The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Soul Looks Back - The Best of 2008

There are several highlights of 2008 for me that I want to acknowledge at the beginning of 2009.So, for the first year here's my BEST OF List.

Best Preaching 2008

Anyone who knows me knows that I love good preaching, and sometimes I am even accused of contributing to that project my own self. I am pleased to say that I heard a lot of great sermons during the year, but the two most memorable were preached by
1. Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart's "Crowd Control", preached Wednesday morning at the Hampton Minister's Conference.
2. Rev. Tim Poston, "Woman Behold Thy Son," preached during a marvelous set of "Seven Last Words" on Good Friday 2008.

I can't leave this category without offering shout outs to Pastor Brenda Cuthbertson and Rev. Albert F. Campbell who bring a word every Sunday to their Philadelphia congregations. I also want to thank Rev. Dr. Alison Gise-Johnson for a word in October that simply made me want to follow Jesus more closely.

As for my own preaching last year, I'll let the hearers say which they found memorable or, better yet, transformative. If you have nominees, please post in the comments section. Without commenting on the content of the sermons, however, I have to speak about the honor of preaching for Martin Luther King Sunday at Marble Collegiate Church in New York in January, as well as preaching for a conference at Allen Temple Baptist in Oakland in October.

Best Trip

In August 2008, I made my first pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine. Along with some of my closest friends, I walked by the Sea of Galilee. I floated in the Dead Sea. Raphael Warnock and Tony Lee baptized me in the Jordan River. I reciprocated. Our group met with Israelis and Palestinians, worshipped at a Baptist church in Jerusalem, dipped our toes in the Mediterranean, and toured holy sites. Bethelehem, Jerusalem, Nain, and Emmaus are no longer abstract concepts. I've seen the 2008 version of them. It was marvelous to see the holy sites, but I have to say again that my old and new friends made the trip truly special. I hope we will be able to travel again together. Hear that, State Mother?

For other reasons altogether, I have to include another August trip as an Honorable Mention in this category. Early in the month, I drove to WV for the Mount View High School Class of 1988 20th Reunion.

I wasn't sure exactly why I was going; I just felt like I need to do so. I had a great time and reconnected with old friends. Sometimes it's just good to go.

Best Sports

For me, 2008 was basically a baseball year. On June 19th, I joined a crowd of Yankees fans in the soon-to-be-demolished Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees beat the Padres 1-0. Although there were no obvious offensive or defensive highlights, the low, close score provided an opportunity for me to see Chamberlain start and Mariano Rivera close the game. The weather was perfect. The company sublime. And I had my moment in Yankee Stadium.

But of course the big baseball news for me this year was the Phillies who won the World Series. I became an earnest Phillies fan in the 2007 season when I literally lost sleep worrying about them in August. This year, I just pulled for them, yelled for them, and celebrated their rise to the top of the heap. For me the best moment in the whole baseball year was when our pitcher Joe Blanton hit a homerun in in game 4, the second home game. In fact, the pitchers made the postseason in so many ways. I love it that Jamie Moyer is still pitching well into his 40s. His diving throw to first base showed his athleticism and his heart. Brett Myers' extended at bat flustered ace CC Sabathia in the Division series. Cole Hamels pitched like a champ and got MVP awards to prove it. And Brad Lidge was ... well PERFECT in save opportunities. I love the Phillies!

Now the Eagles, on the other hand, gave me little to cheer about until their last game in 2008, when they pounded the Dallas Cowboys 44-6. We're in the playoffs. Who woulda thunk it?

Honorable mention to Tiger Woods who won the US Open on a broken leg.

The Election

Those of you who followed my comments on this blog and others know that the presidential election of 2008 dominated my thinking for months, beginning in 2007. Everyone knows that this election was filled with firsts and lasts. It was high drama that ended with the landslide election of Barack Hussein Obama as the nation's 44th President.

I have to offer my thanks to the bloggers who gave my mind an outlet in the midst of all of the nonsense in the mainstream media. Special thanks to the Best Blog, Renita Weems's Something Within, without which I would have gone insane during the election cycle. Dr. Weems is always on point. I am also thankful to AverageBro, What About our Daughters, Jack and Jill Politics, and the Huffington Post.


A lot of great things happened for me in 2008, but I am especially thrilled to have become a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I have a new job at New York Theological Seminary. I have made new friends. I have re-connected with long-time friends. It's a great life. Bring on 2009.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Programs

Thank God for Christmas programs, those yearly celebrations of creativity and public performance. No, I didn't say Christmas "pageants," which I think of as featuring only The Story of Christmas, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the innkeeper, the angels, the Magi and the Shepherds. I like that too, but more than that I revel in the unique offerings of everyone from the cradle class to the adults, who memorize, sing, read, and dazzle, if not necessarily with their brilliance, then most certainly with their zeal and good will.

I don't know how I forget it from year to year, only to be reminded again that I love to see the tiny ones stare petrified into the faces of the expectant crowd. I love it when they get their "recitation" out and perhaps even more when they remain speechless and we applaud anyway. We're just glad to see them. Like Almighty God's declaration at Jesus' baptism, we proclaim them beloved and say that we are pleased with our children before they do a single remarkable or miraculous thing.

I love the Christmas skits, the dramatic renderings of The Original Story and the not-so-subtle reminders of the meaning of for our contemporary times. I love the poems and the plays, the readings famous and not so much. i love the apples and the oranges, the Christmas candy and the red-and-white striped candy canes.

I love Christmas carols and sing them with exuberance, always bobbing my head and tempted to clap my hands even during the slow songs. I love them even when they're hard to sing and difficult for the musicians to play because we sing them so infrequently. And then there are the crowd favorites, "O Come all Ye Faithful", "Joy to the World," and "Silent Night." We're all moved both to dance and to cry.

Every year I struggle with the temptation to boycott Christmas and all its kitschy commercialism. But if I did, I'd miss the beauty of the Christmas Eve candlelight service and the church school-sponsored Christmas program. That would be in inestimable loss. Thanks, God and PFAC, for the reminder.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy 39th Birthday to Me!

I have to take this moment to admit that the day began on a bit of a shaky note, as I pondered where the time had gone and made a list of all I want for my life but do not yet have. But as I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, I do so with a profound awareness of how blessed I am. Blessed to be alive. Blessed to love. Blessed to be loved. All in all, 39 is a good age so far.

Pictures from my party will follow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

About that Invocation

The blogosphere and the mainstream media (MSM) are ablaze with discussions about the specifics regarding President-elect Obama's inauguration. To be sure, Black people have been talking about it and making plans to attend at least since 11 p.m. EST on November 4th. Churches are chartering buses, individuals are buying airline tickets and begging their Congressional representatives for tickets to the staging area. Some witty soul has even created an email to poke fun at all of the busriders who likely will find themselves much closer to Delaware than to DC what with all of the traffic heading to Chocolate City.

All of the above is old news. The hot topic today involves the disclosure that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (Southern Baptist, in case you didn't know) will deliver the invocation. Print, internet, and television media are all descibing the choice of Warren as testimony to his ascension to the rank of presidential pastor that Billy Graham has recently vacated after a half-century. A lot of people are steamed, especially among the California gay rights advocates who are particularly miffed at Obama for honoring a man who used considerable influence to sway voters to back Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in CA. Obama, for his part, reminds detractors that reaching across divides is part and parcel of his philosophy, not to mention a good explanation for why he was even elected. In addition, Warren reached out to Obama two years ago, inviting him to a forum on AIDS at Saddleback, an invitation that drew heat from conservatives because of Obama's positions on abortion and gay rights.

