Sunday, November 28, 2010

I. Am. Still. Waiting.

I. Am. Still. Waiting. Here again another Advent season begun, its commencement marking not only a prelude to the celebration of Christmas but also to the anniversary of my birth. And I am still waiting.

Here's the thing: When I first thought about the fact that I am still waiting for so many things, not least of which is the coming of Jesus Christ, I thought that I would really be posting an extended lament or at least a complaint, possibly a rant. I thought I would be more in the frame of mind to be saying "I can't believe that another year has come and gone and all these things still haven't happened." But at this moment, that's not how I feel at all. I feel like celebrating.

I AM STILL WAITING. I haven't given up on any of it. I am still hopeful. Still faithful. Still optimistic. Still determined. Still alert. Still watchful. My ears still perk up at the sound of approaching footsteps. My heart still skips a beat when someone or something new surprises and delights me. My eyes still tear up with joy at the very thought when we sing "O I Want to See Him." I still love love songs.

God knows that I have had some moments between November 2009 and November 2010 when I have considered quitting. But thinking about quitting and quitting are not the same thing. Despair ultimately has not won the day. I am still waiting.

And the longer I wait the stiller I am.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Remembering Dr. Dorothy Height

One of the things I learned being raised by and among church-going black folks is that often when you don’t know where to start, the best thing to say is “I thank the Lord for being here.” Yes, indeed, I thank the Lord for being here is the very best way to begin my reflections on the experience of the past two days, when I was privileged to attend the celebrations of the life of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height. I thank the Lord for the unshakeable impulse to be in the number, present bodily with those who journeyed to Washington, D.C. to celebrate a woman who spent the overwhelming majority of her 98 years striving for justice, from the anti-lynching campaigns of the 1930s to the civil rights and women’s rights struggles. I thank the Lord for the resources of time and money, strength and energy, to make this pilgrimage. I thank the Lord for grace and favor embodied in friends and strangers who provided lodging, entrance, seats, and tickets.

I arrived in Washington by train at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 April 2010, with the plan to meet a relatively new friend who would provide both company and transportation for the memorial events. As soon as I got into the car, she decided that our day should begin with a trip to 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, the headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women, the site where Dr. Height had given so much of her labor. Although the building was closed, we arrived just at the time when Dr. Height's remains were to be transported from NCNW, where she had been honored the night before.

From the NCNW building, we journeyed to Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium where the members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. conducted the Omega Omega service, the final rite of passage to which every Delta is entitled, for Dr. Height. Dr. Height had served our sorority as the 10th National President from 1947-1956, and had in that period shepherded the organization into greater public service and institutional stability. Dorothy Height was herself an institution in Delta, dearly beloved and sought after, the very sight of her at a national convention or regional conference an important event.

Her service began promptly at 2 o’clock, under the leadership of the 24th National President, Dr. Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, with the eulogy being offered by the 16th National President, Dr. Thelma Daley. Other Past National Presidents offered reflections. Bishop Vashti Murphy MacKenzie, Delta’s National Chaplain, led the prayers.

There were many highlights of the service and many memorable moments. Particularly moving was the letter of tribute sent by the 11th National President, Dorothy Penman Harrison, who had been the National Treasurer when Dr. Height was President. She told the story of the purchase of Delta’s first headquarters building, including a humorous observation about the amazement of the realtor when three black women showed up to view the property and were able to write the deposit check for $1000 on the spot. Each speaker offered her own tribute to the dignity, determination, commitment, and fortitude of Dr. Height. Several commented on her indomitable spirit and boundless energy. All agreed that it was impossible to tell her no. The 19th National President Dr. Yvonne Kennedy offered one of the many quotable statements: “All Deltas are smart. Dorothy Height was brilliant.” Interspersed in the service was the musical offering of a quartet from the Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter, three of whom I am proud to say are my line sisters. Their harmonies, like the service itself and the woman it honored, were exquisite. Especially moving and fitting was the singing of “Grateful” as the violets were placed next to a portrait of Dr. Height by former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. Following the singing of the Delta Prayer, the service concluded with the combination of solemnity and buoyancy as the pallbearers removed Dorothy Height’s remains and the rest of us felt the inspiration and joy of knowing the impact that her life had made on Delta and on us all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dry Places

Psalm 42

If it weren't for the honesty of the psalmist I might not admit how dry I sometimes feel, how dry I feel even today. I haven't always been spiritually dry. There have been moments, even seasons when, to paraphrase Jesus, rivers of living water have seemed to spring up from my own core. There are other moments and seasons, however, when it seems that all I have is the memory of water. And like the deer (and the psalmist), I am parched and panting.

