Saturday, November 29, 2008


Tonight my beloved and I went to a performance by one of the special revue groups singing covers of an old R&B crooner group. I watched the men in their crisp suits glide across the stage with all their precision and finesse, the way they used to do in their prime for their audiences. They were really classy. We were the youngest adults in the room, (we were there as guests of an older couple) and I couldn't help but wonder: when the songs we liked as teenagers become golden oldies, will anyone want to see the likes of Blackstreet, Shai, and Jodeci attempting to hump the stage and rip their shirts off when they're in their sixties? I don't think so. Pretty sure about that one.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

on time

I was just sitting here thinking about whether or not I am bothered by the fact that my next birthday will be the last time I turn twenty-anything. For years I've celebrated anniversaries of my 25th birthday. I might start telling people I'm older than I am, so I can be amazing for my age, like my beloved's friend has been doing. Ha ha. I don't know where the time is going. I just realized that it's been the better part of a decade since I graduated from college. Not high school - college. All my girlfriends are mothers, or pregnant. My biological clock is ticking, and I'm all up in the middle of a very frustrating nesting phase. I'm looking at my life and realizing that despite the occasional bumps and hiccups, I am very happy.

He fits into my life well, and when I woke up this morning, I thought about how there was no one in the world I'd rather see all sleepy-faced beside me. He allows me to love him shamelessly and sloppily, grown and child-like, and all without making me worry if I was giving him too much. You know how some men do. You get too sweet on them and they get uncomfortable or push away. He is a breath of fresh air. I can be my silly, nerdy, selfish, giving, righteous and contrite self with him - it's so alien to me after all those years I spent in the wilderness, that I don't quite know how to act here in the land of milk and honey. And when I'm having moments of self-reflection, and I'm concerned about if I'm in the right place, it's memories of all that past dysfunction that help me to see that this is exactly where I need to be - I have so much to learn and share with this man, it will take a lifetime of loving and procreating to get it all in. I believe that's why I wandered in the desert for so long. I come from long lines of women who tucked themselves into themselves in order to keep the peace with their man. I'm not talking about compromise, I'm talking about chronic self-denial. I was weaned on it. I think the Creator offered a way out to me, and this man is the road. All those times I worried if I would find the right place, and here I am.

When we have a home to provide, which if all goes well won't be long, I can worry about silencing that clock. In the meantime, I'll just have to dote on my girlfriends' babies, and hit the snooze button for myself. I don't think I wasted all this time. I would have been a capable mother ten years ago. I would have been a good mother five years ago. But my unborn are blessed to have the person I am now as a mother. I have so much more to give now. I understand love so much better. My faith is so much more balanced. I feel like my life is really just beginning. Now I see why there are so many articles about life beginning at 40. But. One step at a time. Interestingly enough though, the farther I walk on this journey, the more timeless I feel. The less my age matters to me. People ask me how old I am, and I have to actually think before I answer because I'm just not as mindful of it as I was once before. I'm most interested right now in securing a place for us and ours in this world that is safe and has strong roots. I'm most interested in how we work together to make that happen. And even as I write that, I'm just a little taken aback that when I say what I'm most concerned about, it's not a "I/me/my," but a "we/us/ours" statement. Just wow for a second. Just wow.

I need to write more often. I'm glad that lately, I have been writing. I think my writer's block is over. Just in time to catch the good parts.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

safe in the house

I haven't really left my home for the past two weekends. I think it's a phase. I like being here. It could be the weather. It could also be not wanting to move my car and having to find another parking space when I come home. I don't know, but I have really just wanted to be in my home. Which is really funny, because between my neighbors and my slumlord, I don't even like my apartment. But hey, it's a space to call my own. I can watch dvd's, knit, call friends and family, watch a little television, read on the internet. It's where I wanna be. But I guess I've always been a homebody. Even when I was going through my going out phase...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

the death of us all

It's been my opinion for a very long time that religion will be the tool humans use to kill us all.

My mom had an unsettling dream the other night. She was walking through the city, and there was debris and carnage everywhere. She went to her father's house, and he opened the door holding a book with no pages. That book was the Bible before the pages were all ripped out. He told her that they were going around ripping out the pages - that no one could have the Bible anymore - that people had to pray in hiding. As she told me, it all sounded very much like 1984. It reminded me of what the nuns in school told us about special rosaries invented because of Catholic persecution. My mom told me that she couldn't imagine why she might have had this dream. But I knew why.

She had that dream so that she could tell me about it, and put an emphatic punctuation mark on the end of the thoughts I've been having lately about religion in our society and the failures of tolerance.

I discussed with my mother that I've been noticing intolerance towards people of faith much more often lately. I told her about how I'm ashamed of people like the ones who planned to boycott the president-elect's grandmother's funeral since she raised him, and he is pro-choice. I told her that people like that makes it harder for people of faith everywhere. It's hard to respect people like that, which might be why there seems to be a growing contingent of non-religious people who speak about people of faith and about faith itself with no respect.

