Friday, November 8, 2013

Wet Dreams

In the top of the news recently was the “baptism” of Prince George, the heir to the British throne, followed by the announcement that he is now a member of the Anglican Church, which he will head one day as King of England. Even some of the more sensible publications got caught up in the hoopla. He wore a reproduction of the christening gown worn by every Royal baby since 1841 and was flanked by seven godparents. There is no arguing that he was cute as a button. Unfortunately, all they had was a wet, overindulged, cross-dressing baby.

Just a week prior, people were outraged at a report that a prominent pastor refused to “bless” a baby because it was born out of wedlock. The mother claimed Marvin Winans would not allow her to participate in a public presentation dedicating babies at his church. What’s the loss? Her friends and family would not witness the spectacle and join her for brunch afterwards. Just raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord without forgetting to model such before them. Does she work equally as hard to ensure the biological father lives up to his responsibilities?

Both cases were equally absurd because neither event is of any consequence when it comes to the faith of the children. It was not this way in the beginning. Our Lord and Savior was not baptized until adulthood. Of course, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). On the flip side, some churches will not baptize children who request it if their parents are not members of said church. It happened to me.

This issue was one of the things standing between me and another piece of paper on my wall earlier this year. While being examined as a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church, I freely admitted that I do not believe in infant baptism. There is no biblical support for it and the practice is actually counter to the fundamental assent of the will to the grace of God for partaking in the sacraments. John Wesley (founder of Methodism) himself said that every believer must have a datable conversion experience (which baptism follows).

Well, that was the wrong answer. It wasn’t so much that the United Methodist Church is a bastion of theological purity. I’ve heard all manner of heresy from ordained clergy among its rank without institutional consequence. One of the most attractive attributes of the denomination for me was its supposed regard for intellectual freedom.

This encounter was more so about a matter of refusal to conform to their will or try to impress them. I recall classmates rehearsing their lines for ordination committees and boards while in seminary.  It was shameless. Some folks would say whatever was necessary to get what they wanted just like a man with an erection. Both parties would be aware what it was, but played along as they each had an agenda to advance.

The chair of the Committee lashed at me verbally.  “How dare you come in here and disagree with the discipline of our church.” I responded “how dare you invite me knowing in advance where I stood?” She gave me that knowing look that I could lie my way into the next phase of the process like others have done before me. However, I fear God and dread looking at myself in the mirror knowing I had. Integrity is clearly not one of their preferred character traits.

Babies were baptized on the day of their birth in colonial America to swell the rolls of the church. Thomas Jefferson refused to endorse attempts to require infant baptism under law. As one of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution, he was the brainpower behind the clause forbidding the establishment of religion. He is one of my political heroes because he left it personal choice to exercise faith. If God did not want humanity to exercise choice, we would not have been endowed with a will.

It is no secret that mainline protestant churches are in decline. Have those who swell their church rolls by forcing membership upon those born into their constituent families considered that may be part of the problem?  Socialization into faith is no substitute for real discipleship. John Calvin argued centuries ago that one cannot impute their faith to another.

One of the most perverse cases came when a seminary classmate who is now a pastor had a couple in his church experience the misfortune of a still-born child. He announced that he had to rush to the hospital not to counsel the grief-stricken mother and father, but rather to baptize the baby.

This did raise age-old theological questions tackled by theologian Jonathan Edwards.  “One of these two things are certainly true, and self-evidently so: either that it is most just, exceeding just, that God should take the soul of a new-born infant and cast it into eternal torments, or else that those infants that are saved are not saved by the death of Christ.”

I discussed this with another pastor friend who admitted the absurdity of the response, but said “we must do this to make the family feel better.” I replied “What?!! Did Jesus give us this holy sacrament for emotional relief or as an outward sign of an inward change?” He had no answer because he knew on which side his bread was buttered and he had an elaborate shindig planned for his own infant daughter.

