31 December 2011

2011 Plans : Plans 2012

Tonight is hard for me, but most of this year has not been.  However challenging the challenges. However disappointed my expectations. However betrayed my trust, there were more moments of my being fully present with myself with joy and delight to lament tonight’s reality as if the whole of the year was so terribly miserable.

Tonight is hard for me because the plans I made and the dreams I shared were found to be insufficient for another.  Clear that my dreams and plans were not inherently insufficient, their not being  found sufficient for another does not diminish them or me as good, viable, profitable, pure, just, equitable, desirable, doable, hopeful and gracefilled. That my plans have changed gives room for perfected plans for my life.  

Tonight is hard for me because change happened swiftly and unexpectedly.  Tonight is less hard for me because this year with me was wonderful and I find myself looking back and laughing, looking forward and holding on this truth that has never failed me: 
"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

So, honestly, tonight is hard for me, but not impossible or hopeless.  And, tonight is less hard for me because the whole of 2011 included many beautiful places that now serve as balm; and because I know the plans I see are myopic on the landscape of the plans God beholds for me in 2012!

Advent: Christmas Eve Knock on the Door

Perhaps for days, but certainly for hours prior to Mary delivering her son, Joseph knocked on door after door looking for a decent place for her to lay and deliver in comfort.  Inn after inn, door after door, his knocks proved futile -- there was no room unsold, reassigned, shareable, or available. Not even for a pregnant woman, clearly in labor.  Not even for the Messiah, not so easily recognizable. Oh Lord, they didnt know who YOU were! 
Luke 2: 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
When I hear this story and reflect on my pre-arranged delivery of my son in the state of the art birthing unit of a pretigious Southern California hospital,  I am humbled by a plethora of memories of gracious family, friends and strangers who buzzed around and busied themselves to make me comfortable and my delivery easy.  It is this same memory through which I bemoan, O Lord, they didnt know who You were!

God was knocking at their door! Okay, in defense of the Messiah’s arrival not being what they expected -- all military mighty instead of a mother’s moaning -- I could see why they lacked urgency to accommodate. Just Kidding.  Whether bearing the King of Kings or not, I am aggreieved that some inn keeper didn't give up their bed for a baby; or cancel a reservation of another paying customer to show kindness to a stranger -- in labor at that! Oh Lord, they didnt know who You were!

God was knocking at their door!  God is knocking at our door.  Appearing as a commoner, a woman without medical insurance, a man with unkept beard, smelly and groaning, in need of creature comforts of kindness, exhausted from obeying the laws of the land that are neither just or equitable, and pregnant with possibilites.  I am thinking, if with every knock on the door of our lives we open up expecting God in some form, even when not fancy, what grace might we experience?  God comes to our address, this Advent again; daily with the dawn; and anew with each encounter we have with one another.  

Looking forward to the Christ of the Morning and Advent of 2012, listen for God-knocks and welcome God in -- the time comes that the Christ is delivered!

18 December 2011

Advent Angel

I have angels perched about my home -- even when it is not Advent.  The coal black metal one from South America stands guard at the hearth screen, hands extended holding the place for a candle.  The abalone shell one with gold filigree wings, halo and robe embellishments from the Phillippines finds her way into my sitting spaces, keeping watch over my prayers for peace.  I have families of angels, often coming to me in triplets, who rotate through my home and office decorations through the years.  But, at Advent, I become more intimately aware of their presence in the supernatural.  I strain to hear their coming, I long to see their appearing, I am on edge ever looking up, around and over my shoulder for an Angel’s appearing.  There just seems to be so many more visiting the Earth in this season!  

Luke 1:28 And the angel (Gabriel) came in unto her, and said,
    Hail, thou that art highly favoured,
    the Lord is with thee:
    blessed art thou among women.

Seeing angelic figurines in my daily and admiring the majestic angel forms in worship spaces (and some public, not intended to be holy spaces also, like the mall) remind me that God’s message to Mary is mine!  Whether unexpected visitation or purposeful listening, Angels around reassures me in my lowliness that I am favored and blessed; that I am fine how I am and perfect for the divine to enter in; that a regular old me is God-worthy and righteous; that I am hand-made and hand-picked to bear Good News and Glad Tidings!

