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.