Wednesday, January 26, 2011
We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
in the marketplace.
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain is gold
so much the worse for you.
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare.
This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
what's scarce. ~ Written by Alice Walker
I love this petite, powerful poem pregnant with meaning. In his SOTU speech last night, President Obama stated that our destiny is our choice. These words resonate with me. We have more power over our lives than we give ourselves credit for. We can give worth to those things that will enhance life–our lives and the lives of our fellow human beings at home and around the globe. As Walker’s poem states “our revolution” should be to “love what is plentiful as much as what’s scarce.” Love nature–the waters, the soil, the air, plant and animal life. Love children–abandoned, motherless, under-educated, mis-guided, gifted, color-full…Love children–children in crises and well-adjusted children (if ever there was such a thing. Many adults look back and realize they were not so well adjusted). Love potential–the possibility of “success” in the people around us, far and near. Love laughter waiting to be released in you and others; release it and do it often. Love fallible, imperfect human beings–at least one resides in every home. Love life wherever it is found–on the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit; in the prison and foster care system; under the make-shift tents of Haiti; in the White House and the House on the Hill. Love people who disagree with our opinions; they emerge on the job, in our families, on Facebook, in faculty and academic settings, in the church board and business meetings… – “love what is plentiful as much as what’s scarce…
Of course, some things are plentiful that we should not love, things like poverty, bigotry in all its forms, jealousy, hatred, gossip, etc. And unfortunately, people have a way of taking what is (or should be) plentiful and making it scarce (literally, virtually, statistically, rhetorically), things like dandelion and poke salad greens; good black men and women; good men and women period; women capable of holding powerful positions traditionally held by men; decent, respectful, respect-loving minority communities with strong work ethics and moral values; fit black women who exercise and eat properly; women who support and respect other women; neighbors who care about and “discipline” the children next door and parents who will allow them to do so; a “good morning, how are you?”; innocent children free from threat of sexual or physical abuse; compassion for the poor, those who defaulted on their mortgages, those who seem to have misplaced their “bootstraps”; hallelujah prophetic sermons that transform hearts, minds, and communities; parents who want their children to have a good education and are willing to send them into a wealthy white school district to do so–these things and more we have a way of making scarce. Love again what we have made scarce and celebrate our love!
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The idea that God has a unique relationship to the people of Israel and that God brought Israel out of Egypt is central to the identity, practices, and socio-historical institutions of both ancient Israel and Judaism today. But a remarkable verse from the Book of Amos challenges the uniqueness of both points. In Amos 9:7, we read, “To Me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians — declares the LORD. True, I brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, But also the Philistines from Caphtor And the Arameans from Kir.” (NJPS) In 9:7 God cares about at least three other peoples just as much as Israel and has performed an Exodus-style redemption for two other peoples. As if to drive the point home even more sharply, two of these peoples are the Philistines and the Arameans. Both the Philistines and the Arameans are enemies of the Israelites in the historical writings. They are people that elsewhere God is said to give to Israel in victory. To state therefore, that even bitter enemies (see also the inhabitants of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah) were recipients of God’s love and redemptive power challenges what Amos’ audience thought they knew about God and about God’s relation to other peoples. The passage from Amos also suggests that our own sense of “truth” needs to be revisited in close conjunction with a better understanding of another group’s narrative.
There is a compelling philosophical basis for being modest about one’s ability to expound the “full truth” of anything. Kurt Gödel, in one of the greatest proofs of all time, demonstrated that it is impossible for a formal systematic description of mathematical truths to be both simultaneously consistent and complete. In other words, it can be consistent, but at the cost of leaving something out or it can be complete, but at the cost of being inconsistent. Gödel’s proof of incompleteness, as many philosophers recognize, has wider applications beyond mathematics. Applying Gödel to the study of religious traditions one can argue that no single religion has a monopoly on the truth. There is something special to be learned from every religious tradition.
