Not at ALL What You Thought

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two Black People Talking About Current Events

I sent this to my favorite big brother (and others); we're trying to keep up with the Obama/Wright ticket. So far, only my favorite brother has responded. Here's our conversation (through email because we live in different states).

FBB: Saw this on the news this morning. I really wish he had not done it. I don't think it serves him or us well.

ME: Done what? Submitted to an interview? Answered the questions? What? What? What?

FBB: Uh the speech he did at the NPC mocking Kennedy. Not being able to see this link, I assumed that was the source of this conversation????

ME: "Mocking Kennedy"? Is that all you heard? PLEASE don't tell me you're satisfied with media soundbites!

Here. This is the entire thing, from the brilliant speech to the Q&A.* (Scroll down.) Take some time, when you get a chance, and listen to all of it. Then make an opinion:

Or, you know, not.

FBB(next morning):
Ok. I read it. The man is brilliant, and being so, he definitely should not have stooped to the level he did. His anger is overwhelming his principles.

ME: I don't see any anger. I see charity, pride, and an accurate sense of the ridiculousness of the situation. Y'all the ones stoopin. Exactly what principles are you talking about? What level? Do you know?

FBB: Yeah, I know. The principle of peace that he purports to believe in, the principle of patriotism that he mires in his cynicism, the principle of caring about his flock that he is subjecting to this ridicule.

Yes, the situation is ridiculous. Yes, the media are distorting reality - as they always do. Yet in his brilliance, he does not do them ANY damage. The one he does harm to is Obama, and ridiculous or not, foolish or not, that is the fact, and this he also knows.

His timing is atrocious. If, in fact, he considers the medias attack to be against the Black Church (not, I point out THE CHURCH - the body of Christ), then I say his rhetoric does nothing to alleviate that attack or its result - the 'most segregated hour in America'. On the contrary, it fires it all the more.

I was not angered by what he said, but saddened that this great man of God - and I do believe he is that - would stand in this forum to create more division.
Finally, his point that Obama had to distance himself from him because he (Obama) is a political move (though it is, it had to be), is directly damaging to someone he claims to care about. It is not like we didn't know that; it is something that is a part of our social strata - unfortunate as that may be, it is so, and what he has done here is 'tit for tat'. He could not have done more harm if the Clintons had orchestrated him.

ME: I see what you call Wright's principle of peace acted out in his church, by feeding the poor, educating the ignorant and otherwise manifesting Christ in this earth by recognizing and giving succour to the Least of These.

I see what you call Wright's cynicism as realism. The man sees what is and tells the truth about it. But he's doing what he can to make America a better country, as someone who loves it would. (See above.)

If his congregation's being ridiculed, it's not Wright's fault. It is the fault of those whose habit is to ridicule people of color, and the other disenfranchised, to make themselves look better.

Obama distanced himself from Wright; Wright supports that distance by explaining it truthfully. If Obama and his supporters can't deal with that, it's a sign of his and their weakness, not "tit for tat."

If you tell me somebody stepped on your foot and broke some bones, should I be saddened by the fact that you didn't mention the rest of your body? The black church is a limb of The Body of Christ. Don't despise it --or those who make mention of it.

Wright's is a "hard word": so were many that came from the mouth of his Savior. Mostly, the man reminds me of Jeremiah, speaking the truth in faith that some hearers will repent and serve the Living God. It's easier, though, to swallow the racist, elitist media spin. But we can agree to disagree.

FBB: I see the action in the church, I see the works speaking for themselves. I don't think he needs to blow their horn, nor use those works as a platform for his anger...and yeah, we can agree to disagree..."Obama and his supporters"?! Who are you supporting in this election???

ME: You don't think Wright needs to blow the horn of the church he's so proud of because you're clearly not paying attention. A slew of us do good things on the community level, and you seldom hear about it (unless we blow our own horns); folk say, "What are you people doing about your community's problems?" But let one, just ONE, of us do something wrong or "embarrassing" or "inappropriate," and we're all painted with the same brush.

And, again, I didn't see any anger. I saw amusement. Wright was clownin, signifyin, doing things which went over most of the audience's heads.

I haven't decided yet whom I want to support. I don't like Clinton. Obama (to quote a pastor I admire) scares me (especially his support for abortion). And McCain's out of the question: he's crazy.

I've even considered not voting at all. But the idea's abhorrent to me, as is the unadulterated enthusiasm some of us have for our respective candidates. Hey, can I quote you on my blog?

FBB: What on earth would you want to quote that I said?! Especially since you so clearly disagree with it?! I don't mind if you do, just am surprised that you would.

Still, I have to say that if you missed the anger and retribution, some of Wright's best work went over your head:-)!!!

HMM, seems to me that Christ was pretty adamant about blowing yo own horn - as was the Ecclesiater!

ME: Actually, I was thinking of posting our entire conversation, as a conversation, on the blog.