This Sunday is celebrated by lighting the Angel’s candle in the Advent wreath.  Listen... hear with me, the Angels’ wings!  Christ comes... and will come again!

12 December 2011

Advent: The Shepherd's Story

I like the shepherd’s story during advent because God visited the margins to deliver the message of salvation. Don’t miss this -- shepherds were among the lowest of class, did the dirty work of the wealthy, were the weather-beaten workmen (and a few women like the Shunnamite).  Not exactly the shaved and perfumed people of the palace and temple who ordinarily received royalty.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. /Luke 2:15-20 (NIV)

God visits the fringes -- that place where I find my social, economic, gender, orientation, education, class, race and ability! God visits the fringes and tells us about a baby, a Savior and King.  God visits us in the dark, far off, smelly, unkempt, busy, exhausted, and impoverished places of our lives. God visits the oft ignored, over-looked, taken for granted, snubbed and invisible among us.  God visits us!

God visits the fringes and commissions us there to preach this good news which is called The Gospel.  And the shepherds did just that -- told God’s Good News to every ear that would listen. I don’t imagine the shepherd’s telling of the Gospel would be a polished, perfected elevator speech; but rather, I imagine their exuberance, in field lingo instead of the king’s english, telling of the wonder of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! I imagine some calloused-hand high-fives raised with their hallelujahs! I imagine joy choked out with tears! I imagine the youngest ones telling with great animation and the elder ones telling with grateful adoration -- God visited them! And, they ran and told that!

I love the shepherd’s story!!! God visits me where I am, commissions me anew to preach the Gospel, and I just cant help but break out in praise!

05 December 2011

Advent Eucharist

Yesterday was Second Sunday in Advent and also the twelfth First Sunday Eucharist of 2011.  

While in worship I wondered (as in mindfully meandering) at the uniquely awesome faith experience we share in the contemporary Church.  As inheritors of the creation of the story, pilgrims in the story’s chronos, and having our hope in the Christ’s coming again, I marveled at the privilege to live in faith at the intersection of God of us, God with us, and God for us, eternally.

Perfect church.  That is the feeling I had as we sang, “Mary Did You Know?” just before taking the body-bread as the organist played “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in This Place.” Perfect church.  No rush to play with Baby Jesus; no looking away from the Crucified One. I longed to know exactly what Mary, Mother of Jesus, really knew when it is written:  Luke 2:19: "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart."  As we sang :

Mary, did you knowthat your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?Mary, did you knowthat your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?Did you knowthat your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I Am.

Sitting in perfect church I was humbled with awe of the privilege to enter past the crèche (with a brown bodied and African-featured Baby Jesus) only to sup in remembrance of the broken-bodied Crucified One.  Both fully present. Privileged to learn about them in Sunday School, Bible Study, Seminary and sermons for the past half-century of my life.  Most privileged to learn about them in hospitality received today and extended with every opportunity.  

Hospitality, I conclude, is Christmas glory that makes the Eucharist make perfect sense in Advent.

27 November 2011

Advent Candle 1 : Hope

At sundown today, I lit the first candle I will light during Advent. A ritual usually done calling no attention to the holy occasion or personal reason, I am inwardly excited about my love for this season -- second only to Lent (of which I will then say -- second only to Advent).  

Important to me is to set candlelight in purple hurricanes and votives, atop purple candlesticks and bejeweled plates, and throughout the house.  Each ritual lighting is renewal of my hope that is in Jesus (the Christ).  
  • I hope for PEACE on Earth: praying it begins within me and is contagious to my closet kin, my son, to the stranger with possibility of becoming a friend.
  • I hope for JOY to the World:  those moments where chaos pauses, amazed at a newborn baby’s cry or dirty-faced toddlers “hi.”
  • I hope for LOVEfor humankind (and our service animals and companions):  the kind of love that is radically inclusive, creatively accommodating, and courageously active!
There is just about an hour’s burn-life in this first candle. Still, I remain giddy with expectation for the morrow, for the next four weeks, of waiting, hoping, longing for the Hope that is in Jesus (the Christ) to be born anew while we wait His coming again.

24 September 2011

Yesterday Was the First Day of Fall...