Let me say that I basically understand Obama's reasoning, but Warren remains a poor choice from my perspective, largely because his participation does mark an anointing of a new national pastor and this time I'd like to see someone other than a middle-aged conservative white man in the role. How about a woman to do either the invocation or the benediction? How about a progressive evangelical? How about someone from the religious left? How about somebody Black? How about.... And even if it had to be an evangelical white man, how about Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, or Jim Wallis?

Some, notably Frank Schaeffer on the Huffington Post, have suggested that this is all about Obama's greasing the road for progressive policies by making nice with evangelical right-wingers at the beginning of the presidency. The problem with this logic is that right-wingers are far more likely to cut Warren's throat for doing the inauguration than they are to call a truce with Obama for having invited him. In the meantime, Obama allies himself with an anti-evolution, brazenly anti-choice, virulently anti-gay, and unconscionably anti-equality-for-women religious conservative. This is not the change that those of us who voted for Obama can believe in.

Now I have to say that Aretha Franklin, Elizabeth Alexander (poet), and Joseph Lowery doing the benediction are more along the lines I had in mind. But they are not getting a lot of play in the media because everyone knows that the person who speaks first (i.e., the invocation) sets the tone.

I'll be praying for Pres. Obama's administration.

P.S. Check out Renita Weem's blog entry about the subject for the best thing I've seen yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Case Closed

I have always watched too much television for my age. Because we only had basic cable when I was growing up, I didn't get into too much trouble in terms of watching portrayals of sex and violence, but that doesn't mean that I didn't have disturbing images indelibly imprinted on my brain because of the fright I experienced watching movies, especially when I was up watching late at night. One of those images is of Adam Walsh.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was 13, NBC aired a movie called "Adam" depicting the story of Adam Walsh's disappearance and his parents'(played by Daniel J. Travanti and JoBeth Williams) desperate attempts to find him. The movie ends with the tragic truth that Adam will not be coming home because he has been murdered. The closing shot just before credits is a picture of the real Adam Walsh, looking like any kid his age, holding a baseball bat, and missing his front teeth. That image has haunted me for a quarter of a century.

Although his murderer, a convicted pedophile died in prison in 1996, police only closed the case today, having concluded that the accumulated evidence indicated that the man long believed to have been Adam's killer was in fact the perpetrator of this unspeakable crime. Adam's parents and siblings were present for the ruling and called it justice.

Sadly, although Adam's image remains in my memory, he is not the only child who has died at the hands of a depraved person in the past quarter-century. Too many young people have been abducted, assaulted, murdered; too many even now live in harm's way. This is why the work of Adam's parents, especially his father John who hosts America's Most Wanted, is so important. So, tonight as I sit up way too late with the television off I will lift a prayer for John and Reve Walsh, along with all of the other loving parents whose children have been stolen. Oh Lord, please have mercy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Most Powerful Person in the World

I am feeling something this week for The Decider (aka George W. Bush) that I have never felt before, an emotion that I never even expected to feel. In the midst of an economic downturn verging on depression, with two fronts in an ill-begotten war, and with his approval ratings lower for longer than any president since the statistics have been kept, The (Soon to be Retired) Decider sat down for his first "exit interview" with Charles Gibson. As I watched, I imagined what how it must feel to know that you are at the end of the road as the most powerful person in the world, and I felt compassion for him.

Now, as usual with The Decider, there were gaffes, the most hilarious of which being this one:

"When the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over, y'know, a decade or so -- before I arrived as president, during I arrived as president."

Who says "during I" anything? And who doesn't fix such a verbal misstep when one hears it? How do you just let that go? Oh yeah. I forgot that when you're the most powerful person in the world, you don't have to be self-censoring. But oddly it seems that Soon-to-be-former Pres. Bush is becoming more self-critical in the waning days of his final term.

For years now, as his contemporaries have judged him and found him wanting, Bush has depended on the judgment of history to redeem him. He has relied on the idea that while his policies may anger or even outrage the generation he serves, generations-to-come will look back on his presidency with respect and admiration, especially with regard to his foreign policy. Now, however, he has had to come to terms with the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And nothing about the backward glance from ages to come will change that fact. He actually seemed humbled, especially when Gibson asked him would he have gone to war had he known that there were no WMDs.

I'm convinced that what The Decider is finally coming to terms with is the fact that his deciding days end on 20 January 2009. (Actually, they've already ended; Rachel Maddow does call him the "lamest duck" after all.) He won't control the White House. And he won't control how his legacy is judged. To hear him tell it, he's not even going to control where he and Laura live next. It's all up to her. Listening to him, I felt compassion.

Nothing about the world as I have experienced it makes it likely that Bush will take my advice, but I am going to offer it nonetheless:

Mr. President, take a page out of the book(s) written by the best human being ever to occupy the White House. Don't tell me you don't know who that is, and no, I don't mean George H.W. Bush. I mean James Earl Carter, known by all as Jimmy. To say the least, Carter's presidency was not one for the history books. But his life and witness post-presidency is what he will be remembered for; it's also what he won the Nobel Peace Prize for. Although your days as the most powerful person in the world are nearly over, with God's grace, you have a lot of living left to do. Use it for good. Your history is still being written.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

Support World AIDS Day
I have a commitment every year to acknowledge the continuing struggle of people around the world who are living with HIV/AIDS. This commitment stems from a recognition of the absence of attention that the issue receives in the Black religious community at large and the deadly impact that continued ignorance regarding the disease, how it is transmitted, and how it is treated, though not cured, has on our community especially.

I got a late start this year, as the date of the blog (as opposed to the ribbon) attests, but I refuse to miss completely the opportunity in this venue to reflect on AIDS, twenty years after the first World AIDS Day commemoration. Again this year, "Leadership" is the chosen theme for World AIDS day.

According to the CDC, around the world 33 million people and in the USA 1.1 million people live with HIV/AIDS. In the USA, 1 in 5 infected persons is unaware of the infection and thus is prone to spread the virus unwittingly. But most startling are the following statistics regarding the virus and women:

In 2004 (the most recent year for which data are available), HIV infection was

the leading cause of death for black women (including African American women) aged 25–34 years.
the 3rd leading cause of death for black women aged 35–44 years.
the 4th leading cause of death for black women aged 45–54 years.
the 4th leading cause of death for Hispanic women aged 35–44 years.

In the same year, HIV infection was the 5th leading cause of death among all women aged 35–44 years and the 6th leading cause of death among all women aged 25–34 years. The only diseases causing more deaths of women were cancer and heart disease. (from the CDC Factsheet on Women and HIV/AIDS)

Although we celebrate the advances in medical science which have greatly increased the life expectancy and quality of life for those who are infected with the HIV virus, this is no time for complacency. Too many, especially black women, people still die from the disease; too many people still have not been tested.

It is unconscionable that leaders of Black institutions, including houses of worship, politics, and the media devote so little attention to the continuing threat that HIV/AIDS presents for the health of Black people, especially women. Silence is deadly.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

So much to be thankful for

I have been away from blogging for the last couple of very eventful months, so I am using this Thanksgiving holiday to say thanks for a few of the things that have happened since the last time I blogged.

First, I want to thank God for the stay of execution granted Troy Davis. Actually, I should say the two (2) stays, the first from the Supreme Court while they decided whether to hear his appeal (unfortunately, they declined) and the second from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who reportedly will hear arguments concerning his case in December. Keep praying!

