Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thinking Out Loud about Comfort

Thinking about the many people who went to church today or yesterday
Either in traditional church settings with pews, hymnals, choirs, preachers, teachers, Sunday going to meetin clothes
Or who gathered by two's (Holy Spirit and me), three's, etc at St. Paul of the Pillows, Couch of he Catheral, Bedside Baptist
In relative comfort while somebody somewhere else with neither pew nor sofa, bed nor bench, choir nor radio or dvd, and no walls of their own mumbled or mouthed a barely audible or silent prayer to God that nobody at "church" heard while their music blasted, the preacher preached "the word of God",  the members yelled
In preparation for more comfort for me.
Thinking about how uncomfortable, comfortable church folk are with being uncomfortable and with the uncomfortables among us. 
"Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter." Eccl 4:1

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sacrifice Remembering at Altar of Forgiveness? A Lenten Reflection

I am not convinced that forgiveness can or does command our forgetfulness.  God made us with brains that have a memory function. We rely on the brain’s remembering function for short-term(recalling what happened to us in the last few minutes or hours) and long-term memory (childhood memories, milestones in our lives, etc.) [a third type is sensory memory]. The parts of the brain that transfer information to long-term memory shut down while sleeping. Thus, dreams quickly fade away when we wake up except for any parts of the dream that get stored in short-term memory. Some things we wish we could forget, such as the death of a loved one. We don’t want to forget that our loved one is actually no longer with us, but we do want to be rid of the pain that accompanies the loss. When my mother died two years ago, I didn’t think the day would arrive when I didn’t remember & feel with pain. But “the day” crept upon me like a cool east wind on a hot steamy day. I don’t know when it began to blow, but I felt its presence and the relief. For women and men who have been victims of child sexual abuse, the memory can be emotionally and physically paralyzing. And the forgiveness that liberates is not accompanied by amnesia.  If we cannot remember our traumatic experiences, what are we forgiving?  It is the remembering that commands our forgiveness.  The forgiveness, I think, allows us to live with the inescapable memories without the pain that can make the remembering unbearable.
Some experiences are so unbearably painful that the brain shuts down, represses memory, or splinters into schizophrenia. A repressed memory is unavailable for recall, but it has not been “cast into the sea of forgetfulness.”  The image of God in humans may partly include the ability to remember and yet forgive.  God continually reminded the Israelites to remember how he brought them out of the land of Egypt and how they had been slaves. This is not to say that God held all Egyptians responsible for Egyptian slavery; that God expected Israel to hold a grudge against the Egyptians; nor that God held a grudge against the Egyptians. Indeed, Abraham and Sarah had at least one Egyptian slave woman named Hagar prior to Jacob’s children becoming Pharaoh’s slaves.
We find many references to remembering traumatic and ugly events in the Bible so that lessons can be learned, so that the events are not repeated, and so as to divorce the pain from the event itself. Remembering the victims, the atrocities, and our part in the perpetration of crimes can be cathartic to both (actual and potential) victims and (potential and actual) victimizers. Remembering functions as an acknowledgement that what occurred was evil and should not happen again. Remembering~the Holocaust wherein millions of Jews were slaughtered, American slavery and the dehumanization of black people, the deficient levees in the 9th Ward & Hurricane Katrina, America’s history with Haiti & the recent earthquake in Haiti, etc, etc., etc. ~ says I acknowledge any part that humans played in perpetrating those events (and the events themselves) as real, horrific, wrong, and never to be repeated.
by Alexander Kimel- Holocaust Survivor.

Do I want to remember?
The peaceful ghetto, before the raid:
Children shaking like leaves in the wind.
Mothers searching for a piece of bread.
Shadows, on swollen legs, moving with fear.
No, I don't want to remember, but how can I forget?

Do I want to remember, the creation of hell?
The shouts of the Raiders, enjoying the hunt.
Cries of the wounded, begging for life.
Faces of mothers carved with pain.
Hiding Children, dripping with fear.
No, I don't want to remember, but how can I forget?

Do I want to remember, my fearful return?
Families vanished in the midst of the day.
The mass grave steaming with vapor of blood.
Mothers searching for children in vain.
The pain of the ghetto, cuts like a knife.
No, I don't want to remember, but how can I forget?

Do I want to remember, the wailing of the night?
The doors kicked ajar, ripped feathers floating the air.
The night scented with snow-melting blood.
While the compassionate moon, is showing the way.
For the faceless shadows, searching for kin.
No, I don't want to remember, but I cannot forget.

