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27 August 2011

Calming the Storm

The miracle stories in the life of Jesus are so well known and so beloved to me and many readers that I think that it is easy to take them for granted. Whether one reads them literally or literarily, those stories come from an entirely different world. It is a world that I have trouble recognizing when hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes devastate peoples around the world. And while there are would-be interpreters who leap to blame people for experiencing or succumbing to natural disasters, I've noticed that they don't claim to be able to calm those storms. Perhaps their blame-placing should be understood as a tacit admission that they cannot do what Jesus did.
I believe in miracles and in the power of prayer. And I believe that sometimes people inexplicably survive natural disasters and violent encounters because of the grace of God and perhaps, because of the prayers of the faithful.
It strikes me that those who claim to be able to reproduce all of the miracles of Jesus don't try to walk on the water or calm the storm. (I have heard of people praying to redirect storms, and for that matter to heal the sick and raise the dead.)
But there is something about the take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools oceans that cover the earth on which our land-islands seem to be perched so precariously that illustrate the void between the biblical world and our own.
Yet these stories are scriptural and canonical for me. They live and breathe and I hear God in and through them. Some of their most powerful incarnations are in the sacred music of the black church.
I love James Cleveland's Peace Be Still:

It is a sermon which needs no preacher. I love the line that "no water can swallow the ship where lies the master of ocean and earth and skies." And when the disciples in the song are in trouble, they call out "Get up Jesus!' I love it.
And while I know that I cannot walk on the water - I'm clear - when Donald Lawrence sings in the voice of Jesus "Oh Peter, don't be afraid...I am Mary's baby...walk out on the water..." I want to walk with him. (You may want to ff through the first minute of the video which is a conversation.")

I can't explain how these sacred stories and their musical interpretation inspire me when they fly in the face of everything I know about nature, physics and even miracles. They speak to me of a reality that transcends our own.
Lastly, there is Douglas Miller's "My Soul Has Been Anchored" which proclaims that "if the storms don't cease, and if the winds keep on blowing in my life, my soul has been anchored in the Lord."

Though the storms keep on raging in my life
And sometimes it's hard to tell the night from day
Still that hope that lies within is reassured as I keep my eyes upon the distant shore
I know He'll lead me safely to that blessed place He has prepared
But if the storm don't cease and if the winds keep on blowing in my life
My soul has been anchored in the Lord.
I realize that sometimes, in this life, we're gonna be tossed be the waves and the currents that seem so fierce
But in the Word of God -- I've got an anchor, 
oh yes I have, and keeps me steadfast, unmoveable, despite the tide
But if the storm don't cease and if the winds keep on blowing in my life
My soul has been anchored in the Lord
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
The billows may roll, the breakers may dash
I will not stray because He holds me fast
Some darkless day that lies in the sky
I know it's all right 'cause Jesus is nigh
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
You crush me down but Jesus picks me up
He sticks right by me when the going gets tough
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul's been anchored 
My soul has been anchored in the Lord.

26 August 2011

When an Estranged Parent Becomes Ill

When an Estranged Parent Becomes Ill
My Mother's Recent Illness

I can't use the detached voice or presume to make general statements.
This is how I feel/felt.
I did my duty and was aware that I was doing my duty.
There were awkward moments.
I care and cared for her. I prayed and pray for her.
But the truth is that it was easier when she was unresponsive.
When she recovered, she was the same woman and we were in the same relationship.
I'm glad she's better.
I don't wish her ill.
I wish her well.
I wish her healing of body, mind and spirit.
But I'm not holding my breath.

24 August 2011

Will the Revolution be Feminized?

