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).