One can think of this idea in another way, by means of visual imagery. Imagine a globe of light like a lamp, but over the globe there is a kind of Chinese lantern or paper-cut. The effect of the paper-cut is that it lets part of the light stream out but restricts the remainder. The pattern that is formed by the streaming light is beautiful even as it is not complete. Now imagine another paper-cut, and another, each different, and when placed on the globe each yields a different pattern of light. The imagery is not too difficult to interpret. The globe represents religious insight (“truth”) about the cosmos and the role of humanity, the paper-cuts represent different religious traditions, and the patterns of light represent the different ways religious insight is represented in those respective traditions. Further reflection on this image may yield the realization that the restrictions upon the “full truth” may not only be required, but are helpful. Without the systems of the various paper-cuts, it could be the force of the light by itself might be too overpowering. Moreover, there would be no beautiful patterns.
I will close by drawing upon my own personal experience, in which I encountered competing truth claims firsthand. While living in the United Kingdom, I shared accommodation for a year with three Palestinians, two of whom were Muslims from Gaza and the West Bank and one a Christian from Jordan. They were not immigrants – they were directly in touch with what was happening in those regions and they educated me in a way that I am forever grateful. At the same time, despite, friendliness, mutual respect, mutual wishes for peace and a strong willingness on both sides to understand -- and some amazing food -- there was always something that seemed to be left unsaid in our conversations. I finally figured out what it was. My Palestinian friends and I had different understandings as to how the current situation came about, and even, despite strong agreement on many points, still some differences in understanding how to solve it. These differences were a result of the fact that we each had powerful narratives about our own identities that are deeply embodied into our respective institutions, including but not limited to, religious institutions. In these narratives certain facts are fiercely contested. Although the search for historical truth is an important venture, the opposing narratives have a force and dynamic of their own. In the pursuit of peace, it often matters less what actually happened in 1948 so much as what each side believes took place. When groups in conflict begin to understand each other’s narratives, they are laying the basis for peace because the act of understanding fosters respect for the humanity of the other side, no matter how difficult that narrative may be to hear. Support for this approach is also found in a form of family therapy known as social constructionist therapy in which participants learn to revisit their own account of events in light of hearing the narratives from all parties.
My opportunity to reconsider Israeli-Palestinian politics led to my better understanding of both myself and others, A similar process can bring us one step closer to the resolution of conflict, whether within a small group or globally. If, thanks to Gödel, we can appreciate that no single group has a monopoly on the truth, it is formally necessary that we explore the truth claims of others if we wish to have a more complete and accurate understanding of the situation.. And just as God’s words in Amos about the Ethiopians, Philistines, Arameans shocked Israelites out of their self-complacency, so can our honest encounter with others reach to a kind a truth that is not about facts and dogma and assertion but is about soul connecting with soul, the divine in us greeting the divine in the other.
My Guest Blogger, Naomi S. S. Jacobs, received her Ph.D in Early Judaism at Durham University with Loren T. Stuckenbruck. She recently taught as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew at Washington University in St. Louis. Her latest publications include “Nebuchadnezzar's Hibernian Cousin”, in the John J. Collins Festschrift and “Disability,” forthcoming in the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Her book, Delicious Prose: Reading the Tale of Tobit with Food and Drink, is in preparation. She also is the creator of the art blog, and offers professional dissertation and book coaching for writers in the humanities and social sciences.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
People who knew my mother and had been in her apartment would say that her floors were so clean that you could eat off of them. We lived in the projects where the floors were mostly concrete (sometimes covered with cheap tiles). Before my mother was confined to a wheelchair (the second time; the first time she had polio and learned to walk again), she would rise early at 6 am before her children woke and clean her apartment. When Momma could no longer walk (her muscles constricted; no definitive diagnosis), she taught us to clean the house. More was at stake than “spic and span” floors. Some people thought, and suggested, that she should place her children in Franklin Village —an institution for children with no parents or whose parents were unable to care for them. My mother refused to abandon her children to the county. She insisted she could care for her own children, even from a wheelchair—a confinement she resisted until she could no longer do so. Mommy first scooted around on a regular stool or chair (until it broke), graduated to a chair with small wheels, and finally, against her will, to a full blown wheel chair.
