Monday, December 29, 2008

Post Christmas: A Reflection

While there are innumerable barber shop, bar stool, and couch theologians and critics of the black church - most of the commentary based upon negative media presentations and caricatures - there are few who are familiar with those who have defined and sustained not only the black church in America, but Christianity itself.

Dr. Howard Thurman was an early advocate for multiculturalism in America and justice worldwide, having been inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, whom he met in India in 1935. A graduate of Rochester (New York) Seminary, Oberlin School of Religion, and Haverford College, Dr. Thurman taught at Morehouse College and was dean of the chapel at Howard University. He also founded the interracial Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, a leader in interfaith affairs and in new forms of worship.

Thurman was the first black man in American history to be appointed to an administrative position in a major research university, teaching in the School of Theology and serving as dean of the chapel at Boston University in 1953. He was also listed in Life magazine as one of the twelve great preachers of the twentieth century in 1953 and by Ebony in 1954 as one of the ten most outstanding black preachers in America. He traveled widely, including Europe, India, and West Africa and was a frequent speaker on college campuses, churches, and synagogues.

Thurman wrote more than twenty books. Jesus and the Disinherited, which Martin Luther King Jr. carried with him at all times, was Thurman's attempt to answer a question from a law professor who challenged Thurman why he as a black man could be a Christian, since white Christians had captured, transported, and enslaved Africans in America. Thurman argued that a poor marginalized Jew living under oppression by the Roman Empire speaks directly to blacks living on the margins of American society.

The following is a poem by Dr. Thurman, a reflection of one who possessed a lifelong commitment to an inward spiritual journey:

When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost — To heal the broken — To feed the hungry –
To release the prisoner — To rebuild the nations –
To bring peace among brothers and sisters –
To make music in the heart.

Poem discovered at Voice of the Day from Sojourners.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Being Cool Acting A Fool: OSF Partee-ing

My most memorable (as well as forgettable) party experiences occurred during college as an undergraduate during the days of large lapels and wide collars, elephant bell bottom pants and platform shoes, afros, tikis, dashikis, and Black Power. This is some of the music that is embedded in my mind as I tried to negotiate this new space for me where knowledge, racial pride, love, hate, and cool all intersected at once and tried to overwhelm a young brutha. Here it is, sometimes chillin' and sometimes thrillin':

The Persuaders: A Thin Line

Marvin Gaye: Inner City Blues

Roy Ayers: Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Strange Announcement

The birth of Jesus was an event which occurred in many strange or paradoxical ways.

The entire nation stood on the "tiptoe of expectation" not in anticipation of receiving more prosperity or material goods, but awaiting an "Awesome Ruler" who would lead and liberate a people who were living under human social, political, and economic oppression. This Prince, would be born to humble circumstances and familiar with the strain of labor, the pinch of poverty, and the burden of sorrow. A strange event and a strange way for the Messiah to be born.

It is also strange that the announcement or good news of this Divine intervention, which was a source of great joy for all people, was not dispatched via emissary to the royal halls of palatial splendor nor to cultures of high estate, but to those who worked in the fields and occupied the lowest positions in terms of rank or social status.

I believe that these strange details are designed to get our attention because we usually miss the ordinary. I also believe that what may be the strangest of all of the details surrounding the birth of Christ is that a choir, which is a host or army from heaven, is proclaiming a strange or unexpected message coming from a military assemblage - they are declaring Peace On Earth! Have we taken other parts of Christmas and thrown away this portion? Have we missed this aspect while emphasizing others in our celebrating?

In 2008, peace is appropriate because we have spent so many decades, even centuries, being conditioned for war and so little time preparing for peace. We have spent so much time practicing hate rather than love, so much money devoted for war and defense budgets and so little for peace budgets. What is the consequence? We are at war abroad with others and at home with ourselves and our children have inherited this fatal attraction to violence.

The word's of Talib Kweli's The Nature makes clear the reality of gun violence and easy access to weapons.