Why does the church insist on so much pomp and pageantry around something so insignificant and virtually ignore more meaningful milestones? Yes, the baby is cute. I’m glad you’re going to provide religious training. It was good seeing everybody who does not normally come in church. Brunch was delectable. However, that baby is only a Christian in your dreams.

Friday, October 11, 2013

In the House

I grew up going to church 52 Sundays a year. It’s not that my parents were particularly religious. They actually were not at all. They just happened to have discovered free childcare for their brood for a few hours on a weekend morning. Other parents in the neighborhood caught on and sent theirs as well. My friends and I were all in the house Sunday every morning.

Strangely, that pattern remained with me in adulthood. I could not wait until I graduated high school and thus liberated from forced church attendance. When I went to college, Sundays were spent recovering from Saturdays. However, something had been planted deeply within that beckoned me to continue freely. My first inclination upon matriculating in graduate school in the land where the devil is blue was to attend high church service at the campus chapel on Sundays. At the urging of some well-intentioned classmates, I eventually began attending service at a church across town of my predominantly black then-denomination.

After graduation, I returned to Washington, DC and began attending my conservative childhood church again on a regular basis. After two years in the south, it no longer fit. God led me to another congregation in the city that resembled the style of churches in the Bible Belt where everyone seemed to know God’s middle name.

Eventually, things fell apart there as a result of my pastor’s sexual harassment and the congregation’s betrayal of me with its indifference. The last thing I wanted to do at the time was attend church every Sunday. I would go to the gym, ride my bike for long distances, visit  farmers’ markets, check out a museum exhibit—anything but church.

But there are some dresses that are too fancy for work and too casual for after-five. Where would I wear them? Seriously, I loved praising God and studying His word. But what was passing for church became revolting.

Then God revealed to me that there is no requirement to attend church Every. Single. Sunday. Yes, the bible says forsake not the assembling of ourselves as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). That passage was written to a community in despair as they were under persecution for their faith. It was not a prescription for overdosing on organized religion. Society has misconstrued the primary function of Christianity as assembled public worship as opposed to serving and discipling the world.

I still have my seasons of weekly church attendance, interspersed with periods of worship in the world. It bothers some of my friends, church members, and neighbors to see me skipping church. It’s not that they fear for my soul’s salvation, but rather are uncomfortable with how their own religious constructs are being challenged. Altars can be found wherever God has created.

The hymn “How Great Thou Art” opens:
O Lord My God!
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

The chorus follow with:
Then sings my soul, My savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, My savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, How great thou art!

When Job became confounded spiritually, God did not tell him to go to the priests or prophets. The Lord commanded him to speak to the earth and she will teach you (Job 12:8). There comes a time in every person’s life when they need an unmediated word from God. There’s no money in that, so churches tend not to promote such ministries.

I defy you to go to the mountains and not be filled with admiration for God’s handiwork or stare at the stars and not revere the order in the universe. When I need a fresh revelation, I go to a new place all by myself and He never fails to deliver.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Robe

One of my less than honorable responses to my call to ministry was my obsession with my preacher swagger. I am not into whooping and flashy cars, but I am quite a clothes-horse. As I prepared for my initial sermon, what I would wear received more attention than what I would say. Every Sunday spent in the pulpit as a licentiate was a deliberate display of my eye for design. More than anything I studies more seasoned preachers to inform choices about my eventual clerical vestments and accessories.

Clerical vestments have their biblical origins with priestly attire. God provided very specific instructions in Levitical law for what the priests should wear down to their undergarments. In the same manner, I have both outer garments and intimate apparel that I consider divinely-inspired.

I planned to earn a PhD after receiving my M.Div. not primarily so I could think deeply and teach others, but so I could rock three chevrons on my sleeve legitimately. A vanity degree from a diploma mill would not do. It had to be a qualifying credential from a top-tier university.

Then God stopped me in my tracks and showed me the character of the preacher is far more important than the persona. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Who knows what I would have become had I succeeded in being approved for clerical status by the institutional church? That would have left me to my own devices for shaping my ministry according to the prevailing ethos. However, their cultural norms do not suit me. No denomination can function effectively without an unquestioning, complicit, and conforming clergy. That’s totally not me.