Do I want to remember this world upside down?
Where the departed are blessed with an instant death.
While the living condemned to a short wretched life,
And a long tortuous journey into unnamed place,
Converting Living Souls, into ashes and gas.
No.  I Have to Remember and Never Let You Forget.

I remember sitting in a feminist interpretation class at Harvard Divinity School when the insignificance of remembering American slavery among some of my classmates was painfully apparent.  We were asked to prepare group projects for presentation to the larger class. One group decided to perform a ritual called “Never Again” in which they named the atrocities that need to be remembered so that they never happened again. I listened certain I would hear the two words “American Slavery”; but they never came. I squirmed and then with a righteous indignation raised my hand in objection. The group consisted of white females. I was not the only black female in the class, but I was the only one who noticed and objected. This was even more disturbing. I asked how could they fail to mention American slavery given its significance in American history. The response was more telling than the omission.  “We did not have time to mention it.” Mind you they were only engaged in the NAMING of the event not a reflection or essay on the event. “American Slavery.” – took me about two seconds to say. Too often blacks and whites think the only way beyond America’s enslavement of black people is to never mention it again, to sweep it under the proverbial rug. But the dust piles up and when you walk on or shake the rug, the dust rises and settles in unexpected places.  Forgetting is not forgiving or cleansing. And forgiving does not required forgetting.
In her book A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela [Thank you Rita Nakashima Brock for this reference] writes : “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a strategy not only for breaking the cycle of politically motivated violence but also for teaching important lessons about how the human spirit can prevail even as victims remember the cruelty visited upon them in the past. If memory is kept alive in order to cultivate old hatreds and resentments, it is likely to culminate in vengeance, and in a repetition of violence. But is memory is kept alive in order to transcend hateful emotions, the remembering can be healing” (103).  We help keep memories alive through communal and individual rituals and by talking about and writing them down.
Remembering gives power to the present–power to take a different and better, more humane, route; power to more intelligently name the past without making excuses for it; power to lay a more truth-full foundation in the present ensuring a healthier future for all. Remembering gives voice to those victims long gone who cannot tell us about their pain, but who died struggling and who wished a different future for their heirs. Remembering releases the perpetrators from remaining in a state of guilt-full-ness and gives them permission to focus on reconciliation. Remembering empowers those perpetrated against giving them space to have their say and to move beyond being victims to being productive agents of their own happiness and promoters of peace despite the memories. Daily, I need to choose to forgive even while I remember. Being open to the future does not require that we sacrifice history; history that shows us how we got here, to this place, with this mindset, with these wounds. I choose to remember while I forgive.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Remembering Flora Opheila Carson Smith (Feb 4, 1929~Mar 14, 2009)

As I sat this week watching The Talk, the ladies shared what it was like living with their mothers for short stints as grown women (either in their mother’s home or in their own homes).  Julie Chen's mother lived in her home when Julie’s first child was born.  Julie said she loved it because “I was my mother’s baby.”  Her mother really took care of her as a grown daughter with a new baby. 
When she was most ill, I saw & felt the love in her smile.
Most mothers  never stop being mothers and daughters do not cease to be daughters even into middle age and later.  I have shared things my mother taught me on two other blogs.  So if you have read them you know my mother was unable to walk from the time I was about ten years old.  Yet, from her chair with wheels and then her wheelchair, mommy enjoyed doing the things we normally associate with mothers.  She cooked, cleaned, washed, combed and brushed our hair, hugged us, scolded us, chastised us (she, like most women of her generation, believed in spanking a child’s behind when necessary but never striking a child in the face), “babied” us, fussed over us, etc.
When I suffered from premenstrual syndrome—severe cramps, vomiting, etc.-- and was confined to bed for a day or few hours, mommy would scoot from the kitchen to the bed bringing me hot tea, soup and medicine.  She never let the challenges associated with constricted hamstrings muscles and arthritic joints stop her from taking care of her children (as babies, teens or adults). She babysat for my older sister because she could not afford to pay for a babysitter.  She raised my grandniece Misty from her wheelchair, bathing her in the kitchen sink where she taught the baby to help herself out of the sink by pushing off from her tiny feet.  As someone recently said, no-human-body will ever love me like my mother loved me. I might have felt like an orphan for a while after my mother died, but I know I was loved when she lived.
This unconditional love my mother had for me and all her children did not mean that she didn’t teach us to be independent, responsible adults.  Because she did.  Whenever I felt the need to cry over a problem or predicament and would call my mother, she would firmly let me know that crying was not going to change a thing. “Pray about it,” she would say, "and then get up and do something about it.” Prayer without works was no good. My mother was resourceful.  She believed if we ask, we have a better chance of getting what we need than if we never ask. She exercised humility in this regard. She believed we should act on our faith.  Below I have insert the eulogy I gave at my mother’s funeral, which provides a better picture of how she lived a life of faith.