I am feeling a tension that scares me. Forget red states and blue states. It's all about Team Faith and Team Faithless. There are extremists on each team, and it seems moderates like myself are either being overlooked or are too silent.

Team Faith's extremists think that their religion gives them a mandate to impose their beliefs on everyone else, regardless of whether everyone else has Constitutional rights to believe or not believe what they want. Some even think that everyone who doesn't believe what they believe has rejected their God and deserves no respect now, in addition the damnation that will surely follow their deaths.

Team Faithless' extremists think Team Faith is a bunch of weak-minded nut jobs who use their superstitions as a crutch. Religion is for the mental midgets so far as they see it. And according to them, the fantasies of religion do way more harm than good because they defy and belittle reason, giving license to the faithful to suspend reality in their own minds. A suspension of reality that serves mainly to self-righteously bully and impose upon the faithless.

Others, the reasonable among both the faithful and the faithless, just want to respectfully live and let live. Good fences, good neighbors, celebrate diversity type stuff. I'd hope most people fit in this category. But it sounds like only the intolerant extremists have anything to say lately. And as long as those extremists continue to go at each other, my mommy's nightmare is sure to come. In one moment, intolerant bigots lobby to keep civil rights from others based on an agenda to make others adhere to their faith. In its counterpoint, intolerant bigots make expressions of faith subject to ridicule in the popular culture in such a way that society becomes hostile to the faithful. Team Faith and Team Faithless will keep tussling until the mushroom cloud goes up.

And what neither side will realize is that the problem isn't that people are brainwashed by antiquated texts or that people are evil because they lack faith in a higher power. The problem is that people on both sides refuse to respect and be tolerant towards the other side.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

tolerance works both ways

I have attempted to stay silent about this subject, but I have reached the full extent of my restraint.

Many have been talking about the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which took away the right of gay people in California to have legal marriages. In virtually every discussion of this, a spotlight has been put on black people and people of faith, to state that Prop 8's passing is due to the black folks that came out to vote for Obama. Then inevitably it comes up: black people should be ashamed of denying a civil right to a fellow minority. They, of all people, should have a special sympathy for the plight of oppressed gay couples, because they, of all people, should remember how wrong it was for interracial marriages or slave marriages to be outlawed. They're homophobic! They're using their religion as an excuse for their oppression of gay people! For shame! Foooooor shaaaame.

I don't live in California, so I had no say on Prop 8. Also, I can't reasonably speak for the black people in California, or black people of faith. That said, I take quite a few exceptions to what's being said.

First of all, the numbers that they're using to vilify California's black voters are arguable. People need to stop blaming blacks for California's Prop 8 passage. See a worthy analysis of this point here. I'm not saying that homophobia doesn't exist among blacks, but I am saying that I'm not going to let black people become The Face of Homophobia without putting in my two cents.

As one black Christian, here is my opinion on gay marriage. On a pragmatic level, whether or not marriage for gays becomes legal, gay people will continue to be with each other, and I will continue to try my best to keep from judging them for it based on my beliefs, seeing as how I and most people I know do things that we might be a little uncomfortable telling a pastor or discussing with the Lord. I want to give gay people the same respect that I give others, and to that end, I am not opposed to them being granted the legal privileges and rights that come along with marriage.

Thing is, though, I think that "marriage" is a religious matter. I see the privileges and rights granted by the government in a different light than I see the religious significance of marriage. On the one hand, you get to ride your spouse's health care benefits. On the other, you've created a spiritual covenant under the Lord. I really don't think either of those has much to do with the other. I think that one is under the authority of our government. I believe that the other is under the authority of the Lord, and the best approximation we have to operating under the Creator's order is using the guidance of our respective religious communities.

Imagine then, how torn I might personally feel if confronted with that referendum question. On the one hand, I want gay people to feel free and respected as citizens in their own country. I want them to feel as free as I do as a heterosexual. On the other hand, my spiritual beliefs preclude me from wanting to call a gay union a "marriage" because of what I believe that term to mean, or from even thinking that I have the authority to weigh in on the issue.

I don't even think that question should have gone to referendum in the first place. I think the legality of gay unions is a legal civil rights issue that "regular people" have no business creating law on in the voting booth. When blacks won the full exercise of their civil rights, it was won mostly in the courts. Think about it: in 1954, if the people of Topeka, Kansas were asked by referendum if nigra children should be allowed to attend school with white children, what do you think the result would be? There's a reason that the Brown case was in court. There's a reason that Reconstruction ended when the federal government left the south, and why the Civil Rights Movement became fruitful when the federal government got involved. Sometimes We, The People and our legislatures get it wrong when it comes to our neighbors. Sometimes, high level courts and executive orders are best at carrying out the spirit of what freedom in this country is about, and our constitutional structure is there to balance everything out.