To their credit, neither denomination that rejected my candidacy for ordination denied my gifts or call. They just did not sanction them for their organization. Jesus said:
If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:13-15).
In other words, middle fingers to the sky! I thank God for confirmation that I don’t have to prove anything to anybody and the ability to make an ever so elegant departure.

Now I find myself seventeen years later not ordained (by men) and not likely ever to be. I’ve made peace with that. Would receiving approval from a group of mere mortals validate my call even more so? Do multiple rejections make me any less anointed? [F]or God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Who in the bible had to get a second opinion after being called directly by the Almighty? Soren Kierkegaard described ordination as an “ostensible token, though not an infallible one.”

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being (Galatians 1:15-16).

James Baldwin said "I left the pulpit so I could preach The Gospel." The same holds true for the brand of ministry to which God has called me. I have always known this intellectually. But part of me still longs for a robe perfecting the balance between overly-done and understated so well that Coco Chanel would nod in approval from the heavens above.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Trick of the Devil

As much as I gripe about organized religion, there is something about it that compels me. There is a saying of dubious attribution that “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” I know exactly how that feels.

I grew up with children whose mothers were card-carrying prostitutes. They brought their kids to school wearing micro mini-skirts, five-inch heels, flowing wigs, false eyelashes, and heavily-applied  makeup (I promise you there was a time when this look was not mainstream) and kept strange hours. They also packed lunches, wiped crust from eyes with their spittle, and meted discipline to their offspring just like any other parent. Nobody ever questioned their children’s adoration or devotion.

There is just something understood about the mother-child relationship. It is the most primal for humanity. Ask anyone who has lost their mother whether they were the same afterwards.  My mother lost hers at the age of 8 and with that, a love that is second to none.

The bible likens God’s chosen people to prostitutes quite frequently. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel warn Israel of the consequences of the nation’s spiritual wantonness in the Old Testament and refer to her the mother of idolatry. The Lord commanded the prophet Hosea to marry Gomer the harlot to illustrate how God will discipline and restore His people as a consequence of their propensity for turning away.

The Lord flat-out calls unfaithful churches such in Revelation by labeling them collectively as the Whore of Babylon. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5).  She will be judged harsher than the world.

The church helped me give birth to my faith. Notice, I did not say it gave me faith. (C)ontinue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12b-13). It is not possible for an institution or individual to convey faith to a person.

It is common for people to quip to seminarians “don’t let them steal your Jesus!” As a matter of fact, it was a running joke at the school I attended that a particular room that was off-limits was where they stored students’ Jesuses.

Folks meant well, but it was another way of imploring ministers-in-training to keep the faith. Funny enough, no one ever said that in reference to the church. Those who are acquainted with my travails find my continued participation absurd. However, those who have relinquished their organizational membership, while yet maintaining faith, understand our dysfunctional family history.

Embracing the absurd is one of the most essential steps for developing faith. We worship a man who rose from the dead and lives in heaven. If that makes sense to you, I have bags of magic beans for sale.

Yes, the organized church has maligned, abused, marginalized, and disappointed me beyond measure. It is no accident that the Adversary chose it as the source of my angst. But still I love it. Stay away too long and I lose my bearings; stick around too long and I begin to lose my mind.

The church, with all of her waywardness, is my mother. She is prone to sell out the gospel for a song. However, she has given me something so fundamental to my being. Without her, I would not have developed a love for liturgical order, soul-stirring songs, scripture, and the people whose practice of faith helped shape my own.

I honor her for the divine work she has bred with the hope that she strives to become what God intended her to be.
That [Christ] might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).

However, that does not exempt her from being called out on occasion for what she is.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Dog’s Life

There is an old saying that all dogs go to heaven. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if I want to go there if this is not true. We all have our lines in the sand about what would make our bliss eternal. Some are quite base; others quite noble.