By Mitzi Jane Smith
March 19, 2009

My mother’s favorite scripture was Psalm 91:1-2: The one who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty; I will say of the Lord; He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 

I want to say a few words about this Scripture, but first a brief prologue on my mother’s life.
            If I could be half the person my mother was, I’d be satisfied.  Someone once said that everyone needs someone to be a witness to their life up close – the way one lives her life from day to day.  We are that witness for my mother.  My mother loved life, had a zeal for life in spite of her many illnesses and challenges.  She loved her children; when she could no longer walk, people advised her that she should put her children in Franklin Village; but she would not – she continued to raise us from her wheelchair.  She was intelligent and industrious – She always began her day very early in the morning to do whatever she had to do; she believed in doing all things well and efficiently for herself and for others; she would say, “if you don’t use your head, you will wear out your feet.”  “If I could walk,” she’d say, “you would not know which corner my dress tail went around last.”   She was compassionate and caring, attempting to love all people equally – black, white, rich, and poor.  She cared for the sick and elderly at St. Luke’s and in her neighborhood, as if they were her own.  My mother brought her grandfather to Columbus to take care of him, along with her three small children in her two bedroom apt., until his death.  My mother adjusted to every new challenge – she would not let her constricted leg muscles or her arthritis render her immobile – for example, she found a way to get a car with hand controls –we celebrated her ingenuity and independence, but we also discovered it was risky business riding in the car with my mother – long after the fact, we could joke about how she couldn’t get her leg off the accelerator quick enough and ran a red light or nudged a ladder on the side of a house – and yes there was a man on the ladder.  Truly God’s shadow covered her and her children. 
My mother was an extremely grateful person.  She would repeatedly tell me the story of how one night God delivered her from death – hot frothy water bubbling up in her lungs, unable to catch her breath, she called out to God and God saved her.  For this she was always grateful even though God had not yet straightened out her crippled legs.  My mother loved to laugh; and laughed as hard as she worked; as she recounted to us stories and jokes, she laughed  until her body shook, turned red in the face, and tears ran down her face.  We laughed hard too even though we found no real humor in the joke; her laughter was contagious as was her love for the Lord.
My mother, I believe, found and learned to dwell or to inhabit that secret place of God.  I have conjured up Psalm 91 when I needed encouragement or strength for the journey; it reminds us of the Lord’s protection and presence in difficult times.  But my mother, allowed the God of this scripture to consume her.  This Psalm is a testimony to her life; the way she lived her life.  My mother lived her life in that secret place – she didn’t dart in and out of that place like a turtle in its shell.  She knew that to live in that secret place is to do more than merely exist there.  To live there is to walk, to talk, to act as if no other place of habitation exists.  Life only makes sense; is bearable when one lives in that secret place.  She made that secret place her home, her city, her country.  To live in that place is to face every disappointment, every obstacle, every challenge, knowing where you live.  I loved the stories our mother told us – sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, but many stories of faith.  My favorites were those that testified to God’s compassionate intervention in her life.  There was a particular occasion when my mother had no money to catch the bus to go to work; but with four small children depending on her, by faith she made her way to the bus stop believing she would make it to work. And she stood at the stop without a dime in her pockets; she stood there at the bus stop expecting God to do something.  And as she stood there the Lord sent a gust of wind and riding in on the wings of the wind was a bus ticket.  The bus came; she got on her. I don’t know how she got back home, but she did.  She who lives in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty – he is my refuge, my fortress, in him do I trust.
            That place where my mother lived and in which God invites us to live is described as a secret place.  An image comes to mind of children playing hide-n-seek.  But when I think of my mother Flora Smith, I think of something not so childlike.  The secret place can be a metaphor for intimacy.   Intimacy is not limited to space or place; it transcends any space and any place.  My mother could live in that space in the wee hours of the morning.  When she could not sleep, she would sit on the side of her bed.  When I asked her what she was doing at those times – her answer, “praying for her children.”
            And in that space, that place she found not just any god; but the Most High.  My mother had an intimate relationship with the Most High.  She knew the Most High in a way that made me envious; envious enough to seek the same kind of intimacy with God.  The ancients believed in the existence of many gods – a creator god, a sea god, a god of war, a god of love, etc.  The Most high is the most powerful god; that god who trumps and prevails over all other gods; competing gods that strive for our loyalties and sacrifices; gods of greed and selfishness; gods of mean spiritedness and grudging holding; my mother turned her back on these gods.  Her Most High God could not be put in her or anybody else’s pocket.  My mother had tried God and found God to be the Most High.  If nothing could move her God, nothing could stop her – not polio, not sleeping sickness, not diabetes, not an empty purse, not a bare refrigerator, and not even a deceitful landlord who took her money and said she hadn’t paid her rent leaving her homeless with two children in her arms and one on her dress tail.  Living in that secret place God cast a long and wide shadow over her life.  That shadow remains in death and in the life to come.  God is truly a refuge, a fortress and a shelter in the time of need.  A rock in a weary land.
The Lord is our light and our salvation
Whom/what shall we fear?
The Lord is the strength of our life
Of who shall be afraid?
We love you Mom
And we’ll see you in the morning – that great getting’ up morning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

