25 February 2015

"I Celebrate Black History Month!" by Mr. Joe, The Barber

This is the first time I have featured a guest blogger.  What an honor to share this space with Norma J. Thomas, a church girl from my childhood who is now a spirit sister in all things righteous. But, these words are not her own, but are that of her father, Mr. Joe--  the neighborhood barber and bedrock of witness to Black history for almost nine decades. Norma, thank you for sharing. Mr. Joe, thank you for speaking truth to power.

My father, who will be 88 years old in just 3 months, is preparing his Black History Month presentation. This year, with all he has been through, he says he doesn't feel like doing a lot, he'll just stand and speak this year. So, we discussed what he wanted to talk about. Here is draft 1 of his presentation:           

I Celebrate Black History Month!
By Mr. Joe “the Barber” Thomas

During the month of February, we stop, we make a special effort to teach and to learn, to remember and to honor our history and heritage, Black History Month. We don't squeeze it in between other observances and holidays. It's not an afterthought; in February, it's at the forefront of our minds. Everything we do in February, we do for this purpose.

Sadly, as soon as February 1st rolls around, so do the criticisms. "Why did they GIVE us the shortest month in the year? Why don't we recognize Black history year 'round? Why do we honor this person and not that person? Why this? Why that?"

Truthfully, it is a sin and a shame that those who struggled for all of us are criticized this way. What is forgotten by the younger generation is the COURAGE that it took for us "Negroes" to do anything at all; the courage, the strength, the wisdom, the knowledge we had at a time when most of us had nothing, when the signs keeping us out and pushing us back were real, in black print, and hung up high for everybody to see, was all we had. We didn't have cell phones and email to contact everybody and tell them what to do. Most of us didn't even have telephones. We risked life trying to get information out to our people. Everybody didn't live in the city, but even then it was dangerous. The slaves didn't have maps and GPS navigation; they had the moon and stars to guide them.

Carter G. Woodson, Mary McLeod Bethune, and others whose names I don't know, did not ASK for Negro History Week, they took it. They decided it was necessary and they encouraged others to participate. That was 1926. Fifty years later it became Black History Month, thanks to some college kids. We should be celebrating that these people had the good sense and the courage to get the ball rolling. It is now up to this generation to take it where they think it should go.

At a time when young people think being Black means being ignorant, clowning in the classroom, fighting on videos, disrespecting themselves and their elders, abandoning their children, I ask, what will this generation do besides criticize. I know it's not everybody, but it's way too many who will criticize what was done in the past, with nothing. What will they do, now that they have everything?

If one month is not enough, change it! If we got some of our facts wrong, correct them! If some facts are missing, make them known! If some people were left out, add them in. If you don't think it's important, don't participate, but don't stop those of us who want to. Stop saying "they" did this; "they" did that. WE did it, and we did the best we knew how. Nobody complains about Hispanic or Asian Heritage Month. Ask yourself why? Question that!

So, today, I stand, even if I must stand alone, and honor the courage, intelligence, and determination of Carter G. Woodson, and I celebrate Black History Month.

October 04, 1930 - January 27, 2015

7Lent2015 "Blessing on a Bungee Cord"

Giving God thanks and praise that even in my lack I had something to give... a bungee loop.
While walking the three blocks from my office to the subway that would take me home, the weight of issues before me broke me to tears I couldn't hold back. Staving a strong anxiety attack in public, I turned to the cleft in the wall of a building and just cried for almost an hour.  For some reason, not going underground felt safer; even in the frigid evening. Eventually, the cold evening and coolness of the building's marble caused the tears to slow and my breathing to get steady. 
As I descended to the subway platform I felt a fleeting moment of regret of loosing it-- in public and for almost an hour.  I was angry for delaying my commute to my home sanctuary, that is, until I boarded the train. In the car I boarded, this young white guy, Peter 24-yo, was moving his belongings from someone's couch to his own spot, by way of the subway. He was laden down with starched shirts on loose hangers and a pulling a couple of spinners. I asked him where he was moving to, a prayer-- veiled as an inquiry-- of hoping he was not homeless on a night of hypothermia warnings with snow forecast. He explained that he made one trip in Uber, but the $35 was too much for his wallet. I gave him all I had, including encouragement and a bungee loop to bind his loose hangers to make carrying them easier (for the very same reason I am seldom without this simple contraption  hooked to all of my luggage and totes like a talisman of sorts to help me carry extra packages along my way).