There is another saying that “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.” Sixteen years ago, I made a very good friend. I don’t know whether she chose me or I chose her, but fate brought us together. I asked the litter of fluffy Pomeranians, “Which one of you is Trixie?” She knocked her siblings down and came running.  

The day after I picked her up from the breeder, we journeyed to Atlanta as I began my theological studies. She was my road dog.

I have a history of clinical depression. The prospect of moving to a new city sight-unseen to pursue a profession fraught with existential peril was anxiety-inducing. My physician recommended that I buy a dog. She was just what I needed. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). I must say that I never sank into despair while I had Trixie as she made it her bounden duty to bring me joy.

She greeted me when I came home with the demeanor of an ecstatic encounter with the divine. She let me rub her head when I felt down. She made me think of someone other than myself consistently. She co-hosted parties with me. Family gatherings were not the same without her. She made everyone love her and loved them in return. When we were leaving Atlanta to move back to DC, my neighbors of three years bid her a fond farewell. Many of them didn’t even know my name.

Trixie departed this life June 28, 2013 after a long bout with heart disease. I thought I was the only one who recognized the void she left behind. The expressions of comfort and recollection of tender memories from others have been nothing short of amazing.

I felt silly at times about how much I indulged her, but make no apology for my grief. A neighbor inquired why a dog’s passing received more outpouring of love than most people.  Yet, Proverbs 3:19 says: The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Yet, the same neighbor remarked “Even in departing she shines!” There was something transcendent about Trixie. I began to notice it after she chewed by bible as a pup akin to how Ezekiel ate the scroll (Ezekiel 3:3).  She was a good judge of character and quite the prognosticator.

I have every confidence that I am going to see her again.

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Black is Black

A friend recently tried to encourage me to watch a heavily-advertised "epic miniseries" on the Bible being aired on the History Channel. My first question was about the physical appearance of the characters. Predictably they were all of European descent.

It is common sense that people living in the lands where most of the biblical narrative took place were not white. If you would be astounded to meet someone from those regions today with blond hair and blue eyes. However, the very well-regarded seminary I attended likewise promoted European images of them. When I raised the question (y’all know I did, just like Buggin’ Out), they typical response was “it doesn’t matter what color they were.” The unspoken remainder of that sentiment was “as long as they are white.” 

Some might ask, why it matters. Well, first for the sake of academic integrity. If you lie to me about one thing, I can’t trust much else you say. Secondly, it matters because of institutionalized racism and its prevalence in the church.

I happen to attend one of the longest-standing historically black churches in Washington, DC. It was founded during the ante-bellum period to accommodate blacks who did not want to be treated in a discriminatory manner in a nearby Methodist Episcopal Church. Their white benefactors even provided assistance in building a new sanctuary. Needless to say, there are white images of a man they would like you to think was Jesus in several places around the building. As a matter of fact, there is a stained glass window facing the pulpit with such a depiction that is approximately 40 feet tall. I find it disconcerting, but consistent with the imperialistic mission of the organization.

This brings me to the point of spiritual integrity. The Second Commandment states:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
The last I checked, Jesus was enthroned at the right hand of the Father. There should be no physical depictions of him anywhere, especially not in a Christian house of worship or inserted into the pages of bibles. Now, they must choose, is Jesus in heaven and off-limits for photo-ops or will they blatantly disregard God’s law?

I’ve heard the lame excuse that some people are visual learners and need images to help them grasp biblical truths. Well, it is a lie that Jesus is white. If you want them to grasp the truth, at least depict him correctly. One of my best friends is a United Methodist minister from Angola in SW Africa. I asked him what color Jesus would be in the picture on the wall of his church back home. He looked at me sheepishly and said “you know.” It seems missionaries push “Jesus is white” harder than they proclaim “Jesus is Lord.”