God is a Black Woman and She is Divine

Many religious and non-religious folk, women and men, consider it blasphemy to call God “She.”  Such people believe that it is natural to refer to God as “He” and that God expects us to employ the masculine pronoun (He) for God. Proponents of God as naturally “He” (and by implication unnaturally “She”) stand inside the hermeneutical circle of their socio-historical locatedness, as we all do, but constrained by traditions that have prejudicially determined without critical reflection that God could be nothing but He.   For me, it is easier to understand this position when presumed by males.  But it becomes more difficult for me to comprehend women’s rejection of God as a “She.” This rejection contributes to a repulsion (consciously or not so consciously) of the female gender and femininity and capabilities, at the least.  It is a rejection of womanself as divine, which can unwittingly contribute to women’s subordination as the inferior gender (a notion that has a long history and reach).
Is it not true that to say God is a man or an He is metaphorical and anthropomorphic language?  If God can metaphorically be perceived as male, why should it be heretical to speak of God as metaphorically female?  Is not one metaphor as good as another?  If not, why not?  If we have no problem with referring to God as a rock  (personal pronoun “it”), metaphorically speaking, why not as a woman.  Wouldn’t a designation for God as She rather and It provide a more conceptually and experientially available symbol for God, one that we can relate to and that helps God make sense in our mundane living?  I don’t know what it is like to be a rock in this world.  But I do know what it is like to be a woman.  What is the purpose of imaging God metaphorically and anthropomorphically?  Isn’t the purpose so that we can intellectually, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually relate to God who is otherwise both inscrutable and inaccessible, unreachable, and antithetically divine?  We construct God-talk or theologies and they serve us and not God. The New Testament Gospel of John’s Jesus states that God is a Spirit (4:24), a notion that requires far more imagination than understanding God as She or He.
What am I to make of the biblical assertion that humans were created in the image of God? This is to assert similarity between humans and God. The relationship between God and me as one created in the image of God is one of simile and not symmetry.  A simile is a comparison using the words “like” or  “as” to indicate resemblance between two different kinds of things. I am like God=simile. God is like me. God is not human (male or female).  I am not God. But I (male or female) am like God.  God and me are two different kinds. In the first version (Priestly tradition) of the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:4a God systematically created according to kind (i.e., air borne animals, water animals, land animals, humans, etc.). I am like God, but not God’s kind in the sense of being God.  A simile does not signify equality and/or symmetry between the two kinds, just similarity.
I am a woman.  I am a black woman. As a black woman I can relate to God in the image of a black woman. To make this claim is not to desacralize or desecrate God, but it is an expression of the sacredness of my life as a black woman and a rejection of attempts to desecrate and diminish my life and experiences.  It is my God-talk.  It is to affirm that God made and is reflected in me as a black women and in black people regardless of the many peoples of the world who believe I (we) are inferior and worthy only of servitude and oppression. To say God is a black woman does not exclude God from being He or It or like a Native American, Hispanic, or Indian woman.  The problem with many constructions of God as He is that God is visualized as a White male and/or any male, exclusively.   I do not believe God is limited anatomically or by the biologically-, psychologically-, and socially-determined characteristics we associate with being male.  How important is it to imagine God as having male genitalia?  Do we believe that to imagine God as male and not as male and/or female does justice to the assertion that God created them male and female both in the image of God?
In the second or Yawhist account of creation beginning at Gen. 2:4b God did not consider God’s self as a satisfactory divine companion for the human God created. So instead of starting from scratch, God formed the second human from the first human’s side (not the rib). Thus, they were of the same kind. Neither equal to God, but both formed by God.  Both could declare I am like God. And God is like me. I can know the likeness of God by looking at myself and into the ”face” of my fellow human beings.  But God and I are not equal.  I am not God.
For me as a black woman to say God is like me is to claim that there is nothing inferior about me as a Black woman. But there is something divine-like in me as a Black woman. And I can always tap into that divinity while inhabiting this black woman’s body and standing in my hermeneutical circle. My Designer hair, lips, hips, skin colors, unique accent are divine. I can look at me and see God.  I do not disappear in the face of God or in the face of a man.  When I hear “God,” I see me. She is like me. I am like Her. I am like God. Yet God stands apart from me molding, emboldening, informing, correcting, upholding, protecting, and empowering me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chastised or banned for Speaking Her Mind