When Peter expressed his gratitude for everything, especially the bungee loop, I was overcome with abiding peace and clarity. I realized the sermon in stone (Moses got a word from God while in the cleft of a rock), that to everything there is a time and season (the hour I thought I lost was to put me in the subway at that appointed time), and that God will supply my specific needs in a very practical way (and as innovative as is the simplicity of a bungee loop).  
Lord, hear my prayer for Peter, Jay, and all the young people on the hustle to get sure footing in a shaky world.

Again, God turns my weeping into laughing and wailing into dancing.  Looking now to replace the bungee loop on my commuter tote for the morning.


6Lent2015 "This is the Season of Promise"

“Listen to the long stillness:
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied:
Humankind is fashioning a new heart
Humankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the season of Promise.”
-Howard Thurman

24 February 2015

5Lent2015 "Bless this Meal"

Gathering around a meal is a touchstone of faith in a myriad of faith traditions. Those who gather,  in spirit and in abstentia,  focus on the intricacies and complexities of family-- who is family,  who is out of the family,  and the redefinition of The Modern Family. At this conversation with and about the African American family, we break now to share this common meal. May each of us, in your own way, take a moment for silent thanksgiving...

...To the Creator of Life and these elements, The Breath of Life from birth to death into eternity-- we give thanks for this frigid day, this filling meal, the faithful hands that harvested and prepared, and for the ones who serve us now.  May this food nourish our bodies, give us strength for our journey, and create for us the memory of this watershed moment when we learned how to die with dignity-- a gift to ourselves and to our family by getting the paperwork of passing done.

ASE.  And so it is.  AMEN.

[A prayer experience I shared with the #journeyhome @CompAndChoices
conversation with African Americans about end of life choices and estate planning.]

22 February 2015

4Lent2015 "A First Sunday Prayer"

Lord Jesus, Our God, Lent reminds us of Advent. The waiting seems easy now, but honestly, we are uneasy about our ability to stay faithful these next 35 days-- of waiting. When we are anxious about yielding to the temptations of that which we have avowed abstinence, remind us that Your delight is not in sacrifice, but is in love. When we remember the meatless fast on Fridays into our second bite of an angus burger, remind us that sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath.  When commute, co-workers, and our common everydayness pass as a blur of demands and we miss days of Lenten mindfulness, remind us that You are there, always. May we wait for the Resurrection not following rules, but rather, following the love.  Following Love. Amen.

3Lent2015 "Denying Self Slays Selfishness"

Lent is a good time for penance and self-denial.  Lent is a really good season of mindfulness to deny yourself the right of selfishness. Let me help you understand. 

If you are apt to criticize someone else and enjoy the haughty self satisfaction of saying to yourself, "I would never...", then Lent is for you. 

If you are given to road rage because "These [insert racist, sexist, ageist, classist, ableist, most ignorant innane and profane adjective you can utter] can't drive worth...", then Lent is for you. 

Image result for two cups of coffee to go
If you never, but NEVER, have time or a dime to buy the begging woman a hot lunch or the ragged man a hot cup of coffee as you feign deafness to their humble plea, "Excuse me, but can you spare...", as you feed your $5 a morning caffinated addiction and hurries past them on your way to the upscale dining room where everybody knows your name,  then Lent is for you. 

If you-- and always and only you-- then Lent is for you. Penance is kindness. Self-denial is available daily. Make this Lent about somebody else.


20 February 2015

2Lent2015: "Seeping Eyes-- When Even Weeping is Too Much"

I cry easily.  A grace for which I have been tortured, mocked, ridiculed but never applauded, I cry easily.  And, my tears come in all ebbs and flows.  From the likes of dikes that fail to hold a Spring's torrents to the moistness like the underside of sod at the garden's edge.  I cry.