... and I missed enjoying it because I was not where I wanted to be.  This morning I woke trusting God that I am where I am supposed to be. Being predestinarian is both a bane and a blessing, as I meditate on this Word day and night:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in Your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

(Psalm 139:16)

Yesterday was the first day of Fall and I was where I was to be, long before the foundation of the world was laid! That's my story and I am sticking to it!

Praise break!

Blood Pressure: It's a Mystery to Me

I was recently hospitalized overnight for observation having sustained a very ungrace-filled slip and fall. Head to pavement a Swan Song does not make.

When I got to the hospital my blood pressure was 155/92.  Figured that was pretty high considering my usual blood pressure evokes astonished comments like "Wow, you have the blood pressure of a teen boy" as it settled around 114/72.  For some health professionals, they also thought this was a little to low for a woman of my height, size and generally good health.

Over the past five days my blood pressure upon waking has been 175/89, 181/105 and 114/74 .  The best it has been over these peculiar past five days has been 120/83. The nurse exclaimed, "You are almost perfect!"  With further inquiry, I learned that blood pressure perfection is 120/80. Even with that affirmation and information, I had to conclude, blood pressure function and measuring remains a mystery to me.  I have not figured out what makes the numbers blow-up or lower.  I don't know what to do, to keep the low one and lower the high one. SMH as the day after, taken at the same time an under comparable conditions, my blood press was 120/78.  It's a mystery to me.

What I will say is this, there is something to be said of having a hug when your blood pressure is up.  After Love's lingering hug my blood pressure stabilized (120/83) and  proceeded to lower to my 'normal'  (114/74) overnight. Amazing!

If Love's hug can do me like this, I am going to keep Love in hugging distance, continue my pescetarian diet, add 1K steps to my pedometer, and better tend to my sleep hygiene (aka, go to bed at a decent hour before 1 a.m.) But for now...

Hugs feel groovy and lowers blood pressure! Now go! Hug and Heal somebody!

15 August 2011

"A Black Woman Speaks of White Womanhood" by Beah Richards

Preface:  Just overnight from posting my previous blog,  Skeeter's Sisters: And Some of Them are Good (Reflecting on Insidious White Woman Normativity in “The Help”), responses from white women friends, colleagues and anonymous readers are disparagingly full of vitriol than of witness.  Being peculiuar as I am, I lack the 'care what others think about me' gene and live my authentic self being more intentional than not to select my words carefully, wield them skillfully and use them responsibly.  Therefore, this morning's repose to those comments come from a poem written by Mother Beah Richards in 1951 which validates my 21st century appall at the atrocity of liberties taken by white women -- even with some of the good ones in their midst -- against black body and wombs of black women. Like I penned yesterday:  Same spirit, ever more insidious, different generation.
"A Black Woman Speaks of White Womanhood" by Beah Richards  1951

For my known and unknown maternal and paternal BlackWomen ancestors who both slaved and worked (for barely liveable wages) in White folks’ homes for centuries…
by Beah Richards  1951
A Black Woman Speaks…
Of White Womanhood
Of White Supremacy
Of Peace