Second, I am thankful for the vindication of my faith in the Philadelphia Phillies. By winning the World Series on Oct. 29th, the Phillies revitalized my confidence that anything is possible. I have always been something of a sports fan, but moving to Philadelphia has resulted an intensifying commitment to the city's teams. I was euphoric after I got over my disbelief when the Phillies won - so euphoric that I stood in line for two hours and spent entirely too much money on Phillies celebration gear. In fact, I am still smiling! And it's a good thing too, because the Eagles aren't giving us a single thing to be glad about.

And then there is the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of these United States. This reason for giving thanks is really multifaceted: 1. delight that an intellectual, wise, cool, good-looking Black man has finally ascended to the highest office in our land and 2. gratitude that Sarah Palin has returned to Alaska. Since the future portends unenviable challenges for our nation, I am much more confident having the reins of power in the hands of a thoughtful person of ideas. I chose a photo on election night with his wife Michelle Obama, because of my delight to see a loving Black couple ascend to such heights and because he always seems more relaxed and interesting when she is with him. (Did I mention how glad I am not to have to look at Sarah Palin and her "first dude"? Yes, I know that John McCain was the one running for president. The question is "Did she?")

I would be remiss if I failed to give thanks, as always, for family and friends, life and health, employment and a home. Most of all, I thank God for a sense of purpose and identity, and for the privilege of being a thinker and a believer.

What are you thankful for?

UPDATE: The Eagles won, beating the Arizona Cardinals 48 to 20 to top off my thankful Thanksgiving! I take back what I said earlier.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Certain Danger

This post is about the danger of certainty. It's about George Bush's little talk with the Lord that made him certain that our nation should preemptively strike Iraq. It's about Sarah Palin's inexplicable certainty that she is prepared to be the understudy to the most powerful person in the world. It's about religious zealots of all brands and their certainty that their interpretation of their God and his Word is infallible. Certainty is dangerous.

But there is a more immediate danger to certainty in a story that is unfolding in the state of Georgia and that has at its center a man named Troy Davis who is scheduled for execution on Tuesday, despite growing evidence of prosecutorial manipulation and witness tampering and without any physical evidence to link him with the crime for which he is being executed. Davis and his lawyers have done all that can be done to ask the legal system to consider that, given these new findings, perhaps they should reconsider the case before sending Davis to certain death. (See Bob Herbert's column in yesterday's NY Times.)

There is a danger in certainty, and it is the unwillingness to review critically our own actions and systems. Of course, we are all human and make mistakes. There is not necessarily any crime in that. To go to the death or worse to send someone else to his death in order to preserve the fallacy of our infallibility, on the other hand, is criminal. Ultimately, it endangers the best of human community and government.

Will there be a stay of execution for Troy Davis? I certainly pray so.

Read also this article on I read it after I had written this piece. It certainly is appropriate.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

2nd Choice

I have been thinking about posting on this subject for a week, since Barack Obama's announcement that Joe Biden will be his VP running mate in this election. I was a clear but not necessarily loud Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter during the primary season, and I admit to a great deal of disappointment that my dream team did not come to fruit. At the same time, I was relatively content with Biden as with Obama as a "second choice" who generally represents the same values of my "first choice," in both instances HRC. I understood that after all that had happened in the last 7 months, Obama was unlikely to choose to spend the next 2 months and with luck next 8 years with HRC and her famous husband at his side (or in his face.)

I am pleased that in the week since Obama's announcement, we have been treated to a week's worth of Democratic making up at the DNC. By the end of the convention, most Dems were content with our ticket and were feeling warm and fuzzy at the history Obama's nomination most assuredly represents. Although I myself was not teary during his speech, I understand the generations of Black people who were. Obama/Biden were second choices, for me, yes? But still very much good choices.

Then comes John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, for his number 2 spot. All I could think is that he must be crazy. For most HRC supporters, Palin is not an appropriate 2nd choice, especially not when she comes attached to the person (McCain) and constituency (Christian conservatives) who hate every progressive thing that Hillary stands for. I don't care that she calls herself a feminist or that she has a uterus, Palin represents no good option and would be a poor substitute for the leadership of a decent man much less that of an extraordinary woman, like HRC.

Now I am really not under the illusion that McCain picked Palin to appeal to women like me. I am firmly within the Democratic base and my views actually are probably to the left of everyone except Dennis Kucinich. And in truth, he's not after people who really liked what Hillary's positions represent. He smartly has consolidated the Republican base, as Christian conservatives describe themselves as elated at his choice. And he's after the folks who want to feel good about bringing change but only on the most superficial level, that keeps the powerful powerful and the disempowered weak. Shake up Washington? Yeah, right.

I am hoping that the next 2 months and Election Day, in particular, demonstrate our unwillingness to fall for such a ruse.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Imagining Calvary

I may regret having said this later, after my return and after I have given it more thought, but for now I have to say that I found the Galilee much more moving than Jerusalem on a spiritual level. It is Monday morning in Jerusalem, and yesterday I spent the day at church (Jerusalem Baptist) and touring holy sites in the Old City. I say "touring" rather than just "visiting" because it is nearly impossible not to feel like a tourist in a space that is so developed, by both the Church and the City.
For example, all of the sites related directly to the Crucifixion culminate in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, an extraordinary edifice that houses worship spaces for Eastern and Western Christianity. The only problem is that to build the church, they had to level parts of Golgotha or Calvary. There is no way to get a sense of what the hill of Calvary might have looked like, even though there are designated spots within the church where events are supposed to have taken place.

Don't get me wrong, the ancientness of parts of the city is striking. But the Sea of Galilee and the mountains around it evoke more for me of my Lord's life and ministry. The sea of Galilee I have seen. Calvary I still have to imagine.

Friday, August 15, 2008

In Israel

On Wednesday, I landed in Israel, the land of the Bible - a space that for Jews, Christians, and Muslims is THE HOLY LAND. The tragic thing about this precious space is that the common holiness that all three of the major monotheistic religions celebrate is what makes the land so valuable to each group. The holiness is what they are fighting over.

As a Christian, standing by the Sea of Galilee (called Lake Kinneret by the Israelis), I was so moved at the idea that God chose this particular place to become human. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he lived in Nazareth of Galilee, he read in the synagogue of Capernaum in Galilee, he taught on the mountains in Galilee, he fed the multitude in Galilee, and he called his disciples in Galilee. I cannot help but be moved by the holiness of this space.

I am also struck by how different things are than I imagined. For example, the village of Capernaum was much smaller than I imagined, but the mountains are much higher.

Stay tuned. I will try to upload pictures of some of the scenes, especially pictures from my baptism in the Jordan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fewer Lectures, Please

Let's get this straight at the outset, I am a fan of personal responsibility. I believe that parents, fathers and mothers, have a duty to raise their children, which includes providing proper nutrition, respect for the law, and the nurture of a desire to learn. I am the beneficiary of the high expectations of my parents, accompanied by their equally high investment of energy and resources to enable my high achievement. (Forever I will be grateful, Mom and Dad.)

That being said, just what are we to make of Sen. Barack Obama's assertion of these values whenever he talks to Black folks? And how do we register the reality that we would almost certainly reject the exact same words in the exact same tone if a White politician had the temerity to utter them? I will avoid being guilty of the same kind of unnuanced criticism that I hate from the right wing, and so I'll not ascribe cynical motives to the presumptive Democractic nominee. Here's how I see it: Obama recognizes that we Black folks are engaging in cultural suicide with our unwillingness to tackle the problems of academic underachievement and paternal negligence and neglect. At the same time, there's no denying that a public dismissal of Jesse Jackson and his brand of racial analysis (even though 90% of the time Jackson's historical and political analyses are on target) helps Obama with White voters who are afraid of what a Black president might mean. As others more astute than I have suggested, Obama may be taking a page out of Bill Clinton's handbook and is having his Sister Souljah moment. Then again, maybe not. But I can't help wondering whether Obama knows that White underachieving children watch too much tv and play too many video games.