So my mother taught us to sweep and mop floors along with other household chores. Mommy did these things herself until depending on us became her last resort. She told me the hardest thing for her was to learn to depend on other “folks” (in this case us children were the “folks”). My mother was a perfectionist (of course, this wasn’t how I would have then described her insistence that we do things right). Mommy wanted us to sweep and mop the floors like she would if she were doing it. Too often we “swept just the middle of the floor” or “swiped the mop around the floor” neglecting to “get the corners.” “The floor is square,” she would remind us, and not round. “The corners are a part of the floor,” she fussed with frustration.
You can’t treat a square like it is a circle. The corners of a square matter. It is important to respect the image of a thing and not to treat it like it is something other than what it is. This works with people too. People are different; their differences should be respected even while we treat them impartially or with equality. Before my mother’s activities became somewhat restricted by the wheelchair attached to her hips (didn’t slow her down too much), she worked as a nurse’s assistant (she had two years of nursing school having dropped out when she could no longer afford the tuition). My mother meticulously took care of the older people who lived in (and sometimes were abandoned to) nursing homes; she took care of them “like they were her own parents.” And some were quite wealthy and tried to reward my mother, but she refused most of their gifts, if not all. Details matter especially when caring for people.
Mommy believed in giving people the same care she would want for herself or her parents regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. Somehow some of us think just because people are in need, they should accept whatever we give them. I remember Barbara Bush’s comment about the victims of Hurricane Katrina who were crammed into the Superdome under inhumane conditions. Former first lady Mrs. Bush said, "They're underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." As the gap between the rich and poor widens, it becomes more and more necessary for us to help our fellow human beings and to assist one another in the same manner that we would want to be helped. During this recession, some people who never thought their homes would be foreclosed and they’d be facing homelessness may after such experiences have a different view of the poor. And others in the same predicament may still think they are inherently different than most of the poor. Poverty and bad character or decisions are no more intrinsically related than are wealth and integrity and wise choices. Wealthy persons are capable of making the same good or bad choices as the poor; they just do so with more money.
So my mother was teaching us equality of care. And even though my mother concerned herself with details, she never lost sight of the broader picture—keeping her children together with her in a clean, healthy environment and not giving anyone an excuse to take them from her. I learned to pay attention to the details from my mother; I’m still trying to master the big picture thing.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Keep your dress tail down; all it takes is down
Down down baby down by the roller coaster
Sweet sweet baby I’ll never let you go
Go along to get along
Along the way, don’t make waves
Waves like a ship on the sea
Sea that Jesus rebuke
Rebuke da devil and he will flee from thee
[Thee devil done took the best]
Best to be ready
Ready to get married
Married is better
Better than single
Single most important value
Value submission to a man
Man will complete and make you happy
Happy is not an educated black woman
Black Woman educated won’t get married at all
All single women wish they had your husband to love
Love self sacrifice
Sacrifice self to love everybody
Everybody but yourself protect
Protect your virginity~that’s the best & all the morality you got
Got to maintain a full fool figure
Figure this, A dog don’t like no bone.
Bone straight those locks
Locks (au naturale) unprofessional, unkempt, pick-a-ninny look
Look like somebody
Some Body white
White is right; yellow, mellow; brown makes you frown; black get back
Back then, way back, Eve seduced Adam
Adam, not Eve, created in God’s likeness
God ain’t never called a woman to preach
Preach to the children
Children to be seen, not heard
Heard you spoke your mind
Mind is a terrible thing to waste on things that don’t concern
Concern yourself with cooking, cleaning, birthing babies, layin’ on your numb back
Back then wasn’t any separating, nor divorce
Divorce is for weak women who give up too easily; first, second, third blow too soon
Soon we will be thru wit de trouble of dis world
World ain’t my home; no need to clean up this place
Place your pain way down deep and throw away the key
Key to movin on, to survive keep quiet
Quiet bout verbal abuse, bout incest, bout how man next door, daddy, uncle, brotha, granddaddy, preacha molested, raped you, bout all those crosses
Crosses you must bear for Jesus
Jesus had his cross, but you got some too.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Time for Me
Me, let me Be
Be quiet, Be soothed
Soothed my mind
Mind my thoughts
Thoughts of all that went on Today
Today came and went
Went quickly when time I needed
Needed to be ready
Ready to do my thing
My thing I'm learning
Learning to provoke
Thinking we shared
Shared, consented, dissented
Dissented about God
God didn't make the text sacred
Sacred we made the words
Words we speak
Speak to Me
Me and my tea
Cinnamon spice tea
Tea time, me time
Time to rest
rest my mind
Mind my tea.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Why do some insist that truth (particularly religious truth) is inherently divisive rather than unifying or liberating? Truth espoused by religious communities is regarded as unifying for the believers and divisive concerning nonbelievers. Perhaps, if we understood truth or the production of truth as more dialogically constituted than many presuppose; that is, truth emerges and evolves from dialogue or in dialectical communication. In the New Testament we have two opposing statements about Jesus and peace: “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27; cf. 16:33; Acts 10:36); “Do not think I have come to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51; Matt 10:34 NRSV). The temptation is to harmonize rather than consider each it its context and allow the tension to remain. But the latter option may not support absolute truth on the matter of peace and Jesus.