It is right that I a woman
should speak of white womanhood.
My fathers
my brothers
my husbands
my sons
die for it; because of it.
And their blood chilled in electric chairs,
stopped by hangman’s noose,
cooked by lynch mobs’ fire,
spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill for profit,
gives me that right.
I would that I could speak of white womanhood
as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality.
But then, womanhood will be womanhood
void of color and of class,
and all necessity for my speaking thus will be past.
Gladly past.
But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart
I must in searching honesty report
how it seems to me.
White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery
reaching out adulterous hand
killing mine and crushing me.
What then is this superior thing
that in order to be sustained must needs feed upon my flesh?
How came this horror to be?
Let’s look to history.
They said, the white supremacist said
that you were better than me,
that your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery.
They lied.
White womanhood too is enslaved,
the difference is degree.
They brought me here in chains.
They brought you here willing slaves to man.
You, shiploads of women each filled with hope
that she might win with ruby lip and saucy curl
and bright and flashing eye
him to wife who had the largest tender.
And they sold you here even as they sold me.
My sisters, there is no room for mockery.
If they counted my teeth
they did appraise your thigh
and sold you to the highest bidder
the same as I.
And you did not fight for your right to choose
whom you would wed
but for whatever bartered price
that was the legal tender
you were sold to a stranger’s bed
in a stranger land
And you did not fight.
Mind you, I speak not mockingly
but I fought for freedom,
I’m fighting now for our unity.
We are women all,
and what wrongs you murders me
and eventually marks your grave
so we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.
They trapped me with the chain and gun.
They trapped you with lying tongue.
For, ‘less you see that fault-
that male villainy
that robbed you of name, voice and authority,
that murderous greed that wasted you and me,
he, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous thought:
“white skin is supreme.”
and therewith bought that monstrous change
exiling you to things.
Changed all that nature had ill you wrought of gentle usefulness,
abolishing your spring.
Tore out your heart,
set your good apart from all that you could say,
know to be right.
And you did not fight,
but set your minds fast on my slavery
the better to endure your own.
‘Tis true
my pearls were beads of sweat
wrung from weary bodies’ pain,
instead of rings upon my hands
I wore swollen, bursting veins.
My ornaments were the wip-lash’s scar
my diamond, perhaps, a tear.
Instead of paint and powder on my face
I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.
And you, women seeing
spoke no protest
but cuddled down in your pink slavery
and thought somehow my wasted blood
confirmed your superiority.
Because your necklace was of gold
you did not notice that it throttled speech.
Because diamond rings bedecked your hands
you did not regret their dictated idleness.
Nor could you see that the platinum bracelets
which graced your wrists were chains
binding you fast to economic slavery.
And though you claimed your husband’s name
still could not command his fidelity.
You bore him sons.
I bore him sons.
No, not willingly.
He purchased you.
He raped me,
I fought!
But you fought neither for yourselves nor me.
Sat trapped in your superiority
and spoke no reproach.
Consoled your outrage with an added diamond brooch.
Oh, God, how great is a woman’s fear
who for a stone, a cold, cold stone
would not defend honor, love or dignity!
You bore the damning mockery of your marriage
and heaped your hate on me,
a woman too,
a slave more so.
And when your husband disowned his seed
that was my son
and sold him apart from me
you felt avenged.
I was not your enemy in this,
I was not the source of your distress.
I was your friend, I fought.
But you would not help me fight
thinking you helped only me.
Your deceived eyes seeing only my slavery
aided your own decay.
Yes, they condemned me to death
and they condemned you to decay.
Your heart whisked away,
consumed in hate,
used up in idleness
playing yet the lady’s part
estranged to vanity.
It is justice to you to say your fear equalled your tyranny.
You were afraid to nurse your young
lest fallen breast offend your master’s sight
and he should flee to firmer loveliness.
And so you passed them, your children, on to me.
Flesh that was your flesh and blood that was your blood
drank the sustenance of life from me.
And as I gave suckle I knew I nursed my own child’s enemy.
I could have lied,
told you your child was fed till it was dead of hunger.
But I could not find the heart to kill orphaned innocence.
For as it fed, it smiled and burped and gurgled with content
and as for color knew no difference.
Yes, in that first while
I kept your sons and daughters alive.
But when they grew strong in blood and bone
that was of my milk
taught them to hate me.
Put your decay in their hearts and upon their lips
so that strength that was of myself
turned and spat upon me,
despoiled my daughters, and killed my sons.
You know I speak true.
Though this is not true for all of you.
When I bestirred myself for freedom
and brave Harriet led the way
some of you found heart and played a part
in aiding my escape.
And when I made my big push for freedom
your sons fought at my sons’ side,
Your husbands and brothers too fell in that battle
when Crispus Attucks died.
It’s unfortunate that you acted not in the way of justice
but to preserve the Union
and for dear sweet pity’s sake;
Else how came it to be with me as it is today?
You abhorred slavery
yet loathed equality.
I would that the poor among you could have seen
through the scheme
and joined hands with me.
Then, we being the majority, could long ago have rescued
our wasted lives.
But no.
The rich, becoming richer, could be content
while yet the poor had only the pretense of superiority
and sought through murderous brutality
to convince themselves that what was false was true.
So with KKK and fiery cross
and bloodied appetites
set about to prove that “white is right”
forgetting their poverty.
Thus the white supremacist used your skins
to perpetuate slavery.
And woe to me.
Woe to Willie McGee.
Woe to the seven men of Martinsville.
And woe to you.
It was no mistake that your naked body on an Esquire calendar
announced the date, May Eighth.
This is your fate if you do not wake to fight.
They will use your naked bodies to sell their wares
though it be hate, Coca Cola or rape.
When a white mother disdained to teach her children
this doctrine of hate,
but taught them instead of peace
and respect for all men’s dignity
the courts of law did legislate
that they be taken from her
and sent to another state.
To make a Troy Hawkins of the little girl
and a killer of the little boy!
No, it was not for the womanhood of this mother
that Willie McGee died
but for a depraved, enslaved, adulterous woman
whose lustful demands denied,
lied and killed what she could not possess.
Only three months before another such woman lied
and seven black men shuddered and gave up their lives.
These women were upheld in these bloody deeds
by the president of this nation,
thus putting the official seal on the fate
of white womanhood within these United States.
This is what they plan for you.
This is the depravity they would reduce you to.
Death for me
and worse than death for you.
What will you do?
Will you fight with me?
White supremacy is your enemy and mine.
So be careful when you talk with me.
Remind me not of my slavery, I know it well
but rather tell me of your own.
Remember, you have never known me.
You’ve been busy seeing me
as white supremacist would have me be,
and I will be myself.
My aim is full equality.
I would usurp their plan!
and plenty
for every man, woman and child
who walks the earth.
This is my fight!
If you will fight with me then take my hand
and the hand of Rosa Ingram, and Rosalee McGee,
and as we set about our plan
let our wholehearted fight be:
Postscript:  Thank you Aishash "Cultural Worker"  Simmons, Barbara Kellom, Beah Richards, and Big Mama'nem.