What's missing in all of this, even if one accepts the most benign or even altruistic explanation for Obama's speeches, is a policy position or even strategy for addressing these issues with the people who are the real problem. I have already expressed my appreciation for what my parents gave me because of their persistence and insistence on certain positive behaviors. But I never responded well to lectures. And I don't know anybody who does. Modeling of good behavior, yes. Lectures, no. What I would like to hear more of is a commitment to applying best practices and brain power, as well as funding, to the programs that actually work. Tell me how you keep young people from seeing themselves through the lenses of television, movies, and videos. Tell me how to offer alternative visions. Find me somebody who is making this work.

I believe that there is power in words. I just don't think we've got the right ones. But what I do like about Obama is that he knows how to spot a good idea and embrace it and then package it within soaring rhetoric. That's what I'm looking for from him as a candidate. And as a president, I'm looking for the proposal of legislation to go with the words.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Blessed be the Barbecue

Memorial Day is, for most Americans, the official beginning of summer. Whereas most of us can never remember whether the summer solstice occurs on the 20th, 21st, or 22nd of June, and many of us forget that any such thing even exists, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the season for us. I know that there is a move afoot to restore the original intent of the holiday, namely remembering those who suffered and died for our country. Good luck and best wishes to those crusaders, but really this holiday, like so many others, has transformed into a time for socializing and sales and that trend is unlikely to be undone.

By the way, with a measure to create the 21st century's G.I. Bill in discussion in Congress, the best way to demonstrate our gratitude to our country's living veterans and their families is by creating opportunities for them when they come home. Oh, yeah, and bringing the ones fighting an ill-conceived, under-planned, and poorly executed unnecessary war in Iraq ought to be brought home posthaste. This would go much further to signify our appreciation for our fallen soldiers than simply laying wreaths at the graves of the Unknown Soldiers while new graves are still being dug at Arlington.

Back to the subject at hand. Today's weather in Philly was as nice as I can ever remember for a Memorial Day. It was sunny, warm, and not too breezy - a perfect day for barbecue. Some friends of mine got out the charcoal, and I am pleased to say that I gorged on chicken, burgers, salmon and grilled vegetables before closing out on a scoop of ice cream and then some fruit. I love summer and welcome it's arrival.

And to top it all off, the Phillies won tonight after scoring 20 - yes, 20 - runs. Go Phillies!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Yes, I've been out of the political blogging game for a few weeks. I didn't want to talk Obama and Clinton in Pennsylvania.

But I have been pondering the condition of our educational system for a while now, since I heard a discussion on NPR about special education and the tracking of black students. Recently, I was particularly disturbed by reports about the high school dropout rates of our major cities, including Philadelphia where I live.

I still don't have time to write anything lengthy myself, but I do want to commend to your attention Bob Herbert's Op-Ed in the New York Times today.

Read this.

We need to ask more of our elected officials and policy makers. We are falling dangerously behind.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Power of Words

I have slow to say anything about the controversy regarding soundbites from Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright's sermons over the last decade. I really have been thinking a lot and conversing with other people to hear what they're thinking as I formulate my response. But eventually one just has to say something, so here goes.

As so many have pointed out, there is a difference between a prophet/pastor and a president. Jeremiah Wright is one and Barack Obama wants to be the other. The president has to inspire us as a nation to be all that we should be, in its most moderate form. That means telling us enough truth about what we actually are so that she/he is trustworthy, but saying it in a way that makes it clear that we are not so bad and that we are loved. A prophet too tells us what we should be, but in its most radical form. The prophet shines a light on and emphasizes the parts of us that are far from what we should be, to the extent that we wonder whether we are or even should be loved. But the prophet loves us too. Jeremiah Wright is a prophet in a long tradition of prophets whose outrageousness is most apparent in the Old Testament.

Some people have objected that there is no difference then between my justification of Jeremiah Wright and the justifications of hate-filled religious figures both in Christianity and other traditions. I disagree. Whether a moral or political position is righteous or not depends on its explicit and implicit ends. Jeremiah Wright's ideal world includes people of all kinds, colors, and cultures. He has remained a part of the mostly white United Church of Christ and communes with other members of that church as brothers and sisters in Christ. He stands against oppression anywhere and everywhere and does not justify violence or hatred on the basis of nationalism, either American or Black. Wright is not hate-filled. There is a difference between anger and hatred. And by the way, his anger is by no means outdated.

I don't agree with everything Dr. Wright said/says or the way in which he said it. (Since I am an American, I pray that God never damns us despite the ways in which we damn ourselves.) But I do know that because he said what he said and said it the radical way he said it, we are having a conversation as nation that we have not had in a long time, if ever. Wright's work is not perfect, but he is not a kook. And his prophetic role is vindicated by the conversation itself.

I'll close now, but I also commend to you the discussion of these issues on Rev. Dr. Renita Weems's blog

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Open Letter to Sharpton

Rev. Sharpton,

I have been following the story of the brutal rape that occurred at Dunbar Village. I am aware that organizers on behalf of the victim repeatedly made efforts to engage you in speaking out on her behalf and on behalf of the residents of that under-served, under-policed, under-resourced community. I know that those efforts fell on deaf ears. For you to appear with the perpetrators' families and the NAACP to decry the "injustice" of keeping them in jail until trial is the height and depth of betrayal to the cause of justice.

I too believe in fairness as it relates to the treatment of prisoners. But I am clear, as you should be, that there are some crimes so heinous and some defendants so lacking in conscience that the public interest is best served by their being held without bail until their trial. Every rape case is not the same. Whether the white teens accused in Boca Raton should be out on bail or not is, therefore, immaterial. Advocate for a speedy trial, but don't insult the victims, the women of that community ,and Black women generally by standing up for young people who in all likelihood have committed an unspeakable and brutal act and calling that a call for justice.

Let me say that for me the final insult was your half-hearted, cast off remark about not supporting the brutality of that crime or any crime against women. The issue of the violence, humiliation, perversion, and torture that the victims endured should not be treated as an after thought, incidental to the larger and more important point. Their injury is really the whole point here. Your callousness contributes to that injury.

Rev. Leslie D. Callahan, PhD

Kwame (and Others) Grow Up

Let's talk about the need for Black so-called leaders to get real and be responsible. Kwame Kilpatrick's State of the City Address earlier this week demonstrated once again that he doesn't know the meaning of accountability. Painting his political critics and the purported nutcases who are sending his family hate mail with the same broad brush and continuing to deny his own fundamental culpability for the degeneration of the (already terrible) reputation of the city and of his administration, Kilpatrick attributed all his troubles to the difficulty of being a Black man in America. But considering the fact that he persistently demonstrates the character and tendencies of a prepubescent child, always blaming other people for actions that are singularly his, I don't know how he can even claim to know what it's like to be a grown up, an adult of any color.

Today I asked a black boy who is just beginning the difficult transition that is puberty what it means to him that his voice is changing. He said that it means he is maturing and growing up. Unfortunately, for some people the physical changes that happen as a result of glands and hormones never translate into the emotional, mental, and spiritual transformation that equate to true maturity. I find myself as a minister and a friend giving the same advice to other people that I am trying to embody in myself - Grow Up!