I'm watching events unfold in Libya and wondering how the emerging nation will shape itself. We are not long past the Arab spring and liberation movements in Tunisia and Egypt, and in the redevelopment of their governments basic human and civil rights for women have not been a priority.
Egypt is a case in point. Women in Egypt have been subjected to horrific harassment and assault attributed to male frustration at the lack of economic opportunity under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. In the uprisings in Tahir Square, women and men stood and rallied side by side. Yet in the aftermath of the transition, there were forceful attempts to literally and figuratively remove women from the public square. And there were sexual assaults used strategically my Mubarak supporters in addition to the rapacious violence of thugs without an articulated political purpose.
I also am looking at Afghanistan and Iraq where women and girls risk their lives for literacy. It's not just the remnants of the Taliban or Al-Qaida who decree that women should be illiterate baby machines with no access to medical care, but members of their own families who are susceptible to the dominant ideology with none to counter it.
There can be no liberation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else if half the population does not have access to literacy, higher education, employment opportunities and basic health care.

21 August 2011

Blessing God

One of my rabbinic colleagues mentioned the tradition that a (Jewish) person should make a hundred b'rakoth a day. A b'rukah is a blessing. In the basic form the person praying blesses God for all manner of things. The blessing is formulaic:
Blessed are you Holy One our God, sovereign of the universe who...
and here is where the hundred-fold blessings come in.
For what does one bless God? For everything.
Today I bless God -
who has given us the gift of Sabbath
who has called me to holy work
who has given me the opportunity to experience leisure
who has created plants with leaves in 1001 shades of green
who opens doors for me
who has surrounded me with friends and family and colleagues and students
who has taught me gratitude
who hears my prayers
who hears my laments
who wrestles with me in the words in the Word. 
Ninety more to go...

18 August 2011

I Am Not A Slut

It's taken me a while to think through my response to Slut Walk, the anti-rape and anti-harrassment marches in which some/many women dress as sluts to make the point that nothing a woman or girl wears (or doesn't wear) makes it acceptable for her to be raped. (While not denying the experience of male rape, the Slut Walk phenomena is a woman/girl movement in response to the comments of a Toronto police officer who said that women who didn't want to be raped should stop dressing like sluts.)
Obviously his comments are reprehensible, violent, disgusting and more.
I share the outrage of the Slut Walk organizers. But I was immediately put off by the phenomenon and it took me some time to figure out why.
Finally it came to me: slut is not a word I chose to claim for myself or other women. I am not a slut. I am not a bitch. I am not a c*nt. I realized my response to the Slut Walk phenomenon was the same as my response to one of the Vagina Monologues monologues. Some words cannot be redeemed for me. I am not a n!gger. I am not a whore. I am not a 'ho. I am not a slut.
I am a woman created in the image of God. I am beautiful and brilliant in every sense of each word. And no one has the right to touch me without my permission. Not my hair. Not my skin. Not my body. And there is nothing I could ever do - or have ever done that would justify anyone breaking into my body.
Nothing I wear (or don't wear) makes me a slut, whether or not someone else finds me attractive, desirable, or sees me as in need of domination, subjugation or feels entitled to have access to me, to violate, injure, degrade or rape me. None of that is about me. Whatever names they might call me, whatever narrative they may create for themselves to justify their conduct; I am not a slut. I won't own that label at the hands of rapists, sexists or anti-sexist anti-rape activists.
One aspect of the marches that I did appreciate was the range of attire worn by the participants. That is where I would have looked to name the response: What Raped Women Wear - not nearly as sexy catchy as Slut Walk.
I know that some speeches addressed this issue, but I would have needed this to be the headline and organizing principle in order to participate.

What Raped Women Wear...
Grandmothers in housecoats and slippers
Critically ill women in adult diapers in hospital beds
Mentally ill and developmentally disabled women and girls in jumpers and jeans
Infant girls in onesies
Little girls in their Sunday best
Muslim women in hijab
Nuns in their habits
Businesswomen in business suits
Students in jeans and skirts
Girls and women in their pajamas, nightgowns and skin in their own homes, in their own showers, in their own beds
Prostitutes and strippers in their uniforms
Police women and soldiers in their uniforms
Any woman or girl anywhere, wearing anything
this is what raped women wear.

10 August 2011

A Response to "The Help"

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:
[Offered as a response by AfroLez to the the white woman's fantasy that is the novel and film on the experience of black women working for white families in the 1950's and '60's, called "The Help." For another response see Martha Southgate's commentary.]