The banning or chastising of women for speaking their minds is as old as Moses. Remember Moses’s sister Miriam~the older sister who watched over her baby brother among the papyrus reeds of the Nile and who spoke up to offer her mother as a nurse when Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby Moses from  the river. It was good that she spoke up.  But the next time Miriam speaks her mind, she is censored and afflicted with a skin disease like leprosy. Even though she and Aaron had the same idea (that Moses was not the only one in the family hearing God's voice; and there was the problem, it seems of Moses’ Cushite wife, Num1 2:1) and spoke the same words, Aaron escapes censorship.  Indeed, the Lord verified the pairs’ contention by calling all three out and meeting all three in a pillar of cloud at the tent of meeting. Admittedly, the Lord made a distinction between the manner in which he communicated with Moses as opposed to other prophets. And the narrator demonstrates that God afflicted Miriam only and locked her out of the camp for seven days for speaking her mind while leaving Aaron untouched—so it appears.  (Num 12-4-6)

I remember my mother telling me several times about how the black actress, singer, activist Eartha Kitt (1927 -2008) had been blackballed for speaking her mind about the Vietnam War while a guest at the White House when Lyndon Johnson was President in 1968.  Kitt told Lady Bird Johnson "Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason." "When the people who are responsible for our country ask you a direct question, I expect them to accept a direct answer, not to be blackballed because you are telling the truth," Ms. Kitt would later say. When Ms. Kitt was blacklisted in the U.S., she found work in Europe, and would only be welcomed back in the US in the late seventies. She would also return to the White House to sing as the invited guest of President Jimmy Carter. 

Former model, actress, and activist Jane Fonda had been censured for voicing her opposition to the Vietnam War. Some went so far as to say she engaged in treason. In 2005 people were still trying to shut Jane Fonda down. The owner of two Kentucky theatres refused to show the new Jane Fonda film Monster-in-Law because of Fonda’s activist role during the Vietnam War. Today Fonda identifies herself as liberal, feminist, and a Christian.  In 2005, Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan established the Women's Media Center, an organization that works to amplify women’s voices in the media through advocacy, media and leadership training, and the creation of original content.

In 2003, at the start of the Iraq war, singer Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks stated while on stage in London that they were  ashamed” that then President George W. Bush “is from Texas [her home state]." Maines added she felt Bush’s foreign policy was alienating the US from the rest of the world. Her remark led to a ban whereby the group’s records were pulled from a number of country-music stations across the country. Because country music tends to originate among and to be supported by conservatives and red states, Maines’ statement was seen as more offensive than statements about the Bush Administration policies made by others.  In addition to being banned from country-music radio stations, The Dixie Chicks’ records sales dropped, and they received death threats.  Senator John McCain (R. Az) spoke against the ban as an infringement contributing to the erosion of First Amendment rights. In 2006 Detroit's Fox, WDTW-FM, a Clear Channel-owned station, announced it would not play the new Dixie Chicks album based on a poll taken among its listeners.  Despite stations that banned them from the airways, The Dixie Chicks’ placed among Billboard’s top 200. Their song “Taking the Long Way” sold over 500,000 copies in its first week of U.S. sales, which was the trio's best-selling week since 2002's "Home" debuted with 780,000. 
”Taking the Long Way” also took the No. 1 spot on the Country Albums chart in Billboard. 

