. We were there to discuss ways the church could better serve and connect with this present age, and when I was silly enough to suggest that those who love to profess peace (peace murals, peace marches, peace gardens, etcetera, etcetera….) include justice language and even perhaps a more specific justice cause in those efforts.

Heads spun in my direction with wide eyed ridicule.
“What is your definition of justice?” I felt my blood pressure rise. This is where what I learned on my YouTube meditation class kicked in. Yes! It works!

meditation outline

I was able to breathe in deeply a few times; and not run from the room screaming,and give a coherent response to that inquiry without foaming at the mouth with rage…

It was sooooo hard.

It was hard because I was sitting with other clergy; those who say they are followers of that particular Palestinian Jew, born under oppressive Roman oppression and occupation and led a radical movement. It was infuriating because I was sitting with those who in the course of their ministry I suspect had uttered the words of Micah 6:8 many times:
“The Lord has shown you what is good. He has told you what he requires of you. You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.”

I sat there thinking… were these the ones that embrace the memory of a sanitized Dr. MLK as a mark of their consciousness? You know…embrace the “dream” and not the essence of the struggle or the move of real solidarity… Always at the ready to have a Kumbaya moment…as long as their privilege is not questioned or disturbed.

Maybe I was overreacting. Upon returning home I did a quick online Bible Gateway review. I mean justice is only mentioned in our sacred text around 130 times. Perhaps that is a little obscure for mere seminary trained clergy in a denomination that prides itself in being progressive and standing with those on the margins.

Perhaps these quotes will help:
——————
Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due.

-Domitus Ulpian

Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.

-Theodore Roosevelt

MLK on justice

Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Our focus on the individual is literally killing us. individual 2

This American laser beam focus on personal achievement, personal success, personal heartache, one’s triumph over adversity, and individual madness, and individual evil are the tress keeping us from seeing the forest.

And the forest is the  community of interconnected living beings existing side by side; things wondrous and awe-inspiring, and things powerfully dangerous and violent.

Yes, We have damaged individuals, that threaten the collective. And, Yes, we have wonderful human beings on the planet. But, our individual circumstances are impacted by so many factors beyond us; our cultural narrative, our laws, our systems of  privilege and systems of benign neglect.

Our inability to address the role of community, as part of the larger ecosystem of streams and rivers that water both success and tragedy is not helping to solve or correct anything.
How can you talk about the madness of an individual and not talk about the failure of so many systems that watered that madness?
How can you talk the heroism of individuals protecting students, and not talk about the undermining of public education and the pay scale for teachers?
How can you talk about gun violence and not talk about gun laws?
But, most often we sit riveted by the narrative of individual perspective and stop there, daring not to look at the communal impact and responsibility. Certainly not willing to look at the larger system that benefits and perpetuates it all..and

   ..It is killing us!

blood

My Black History Tribute

civilbackgroundThe Sacrificers
Dedicated to my mother, the remarkable Bobbie Jean Jones

 

This is the story about two generations.
One generation had sacrificed, protested, and strategized for systemic change.
And the others, the beneficiaries, who were born into an atmosphere of access and privilege, only knew strategy, through the beeps and tweets of digital systems.
The world of instant gratification made sacrifice seem a weak and empty notion.
And so, although there was so much that still needed to be changed and challenged; those next in line to move the tribe forward…
-knew of a movement, but didn’t know how to move past mobilization.
-knew of an elixir of hope, but didn’t thirst for renewal.
-knew the isolation of integration, but not the inherent protection that can come from being left alone.

And when the spirit of destruction came again, as it always does…
(for it takes all defeats as momentary set backs that reveal costly secrets of conquest)
That spirit of destruction was able to blow in new directions,
for this time there were few strong anchors to hold them back.
The winds of destruction blew and blew through their homes,
Through their bodies, unsettling their bones
And left a residue of self-loathing on their skin.
The atmosphere reeked of agony and distrust.
Lies stood tall over truth.
And decorum lay fading, mocked and bleeding .

The lessons of the Sacrificers not shared.
The climb they began up the mountain of respect and self-sufficiency;
The journey toward self-love and positive community
Now – On Pause
As the guides passed away
And the vision became blurred
So many dreams again deferred.

The Sacrificers who fought for their humanity
Against the destroyers who once enslaved them and hung them from trees,

Ku-Klux-Klan-1-Getty-Paul-Souders-011517
Now lived long enough to see
The spirit of destruction walk alongside them daily.
Bringing death to homes, blocks, and schools.
Dressed in faces that looked like them,
Killing mothers, fathers, babies.  black-crime

 

 

 

 

 

Modesty was mocked.
Porn was the norm.
You could take in in for free.
Hedonism ruled with a firm hand,
Broken relationships, abused, misused bodies scattered over the land.

And the Sacrificers
Now prey to the generation they hope to liberate
Wondered where they went wrong on the road to set us free.

Some tried to tell the story,
But no one wanted to listen.
So much other stuff to learn and
from the sages of crass commercialism.
And yet,
They still persevered,
Praying for and giving wisdom to those who would
Open themselves to the lessons, the knowledge, and the love
Gained through sacrifice.

praying hands

——–

Let us not forget the sacrifices made on our behalf.