14 August 2011

Skeeter's Sisters: And Some of Them are Good (Reflecting on Insidious White Woman Normativity in “The Help”)

It has taken me 24 hours later, Sunday worship, and a talk with Mama to get me in a righteous space to respond to the movie, “The Help.” I am most grateful that God allows for righteous indignation (Ephesians 4: 26-27) or else I would be sinning big time with the meditations of my heart!

As a bibliophile it was unusual that I saw the movie before reading the book. However, with life moving in such swift transitions over the past six months, by the time I caught the wave of the rave, the movie was opening in my neighborhood. What I expected was to see a film which hired a lot of black actresses in silent roles – typical of Hollywood and life beyond celluloid where the spooks at the door (literally and metaphorically) were oft seen and not heard. Still, I purposed to see a film where black actresses were working. I also expected to see happy white girls who lived to make life miserable for the other and outsiders. These two expectations were sufficiently met.

Conversely, I did not expect my heart to be snatched out of this suburban theatre and esconed once again in the dirty South. A South, namely Texas, where I knew those maids because they were kin to me; where I knew those white women because they were mysteries to me; where I knew even in my young knowing that white people had a monopoly on the easy life and black people were expected to make it so for them. So I cried.

As I watched Abileen (portrayed by the imitable Viola Davis) mammy Mae Moebly, from the first scene to the final when little Mae asks Abileen as she was leaving having been fired, “Are you going to get you a new little girl?”, I traversed from deep sighs to deeper sobbing. I cried for the love black women gave to little white girls and boys which was usually repaid in insult. I cried because I watched my Democratic womenfolk mammy and serve Republican white folk who red-lined our neighborhoods, charged the Poll Tax, and sat on juries to convict on color more than on circumstantial evidence. I cried because Mama'nem, the vast of black mammy ancestors, gave away so much of their good heart to little white people and having so little of this affirmation left over to give to us – their bone, their flesh, their skin, their kin. I cried, envious of the ample lap ever available to the little white girl, when all the story told was of the next generation of little black girl being coached to serve the next generation of little white girl. So I cried, a lot.