Grow up and take responsibility for your choices and their consequences. Grow up and realize that even if the world did owe you something, you don't have the power to enforce the payment. Grow up and deal with your past honestly so that you have the hope of a healthy present and a possible future. Grow up and learn that just because you want it doesn't mean that you should or will have it - whatever it is. Grow up and acknowledge that much of your life and its contours really are in your hands.

Kwame Kilpatrick the errant mayor did not emerge overnight. Recent events are just the culmination of a history of license. Too many people winked at his excesses for too long. He is not alone or exceptional. He just needs to grow up! And all who view his spiraling free fall should know that while our immaturity and self-gratification may not land us in the news, our selfishness and juvenile behavior are just as destructive in our sphere as his is in his.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dunbar Village and Rev. Al

Those of you who pay attention to the Black blogosphere are probably familiar with the heinous and violent crime perpetrated last summer on a Black woman and her son in Dunbar Village, a low-income, high-crime neighborhood West Palm Beach, FL. (If you're not, click here.) Especially if you read one of my favorite sites What About Our Daughters, you also know that repeated invitations went out to Rev. Al Sharpton and the local NAACP to get involved in righting the wrongs continuously perpetrated on the people of color who live in Dunbar Village without proper lighting or policing and are therefore left prey to the violent, pernicious whims of predators, resident and non-resident, adult and juvenile.

Now that you're up to date, let me tell you the latest. While stumping in FL to prevent the seating of that state's Democratic delegates, whose presence in Denver could potentially determine the Democratic nominee, Rev. Al took a moment to speak out about Dunbar Village. No, he did not finally come to his senses and offer support to the victim and her son. Rather, he joined the local NAACP in protesting the denial of bail to the four "boys" accused of the vicious rape.

What in the world is wrong with our so-called Black leaders? Why are they always falling over themselves to take up the cause of accused criminals? I too am a believer in the presumption of innocence for purposes of mandating a fair trial. The accused have a right to trial and to adequate representation during said trial. But my limited knowledge of the law (from watching Law and Order)and my common sense teach me that certain crimes are so heinous that the public interest is best served by the accused remaining in jail until trial. Leave these four probable perps in lockup and give them a speedy trial so that if they are not the actual perps we find that out quickly. But if they are the actual perps, then I don't want them to ever see the light of day on the outside again. They are without a conscience.

People, it serves no JUST cause to have all of the advocacy on the side of the ACCUSED and no advocacy for the VICTIMS. If Dunbar Village wasn't Rev. Al's thing in the fall when the whole community was placed in danger because those conscienceless criminals were on the loose, then Dunbar Village should not be Rev. Al's thing now. The fact that accused white rapist are out on bail in Boca is immaterial. When will our community learn that it is dangerous to advocate for wrongdoers uncritically? While it was surely a miscarriage of justice to charge the the Jena 6 with attempted murder, it was also wrong not to hold them accountable for the assault on the white kid, no matter how much that assault was provoked by insurgent racism in the Jena community. Now that one of the kids has been subsequently charged with another assault, the whole marching community has egg on its face.

Now that this post has a "...and the kitchen sink" quality to it, let me get to the real point. Obviously, as Renita Weems and others are pointing out, the time has come for us as Black women to defend our own selves and our own interests. That's what this post is all about. I am standing up in this post to join all the other sisters who are tired of having our lives, interests, and even bodies thrown under the proverbial bus of Black protest and progress. I love Black men because they are a part of our larger community. But the time has come for sisters to love only the brothers who love us back. Those brothers we should love hard and well. The others, like Rev. Al, can go back to the hell from which their sexist, demeaning, woman-hating ideologies and actions came.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1 in 4?

Here's what you need to know, according to the New York Times Article detailing Centers for Disease Control findings: Overall, one in four girls aged 14 to 19 has an sexually transmitted disease, most commonly human pampiloma virus (HPV). And 15 percent of those infected have more than one of the diseases. For African American girls, the rate of infection is 1 in 2.

What are we going to do? How are we going to give our young people the information that gives them a hope of remaining safe? How are we as a community going to confront the crisis of dangerous sexual behavior among our young people?

Does the church have anything useful to say about any of this? Does our government? \

Monday, March 10, 2008

When will they ever learn?

I actually thought it was some kind of crazy joke. Surely, Eliot Spitzer the Governor of New York would not be stupid enough to solicit a prostitute, high-priced or otherwise. After all of these years of media scrutiny on elected officials and after making his own name as the defender of all that is ethical, surely Spitzer was not paying for sex. But then I went to the NY Times webpage. Apparently, Spitzer's name will be added to the long list of stupid politicians who did not know that what is done in the dark will come to light. Kwame Kilpatrick, mayor of Detroit, should have sent Spitzer a text message.

I am not naive. I know that people have shadow sides to their personalities. I know that many people are unfaithful to their spouses and that prostitution is known as the oldest profession for a reason. What I don't understand is how people like Spitzer even have time to hire out for sex. He was supposed to be running one of the largest, most populous and complex states in the Union. He's got illegal immigrants to register, a budget to balance, corruption to expose and excise. Not to mention a wife and kids to take care of. He shouldn't even have time to be ordering up sex in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

I don't think Spitzer should be let off the hook. I think he should resign in disgrace, not for adultery or even for hypocrisy. I think he should resign because he wasted precious time. One of my friends said it better than I ever could, when she asked why our public servants,"especially the ones whose leadership is so critically needed on issues and policies affecting children, women and the vulnerable ALL NEED CROTCH SUPERVISORS and WILD and ERRANT PENIS RESTRAINT BELTS?"

By the way, I think Kilpatrick should resign too.

Friday, February 29, 2008


I have not been posting on this blog very much because I have been spending most of my writing time on a paper and on my daily Lenten devotions. That doesn't mean, however, that I have been failing to watch or think about the news.

Take the issue of Michelle Obama's statement about feeling proud of her country, a comment that has inspired the verbal wrath of such notables as Cindy McCain. Bill O'Reilly even deliberated about convening a lynch mob. I want to suggest that the best person for Michelle Obama to talk to at this moment is actually her husband's (former) principal rival Hillary Rodham Clinton. No one knows better than Hillary what it's like to be the spouse of an intensely popular, powerful, charismatic man. Hillary knows quite a lot about what it is like to have your every word parsed and dissected so that as many people as possible are inclined to take offense. Hillary could share copious notes with Michelle about how those same words are then used to impugn the credibility or patriotism of said charismatic spouse. The truth is that we like our First Ladies and First Lady wannabes vapid and seemingly without opinion. Everybody loves Laura Bush because almost nobody ever has to listen to her. If you start talking, prepare to be considered the shadow side of your luminous man.

If Michelle is understandably uncomfortable with Hillary as a mentor, she could also talk to many pastors' spouses. They could tell tales about how people target the spouse (or the children) when the pastor seems untouchable or unassailable. The thing that we must never forget is that while the spouse is the casualty, she or he is not the actual target. It's a game of is you can't beat them one way, then you go after them another. I think maybe the only thing worse than being a political candidate is being a political candidate's spouse. Shoot, for that you could even interview Bill "The Hitman" Clinton.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Out of Focus

I have to thank Renita Weems for her blog last week challenging the LowerMyBills ad and its pornographic focus on a Black woman's ample, gyrating butt. It put me in mind of an incident a few weeks ago that I had left largely unexamined until I considered the ubiquity of images of Black women that focus on our behinds.