In 2004 Whoopi Goldberg was reportedly banned from the Democratic National Convention because of remarks she made about then President George W. Bush. Some organizers feared her anti-Bush stance would offend voters. Reportedly, leading Democrats asked left-wing celebrities to refrain from criticizing Bush because they did not want any distractions from their message. Goldberg was targeted after her comedic rant against Bush at a New York Democratic Party fundraising event. CNN Entertainment online reported on July 14, 2004 that Slim-Fast was dropping Goldberg “following a controversy over sexually explicit comments she made last week at a fund-raiser in New York for presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.” The venue, Radio City Music Hall in Nashville, Tennessee was not insignificant. Once word of boycott following Goldberg’s remarks spread, Slim-Fast, via general manager Terry Olson, quickly dropped Goldberg for “the way in which [she] chose to express her own personal beliefs.”

In 1969 Angela Davis was banned from the University of California for her membership in the Communist Party despite her excellent academic qualifications. In response to a letter from the Chancellor of the University inquiring whether Davis was in fact a member of the Communist Party, she stated that they lacked the authority to make such an inquiry and that they could not fire her because of such an affiliation. Davis further stated that without waiving her objections to the question posed “my answer is that I am now a member of the communist party.” In Oct 1969, the editor of the Synapse a student associated paper wrote the following in an article entitled Censorship as Usual: “The action of the Regents of the University of California in the case of Angela Davis seems to be a reflection of a censorship-as-usual attitude. The Standing Order of the Regents that stated that no political test will be applied for hiring and promotion is a position that any true university must take and hold continuously. To repudiate this position, as the Regents have, is to strike a deathblow to freedom of thought, speech, and association in the institution in which thought, speech, and association must be given most freedom. Miss Davis appears to have all necessary academic qualifications to teach in the University. To dismiss her from a teaching position because she says that she is a member of the Communist Party, or that she will teach Communism in her class is a breach of the Constitutional guarantees that prevent prosecution or harassment of any citizen for association with any group, or expression of any thought.”
A number of people (whose names I prefer not to unnecessarily give space or voice to in this blog) have attempt to chastise Michelle Obama for speaking out about health care because she doesn’t look like a “Sports Illustrated swimsuit model”–she eats ribs (according to her accuser) rather than shows them (say I); for encouraging parents to feed their children healthy foods and promoting exercise; and for speaking or writing candidly about her experience as a black woman matriculating at an ivy league school.  In 1985 Michelle LaVaughn Robinson wrote in her Princeton master’s thesis "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” the following: "My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before,I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second." [I could definitely identify with Michelle’s experience in this regard.] Some people could not bear to hear her “speak,” but engaged in a form of censuring by erasing, revising and augmenting her words to make them seem ugly and hateful rather than honest and in-sightful. More recently, some people have even had the nerve to criticize our First Lady for bearing her sleek, toned arms in public, which is a form of speaking out! But Obama continues to speak out and to incarnate her voice.

Of course, we can also point to men who have been censured. But society is generally less tolerable of women speaking their minds. God gave women and men the same organs that function to create speech and facilitate communication. We too have lungs, a windpipe/trachea, a larynx or voice box cradling our vocal chords, a tongue, teeth and lips all working together to produce sounds. And we too have brains that conceptualize the lyrics of our hearts so that the sounds we shape are meaningful, demonstrate our convictions, and can persuade. We can and should name the oppressions we see. We can and should exercise our power of speech. We can and should recognize that our thoughts, words, sentences, poetry, songs, and books are worthy to be formed, articulated, strung together, noted, written, and read. Don’t cower and wilt because some misguided woman can’t see her way and therefore wants to block your path. Don’t shrink and shut up because some men think, like children, you should be seen and not heard.

If we find that we need to or can wisely tweak our voices so as to limit real or potential damage from vitriolic censuring noises pitched at us from the centers and the margins of our locatedness and so as to maximize our tone, then we should. Sometimes this is necessary, but we should not think it okay or become accustomed to others shutting us down, censoring us, if we believe God inspired us to compose a song and sing it. It is true the world contains many venues in which we can sing, and it may be necessary sometimes to move on in order to carry a tune. Sometimes “the caged bird sings for freedom” and one may have to hum alongside the rivers of Babylon for a little while.