The way some groups and individuals employ the notion of absolute truth as binding and polarizing is paradoxical in light of the biblical idea of truth as liberating. If as the Gospel of John's (GJ) Jesus says the truth will set us free (John 8:32,36), why are our truths so restricting, exclusionary and divisive. For sure, the polarizing message of GJ depicting unbelieving Jews as outsiders is inescapable. Nevertheless, GJ's Jesus states that he is “the truth, the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” him (John 14:6, NRSV). Jesus embodies or incarnates the truth. The same Gospel writer admits his or her writing could not nearly contain all that Jesus said and did. In fact, all the scrolls in the world could not contain them (John 21:25). This humble admission implies that we do not have the information about Jesus to construct the totality of the truth that Jesus embodies. And the distance between mortality and immortality, divinity and humanity further obstruct our view. Thus as we continue our attempts to interpret the life and ministry of Jesus, we would do well to temper our claims to possess the truth given our limited access to the truth.
Add to the lacunae and chasms resulting from human and historical limitations of the Gospels and their writers the nature of translation. Given that stories and/or traditions about Jesus first circulated orally before they were written down and given that the orality did not cease with the production of written texts, many versions of what Jesus said and did were transmitted. In addition, translating original ancient foreign language manuscripts of the NT (and OT) into English and other modern languages is a further act of interpretation. With every oral and written transmission of stories and information about Jesus, translation and/or interpretation occurs. And when we read the many translations and/or interpretations of the Bible, we interpret or translate. The book does not literally talk to us, as some illiterate African slaves mistakenly surmised (see Allen Callahan's The Talking Book); we as readers encounter the book deciphering its meaning. Our interpretations, as well as those of the ancients, are filtered through our culture and experiences. The act of reading is subjective (not disregarding textual parameters). We construct (un)truths about Jesus (Christology) and God (theology).
There are circumstances in which we limit the plethora of truths. Those situations involve the construction of creeds and doctrines. A community develops a binding statement (e.g., the Apostles Creed) through a designated authoritative body that speaks for the whole. Under such circumstances the individual members are not encouraged or invited to think about the truthfulness of the creed or doctrine. Any interpretation or reading of the creed or doctrine must take place within the parameters of the absolute truth already espoused. In this sense the creed or doctrine, as well as its original interpreters, are implicitly and functionally treated as infallible. And if any member of the community should want to rethink or revisit the truthfulness of the doctrine or creed, that person would risk being ostracized or deemed heretical.
If Jesus, as Christians believe and as the GJ states, is the Truth, and if this Truth Jesus embodies or incarnated derives from his divinity or from God, then the Truth in all its fullness will never be fully known by humans since God from whom and in whom all the truth derives is inscrutable. The inscrutability of God was first introduced in the Garden of Eden when the first human pair were informed (by the wise talking serpent) that to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (an idiom for knowing everything) would open their eyes and make them like God(Gen. 3:5). They were already like God having been created in God's image. Nevertheless, their eyes were indeed opened and they discovered their nakedness (Gen. 3:7-11). Complete and absolute truth is naturally situated in the diety. Just maybe we should consider being more humble in our claims to possess the Truth and all Truth. And maybe we should allow that more people hold a piece of the spiritual and intellectual puzzle than we might imagine. And maybe we should accept the fallibility of our interpretations which have nothing to do with the inherent infallibility of God.