During the Australian open, Roger Rasheed former coach of Australian Lleyton Hewitt came under fire for comments he made as the camera lingered on Venus Williams' behind. Rasheed said, "Take a look at this now. Make or think as you will, ladies, but for me, that's a pretty good sight." While I agree with those who objected to Rasheed's comments, a more appropriate question comes to mind about why the camera was on Venus's butt in the first place. The person running the camera made the first and most egregious decision to turn Williams, who is a world-class athlete, into one big body part as her behind filled the screen long enough for Rasheed to take notice.

In her blog post, Dr. Weems calls our historical attention to Sara Baartman whose body parts were the focus of discussion in the 19th century and remained on display in a museum well into the 20th century. Black people in particular must remember our history. Sisters have to demand that we not be carved up in people's minds, including brothers'. And it least if they carve us up, mentally reducing us to our hips, breasts, lips, noses, etc., then they ought to be ashamed to announce it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

When Will the Injury End

Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath exposed several unpleasant truths to the American people. Through it we became aware of a flawed and disintegrating infrastructure, as the levies for which the Army Corp of Engineers were responsible broke under the strain of a storm that had itself dissipated significantly before it arrived in New Orleans. We witnessed the incompetence and negligence of the FEMA head, whose credentials could not bear the subsequent scrutiny and demonstrated once again that The Decider is far more concerned with loyalty than with competence. We discovered anew how out of touch George W. Bush and his Cabinet members, including Condi "Shoe Shopping" Rice," could be in the face of human tragedy and misery. We learned a few lessons about the city and state governments of New Orleans, Louisiana as well. And I can't forget that we learned that for the media, when white people leave a closed supermarket with food in their hand, they are scavenging for necessary food, but when black people do it, they are looting. Of course, there was an up side, too. We witnessed extraordinary generosity and caring from persons and communities all over the country and the world. Individuals, worship communities, and even municipalities stepped up to alleviate the suffering and provide shelter for persons whom Katrina rendered homeless.

This week, however, what we have all been fearing is now confirmed. On Valentine's Day, 14 February, the Centers for Disease Control released a report that said the trailers FEMA issued for temporary housing to displaced persons have dangerously high levels of formaldehyde in them. This must be especially startling news for the thousands of families who are still living in these supposedly temporary dwellings.
Worse than adding insult to injury, FEMA's incompetence is adding injury to injury. The American people need to care enough to say "enough."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hillary Baseball Card

This was Upper Deck's original idea for a Hillary Clinton Baseball Card

Comments anyone?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Soap Opera

For the first time in weeks, the big story today is not the Dems race for the White House. Today we got showdown in a congressional hearing between Roger Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee who offered diametrically opposed sworn statements concerning Clemens's use of steroid and human growth hormone. McNamee swears he injected Clemens. Clemens swears he was never injected. Since the publication of the Mitchell report implicated Clemens in the wide-spread drugging of baseball, The Rocket repeatedly has disputed that his longevity is drug induced or sustained. Here's my question: Where is all the indignation that plagues Barry Bonds and sullies his record-breaking career and why is it not unleashed on Clemens? What's with the double standard?

Meanwhile, the sports new in Philadelphia is about Senator Arlen Spector and his questioning of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the Patriots and Bill Bellichek's pattern of taping opposing teams' defensive signals and the decision on the part of the NFL to destroy the tapes. All in all, it seems suspiciously like the NFL is involved in a cover up on behalf of their darling non-Super Bowl champion Patriots. Thank heavens again for the Giants. But go Specter!

One more thing: The Phillies should just pay Ryan Howard the $10 million and stop looking like idiots. Howard's performance over the last 3 seasons makes him a good bet and Phillies fans need to feel good about the team's priorities, not just in pitching (although some consistent pitching would be a blessing).

Saturday, February 9, 2008


If you check this blog regularly, you might have noticed that I am posting infrequently these days. The reason is that I am desperately trying not to blog about politics. But finding anything else to blog about is proving exceedingly difficult.

It's not that nothing else is going on in the world. The writer's strike in Hollywood has come and (almost) gone. There are lots of movies out, but of course I haven't seen any of them. The Lenten season has begun and I am having a good deal of time to think about my spiritual life. The only problem is that I am addicted to the primary election coverage.

The race between the Dems has been described as an embarrassment of riches. And it has made for great television, radio, and newspaper media. It's like the Super Bowl, World Series, and the NBA finals every day for weeks and weeks. And I have to say that not only am I addicted but I am also exhausted. Enough already. Cut to the chase. I definitely can't take the suspense until the summer. I don't even think I'll last until the April primary in Pennsylvania.

I know I'll just have to wait, but in the meantime I might not be blogging much. I think I should go to the movies.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl 42

I have never enjoyed a football game more. I was absolutely rooting for the Giants and hating the Patriots. I loved watching the Giants defense achieve the impossible and make Tom Brady look like a football player rather than a demigod. I hooted for Eli Manning who played MVP ball after a season of being written off and dissed by sportswriters in NY and elsewhere. And when Eli Manning ducked multiple tackles and threw the ball down field into the hands of David Tyree who simply would not let the football go, I howled and hollered so much that I knew I wouldn't be able to talk for a couple of days.

As a Philadelphia resident and Eagles fan, I could not have imagined myself loving on the Giants. But they were playing the Patriots. I have objected to all the Massachusetts teams since I went to college in MA. The Patriots, however, are my least favorite. While their talent is unquestionable, the team and the coach have an objectionable air about them. This nastiness reached its apex early in the season when they were caught taping the other team's signals. It just made you wonder what they could have been thinking. I guess it's not enough to put together the number 1 offense and the number 4 defense in the league. You need to cheat too?

My sense of justice is now gratified. The gifted cheaters were beaten. God don't like ugly. Their perfect season went up in smoke. And in the process we witnessed the most interesting Super Bowl in recent memory and the most watched ever.

Go Giants! Thanks for a rousing good time.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Constructive Debate

While this certainly could be a congratulatory post regarding last night's Democratic presidential debate, I actually have other items and issues on my mind.

Over the last several weeks, I have witnessed public altercations within the Black community that made me feel that a renewed commitment to civil debate is in order not only for the candidates in the presidential race but for opposing sides in various arenas. While I am not talking about politics exclusively, it is certainly true that the internal bickering and escalation of insults among Black people who are supporting Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton exemplify the exact problem I am discussing. Differences in candidate preference, especially when the policies of the candidates in question are so close, are no cause for insults and name calling (calling Maya Angelou a "ho" is unconscionable). But I am not just talking about politics.

There has been a recent debate on What about our Daughters regarding certain prominent Black preachers' signing a letter congratulating BET on its awards show and other things. While debate and questions about why such a letter appeared, especially with a heading citing "freedom of expression, are absolutely in order, the escalation of hostility between WAOD and Dr. Iva Carruthers does not speak well for either side, in large part because it leads to greater misunderstanding and confusion.

Everyone who aspires to public influence is naturally and rightly submitted to public scrutiny. This applies to Obama and Clinton as candidates as well as to Black intellectuals and preachers as persons who purport to shape our common life. I am not by any means suggesting that we exchange the rigorous quest and question of the truth for some easy civility that harbors and nurtures duplicity. I am saying that bluster for its own sake is not good. And when it is directed at our own people, it is generally more harmful than helpful. While we are arguing with one another, BET and Viacom and their ilk (along with, my forbears would have said, the Devil and his imps) are standing on the sidelines laughing at us.