The people ain't got shoes for they feet, or food to eat
So they hurtin but what's for certain you can get you some heat
And over beef you laid to rest like you was gettin some sleep
Where the little kids get ammunition (word) you can't get no nutrition
Or any type of suitable living condition listen
They shoot you over that paper, its just survivalist human nature
to put you out of your misery like euthanasia (yeah)

The Children's Defense Fund's State of America's Children 2008 reports that in the latest reliable statistics, 2005, that 3,006 children and teens were killed by firearms, the equivalent of 120 public school classrooms of 25 students each. Another 16,000 children and teens suffered non-fatal firearm injuries. These 10 states account for 1,669 firearm deaths or 55.5% of the total 3,006 deaths:

Largest Number of Firearm Deaths of Children and Teens:
Top 10 States in 2005

California 474
Texas 264
Florida 148
Pennsylvania 138
Illinois 130
Ohio 118
Louisiana 110
Arizona 102
New York 93
Michigan 92

A lot of violence and battles arise out of wars raging from within as military adventures abound abroad and expenditures in correctional facilities expand accompanied by simultaneous reductions in education and mental or physical healthcare domestically. But without justice, there can be no peace.

There will be no peace as long as we substitute quietness for peace, making joint ventures with those who subjugate and oppress, or refuse to acknowledge the problem of injustice by "allowing sleeping dogs to lie." The African proverb states that just because the water is still does not mean that the crocodiles have left. Sleeping dogs of hate and evil come back to bite later and make a bigger mess.

And there will be no peace as long as there are conflicts going on within, inside our minds and souls. But if we are acquainted with the Prince of Peace, we can receive an unexpected peace, which surpasses understanding; a perfect and unbroken peace in the midst of storms and difficulties. That is what we often miss in the meaning of Christmas!

Pray For Peace!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Luke 2:13,14

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Dark Side of Christmas

Christmas brings many images to mind including angels, bright stars, shepherds, wise men, and most importantly a baby who was born into poverty. Wisdom recognizes in young life a new start or fresh beginning, but also sees in it a growing power for good. The Wise Men searched to give honor and reverence but Herod, however, viewed this young potential as a threat to the status quo and attempted to get hold of and to destroy it.

During this critical time in America's history, it is imperative that our children overcome the evils that attempt to extinguish their potential and the world's future, especially the evil of poverty and its derivatives. Let us continue to raise our voices loudly that our leaders may give attention to ending poverty in our time.

We can also pray the following prayer by Marian Wright Edelman, Executive Director of the Children's Defense Fund:

God help us to end poverty in our time.
The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep,
no air, sunlight and space to breathe, bask and grow.
The poverty of watching your child suffer and get sicker and sicker and not knowing
what to do or how to get help because you don't have a car or health insurance.

The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of someone else's children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.
The poverty of having a job that does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified you'll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.

The poverty of losing your job because you cannot find reliable
child care or transportation to work.
The poverty of working all your life caring for others and having to start all over again caring for the grandchildren you love.

The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a child care center, and taking home $300 a week or month if you're lucky.
The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation—having no one to call or visit, tell you where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you're living or dead.

The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.
The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others,
of emptiness and enslavement to things, drugs, power, violence and fleeting fame.

The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, weak will and tiny vision, big meetings and small action, loud talk and sullen grudging service.
The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing,
sacrificing nothing, struggling for nothing.

The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God's gifts of life and children and family and freedom and country and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.
The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming and exploiting
the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.

The poverty of addiction to drugs, to drink, to work, to self, to the status quo and to injustice.
The poverty of fear that keeps you from doing the thing you think is right.
The poverty of despair and cynicism.

God help us end poverty in our time in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban, suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises—inside and out—physical and spiritual, so that all our and Your children may live the lives that you intend.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just My Take: OSF Christmas Songs

My favorite take on the classic The Christmas Song is a 1998 performance by Aaliyah. Sometimes the lights that shine brightest seem to also shine shortest.

Just As I Am

One of our greatest needs is to be able to see ourselves as we really are. A correct reading of ourselves would immediately effect a change in how we see and treat others. If we are honest, we will have to declare that behind our masks we are all imperfect creatures in need of grace and mercy.

The Honest Scrap Award was given to me by Its A Southern Thang and provided me an opportunity for growth through honest introspection. The following, in accordance with the rules of acceptance, are 10 honest things about myself that are hopefully interesting. I am also required to pass the award on to 7 other bloggers. Here goes!

1. I am a huge procrastinator, either because I work best under pressure or have a fear of failure.
2. I am an obnoxious winner and notoriously sore loser whether it is bid whist, board games like monopoly, or fundraising contests in church. It often gets to the point of embarrassment to my family and now no one will play with me.
3. I have a fear of pain, sometimes to the degree that I try to control others or circumstances in order to minimize the possibility of getting hurt myself.
4. I get obsessive with new hobbies jumping in with both feet.
5. Related to #4 I have many interests and new discoveries but often don't finish what I start.
6. I sometimes sneak (steal?), tell a lie, or get downright gangsta' in order to get an extra piece of homemade cake that is made with the old southern recipes or found in Warren Brown's Cake Love.
7. Things I Used To Do, I Don't Do No More! Use your imagination. Hint: I turned in my Playa' Card and Party Hearty Pass around 1981.
8. I went from being a staunch male chauvinist to an afrafeminst. There are several faults that strong, beautiful, and intelligent wives, daughters, female professors, colleagues, or others can cure if men listen occasionally.
9. I still love to debate even when there is no issue.
10. I occasionally have tunnel vision and God often provides "teachable moments" to dislodge me from my infatuated courses of action.