“Rarely do we find [people] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I refuse to accept the view that [human]kind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
“Science investigates religion interprets. Science investigates religion interprets.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Wisdom is keeping a sense of fallibility of all our views and opinions.” ~ Gerald Brenan, British writer and Hispanist
“So be it. God created profoundly fallible creatures on this earth, and human history is mostly the story of error and accident.” ~ Dr. Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
An excerpt from my book The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles: ~ In the Wake of the First Anniversary of the Earthquake in Haiti ~ Smile4Haiti
In the midst of the devastation and unimaginable suffering of the Haitian people exacerbated by the recent earthquake, too many religious leaders chose to interpret the event in the framework of a self-serving theodicy. Christian pontifications that the practice of voodoo religion among Haitians is derivatively demonic and constitutes devil worship functioned to construct the Haitians as the external Others in need of salvation. Some religious leaders concluded that the Haitians brought this destruction on themselves; that God was punishing the Haitians because of their so-called practice of witchcraft, magic, and voodoo. Haitian men, women, and children sang and testified of God’s goodness while trapped under the rubble. They praised God because they escaped death’s grip; they sang even though their mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters died before their eyes. They sang God’s praises when the sky was the only roof over their heads and when hope alone cradled their grief and succored their hunger. Yet, some Christian leaders persisted in using this catastrophe as an opportunity to distinguish between themselves and the Other. Such leaders would proclaim that their own misfortune is primarily because the devil is after them. But Others’ misfortunes is because they are the devil or children of the devil.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sunday, January 9, 2011
For some the senseless act of violence perpetrated against our fellow human beings (nine year old Christina Greene, Federal Judge John Roll, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and others) on Saturday, January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, constitutes a somber and sad reminder of the increasing link between our public rhetoric and violence and the violence in our speech. Violence spills into the streets from our hearts and mouths. Violence invades our homes, offices, communities, and the streets through us—what we exhale, we inhale; what we inhale, we exhale. There is a connection between what we hear or what people say and what people do, how they act. If this were not true, we would not spend billions of dollars on media advertising. Yes, people have free will and people make choices. But people make choices because they are (un)informed, motivated, inspired and/or provided with a (un)reasonable rationalization, so they think, for acting. What we say matters, especially if we are viewed as authoritative and/or moral guides.
Texts (human and non-human) we deem to be sacred (and their interpreters or agents whom we view as sacred by association) are too often given free and uncritical reign in matters of connecting words, images, people, and ideas with violence. For example, the violence we find in the Bible should not be immune from scrutiny and denunciation. Just because violence is inscribed on the pages of a sacred text (or in the rhetoric of a moral agent) does not mean that such violent words or acts should be reinscribed into our lives or the lives of others. If war is evil, then it is an evil act for any and all human beings and in every place from Afghan to the United States. Sometimes nations may be forced to defend themselves, but this does not change the character of war. If rape is a repulsive and wicked deed the perpetrators of which are worthy of severe punished, then it is an evil act on the printed page of the Bible and in the streets of Darfur. If slavery is atrocious and inhumane, then it is inhumane when read in the Bible and when children, women and men are trafficked in a small town in Ohio and in the Detroit metropolitan area.
We cannot sacralize or make sacred or moral some violence in some places, for some causes, and some circumstances and then expect to live in peace untouched by the very kind of violent words and images with which we pepper our rhetoric (written and oral). Because for one we will not agree on what causes are sacred and moral; what is a sacred and moral cause, circumstance, or place for some will not be for others. The abortion issue and differences on how we understand life (its beginning and end) is a prime example. Some have verbally supported and encouraged violence against abortion providers. In 2009 abortion provider George Tiller was murder at his church in Wichita. Some have murdered and/or sanctioned the killing of abortion providers because they have sacralized such violence. But some of us believe all life is significant, including the children who are already here some of whom are mowed down daily in Chicago neighborhoods, the children and families forced out of homes from the U.S. to Haiti, the mother whose health will not allow her to carry a child to term or who must do so under unimaginable circumstances, the many people who have been and will be sexually molested or abused in the next few seconds, etc.