I cried also, because I know, in my lifetime, the daughters and granddaughters of the white women portrayed in this movie. Same spirit, ever more insidious, different generation. I met one of them in seminary when doing a group project where I was the only black, and black woman, in the group. Of course, without discussion, the white woman took power of the pen and paper; the alpha white male took the seat at the head of the table; and they together began to answer the questions set before us – as a group assignment – as if the other three of us people of color were invisible. When they came to a question that neither of them knew the answer I offered the answer. This little white girl, being some 20 years my junior, poised her pen over the paper and refused to write down the answer. I repeated the answer to which she positioned herself as interrogator, “How do you know that?” As my Mama said, “it is not what you say, it's how you say it.” She asked the right question the wrong way. The collision of her indignation at her lack of knowledge and my confident knowledge hung thick in the air as I refused to justify my presence at the table.

She, holding the pen and refusing to let it dance with the paper, blushed deeply as I calmly turned the paper away from her, wrote the answer in my most flourishing penmanship and purple pen, and read off the next question. For the group to answer. She had nothing more to say for the rest of the project and relinquished the paper to my pen to finish recording the answers. When the convener called us together to a lively competition of who got the most answers correct, not only did our team win, our team was the only table who got the question in question correct! Again, that little white girl, I can call her so being 20 years my junior, indignantly and emphatically asked, “How do you know that?” Again, I refused her the luxury of bullying me into justifying my seat at the table of knowledge. While our table, minus her and the alpha white male who had walked away from our table and rejoined his peers across the room before the results were announced, celebrated at being the victors in this theological mini-decathlon, she writhed in clear discomfort of my ability to do her no harm. To answer her, with anything other than silence, I would have done her harm. Being a grown black woman and womanist, I seek to do no harm, or at least mitigate harm, to another. That little white girl in seminary just couldn't bear the thought that a black woman possessed knowledge superior to her cache of trivia. She just couldn't phantom that I would not mammy her into feeling good by my being silent or otherwise responding to her intimitable airs. I cried watching this movie because that little white girl had learned some very bad habits, had inherited some awful social graces, and embodied racist norms inherent of nurture not infused by the nature of Imago Dei.

Five years later, and mere weeks ago, I met another little white girl professing being called to Christian ministry who demanded I allow her to bully me into a conversation in which she was clearly not my social, intellectual, spiritual, or theological peer. And, like little children do when they cant have their way, she threw a tantrum in the middle of a gathering and garnered all kinds of attention to her pouting and spouting because in response to the most blatant, racist and ignorant comment I had heard from anyone in our denomination, I quietly corrected her, sought to deflect her escalating diatribe of pseudo-intellectualism with gentleness, and offered my ability to do her no harm. I cried in the movie because Hilly Holbrook's granddaughter so needed to avenge her ignorance, brashness and mean spiritedness that she falsely accused me taking something of hers – her power to demand full participation in denigration of the spook in the doorway (I was the only black woman in attendance). Her sole defense for asserting her position was, “I am from Texas and black people don't....” Hilly's granddaughter, which I shall heretofore name my experience with this little white girl of whom I am 30 years her senior, called the law enforcers of our gathering to further demand I give an account of what I did to upset her so. I cried in the movie because I wanted one more conversation with Hilly's granddaughter to merely ask her, and ask of her generation of racist white women in my most sincere Abileen voice, “Miss Hilly, aren't you tired, yet?” I long to ask her if she was not indeed tired of sifting through righteousness to hold fast to whiteness. I long to ask her if she was not indeed tired of being afraid of others outside of Texas, femaleness and whiteness. I long to tell Hilly's granddaughter that it was not too late for her to have a Skeeter Epiphany in the name of Jesus. I cried, so hard and so long because Hilly's granddaughters are still giving birth. To seminarians. To clergy.

As I watched The Help, I cried because I could not leave the theatre hating white women. Besides hating being such an exhaustive endeavor, I cried because I am grateful for Skeeter Sisters in my life. I couldn't hate all white women, because some of them are good. My mother and her sisters have long worked for white women. My 89 yo senior aunt still works for white people. Whether as maids entering from the back door to raising white kids to taking in laundry, Mama'nem speak of the goodness of white people towards them in an era which authenticates the content and context of The Help.