I am going to bless the following with this award:

Hey Shae
What Happened To The Old Black Church

Link: And You Call Yourself A Christian

Monday, December 15, 2008

A More Excellent Way

Last week in response to their query, I told my wife and daughters that a high-quality home theater with blue-ray DVD system would make a nice Christmas gift from them to me. Today I found out the price of those systems. A war immediately broke out between two conflicting inner voices, one of which said "You're an audiophile, you deserve it, and it will make the perfect compliment to your HD widescreen TV." The other inner voice said: "In these economic times, I think not!" I really like that system, but reason won the battle over fantasy and so I have instead asked for a more valuable but less pricey, long awaited book on Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, the greatest preacher of our time.

For ministry, nothing is better than a library which contains a variety of books which feed your spirit, expand your thinking, and provides practical, theological, and cultural perspectives from others which can be gleaned to benefit your own ministry.

A small sample of books that would make an exceptional gift, be helpful to ministry in the 21st century, and deserving of space in a personal library would include any of the following:

1. Preaching:
Teresa L. Fry Brown. Weary Throats and New Songs: Black Women Proclaiming God's Word.

2. Pastoral Care:
Edward P. Wimberly. African American Pastoral Care, Revised Edition.
Lee H. Butler, Jr. Liberating Our Dignity, Saving Our Souls.

3. Pastoral Leadership:
Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr. Transformative Pastoral Leadership in the Black Church.
James Henry Harris. The Courage To Lead: Leadership in the African American Urban Church.

4. Spiritual Food:
Charisse Carney-Nunes. Songs of a Sistermom: Motherhood Poems.

5. Ministry Profiles and Possibilities:
Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Unruh,ed. Hope for Children In Poverty.

6. Community Wisdom:
Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, ed. The Sky is Crying.
Cornel West. Hope on a Tightrope.
Robert M. Franklin. Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities.

7. History
Thomas J. Sugrue. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North.

Taylor Branch. At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68.

8. Worship:
Valerie Bridgeman Davis and Safiyah Fosua. The Africana Worship Book.

But strive for the greatest gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:31

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pardon My Excesses: OSF, Bands

Please allow me to overindulge! This category is loaded. Who do you eliminate? I threw them all in the air and these came down face up, not in any particular order:

Taste of Honey

Rufus & Chaka Khan

Earth, Wind, and Fire

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Souls For Sale

Evidently there are more bargains to be had than those we customarily think of in this gift-giving time of year. In the past week, such high-profile sales have included a governor, preacher or church, celebrities, and others who have dealt their very selves as though they were commodities, on the auction block of materialism and self-gain.

When we look back on what was received in return - possible paid directorships, money, notoriety and publicity, faded memorabilia, or even revenge - it appears that the sellers sold themselves far too cheaply for some fleeting, fragile, and perishing prizes. How much is your honor worth? What value is integrity, character, or one's essential being? That is all that we have at last - when we exit this world and others look upon us a final time. There is another economy, the nature and significance of which, is comprehended by a few who understand that we:
Gain by losing and lose by winning
Save our lives by giving them up and lose our lives by trying to save them
Develop ourselves by denying ourselves
Make a living by what we get, but make a life by what we give!

There's nothing wrong with being successful. There is nothing wrong with money. There is nothing wrong with power. The question is - is it connected to something bigger than you? Is it connected to what God wants you to do? Is it connected to the prayer, not the petition you ask God for? Not the "let's make a deal" prayer but the prayer that is, "Let thy will be done."
Cornel West

What good does it provide to a man if he gains the whole world but parts with his life? What can a man give to buy back his life?

Matthew 16:26

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Bad Boyz" Fatigue

The sad, solemn, seemingly endless procession of young and old African American men being constantly carried off to prisons continues while we debate theories of conspiracy, internalized oppression or post-traumatic slavery syndrome, racism, or morals of the black poor and plight of the black family.