This also came up during a study of Song of Songs” using a study guide from said denomination’s publishing house. One of the narrators describes herself by saying I am black, but comely (1:5). The commentator could not grasp in the notes how being black was not a complaint. The narrator was stating matter-of-factly that she her complexion was darkened from prolonged exposure to the sun, but affirm her attractiveness. Leave it to me to expose the racist context in which the interpretation is taking place and the imperialistic regime it supports. It was a shock to some, but still a wake-up call to engage their all materials critically.

Sadly, these conversations are not welcome in the church. The strongest commentary I have seen on the subject were on episodes of The Boondocks and from stand-up comedians. Ironically, some black folks will strike you dead if you try to take away their white Jesus. However, an ignoramus of a black preacher once told me Jesus was African-American. I won’t dignify that with a response.  
The bottom line is that Jesus was a real, historical figure that did not look like Michelangelo’s effeminate brother-in-law. Most of the images we have had imposed on our consciousness were produced during a historical era when the African slave trade was being rationalized by  Europeans commissioning them. His ethnicity and appearance are not open to our social constructs.

There were many controversies concerning Jesus in the early church, but none of them focused on his race. We should likewise focus on his transcendent spirit and the power it gives us to overcome the world. If he wanted to leave a physical depiction of how he looked, he could have done that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

You Must Be Mad

Honestly, I had a hard time writing the last essay about my Sorority being founded on Christian principles with a straight face. Moreover, I had a hard time believing it the first time I heard such at the rush. Almost every fraternity and sorority on campus made some claim to religious roots and had accompanying rites expressing them.  Ironically, Greekdom is associated more with revelry, promiscuity, drunkenness, licentiousness, gossip, elitism, in-fighting, materialism, and all other manner of ungodliness than wholesomeness, benevolence, or morality.

A wide range of other organizations make the claim to rootedness in Christ. Among them are Boy Scouts, Ku Klux Klan, the Tea Party, Nazis, some prominent hospital systems, and major universities. Ironically, discipleship is not what comes to mind first when thinking of any of these entities.

Please allow me to set the record straight to keep lightning from striking me dead.  Theological commitment is not a requirement of membership, just adherence to closely-related ideals. Fortunately for me, their founding principles aligned with the religious tradition in which I was raised. However, they did not stop me one bit from raising all the hell I could from Spring 1989 until I found the Lord some seven odd years later.

Quite frankly, they could have told me they were Satanic baby-eaters and I would have still pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. They were cool, hard-partying, and esteemed highly in the dating pool. Those are high priorities for a co-ed. There was plenty of time to get right with one’s maker after graduation and entry into the real world.

I seem to have this recurring conversation with my Sorors and fellow Greeks regarding what being founded on Christian principles really means. We all know that religious affiliation is not a criterion for by the quality of the membership. Nationl Panhellenic Council (NPHC) organizational symbols, rituals, and traditions are actually a syncretic combination of Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman, and African culture. God knows we don’t always act like we are God’s children.  So why did our Founders see fit to set it as our foundation?

The basic teachings of Jesus Christ can be found in writings that preceded his earthly life. There is very little recorded that he said that was unique to him. However, there are three distinguishing marks of Christianity and it is only fitting that we consider them:
1.  Revolution.
2.  Regeneration
3.  Endurance of the movement

Let us consider these three points in the context of Delta Sigma Theta. First, revolution set the stage for its founding. Developing sisterhood of college-educated black women unaffiliated with any other organization was quite a radical move on the part of our founders. To top it off, they immediately inserted themselves into the forefront of the political issues of the day, while committing themselves to social change, academic excellence, and each other. The latter is the most significant because we are a sisterhood first. When done right, the radical love ethic inherent to belonging supercedes most natural relationships. Membership in NPHC organizations is established not just for the duration of their collegiate years, but for a lifetime (unlike their historically white counterparts).