It seems that at least for one evening the Democratic presidential contenders got that message. How useful it would be for the Black church, the Black community, and the Black family to practice the wisdom of constructive rather than destructive debate.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Creating a Pipeline

Without question there is a movement afoot and Barack Obama is inspiring and engaging the minds and hearts of Americans across generations and races and religions. In that there is something to celebrate for us all.

But I have to admit that my celebration of Obama's movement is not wholehearted. I searched myself and discovered that what's clouding the celebrating for me is the fact that while Obama and a few others are making headway and creating a pipeline for Black male political leadership, I don't see a woman of any color similarly situated. Mind you, this is NOT an argument akin to Gloria Steinem's stumbling and inaccurate portrayal of gender bias as more significant than racial bias. I am saying that women are going to have to be more intentional about finding and backing candidates up through the ranks so that there will be a similar female pipeline.

While I agree with those who lament Hillary's inextricable connection to the problematic Bill, I am also aware of the history of US politics in which the first woman governor took over for her husband and the first woman elected to the senate did so after completing her husband's unexpired term. Marriage has been the pipeline of political success (and sometimes ecclesiastical success, too)for women in the United States. As gifted and smart as Hillary is, we would not know about her were it not for her husband. That's a fact of sexist life.

I know I am feeling this concern particularly poignantly as a woman seeking a pastoral call. If you think about it, while Black men are at least as unlikely as white women to be called to the senior pastorate of a majority-white church, it is not likely that the reason they are rejected will be biblical. At this point no one credible is saying that it is God's plan that white men be in charge. Yet Black church women frequently remind one another that men are supposed to be the head.

I read AverageBro's blog this morning in which he talked about being able to say to his young son that he could grow up to be anything he wants to be. AverageBro views in Obama's candidacy the possibility that in America anyone can be president. I am not so sure that that's what an Obama presidency would mean for our daughters.

Note: For other reflections on the meaning of Saturday's South Carolina primary for Black women, check out Renita Weems's blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

C'mon Bill

I'm not going to belabor a point that is being made incessantly by almost everyone who cares about the Democratic party or the Clinton campaign. I am simply going to add my voice to all those others that say it's time for Bill Clinton to retreat. Attack dog mode suits him poorly, and it doesn't help Hillary.

But I have to say that Bill is not the only one I want to retreat. I would also like to see a retreat of all the identity politics playing out as Black folks square off against Bill for supposedly racist attacks against Obama. As frightening as it is to say this in public, for fear of myself being castigated as a race traitor, I think that that particular take on the politics is out of control. I do not say this because I think Bill was the best president for black people. I am not delusional on that level. Indeed I have remarked before that I found him disappointing - the crime bill and the Lani Guinier episodes particularly so.

Oh,and one more thing. People who trot out the "first Black president" thing and say it's "ridiculous" as Bob Herbert did in his column earlier this week, need to read what Morrison said during the impeachment hearings. Morrison was making a complicated argument about the tropes of blackness and the way that they were used against Clinton. Here's an excerpt:

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."

We are constantly being reminded that drug-dealing is a trope of blackness by Obama supporters who are accusing the Clintons of raising race through their surrogates. Toni Morrison's comments related to the ways in which Bill too had been slandered on the basis of those racialized tropes. More importantly, she was offering an explanation for why Black people especially rallied to Clinton's defense. There was a kinship with him and a resonance with his up from poverty story.

Here's my happy vision. We will get back to fighting about issues, including various kinds of experience and potential for inspiration. Black folks will stop measuring how black Barack (or Bill) is in order to determine whether to vote for him (or Hillary). We would remember that neither candidate would have the dubious luxury of being President of Black America but would have to do the difficult job of representing all. In my utopian vision, supporters of the candidates will be more thoughtful and less silly in stating their reasons for supporting one versus the other. And we will all get to the business of beating up the Republican nominee - since none of those candidates from a POLICY standpoint have anything substantial to say on behalf of or even to our community.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Nation's Standard

I am posting this to join in the chorus of voices calling for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to make a pronouncement regarding his understanding of the role of religion in the public square and in the execution of one's duties as President of the United States. Recently Huckabee commented to evangelical Christians that he would make the U.S. Constitution conform to "God's standards," meaning to the understanding of the scriptures that he and his fundamentalist cohort share.

If you read this blog, you know that I am a Christian minister. I am proud to acknowledge Jesus as Savior and the ultimate authority in my life. But I am troubled by the idea that Huckabee might attempt to legislate Christianity, especially his narrow version that allows him to bolster his tough on crime stance by citing the number of execution warrants he signed and simultaneously to promise a human life amendment. While I believe that one's religiously informed personal convictions will ultimately have a bearing on one's voting record, there is another orthodoxy of freedom of thought, speech, and religion in this nation. The free exercise clause exists to protect religion from government and to protect religious dissenters (including nonbelievers)from the imposed or established faith of the majority. This is the Constitution's standard, the nation's standard.

After several weeks of avoiding discussion about his Mormon faith, public concern and falling popularity forced Mitt Romney to make a "religion speech." It seems time for Huckabee, the former Southern Baptist minister and expert on God's standards, to make his religion speech. Rather than his closed to the press preaching gigs, we need a clear statement demonstrating that he understands the difference between the White House and the Sunday School.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

C'mon Hillary

No, this post is not a passionate endorsement of Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. I have not yet jumped so thoroughly off the fence I have been riding. What this post is is my cry into the blogosphere for Hillary Clinton and her campaign to get some sense. I have been telling my friends that I find that I like the campaign best when neither Clinton nor Obama is the running away with it. I think that ultimately makes the race more interesting and actually may produce dividends for those constituencies that the competitors reach out to.

When I say that I want the Hillary Campaign to get some sense, I am referring to their inability to see that Obama's camp is running away with the war of rhetoric by simply portraying themselves as above the fray of the politics itself. Now anyone with sense knows that you don't get as far as Obama has come in politics without having some sort of machine. The problem for Hillary is that her machine looks like a machine. She's got to work on that. I would advise that she take the advice offered by Frank Rich in the Sunday NY Times. I would also advise that she go back to the focus on what she is rather than spending time finding people who will say what Obama is not. And for God's sake, she needs to stop trotting out silly Black people like Bob Johnson,founder of BET, who is not exactly a paragon of moral authority. Hillary, stick with Maya Angelou.

As for the Martin Luther King, Jr. comment, I think that the reaction to it is overblown. She never said that LBJ (read the white man) was more important than King (read the Black man). What she said is that inspiring rhetoric and outsider activism (Obama's claim to fame) must be accompanied by legislative action and insider political work. "You need a president." We all know that is true. And how many black people have remarked that Adam Clayton Powell's in Congress work deserves more recognition than it has received, some even arguing that his legislative successes ought to be viewed as equally important as civil rights marches in transforming the material reality of Black life in the 1960s. To say that the dramatic changes of the civil right struggle depended on various actors, including but not limited to MLK, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, NAACP, the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the sitting President, is not to diminish the public face of the movement orthe sacrifices of those who lived their lives and even sacrificed them for the cause.

I am disturbed by the way that racial politics is being played in this phase of the race, principally because of the demographics of the South Carolina Democratic party. (Gender too, but that is a point for another post.) This back and forth where every criticism of Obama from the Clinton camp is automatically assumed to be racist is ultimately harmful not only to Clinton but also to Obama. Mind you, I do believe in the pervasiveness of racism in this nation, but I am convinced that Bill's "fairy tale" comment would have been directed at any candidate offering the kind of idealism that characterizes Obama.