Again, in my opinion, Wright was not angry. He was defiant. And I feel that what he was deliberately and laughingly doing went right over YOUR head.

If I recall correctly (and I do), God the Father, Christ the Son, and Paul the Apostle blew their own horns whenever they thought it necessary.

[And there, for the nonce, the matter rested.]

Dear Jesus, my brother, help us to see the events around us clearly, to understand their significance.

*NOT the whole thing. IIRC, the Tribune offered the speech, while Huffington offered the Q&A.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Money Changers and Whores

A new friend of mine* suggested I say a little somethin about this (though not necessarily this quote specifically):

While this isn't directly related to the topic at hand, I'd like to take the opportunity to point something out. There are people like LaVern Jordan who run around with a bible in their hand and require political candidates to have religious beliefs that align with their own. They even go so far as to demean atheists as being amoral, and that they should not have a voice in this country.

Well, let me say this: I think you'd be hard pressed to find an atheist who would think that soliciting sex for education is appropriate. If you choose to be stubborn and feel otherwise, then read this story again and comprehend who's doing what.

Thing is, I don’t like the title to my little essay this time because I think it’s misleading. I know it’s gonna put that picture of Jesus, His sweet guns showin and all, wavin that homemade whip around in the Temple (and God, He knows folk like LaVern Jordan need a good whippin).

But moneychangers and whores, qua moneychangers and whores, are not the people Jesus had Issues with. The Gospel, in fact, describes The Man, more than once, more than twice, as hangin out with moneychangers, invitin Himself to they houses, feet all up under they tables, usin Those People in parables as object lessons, wildly invitin ‘em into the Kingdom. Refusing, even, to stone, accuse, condemn, or even avoid adulteresses and whores and what not. Including The Least of These, I’m sayin, at the drop of a yarmulke.

This is the Christ I know and love, the Christ my pastor preaches from Sunday to Sunday. But “people like LaVern Jordan*** who run around with a bible in their hand” are the kind of people who make moneychangers and whores (not to mention Kingdom people**) look bad. People like LaVern Jordan make, not only Christians, but also principals and financial-aid officers, and even do-gooding atheists look bad. Yeah, I said it. I need, like my pastor, to make a stark differentiation between LaVern Jordan and his ilk and people who actually hunger and thirst for the living God (even those who desire to do the right thing, without the hunger and thirst).

Of course it’s easier to claim that this reprehensible behavior shows up more obviously among the loudly fundamentalist, the priests and televangelists. They’re our favorite whipping boys, ain they? Ain they all over the television and newspapers? And it’s certainly easier to throw that “no true Scotsman” rebuttal at anybody who argues, “He’s not a Christian; he’s just in religion for the money (and/or sex).” It’s just easier to claim that, because there are no stings currently and publicly being applied to atheists qua atheists, therefore, atheism is just The Way To Go, honey.

If you read for comprehension, then you see that I refuse to make excuses for LaVern; but I can’t call him a Christian, either. Neither can you. Best any of us can come up with is "hypocrite". It’s easy for y'all on the outside to point fingers, to attack those of us who malign Christianity with our very behavior, and so despise Christianity itself, but you can’t attack pretend Christians without referring to The Plumb Line. No, we will not fail to point out that there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who reach out and love on the Least of These His Children; however, we also cannot ignore (as convenient as it may be to do so) what The Son of Man Himself said: That folks’ fruit identify them. That whitewashing only makes a rotten place a whitewashed place of rottenness. That thieves and whores who hunger and thirst, not after Him, but after money and debauchery (I’m looking at you, LaVern) are none of His.

So, no, (theoretical and/or pending) forgiveness notwithstanding, I don't claim LaVern Jordan. He's just not part of A Certain Family. If you choose to feel otherwise, Space Cowboy, then think on the dubious merits of any kind of sweeping intolerance, please, and comprehend who’s doing what.

Dear Jesus, my Brother, help us to resemble You in our thoughts, words and actions. Help us.

*not A Religious; just A Great Soul

**Because my pastor maligns traditional “religious people” and “church folk,” who can’t be bothered to love and help those who need love and help, those for whom Christ died, because they’re too busy tryin to avoid the Cross.

***Can you believe this name? Can we blame his proclivities on it?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion and Commerce

Do you know of any first-time parents-to-be? Spread the word!

Lord Jesus, my brother, make this successful.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

On Teaching

You know I teach some literature classes, right? Well, what you may not know is that I read all the poetry in class, aloud, myself; I assign short stories to be read as homework; and I make my students read the plays aloud in class. Mine is not a drama class, but I am sensitive to the original purpose of Drama: that is, it should be performed, or, at the very least, heard (especially since a lot of The Good Stuff is poetry, too).

So in my lit classes, I insist upon "casting" the plays. We read aloud as much as we have time for. I have Suffered For My Vision, though. For one thing, there is always at least one student who is absolutely terrified of reading aloud. Said student, having seen the writing on the wall, usually takes me aside after class and begs me not to make him or her read anything aloud. I always commiserate with the stage fright (though we never even approach a stage), but insist that each student read SOMETHING aloud. "It's part of your 'class participation' grade," I point out, and then I offer the smallest parts available (like the stage directions or Selig in Joe Turner's Come and Gone).