I read a suggestion somewhere that all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, should get "civil unions," and those who seek to have their union ordained by their religion can do so privately. I think that's entirely appropriate. I think that this gay marriage issue may be the best thing to happen for pointing out how ridiculous it is to regularly tout "Separation of Church and State," while allowing judges and courthouse clerks-or-whoever-else to pronounce people "married" after taking vows based on Christian marriage traditions.

Did you notice that I haven't said that I support gay marriage? I didn't say it because I don't. I could likely have voted for Prop 8 myself, and I refuse to be shamed by others for my opinion and my religious beliefs. I am an American. I have the right to my religious beliefs. It's not because I'm homophobic - because I am not. I am neither disgusted by, afraid of, hateful towards, nor superior by any measure to gay people. It's not because I'm black - my black parents and family never taught me to hate anybody. Even though I am in favor of allowing gay couples to legally unite with all privileges and rights if that's what they want to do, I think that there's a better way to handle this than saying, "Let them join, and have the state call it marriage." I think we need to separate marriage and the government for couples of all sexual orientations, and just call all marriage licenses "civil union" licenses. Then people can work out the aspects of what "marriage" and spiritual union means to them on a personal level in their own private lives. This isn't another version of separate but equal. It's all equal, and it keeps our churches and our states as separate as they should be.

There are more reasons besides homophobia or religious intolerance for someone of any race or religion to have voted for Prop 8. There are some hateful people, yes. But there are also some ignorant ones, some misled ones, some people who simply disagree with how the right was given in California in the first place (but not with the right being given). Regarding people who voted against gay marriage because of what they believe, try to understand them. I'm hearing a lot of people talking about how intolerant they are, how blinded they are by their religion, how they're not following Jesus' Golden Rule... it should be obvious that all of that finger-pointing is judgmental. Point your finger, and there are three pointing back at you.

There needs to be dialogue, education, and cooperation, not rhetoric aimed to shame and belittle people based on identity politics. Gay rights activists and social liberals will never get Prop 8 voters to come around if they continue to denigrate them at every turn for who they are and what they believe.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

resolution revolution

I fell asleep during Barack Obama's victory speech last night. I really wanted to hear it live on television, but I was exhausted. I got up before the sun, shortly after five a.m. on the morning of November 4, 2008. I had to get to the polls of Philadelphia's Ward 11, Division 16 on Venango Avenue in North Philly before they set up the voting machines. I was an official poll watcher for the Barack Obama campaign. I spent the entire day gathering and transmitting names and numbers and watching for possible voter intimidation and suppression. Pennsylvania was a battleground state, and my job was to make sure that if Pennsylvania turned out to be the 2008 version of Florida in 2000, the Obama campaign would have a detailed record of Election Day's voting process at my assigned polling place.

What a day. I met other volunteers - three election observers had come down from New York City just to help. My polling place had two Divisions, and the volunteer from Division 15 was a nice woman. Then there were the people from the Board of Elections who operated the machines and administered the sign in process. By the end of the day, we had broken bread together and we all felt like old friends.

The polling place was in a building where mostly old people live, and most of our voters were old enough to be my grandparents. The oldest voter who came through my Division was 108 years old. We had octogenarians come out of the booth saying that it was the first time they had ever voted. We had baby-faced teenagers voting for the very first time with pride. By seven o'clock in the morning, when the polls opened, we had dozens eagerly waiting to cast their vote. By eight o'clock in the evening, when the polls closed, we had record turnout for the division, and there was a sense of anticipation like no other. As we shut the machines down, the pundits projected Pennsylvania in favor of Senator Obama and the room erupted with joy.

I took two of the out-of-state election observers, a husband and wife team, "home" to their hotel on my way home. One of them was old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy was elected and said that this election reminded him of that victory. We talked about race relations, foreign relations, and by the end of the conversation, I finally allowed myself to speak optimistically about the possibility of Barack Obama being elected. I imagined traveling down to D.C. in January for the inauguration. The Audacity of Hope is infectious. It took me until Election Day to really allow myself to let go of the pessimism about American race relations that kept me from believing that Obama could win. At least I did so long enough to enjoy watching the returns on TV that night. I had lived through the nightmare after the 2000 election, where we didn't know if Bush or Gore had won for several weeks. I still harbor the belief that that election was stolen, and my impression of voting in this country has been marred ever since. I had to really work hard to be encouraged while watching the results.