My personal tear dabbers ready for duty.
Tonight, and for this Lenten season, I sat in delight of my ability to cry and prayed for grace to appreciate this gift even more.  Almost from the moment I entered the prayer and praise service with Shirli Hughes and Ovation, my eyes started seeping.  Not chest heaving. Not salted tears stinging streaks down my cheeks. Not snot sniffling. Just seeping.

That way of crying joy-- I felt so right in the right place at the right time. That way of crying rest-- exhaustion lost its battle to keep me in and away from community.  That way of crying prayers-- that I already know the answers too, even the ones flesh did not reveal.  Seeping.

Just keeping the corners of my eyes wet.  Not dripping. No need to unfold one of the freshly starched and ironed hankerchiefs within reach from my purse. Just damp. Layer upon layer evaporating to make room for more dampness of worship.  Seeping.

That's my sacrifice of praise.  This will be the only explanation.  There will no longer be an apology.  May our seeping cries populate the heavenlies with glory due God's name and refresh our souls, again. This Lenten season and beyond.


19 February 2015

1Lent2015 "Clean Heart, Dirty Hands"

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”  

--John Chrysostom

Lent unctions me to pray the 'create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me' psalm (51:10) and song.  Quoting Chrysostom chastises me from pursuing spiritual disciplines in which I alone might boast; and calls me to serve others who have neither inclination nor capacity to reciprocate.  I pray for a clean heart that gives new life to creative hands for the good of others and the glory of God. 

Lord, hear my Lenten plea-- this whisper, may it resound as worship. 


18 February 2015

"Alone: Ash Wednesday and Audre Lorde"

Ash Wednesday service cancelled due to inclement weather. I missed breaking the fast and marking my head with my new community of church goers. Then, I worked so long and left too late to get to the Audre Lorde 80th birthday party. I missed showing up in the familiar company of women strangers who look different in every picture. Missing the rare times I make up my mind to take courage and be in community leaves me being alone tonight.
Therefore, I shall ash myself.  Using Palm Sunday leaves singed to ash, I am grateful for the theology of the priesthood of all believers. As I cross my forehead I imagine forgiveness as I ease into this season of repentance. I imagine making penance without struggling with pride. I imagine making peace with dead seasons and people who I must allow to be dead to me for painful reasons. I imagine fasting indifference, like Pope Francis challenges; and fasting clutter like my friend Carla calls forth. I am alone tonight sitting with ash. 
Therefore I shall write a poem. Being I am one among the few thousands who ever had a personal conversation with Audre Lorde before she died, I keep her company tonight while she remains living to tens of thousands, if not millions, who heed her words to rebuke silence-- for silence will not protect us. Quoting her can sound pithy to the uninspired ear; but to me, her words have served me well for the past 30-some-odd years to keep my sanity for others' sake and will likely ripen into fleshy sweet wisdom beyond my 55 and into my 80 years. I am alone tonight writing with Audre. 
During this season of Lent, I will surely sync with community another day. God is in control.  I expect to have another opportunity to be in the company of churchgoers and with creative women in clubs. Good is in my favor. 
But tonight, this is Ash Wednesday-- a walk alone. 

10 February 2015

"Empire: All Sizes Matters"

Whatever your actual or projected assets, you lead an empire worthy of your paying attention to end of life details. Do your family a favor and die well-- regardless of the size of your bank account.

As each week unfolds, we are left wondering who will live to run the Lyon's Empire. Will Cookie outrun the feds and the streets to run it? Will the bi-polar sex marionette elder son run it? Will one lip quiver away from winning a drag show gay son run it? Will temper tantrum throwing poser of a thug son run it?  Will Boo Boo Kitty Debutante the Deadly wife in law run it? Or will the publicly traded version of Empire get caught up in Federal dealings that will cause it to impale itself on its own sword?  There are other possibilities that I will speculate on another date.  But for now...

Lucious is dying.  War between brothers has thrown propaganda, punches, and pulled guns.  War between women has thrown shade, vases, and side eyes.  You know, some of the same things so many African Americans initiate, experience and endure when a loved one dies.  Such is exacerbated when a Big Daddy dies without a will, MeMaw dies with an outdated will, and Uncle Bit dies with undocumented wishes for distribution of wealth. Of any amount.