The truth is that there is very little that distinguishes the platform of the Dems, somewhat in contrast to the Republicans, and all of the remaining contenders should give attention to making the strongest case for their approaches to their policies. I am saying that for the sake of the eventual nominee, they should play fair. Fight about issues or don't fight at all.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

History Repeats Itself?

As I suggested in my first post this year, the problem with the Democratic field is not that it is too shallow but that it is too deep. Unlike the previous two races during which it was impossible to get excited even about the eventual nominee, the 2008 race has attracted several likeable, clear-minded, and interesting candidates. And three of them, at least, seem viable in the general election as well as the primaries. Although electability still looms large on the minds of Democrats who are tired of losing, the truth is that Bush has made such a mess and the Republican candidates are so messy that the field is open for one of a number of interesting Democratic candidates.

Without a doubt, part of what is energizing the Dems regarding the race is the probability that our nominee will make history as the first Black or first female major-party nominee. The challenge of this history-making choice was initially clear primarily among Black women voters, who as carriers of the double-bind of gender and race were closely scrutinized and asked yet again "Which is more important?" The good news earlier on was that Black women refused to answer the question too neatly. Those who supported Clinton did so for complicated reasons not easily boiled down to racial treason or radical feminism. Obama's supporters too offered reasoning more than skin deep. But now the race is close, with Obama winning Iowa and Clinton New Hampshire. And the gloves are off.

To be sure, Gloria Steinem's analysis of race was not nearly sophisticated enough in her op-ed piece in yesterdays NY Times, but her reminder that women's rights and racial justice movements operate most effectively in tandem, not in competition with one another was appropriate and thought provoking. The chasm that developed over the issue of suffrage following the Civil War when white women who had struggled for abolition resented the enfranchisement of Black men in glaringly racist terms has obviously not healed almost 150 years later. Obama-supporters are charged with sexist motives in advancing the cause of the Black man; Clinton-supporters are charged with racism in their criticisms of Obama. And although at the end of the day, the de facto enfranchisement of Black men took and continues to take a lot longer than the enfranchisement of white women, the history of the struggle is a complicated one in which the rights of women, white and Black, have often taken a backseat to the rights of men, including every now and then a Black man. In a word, Black men do get some of the benefits of male privilege, just as white women get some of the benefits of white privilege.

While recognizing these truths is critical for our strategies in making history, we cannot allow these realities to create a charge in the atmosphere that will ultimately defeat our candidate whoever s/he is. The real tragedy of the 2008 Democratic campaign would not be the election of Clinton v. Obama, or of Obama v. Clinton. The real tragedy would be for the zeal of the primaries to render either unpalatable in the general election and restore the White House to forces that are inimical to African American and women's rights.

Guns Do Kill People Part 3

Although it was illegal to do so, a New Year's reveler, hereafter known as The Fool, in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia fired bullets into the air just after midnight. Police responded to the shots and an officer, claiming that this same Fool pointed his gun at him, shot repeatedly at the Fool who ran into a row house where a party was in progress. Inside the house, five of the officers' bullets found bystander Abebe Isaac, age 33, who died yesterday as a result of the wounds. Other bystanders in the house and The (suspected) Fool were also injured.

Assigning blame in this circumstance serves no useful purpose, but some observations are in order. First, some traditions, such as firing a weapon at the stroke of midnight, have outlived their usefulness and need to be abandoned in favor of practices that are legal and safe. Revelry and guns do not mix under any circumstances. Anytime you have a loaded gun and a crowded party trouble lurks just under the surface. Second, if you do something illegal, the arrival of the police should be no surprise and you should emerge from the shadows with your hands up not with your gun drawn. Whatever you do, do not flee into a room full of innocent children and adults and put them in danger because you are a FOOL!

Now for the police. I am sure the it is impossible for someone who does not live in harm's way for a living to imagine the tension and stress that Philadelphia's finest feel whenever they answer a call about a shooting, even if they suspect that the gunfire represents overzealous celebrating. But we rely on law enforcement to be professionals. We as a society would never put guns in their hands if we did not have the assurance that they have been adequately trained in the proper use of those weapons. Firing 11 rounds into a crowded house cannot represent proper use. Talk about shooting into the dark. And there has to be some government accountability for accidentally shooting a bystander not once but five times. This is not to demonize the police officer as an individual nor the force at large, but it is to acknowledge that even understandable actions have unintended consequences. To his credit, the new police commissioner has indicated that there will be a thorough investigation.

Bullets can have no conscience. But individuals and communities must.

Friday, January 4, 2008

In Praise of the Underdog

All around the black blogosphere there are shouts of joy for the surprising turn of events in Iowa that gave Barack Obama an outright victory during the caucuses, even though there are relatively few black residents in Iowa.

But I am not writing about Obama. I am heralding the victory of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2. West Virginia 48 - Oklahoma 28. I am also celebrating the surprising but reasonable decision to give the head coaching position to the interim head coach Bill Stewart. Stewart kept his wits about him and led the team to a resounding victory over a much favored Oklahoma team.

The win was particularly satisfying for those of us who watched the team's flat play in the last game of the season, when #1-ranked West Virginia squandered their opportunity to play in the BCS championship by losing to Pitt.

Anyone watching the game would have to remark on the passion of the team that was also matched by the skill. On offense and defense West Virginia simply out played their rivals. Go Mountaineers!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's an Election Year

Happy New Year!

Of course, I brought the New Year in by going to worship last night. I greatly enjoyed the testimonies and reflections and gave thanks myself for 2007, a year of great joys and challenges.

We have now actually crossed over into the election year. Many are reflecting on an election year 40 years ago 1968 which was a year of enormous transition and struggle. In just a couple of days, Iowans will caucus and give a couple of Democrats and a couple of Republicans reason to celebrate and send a couple others in each party home until the next election year.

I admit that I remain undecided about the field. I still like Clinton, Obama, and Edwards and would be pretty delighted to have either as President. I have generally been rooting for Clinton because I think she is an able politician and leader. For me, it's not a Bill thing, because I found him to be a disappointing President. He was far too pragmatic and not nearly progressive enough for my tastes. Yes, of course, I missed him desperately once The Decider took office.)What I like about Hillary is that at every turn she does better than people expect her to do, in ways that are also unexpected. She has proven to be an able senator who has represented the people of New York and earned the respect of senators on both sides of the aisle - a grudging respect you can be sure. And I have to say that as far as I am concerned it is time for a woman in that office.

Obama is clearly inspiring, but I am concerned about his lack of experience in national politics. There is no question that his record of bipartisan activity while in Illinois was admirable. His early opposition to the Iraq war was right. But while Washington-as-usual is problematic, I am not sure that unfamiliarity with the system provides the strategic advantage needed to reform the system or even to know what you want it to look like once it's reformed. He's just too green.

I love Edwards's message. He sounds like a real Democrat. And if this were not a year when we have a shot at a woman or an African American or Latino President, he would be my favorite. There's just not enough that distinguishes his basic message to make me forgo my hope to break the white male mode that has monopolized our nation's highest office. But I really do wish him and his wife well.

So to recap: Hillary can be too pragmatic (some might say cynical) and centrist; Obama is a little too green; Edwards doesn't represent the fundamental change that this election could promise. By the way, you might notice that I did not mention electability as a drawback to Clinton. I don't think it's true. When people get to know Hillary, they tend to like her. They would get to know her during the campaign. In any case, we can't know how a campaign will turn out.

As for the Republicans, I don't like any of them. Each attempts to be more conservative and hawkish than the other. Perhaps their behavior as President would be less reactionary than their campaigning, but to paraphrase Mike Huckabee, "If you lie to get the job, then what will you do to keep it?"