Sometime around ten o'clock, I called home to Virginia to talk to my parents, who I knew were eagerly anticipating the results. My mother answered the phone saying that she couldn't sleep. She tried, because she was exhausted from not having received a good night's rest the night before. But she just couldn't relax until she knew the Obama had won. Mom told me that she voted early in the morning after waiting in a line for an hour and a half. I thanked her for not giving up and leaving to get to work on time. She assured me that nothing could have made her leave that line. I know, from having lived in Virginia, that their electoral college votes are usually for the Republicans, and my Mom and Dad's votes could possibly have been outnumbered by Republican John McCain devotees' votes. As Mom and I talked, the television stations were saying that Virginia was "too close to call." Suddenly, NBC called Virginia for Obama! I let out a few hollers! My mom hollered - she wept, she laughed, she sighed! I did along with her, as she burst into the bedroom to wake my sleeping Dad, whose glad words I could hear in the background.

And then, shortly after eleven o'clock, I saw it.

CNN called the ENTIRE election for Barack Obama. I interrupted my mom's rejoicing over Virginia to let her know that he won the whole thing. We were almost silent for a moment, as someone being aroused from sleep would be. I felt as if I was being aroused from sleep. I felt like I was dreaming. I asked my mom if this was real. She didn't know what to say, as we watched people of all colors and ages in Chicago, California, New York, and Kenya jumping up and down, crying, and screaming. Then we followed suit. Tired as I was, I was up off the couch, tears streaming down my face, hopping up and down, babbling like a fool! My mom then announced that she'd seen what she'd stayed up for, and it was time to go to bed.

So I called my grandmother. She'll be 75 this weekend. She's kind of a night owl, so I was surprised to find her in bed. But I got to be the first to tell her that Obama won. Her response sobered me up a little: "I believe it... I believe that. Now all we have to do is pray that he stays safe." There is nothing like the words of the elders for providing perspective, is there? I assured her that I would pray, not long before Senator Obama appeared on television to give his victory speech, and I drifted off to a deep and satisfying sleep myself.

But I don't want to end this re-telling of history on that note. I want to talk about what's really important, starting with a young lady who came into my polling place yesterday evening about an hour before the polls closed. She couldn't have been any older than 21 years old, and her friend, who had already voted, drove this young lady to the polls when she said she hadn't voted. Her reason? She had moved, and she didn't register in her new neighborhood. We told her that her vote would have a better chance of being counted if she voted where she had been registered before. But she didn't want to go to her old polling place, even though her friend and other poll workers volunteered to escort her there. She said she would rather stay at our polling place and vote with a provisional ballot, because at her old polling place, there was, "Trouble there. People shooting."

If Senator Obama is right, then "Yes, we can," make it so that young people can vote without fearing for their lives. We, not "someone," not "them," not "the government," but We, The People. On this, the morning after my countrymen surprised me by picking a biracial black man for President, I am thinking about that young lady, who ultimately chose a paper ballot rather than risk her life to elect him by machine. We all should be thinking about her. We all should continue to use the energy, money, and time that we have donated to get Barack Obama elected in order to get the change that he has been promising us. Because it was We, The People who got him elected, not Obama himself - he couldn't have done it without us. And if we can do that, we can do anything. We can change our communities. We can save our children. We can change the world. As long as we remember that November 4, 2008 isn't the end of anything, but rather, the beginning. I am crying silent tears as I am typing this.

What's your Yes We Can resolution? If you don't have one, make one, and keep it. Resolve to continue being the change you want to see in this world. Be specific, and get to work.

Yes We Can!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Mrs. Dunham

Dear Mrs. Dunham,

I'm poll-watching all day tomorrow for your grandson. I gave money to help his campaign. I'm wearing one of his buttons right now. I was thinking about you earlier today, hoping that you would stay with us long enough to see if your grandson wins, but I guess the Lord had other plans for you. I'm hoping that He comforts those who love you and will miss you, especially your grandson. I lost my grandma eight years ago. Like your grandson, I knew it was coming. But I was so sad to know I'd have to live with her memory and not her hugs anymore. Like your grandson, I was away when my grandma passed too. But I was where she would have wanted me to be, studying in college, fulfilling the hopes and dreams of her and the rest of my family. I visited her before she took her last breath. It was hard knowing I might not see her alive again. And for a while I felt guilty for not having been there on that last day. Until I realized that I knew enough about my grandma's love for me to know better than that. Even now I feel her approval of each of my reaches for more opportunities to become a better self. Your grandson is reaching for one of the biggest opportunities he's ever reached for in his entire life - the chance to serve and make a better place of his entire country. I hope he can move forward in the confidence of knowing that you support what he's trying to do. Mrs. Dunham, please pray with me that God comforts those people that were left behind when the Lord took you. Thank you for your service during the war. Thank you for raising an open-minded and dedicated mother in Ann, and thank you for raising a progressive minded public servant in Barack. You and my grandma have something in common. You were loved, and you will be missed. May God grant you rest and peace.