Secondly, regeneration must occur seal the identity of those who become members of a fraternal organization. Christianity offers the opportunity for a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit. Because he lives we have the opportunity to be born again.  Membership in a fraternity or sorority requires one to have a similar experience. New initiates into Delta Sigma Theta are equipped with cardinal virtues, oath, and rituals which embody our values. Sisterhood is the spirit that empowers each member to adhere to the charge placed on her and guide her in her life of service.

Finally, there is endurance. No other movement in history compares to the rapid rise, sustained growth, permeance, and impact of Christianity.  Delta Sigma Theta just celebrated its first century of existence. By the looks of things, she is not going anywhere. It is very rare to see a fraternity or sorority cease. Delta is now a sisterhood of more than 260,000 strong with over 900 chapters located in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. We carry the torch ignited by our Founders to use our collective strength to:
·       promote academic excellence;
·       provide scholarships;
·       provide support to the under-served;
·       educate and stimulate participation in the establishment of positive public policy;
·       highlight issues and provide solutions for problems in their communities; and
·       use our collective strength to support one another in our respective endeavors.

Like Christianity, we, as a Sorority, have had a major impact on history—for better and for worse. We fall short on occasion, but our guiding spirit keeps us collectively on the track toward our ideals. We are not perfect, but together we perfect our purpose.    

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spirit of Sisterhood

It is no coincidence that three of the four historically black Sororities celebrate their Founding within three days of each other. This week began with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. celebrating its Centennial Founders Day on January 13. “In grand fashion” would be an understatement.  The first historically black Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., celebrated the 105th anniversary of its founding on January 15.  Little did I know, the ladies of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. held up the rear in commemorating the 93rd anniversary of their founding on January 16. One of my Sorors quipped “So I guess everybody came back from winter break determined to change the world.” My sentiments exactly.

College semesters are usually separated by season celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Festivus (for the rest of us). Being that the three aforementioned Sororities were founded on Christian principles, expectations raised during Advent certainly stimulated  the  senses. The living Christ makes all things possible—even suffrage, anti-lynching, academic excellence, and unbreakable bonds.

It is hard for us to fathom the brutal challenges facing black women in the early 20th century. Slavery had been abolished less than 50 years prior, while Jim Crow and The Black Codes maintained its racist social structure.  Those who were ambitious and uppity enough to pursue higher education received a double portion. No doubt, these sisterhoods were formed out of necessity. There is strength in numbers. Bring a group together for a common purpose with commitment to common values and each other to shift the earth on its axis.

Sisterhood is not encapsulated in the respective organizations we join. By a weird coincidence, I lived with pledges of AKA and Zeta the semester I pledge Delta Sigma Theta. It would be a lie against all that is sacred to say there was no conflict in that campus suite. However, time and maturity bound us together in a way that transcends the different letters we wear. As a matter of fact, I have a stronger bond with sisters in Greekdom who were made right than some of the ill-formed members of my own Sorority. One such sister in Greekdom and I have coined the term “Sorors in eternity” to capture our shared commitment to Christian discipleship. Therefore, I will appropriate a message I delivered to my Sorors some time age, extending the principles to all who are down with the cause regardless of the nature of our sisterhood (or brotherhood).
An Ode to Sisterhood
Sorors, let us love one another with the mindfulness of God. We must keep in mind that we have committed ourselves not only to a lifetime of service, but also to a loving relationship with one other. That’s what distinguishes us from other service organizations. The NAACP, Urban League, professional organizations, and other volunteer groups are transactional. You come and you go. You do what you do. You pack up.  See you next time. There is no expectation that you care about your fellow members more than the next person. The best part is that you don’t even have to fake it.

Differentiation is a key business concept. What distinguishes a company from the rest of the pack? What makes a consumer buy your product instead of another? What do you do better than your marketplace competitors? You didn’t join a Sorority to do public service. You can do that anywhere. There was a special attraction that lured you. It is all about the relationship. When you knelt on the pillow, you said that you are in this until the end with all of the other women who have taken that same vow.