And we find ourselves, over and over, taking these trips that start out as trips to the school and the principal’s office because there is trouble at school. Then we are no longer going up to the school, but the procession heads down to the court room. And then finally leads to prison or the cemetery as every year, tens of thousands are funneled into the prison procession and down life paths that lead to arrest, conviction, incarceration and even death.

What has become frightening is that included in this spiraling number are those African Americans of privilege and/or high profile positions in the community including elected officials, athletes, entertainers, and yes - preachers. In all of this, I think that the sign of the times has presented us with a larger picture that begs to be discerned.

The greatest lesson to be learned is NOT that we are are not in a post-racial society. That much is clear. In fact, statistics reveal the injustice of the criminal justice system. And we have marched, shouted, cried, and protested and will continue to do so to point out injustice when necessary. But in spite of the system, we can do better ourselves! A lot of it is on us. A lot of it does not make sense. A lot of it is irresponsibility and immaturity. A lot of this arises out of selfishness and a presumptuousness that black folk will sympathize and stand up for black people right or wrong.

The day of of excuses and sympathy has passed. Folk have moved from what's fair or unfair to trying to survive themselves. So before it is too late, press toward higher goals and new opportunities which present themselves, not giving the judicial system the power or say in our lives to limit or defeat us.

There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.

Julius Ceasar quote by William Shakespeare

OSF Child Actors Turned Singers

I chose actors turned singers since it presented me with more of a challenge than the other way around. I also attempted to find child actors who became singers. My Choices Are:

Janet Jackson
First acting role: Good Times, 1974
Youngest member of nine member musical dynasty

First acting role: Thea, 1993
Began performing at age four at church

Countess Vaughn
First acting role: 227, 1988
Began performing at age three at church

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Culture of Healthy Relationships

The Marvalus View hipped me to an article on which touted the openly affectionate and romantic image of Barack and Michelle Obama as the poster for healthy black relationships. With 70% of African American women living without a spouse, according to the article, the Obamas personify the image of black love that everyone is looking for and may inspire more love, including even possibly a baby boom.

I agree that there is a strong need for counter-cultural public images that portray black mothers as more than baby mamas and black men as other than knuckleheads, ruffnecks, or gangstas. In addition, I also feel that "you can't be what you don't see" and without knowing what a healthy relationship looks like makes it that much more difficult to achieve. However, we must understand that it is one thing to want what Barack and Michelle have but it is another thing to obtain what they have.

When we look at the President-elect and his wife, we see an apparently healthy relationship but we don't see the things beneath the surface that contribute to the relationship. Their healthy image is thus foundational only, and before we launch a "Take Back the Family, Love & Commitment" crusade there are at least two other issues that lie at the core and are indispensable in attaining a culture of healthy relationships.

First, the power of love starts within yourself. So a healthy relationship is impossible if both parties have not first learned to LOVE THEMSELVES or feels unloved or in need of love.

We see too many parents and even the church being overly critical and using putdowns or psychological abuse to control behavior. These mental games are linked to poor self-esteem, selfishness, love addictions, and even depression. Those moms who have been victims of putdown tactics sometimes even overcompensate by being totally uncritical of their own children, leaving them unequipped with the social skills to deal with their deficiencies when confronted by their peers or others in authority, so that they feel like rejects or failures. Men, who have internalized their unemployment, underemployment, or other insecurities resulting from the American post-slavery syndrome of self-hate will also need to have these demons exorcised in pursuit of a healthy relationship. But equally requisite and essential:

A healthy relationship requires MUTUAL RESPECT.

At the core of many of our relationship problems lies a struggle for control over our lives and attempts to control the lives of each other causing us to act against one another in unhealthy ways. Until we contemporize our definitions of manhood and womanhood or masculinity and femininity in order to see oppression of women in its true sense, we will fail to achieve healthy relationships.

Sadly to say, the church in its ancient patriarchal views has helped to negatively impact our relationships. The oppression of women may be the oldest injustice in human history. Yet this ancient, low societal view of women colored some of the compositions of the biblical writers and we have taken the controlling attitudes toward women that shaped the text as mandates rather than the opinions of the writers that the texts themselves and sound hermeneutics state them to be. Women are not scapegoats for all male failure and inability to handle responsibility. Women have more value than their ability to bear children. But you would think differently based upon the interpretation many have of the bible.

These views will have to give way to those that see men and women as being interdependent, mutually supportive, caring and respectful or a culture of healthy relationships will be unattainable.

He answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself."
Luke 10:27

also see Ephphatha:Parents are Bad