One semester, after the class had read passages from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hellman's The Children's Hour, and Norman's 'Night, Mother, one student discovered that we'd be reading Wilson's Fences next, and she was horrified that one of her classmates would say the word nigger out loud. Ours was, after all, a mixed class, and she knew I was liable to "cast" at least one of her white classmates in the predominately black play. (I ended up casting quite a few, actually.) So, in class one day, she objected to reading Fences aloud. She didn't want, she said, anybody (particularly anybody white) saying That Word in her class.

I understood her stance; really, I did. But it was my class, and I could not see the --well-- rightness in excluding Fences from the semester's "performances." After all, Oedipus has four children by his mother and rips his eyeballs out. Shakespeare used the word polack. Hellman wrote about a lesbian who shoots her brains out at the end of the play. Norman talks us into rooting for another young lady who wants to shoot her brains out. There were any number of objections we could raise concerning any one of the plays I'd chosen to analyze.

So we were going to read Fences aloud, too, as we had read the other plays. That student protested by walking out of class on the first "Fences" day. But she came back. And the whole thing turned out to be a wonderful teaching opportunity: we talked a lot about the deliberate choices for diction (and other devices) that real artists make, and why they are so deliberate. I remember that class fondly, and the Protesting Student and I still correspond.

But a few weeks ago, I encountered a conflict I'd never met before and, in 2008, one I'd never even thought I would have to meet. We were reading Bullins' Goin a Buffalo aloud one day when I realized that the student I had cast as "Curt" was having trouble with the language. See, GAB's main characters are prostitutes and their pimps (part-time heroin dealers) and their ex-convict friends.* I don't need to tell you that when folk like that get excited, they do not say "Gee, willikers!"

Well, my student** began to stumble over the language. Then he started replacing the words. For "you bitches," for example, he said, "You girls." For "muthafucka," he said, "people." And so on. I had an idea why he was doing this: he's a lovely young man, and I thought he felt uncomfortable using such language in front of his old, gray-haired professor. (I assumed, you know, that the child, like others of his generation, cussed like Andrew Dice Clay outside class. I mean, he wears "dread" locks!)***At the end of the class, we all having empathetically sweated through That Student's discomfort, I shook his hand and said, "You're all right with me, [Wonderful Mysterious Name]." And he replied, "Ms. B., next time you have something like this, please don't make me read it." Deal. He had already acquitted his duty for the semester. He was done, and I was satisfied.

But the other shoe hadn't dropped.

The following week, the child met me in the hallway outside our classroom and asked me if he could address the class. Smelling another teaching opportunity, I have him permission to do so after we'd had our oral reports. Student With The Wonderful Name strode up to the podium with a slip of paper in his hand.

It was a formal apology --for "cursing in class" and "being a poor witness for Christ." When he finished, I thanked the young man and asked the other students if they had anything to say. I thought somebody would at least point out that reading the words on a page wasn't "cursing," but, instead, shamefaced and quiet, one or two students shook their heads "No"; nobody said anything.

"Well, I have something to say." I began by pointing out that The Student With The Wonderful Name and I had something in common: I loved Jesus, too, and I don't curse in my personal life. But I didn't consider what TSWTWN had done as "cursing." He had been forced, as a student, to read some words on a page. And then I did my little spiel on an artist's "deliberate choices." I talked about verisimilitude. I talked about reasonable expectations (adding my "Gee, willikers!" comment). My students sat up a little straighter after that, but TSWTWN probably didn't see my point at all. But since he didn't argue, I breathed a sigh of relief and we went on to for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. (!!!)

But there was another shoe.

After class, I went to my office to think thoughts (and put them on display for Christina) when the division's student assistant dropped in to visit, as is his wont.

"I didn't know you had [Wonderful Name] in one of your classes," he said.
"Uh, huh," I said.
"You know he told his discipler****about the other day, when he had to read from that play," Student Assistant said. This is a lovely young man, too, big and friendly and smart. (No locks, though, but I don't hold that against him.) "His discipler was very angry with him about the language. He really chastised him."

"That's why he read the apology to the class," I finally said.
"Yeah." As Student Assistant told me the story of how he himself had gotten in trouble with his discipler (yes, over something he'd actually said, don't know what, turned my ears off lest they bled), I wondered.

What in the world are they teaching in these churches today?

Lord Jesus, my brother, forgive us for demoralizing The Least of These Your children. We don't know what we're doing.

*Not to mention JAZZ MUSICIANS.

**He has one of the most wonderful names I've ever heard. I'm so sorry I can't give it to you.

***A course, the rest of the class just revelled in the opportunity to cuss, openly and often.

****I wish I had an explanatory link for you, honey. Truly, I do.