Mama tells of working for Mrs. Ava Folks in Lily White, a subdivision of Houston of which its name announced its populous and fiercely guarded demographic. Mrs. Folks took notice of Mama's detailed handiwork on finishing garments. She would sew an outfit and Mama would finish it with nimble fingers and keen eye for detail. Mama says that Mrs. Folks was good and fair and generous. She paid Mama justly and often gave Mama useful gifts of fabric and excess from her coffers. Mrs. Folks was so benevolent, Mama named my sister after her. I heard this story a many a day. I cried watching the movie because there were not enough “good white women” portrayed on the front lines of the eve of the Civil Rights Movement; because the white women who would have been good were portrayed as neurotic, alcoholic and opportunistic. White women: and some of them are good.

Just as I have encountered many of Hilly's granddaughters, I have also encountered white women who are good, not merely tolerant, benevolent, or kind towards me, but inherently good – seeking righteousness where they could instead choose privilege, passivity and protection. One of them who is good encouraged me in seminary to preach truth which was unpopular. One of them who is married to a former boss keeps in touch with me long after the white liberal reaction to the Rodney King Riots quelled. One of them works for queer justice understanding that black church folk approaches this hot topic from a distinct cultural location. One of them opened her palatial home and offered her expensive car to me for four years as I visited my son in boarding school on the East Coast. One of them seeks out my perspective on matters pertaining to women, not just black women; to holy texts, not just texts about homosexuals; to raising babies, as she is raising her own while marveling at the relationship I have with my teen son. I cried in the movie, a lot, because some white women are good, courageous, not at all intimidated by the ring leaders of racism prevalent in Hilly's daughters. Some of them are good.

Skeeter’s Sisters: some of them are good, first; white by creation; and friend by choice. For that I give God thanks and praise.

22 July 2011

Queer Youth and Religious Debates Over Sexuality

While conducting independent research to better articulate comfort to a grieving family on the anniversary of their lesbian daughter's suicide and to critically engage the Presbyterian Church to acknowledge that the passing of 10-A does not mean that a magic wand has been waved thereby eradicating deep religious convictions apologetically expressed as homo-misanthropy, Spirit delivered this video panel moderated by Dr. Cheryl A. Giles, Francis Greenwood Peabody Professor of the Practice in Pastoral Care and Counseling at Harvard Divinity School, "Queer Youth and Religious Debates Over Sexuality" to my bailiwick. None comparable, this has been the absolutely most encouraging, humorous, intentional, insightful, and comforting 1:16:27 hour/minutes/seconds that I have spent at the feet of Love in Action around queer religious discourse and reclamation of wholeness of young folk in church and society.
So complete was the breadth of anecdotal experiences and depth of theo-spiritual reflections that I penned no further notes to this grieving family, opting to send the link to the panel directly to her parents, grandparents, Godparents, kin, former lover and friends -- all who still ask, ‘Why?’ both of the gay question and the suicide dilemma. So compelling the voices on the panel that I too forwarded it to my teen gay son, confidential group for queer PC(USA) clergy, and my network of social networks. So comforting a requiem for my peers and playmates who succumbed to the hetero-as-normative, AIDS and suicide from growing up queer in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Because of her/their* work, this afternoon I did not have to work, I had only to witness and shout, often and much, “Amen!”

*Panelists are: Harry Knox, director of Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign; Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth; Irene Monroe, public theologian, writer, and activist; Pam Garramone, executive directory of Greater Boston Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People; and Mark D. Jordan, Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at HDS.

25 June 2011

Don't Hate... Appreciate: My Loc Story

Fresh Trim Locs

I am a natural hair girl. Even when over 50 years ago to go natural, ala nappy, was counter-revolutionary to the revolution of civil rights and liberation I came out of the womb happy to be nappy. While others lauded Madame CJWalker cuticle libations, lye burns and singed ear cartilage, I was pleading with Mama just to leave my hair alone. And, on top of having the most voluminous head of hair of my siblings, I was tender headed! Mercy! All I wanted to do any Saturday other than sit with my head between Mama's legs getting just washed hair untangled and scalp greased, or going to the beauty shop to have my hair fried and laid to the side, was anything other than...