The only thing worse than the dry season is to be taunted by the skeptic or the enemy in the midst of the drought. Bad enough when my heart secretly cries out to God "Where are you?" But sometimes my own question is echoed in the voice of the person or people who just don't mean well. "Where is YOUR God?"

There is a challenge too, though, in the psalm, an internal stubbornness that repeats in verses 5 and 11 as the psalmist speaks to himself and gives me words to speak for myself. "Why are you so disquieted?" At first, the answer seems obvious. After all, the whole psalm speak of difficulty and trial and the absence of any visible sign that God is on the case. That would be a good reason for a soul to be disquieted, right? Yet by asking the question the psalm seems to suggest that the reality of dryness and the season of drought are not necessarily reasons for anxiety, or dis-ease. And it strikes me that this may be the very lesson that the Lenten wilderness journey is designed to teach. I can be panting and hopeful simultaneously. I can be parched and praising at the same time. And there's no better place to learn that than in the desert.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day Two - Guest Post by Reverend Charisse R. Tucker

I didn't write yesterday, but Rev. Tucker did. Enjoy. Click here Ashes - Prelude to Outpour

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday 2010

Psalm 51

I'm not really sure how it happened but Ash Wednesday sneaked up on me. I have been thinking about it for weeks, pondering how I would lead our congregation into the season of Lent and what I would give up and take on for the sake of the faith (and for my diet), but somehow I woke up this morning and I was not ready. No ashes for the heads of the faithful. No sermon for the service. And no energy. All I had was this J. Moss song in my head. Click here to listen to the song.

It turned out that the message of that song was the whole point - not my planning, not my pondering, not my preaching. The message of Ash Wednesday, present in the Psalm and in the song, is that we need God to pour out God's mercy. And just as the day caught me unawares, sometimes the level of my need for God's renewal and God's mercy hits me. It's not the first time I realized I need the Lord, but the awareness is so powerful that it almost feels like it's the first time. So, I pray "Have mercy on me, O Lord" - again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bow Down

Revelation 4:1-11

In college, probably at the beginning of my radicalized black consciousness phase, I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Unlike many of my peers, however, I read it as a practicing Christian, and found most arresting Malcolm's description of his conversion. I was especially moved by his description of the first time he knelt in prayer. He said, "The hardest test I ever faced in my life was praying." Then he continued, "I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up. For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, to implore the forgiveness of God is the hardest thing in the world. It's easy for me to see and to say that now. But then, when I was the personification of evil, I was going through it. Again, and again I would force myself back down in the praying-to-Allah posture. When I was finally able to make myself stay down - I didn't know what to say to Allah."

Actually, it's not enough for me to say that I found Malcolm X's testimony about his conversion to Islam moving or even compelling, I found it convicting. The change he experienced made me question my commitment and then recommit to the discipline of my own faith in Jesus Christ. His testimony also made me more conscious of my need to bow down.

Little about the book of Revelation is straightforward or easily accessible, but all of its images are evocative. Everything it shows us makes us think. Note the transition in today's lesson, marked by the opening of heaven's door. The earlier chapters have been discussing the current activities of the seven churches, but beginning with chapter four we glimpse the activity taking place in a realm beyond our natural sight. This spirit realm is a place of brilliance and majesty, with thrones and gems and angelic hosts, with thunder, lightning, and flashing torches. There is One great Being who sits on the throne. There are 24 elders who wear crowns but in the presence of the One who sits on the throne, they cast their crowns down. Not just their crowns, though. They cast themselves down too, and fall down before God's majesty.

I needed the reminder when I was in college, and I am thankful for the reminder today to bow down. While I know that prayer is not simply about posture, I also know that where we put our bodies and how we configure them indicates and shapes what's going on in our minds and spirits.

Holy, holy, holy the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Signs that Point to the Unexpected

Matt. 24:32-44 (NRSV)

32 'From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates 34Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36'But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

For me, a central element in the commemoration of the Advent season is learning to expect the arrival of the thing I cannot imagine at the time when I cannot imagine it. After all, we are talking about the coming of the Lord here. And God is nothing if not unpredictable. If our eyes could see, ears hear, or hearts imagine what God is up to, then we... well, we'd be God.

Listen to the competing images in the section of scripture for today's reading. The lesson of the fig tree is that there are signs that point to the change that's coming. The lesson of the thief is that some events are by their very nature unexpected. So, in Advent, I guess what we are looking for are the signs that God is up to something. And since we know that because what God does always disrupts the normal and mundane (cooking, eating, working, sleeping), we might as well get prepared for the shock of it. Everything will be normal until it isn't.

Be ye also ready.