Violence against other human beings should never be tolerated and certainly should not be an acceptable part of our public or private rhetoric. And the active perpetration of violence (verbally, physical, emotionally, spiritually) is as harmful as our passive neglect or omission of care (our indifference) for our fellow human beings. It is better to spend our days exploring love–what it means and how to incarnate or embody it in our lives and in the lives of others. Let’s learn to love ourselves and to love those who sit, walk, live, work, play, and worship next and near to us as we love ourselves, even or especially when we walk/sit/live/play/worship differently, disagree, or don’t understand one another or ourselves.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Saturday, January 8, 2011
My mother died March 14, 2009. I loved her fiercely. I often thank God for allowing Flora Smith to be my mother. Flora was not perfect, but she was loving, compassionate, talented, gifted, intelligent, passionate, graceful, full of mercy and good works. Despite the love I had for her, one thing particularly bothered me. I felt (and said) that too often she would let people "run over her," particularly "church folk." Some might distinguish between "church folk" and God's people. Of course, we always put ourselves on the side of God's people, even when others whom we hurt would not place us on God's side. My mother was wheelchair bound from the time I was about ten years old. But she did not let her physical challenges keep her from bathing, diapering, and feeding her grandchildren, cooking two and three meals a day (and made homemade bread on Holidays), cleaning (and making sure we cleaned) the house, and taking classes at Franklin University in Columbus. Yes, this same woman would not do tit-for-tat when church folk sometimes slighted her and her gifts (she played the piano and sang and did both well--and simultaneously, which is not an easy task--having taken lessons from elementary through high school), and spoke and acted in mean and insensitive ways toward her. Church folk were not the only culprits, but I always expected church folk to treat each other differently (that's another blog subject). I was a very, very shy child; but I saw everything that went on. I would complain to my mother:
Me: Why do you let those folks treat you like that; Why did you let so-in-so say that to you? I would have given them a piece of mind.
Mom: Girl, you don't have to respond to everything people do and say. You don't have to stoop to their level. Sooooomebody has to act like they have some sense.
So as a grown woman (my mother use to say you are not grown until you are fifty), I find myself "letting things and people slide." I find myself not responding to every insult and crazy word. I am sooo much like my mother. And in some ways and situations this is good, very good. It is also good to learn to appropriately and punctually confront the disrespect and insensitivity of others, especially if you are like me~I can (not always) allow things to pile up like dirty laundry and explode. Now, those of you who are related to me, work with me or are my friends, do not try to use this information against me. I won't permit it.
My mother was raised by her grandparents; her mother died when she was about three years old. Her grandparents who lived in Cleveland, Tennessee, were quite accomplished for black folks of those times in the South. Her grandmother was the first black(?) nurse in the area and helped found the hospital there, but of course received no credit for her contribution. They owned land and a farm. This was not always the case; early in their marriage they "lived in" in separate states doing miscellaneous work to earn and save enough money so they could live together as man and wife (my sister has letters they wrote to each other during those difficult times). My mother was taught by her grandparents to absorb pain, not talk about it, and keep moving. And she did. In fact, I discovered my mother carried a lot of pain from her childhood. For example, she had fallen into the fireplace before she was old enough to attend elementary school; she and her older sister Nellie had been fighting over a doll. And Flora fell into the fireplace; the plait/braid on the top of her head saved her life. But the scar she would live with forever; it took years to heal. Imagine the pain of a five year old whose teacher laughed at her and with the other children describing her as a "bald-headed baby."
I am proud to be my mother's daughter. I can accept and cherish the best of her in me and transform those unhealthy legacies unwittingly passed on to me. I will continue to develop my voice to speak against and critique insensitivity, inappropriate behavior, and evil perpetrated against me and others. "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." ~ Winston Churchill
Friday, January 7, 2011
What do the categories virgin, concubine, and prostitute have in common? They primarily and generally refer to women. They constitute social constructs; they are not biologically determined. That's right even the construction of virginity is not biologically determined. In the Purity Myth Jessica Valenti notes that she found no medical definition for virginity in the Harvard Medical School library. Are these categories and/or labels helpful for women and men? Who benefits most from these social constructions? Men in some parts of the world believe that having sex with a virgin can cure AIDS. Thus, the myth of virginity coupled with the need for male self-preservation (and proliferation and the construction of a supposedly healthy masculine self) promotes violence against women. For example, "The Johannesburg city council conducted a three-year study of about 28,000 men. They found that 1 in 5 believed in the virgin-AIDS cure. The fallout from that is a rise in assaults of women and children, some of whom contract AIDS themselves," http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/a/aids-virgins.htm. See also http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2002/april/virgin.htm. This Virgin Cure myth can be found in other parts of the world as well, such as Jamaica.