The assurance that we have as members of Delta Sigma Theta is that we are loved by a connection of like-minded women who are as mindful of us as God is of the sparrow. What’s going on in your Soror’s life?
Is she rejoicing?
Is she in pain?
Is she kicking it hard with the love of her life?
Is she dying inside of loneliness?
Did she just get a promotion?
Does she need a job?
Is her money short?
Does her cup runneth over?
Has she not been active since she pledged?
Is she burning out?
Is she ailing?
Has she recently received a clean bill of health?
Does she deserve a pat on the back?
Does she need a kick in the behind?

What’s going on with her?
Do you not know?
Do you care?
Go find out!
Are you going to only talk about her situation behind her back?
Or are you going to respond with charitable action?

We gather when we bring new members into our Sorority. Seldom have I attended an initiation that was not standing room only. Our Founders saw fit that we should likewise assemble to honor the passing of our members from this life into next with the Omega Omega ceremony.
Are not two sparrows sold for a [a]cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26-29)
Our participation shows that our deceased Sorors matter to us. I have come to savor the admiration of onlookers observing this rite. Family members are grateful that her love of Delta was reciprocal as shown by this final expression of sisterhood. People who are unfamiliar with the Sorority bear witness that not one among us falls apart from our fellowship and presence because every Soror matters. Just as God is no respector of persons, we must give every Soror her due.

Every Soror is important. Collegiate Sorors matter. Alumnae Sorors matter. Delta Dears matter. Neophytes matter. Inactive Sorors matter, Sorors who aren’t popular matter. Sorors from other Chapters matter. Honorary Sorors matter.  You matter. I matter. Sorors you don’t know matters. And EVEN the Soror you can’t stand matters. Isn’t it good news that God doesn’t wait until He likes us to love us? God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

There is a hymn of the church that says:
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other,
We will work side by side.
We will work with each other,
We will work side by side.
And we'll guard each man's dignity
And save each man's pride.

And they'll know we are Sisters by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they'll know we are Sisters by our love. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Like Chocolate for Lent

Every year, people all over the world made resolutions to mark how they would like to live differently from that point forward. Unfortunately, most of these resolutions are either so extreme as to be unattainable or so lame that attaining them would make no meaningful impact on their live or the lives of others.

This reminds me of when the high holy season of Lent approached during my first year of seminary. Students were mulling in the lounge about what to give up for the weeks of penitence. One young southern belle approached this hardened city slicker to inquire of her choices. She offered that she was forgoing chocolate and sodas. I responded that I would be giving up cursing and running red lights.

How her dietary adjustment affected her walk with Christ, I do not know. However, I am sure the reduction of environmental pollution resulting from my potty mouth and the increased safety of pedestrians, fellow motorists, and herself made angels smile.

This New Year’s Day, I am proud to say that I am entering 2013 significantly different than I started the previous year. Yes, the body is more fit, finances are stronger, and relationships are more productive. But that’s not enough. Those are temporal measures, not what God uses to assess the quality of our lives.

Just this morning I entered the gym and requested a body fat and BMI measurement to benchmark my fitness level. Much to my chagrin, my composition was not as lean as I would like to have thought. I workout religiously, but my eating habits showed up in the results.

Imagine God placing us on the scales of time. What would be found wanting in our being? Are we living right? In right relationship with our neighbors? In right relationship with the Divine?

In Being and Nothingness, Martin Heideggar describes existence as being capable of only one sin: inauthenticity. Each of us was created with a purpose. Not fulfilling it places us in a state of rebellion against God. To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams (I Samuel 15:22).

What is it that you know to be true down to the core of your soul to which you are not conforming your life? You might be doing it, but with minimal effort.

For me, that is preaching the gospel.

As many of you know I have tried. Lord knows I have. Many obstacles have confronted me in the institutional church—not that it is the only game in town. When faced with professional obstacles, I have been known to be quite dogged in reaching my goals. Why I have not shown the same determined to forge my path in God’s kingdom is inexcusable.

This year begins for me with mental, physical, and scheduling clutter removed to put first things first. Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (I Corinthians 9:16b).