But family, it doesn't have to come to this.  This Black History Month, how about we all put time into planning to leave legacies of peace through planning what happens to our belongings after we die?

Five reasons you know you should get your financials documented-- get your assets and beneficiaries, regardless of the size of your bank account-- in print, witnessed, and made public:
  1. You have more than one child.
  2. You have more than one sibling.
  3. You have more than one parent (parents by marriage count).
  4. You have more than the clothes on your back.
  5. You have no (or unplanned) control over your death. 
How sad to hear of stories where families decide they have irreconcilable differences when a parent dies and they are left to equitably divide $50K between siblings. Try explaining to them how equity does not necessarily mean equal. Related:  "Black Heirlooms"

How tragic it is for a senior left rotting away in a nursing home be found to have more value to his family dead than alive.  Try raising their unethical decision to withhold money to enhance the family member's care while dying but spending the decedents money on living luxuries before the ink is dry on the death certificate.  Related: "Stop Waiting for Mom and Dad to Die"

How agonizing is it to leave your family to fight over a morsel of money or an Empire of an estate. The outcomes-- as we may know from our on family discord in the aftermath of a parent's death; are witnessing from the King children's public legal battles; or are learning from art imitating life on Empire-- are all-consuming, life-destroying, and deadly. And largely avoidable.  Related:  "King Family Feud"

There is no honor in orchestrating a family-apocolypse with your dying. Sure, we shall all die; but we don't have to take our family to the grave with us.  Related:  "Not Just for the Rich and Famous"

The big word is estate-planning. The regular people like you and me word is 'get it in writing.' Regardless of the size of your empire, you owe it most to your family to get it in writing.

"Empire: Get Your Paper-- In Order!"

Cable-worthy but Primetime treatment: Empire’s leading man Lucious Lyons, portrayed by Academy Award Nominee Terrance Howard, is a from the streets to the boardroom music mogul who is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) on the show’s premiere. Given three years to live by his physician, millions of viewers tune in weekly to follow the music while some of us watch this art-reflects-life script about death, dying, and the difficulty African Americans typically experience around having these conversations. Making the necessary plans to die well is Lucious’ fictionalized quandary and is also a realized truth in many African American families.

But even amid the personality wars being wrought in skin and sin, I ache to ask Lucious, "but, is your paper in order?"

I am not talking about the money, the green, the Benjamins, the war between brothers which has begun bloodletting and casualties of war. No, I am talking about the Will, the Living Will, the Advance Directive, the Power of Attorney, the Life Insurance and Catastrophic Illness Insurance policies-- the DNR, the dreadfully ominous, Do Not Rescusitate order, just in case.  Just in case and before you can't do it for yourself?

"Is your paper in order?" 

Not just the funeral program, but also means to PAY for the funeral.  Not just talking about who gets bits and pieces of what you possess, but also having it WRITTEN DOWN. Not just circulating rumors and innuendo about your fifty cents, fiddy thou', 401K or retirement fund, but also being able to produce a document naming your intended and relationship-current BENEFICIARIES.

As African Americans focus on cultural legacies of our champions and change agents during Black History Month this February, what a timely opportunity to host conversations within our living rooms, churches, in our communities, and around this television series to talk about personal responsibility for tending individual and family legacies.  Now—under the ancestral watch of remembering—is an appropoe time to broaden our conversations about death, dying, estate building, wealth tending, and legacy-making in African American families in the twenty-first century. 

Is.  Your.  Paper.  In.  Order?

03 February 2015

"Help for the Homeless -- VOTE for Quiet"


Crowd-sourcing -- VOTES: I have a friend who sits high but keeps those in lower class places on her mind. Her partner and firm has created an installation to mitigate the psycho-physical trauma of living in an homeless shelter. Please READ their design submission to receive funding and VOTE for them-- just your name and email is all that is needed.

Ministered to a homeless person. VOTE
Fear that you could become homeless. VOTE
Have no idea what it is to be homeless. VOTE
Has slept on someone's couch. VOTE
Trust me and bless somebody... VOTE
And, SHARE this link. Please and Thank you.