A woman's virginity (not necessarily her entire being~intellect, body) has been deemed sacred in many cultures, religions, and churches to the degree that it becomes the sole measure of a woman's (and sometimes men's) morality and value. If she loses it, it is forever gone (but she can become a spiritual virgin, in some circles, and start all over), and she is eternally tainted and dirty. If she makes "the mistake" of engaging in sex prematurely (however one understands prematurely), she has become a whore in the view of some. And in some cases (ancient and contemporary) it matters not how she loses her virginity (rape or incest), the onus is on her and not on the perpetrator.
I think we need to critically reflect upon the construction of virginity and its impact on women's (and men's) lives. I welcome your comments. I will be blogging about this issue periodically.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
God calls us to be bridge builders rather than members of an elitist demolition team. Too often we Christians engage in rhetoric and acts that destroys (witting and unwittingly) the connection between our fellow human beings and God. And we employ Jesus as a pawn in our religious games. Jesus is precious to Christians, as should be the case. The black American slaves sang you may take the whole world, but give me Jesus. When the slaves sang that song the world, as they experienced and knew it, pushed their backs against the wall (see Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited). They needed (and believed that) the Jesus and God whom the slave owners claimed sanctioned their oppression to be on their side. The slavocracy and those who supported it had already enlisted the name of Jesus as a means to destroy the connection between God and the slaves. According to the slave owners the Apostle Paul, as a servant of Jesus Christ, said that God wanted slaves to obey their masters and be good slaves. Thus, through Jesus, God sanctioned the immoral and inhumane subjugation of black slaves. Jesus is enlisted as the “middleman” who regulates and determines the relationship between the slaves and God. This Jesus-model should not be replicated by the children and grandchildren of former slaves or former slave owners for any reason even if (or especially if) it is to boost our Christian stock or as a means to construct an identity for “us” over against the demonic “them” or Other. Women and ethnic minorities should be extremely cautious not to imitate the ways of our former and current oppressors.
The New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles (Acts) can be read as a real common ground or bridge-building text despite the anti-Jew rhetoric and the several silenced women, etc. Some Bible readers (and non-Bible readers) and scholars describe Acts as a story about the acts of Peter and Paul and/or the Holy Spirit. Many recognize that it is not about the acts of all the apostles as the title suggests. Careful readers of Acts will notice that the text is really about the acts of God. God promised to send God’s Spirit. God poured out God’s Spirit. God raised Jesus (repeated often). God made Jesus both Lord and Christ (anointed one or Messiah). In fact, readers will notice in the Apostle Paul’s speech to the Athenian audience in chapter 17, he does not mention the name of Jesus. This is an omission many contemporary Christians would view as an unpardonable sin. I recall the uproar over mega church pastor Joel Osteen’s interview with CNN’s Larry King.
I believe the early Jewish believers who joined the Jesus movement recognized (and some maybe insisted upon) the fact that God constituted the glue that united them; God remained the common denominator despite their theological differences concerning God’s Messiah. Even among us professed contemporary Christians, our Christology (ideas, interpretations, and words about Christ) is not uniform. We differ in our understandings of who killed Jesus; we do not agree on whether or how Jesus engaged in social justice acts; despite the Apostles Creed from the first ecumenical Council of Nicea (325 CE’s) concerning the relationship between God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, we disagree on how to articulate or understand the relationship and function of the Trinity (Father, and Son and Holy Spirit) and what it means for our lived experience.
We stand on common ground with people of many religious faiths based on our belief in God who created all things and who loves all God’s created being and demands that we love one another. How do we engage in religious posturing or Jesus-name dropping that is counterproductive to building bridges between God and humanity and that misrepresents, in my opinion, even Jesus’ efforts as God’s son-agent sent to glorify God and to reconcile a people to their God?