I swore, under my breath of course, that when I got grown I would not put another chemical or hot comb in my hair. For the most part that became my reality as the first act of liberation came when Mama left me at Clark College in Atlanta my freshman year. Before she drove off the campus lot I cut my hair to the quick and work a quo vadis for the next four years. During my foray into local and state beauty pageantry in my early twenties I conceded that I needed some help managing my hair if I were to let it grow out. Yes, I had about five years of jeri curl. The beauty of the j-curl for me was that it was applied to virgin hair and took oh so well. I thought I was liberated to no more tenderheadedness and hair style efficiency. Because of the great condition of my natural hair, I did not have to over saturate with oily goop and didn’t suffer ruined pillow cases and seat cushion head rests.

Slamma Glamma Locs
After that phase, the j-curl was very convenient but not spiritually liberating, I returned to natural hair. I wore twists when stylists were dying to get into my hair. I word head wraps and was mistaken for Caribbean or first generation African (I am fourth generation). I did my hair in simple chignon or up-do and tied it up at night just so I could only comb it one or twice a week. Don't hate, tenderheadedness ain’t to joke!

Calling me from across the crowd, fleeting on the city bus, catching a different plane, was dreadlocked heads. If there was one to be found in my purview, I caught a glimpse of it and yearned to pursue it, ask it questions, ask if we could possibly be kin. People with dreadlocks were culturally intimidating and comparably attractive. The dichotomy of intrigue remained unsettled within until the day my then 4-year-old son came home from pre-school and declared, “Mommy I want man braids.” After a bit of discussion I learned that for him dreadlocks on his young, hip, gentle spirited male caregiver was “man braids.” And he wanted to emulate something so pure and paternal and assuring in this young man that he declared that he wanted “man braids.”

Jazzy Jayy Locs @ 19
Ever the encourager of positive self image and empowerment, I told son that he could start growing out his quo vadis and that when he was five I would get him some “man braids.' This bought me time to research the process for loc'ing, grooming and hygiene. For the next year I researched and talked to every loc'd head I saw. What a learning experience that was!

I learned the difference between dreadlocks, sisterlocks and locs. I learned why some people with locs (my preferential term for the family of naturally locked hair) smelled unclean. I learned that locs held cultural, spiritual, and practical intentions as varied and religious identity and spiritual practice. I learned that white people loc'd (still very ewwwww to me). I learned that there are hierarchies of loc culture, sometimes even hostile towards one another. I learned most of all, that I wanted to loc and that I would loc in three years when I was 40.

A year after my son told me he wanted “man braids” I experimented with techniques I had researched. About six months later, I washed, conditioned, twisted and let it rest for week before repeating, untwisting and palm rolling. What I had not considered is that my son and I had decidedly different hair textures. To get his locs to lock I had to twist and tie down a couple of times a week until they got long enough to hold on their own. To get my hair to lock, I had to do little more than say, “let there be locs” and my happy naps hugged one another like Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple!

Hella Sexii Locs
Sadly, I learned another lesson: my Mother loathed my locs and took it personal that I would offend her Southern sensibilities and loc'd my son's hair. Huh? This is from a mother who worked the Civil Rights Movement, taught me African pride intentionally and contextually, and who was quite the fashionable stone cold fox of the sixties and seventies! Somewhere along the way to our maturity we had diverged on appreciation of Black beauty and hair care. My Mother's greatest concern was that people would not invite me to preach the Gospel because I had locs. Good thing Mama raised me to be a grown woman. I heard her, but didn’t listen to her! ROTFL. I didn’t undo my locs and I make a living preaching (and doing other religious scholastic and holy work).

Over the past 15 years my locs have grown as long as three feet. I have cut 18 inches off of the front when it got too long and heavy to hold soft curls; and trimmed four inches off the back when I have sat on them one too many times while driving. Today I tend 31 inch long locs that graze my voluptuous hips like a virtuoso tickling the ebonies and ivories some days and are sculpted into an impressionable crown of glory on others. I changed my grooming technique from palm-rolling to latching (with ingenious homemade tool). I am not tenderheaded when I style my locs. I pay homage to the diversity of loc styling in a Facebook photo album. I loathe having others touch my hair uninvited. I never have a bad hair day.

Liberated Locs with 51st Birthday Tiara
On this Loc Appreciation Day, I celebrate hair liberation for myself and for others. I more fully embrace the adage, “Do you, Boo!” by doing me and saying to adversarial pundits of my choice that chose me, “don’t hate, appreciate!”