24 June 2010

Raise the Roof!

I was listening to a sermon today by the Reverend C.L. Franklin (Aretha Franklin's father) entitled "Asking for Big Things." In this sermon, he makes a statement that arrests my spirit and imagination. He states, "raise your eyes and your faith above where you are..." This statement is simplistic yet profound.

We often allow our self-perception to be shaped and determined by the societal prescriptions that have been set. For instance, every mother raising her children by herself must struggle and scrape in order to maintain the status quo for that demographic. One out of every two black male teenagers must at some point in their teenage years find themselves victim to the juvenile penal system. Black girls growing up need to "dress to impress" with the latest fashions in hip-hop music videos in order to be classified as "got it goin' on." All parents must adhere to the policies of DFACS over against their better judgment so that their children might live healthy and wholesome young lives. These are just a few of the prescriptions that plague our society, especially as blacks in America. Additionally, there are still only certain jobs we can work, certain sports we can excel at, certain positions we can jockey for, and certain political aspirations we can have. We have a tendency to become so overwhelmed and enamored by those whose names are in lights and who do hold positions of prestige, power, and influence that we fail to see what is really going on. We do not readily understand the fact that we too have access to some things in life. We have access to a life of joy and peace and understanding, but how do we get there? How do we raise the roof of the predetermined dwelling we have decided to live in?

First, we have to raise our eyes above our location. We cannot allow ourselves to get caught up in prescriptive perception. As long as we continue to "go with the flow" and allow roped reproductions of the status quo to emerge and prevail, we will utterly live unproductive and superficial lives. We must look beyond our besetting burden, past our present predicament, through our troublesome test, and over that outlandish obstacle. We have to be able to see ourselves as capable of contending in any and all contests. Success is not some evasive or elusive reality; rather, it can be attained by all those who are able to raise their eyes above there location. We must see a better marriage for ourselves, a better job for ourselves, and even better health for ourselves. Can you see it? Can you see that degree on your wall? Can you see yourself in a good mood? Can you see yourself enjoying your coworkers? Can you see yourself defending a client, curing a disease, patenting an invention, or running a business? If not, it is because you have not raised your eyes above your position!

Since perception seems to be reality for us, we have to learn how to perceive properly. This is where the second principle comes into play: raise your faith above your location. In the Holy Bible Hebrews 11:1 indicates that "faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." The question quickly becomes, how can you possibly see the unseen? How do you grasp what you seemingly do not possess? Well, the best way I can explain it is that we all have to allow ourselves to open up to unknown possibilities. We have to trust that God, in the fullness of God's sovereignty, will take control of our goals, aspirations, and dreams. This is not some ethereal, "pie-in-the-sky" promise that is great in theory but unable to be practiced. This is not some proposition picked up in a self-help book tailored to help drive your life. Rather, it is simply a dependence upon God and not the self. Yes, we have dreams, we have hopes, and we have aspirations; however, our natural eyes can only see so far or rise so high. It will take faith for each of us to see what it is that God truly has in store for our lives. Eyes operate under limitations; faith unlocks unlimited possibilities. Eyes get distracted by changes in condition; faith stands unshaken through life's changes. Eyes are dependent upon the human brain to dictate and determine perceived realities; faith is dependent upon the sincerity of the human spirit to seek out God's divinely orchestrated destiny for our lives. Raise your eyes and your faith above where you are in order to raise the roof of life's possibilities! Trust God!

11 December 2009

Good Hair

I must confess that I was skeptical initially of Chris Rock's attempt to do a documentary. Nevertheless I believe the message is timely and one that is needed in this millennial generation. The documentary Good Hair presents its viewers with real stereotypes and real issues of identity. So, what is good hair really?
Good hair is that which is deemed not only acceptable but preferred by society to the point of the preference becoming normative. When you really think about it, everything that we view today as normative was at one time or another acquired, learned, or an unfamiliar behavior, action, or style. As we look at our urban culture as blacks in America especially, we notice that style is of utmost importance. People are ostracized for their lack of style. We are invited in when our style is both unique and permissible. You feel good when you know you look appropriate in the site of those around you. You walk with confidence when you are a part of an organization or group that will have your back in all situations. Simply put, we find ourselves feeling most comfortable when we are within the confines of the normative view.

The issue here is that by us conforming to the normative prescriptive for beauty, wealth, and style we are not living the life we were created to live. The bible declares in Romans 12:2 "be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind to what is that good, perfect, and acceptable will of God." In other words, we are called to be nonconformists. We are not supposed to just acquiesce to the status quo. Christ calls and compels us to be better than that. We are to rise above it, above all stereotypes, all societal constructions, and all normative beliefs. We are to rise above it by allowing Christ to penetrate our minds with his audacious Spirit enabling us to know the will of God for our lives. We must have a renewed outlook, one that lays aside all notions of beauty that do not emanate from within. I believe India Arie said it best, "I am not my hair." No matter what you see in the media or the big screen, no matter which hip hop artist has that latest style, you have to remember one thing--you are not your hair!

25 June 2009

Searching for Fathers

There is a difference, believe it or not, between a true father and one who merely fathers a child. I know it may seem like common knowledge to some but the reality is that there are many men walking around today calling themselves fathers when in reality they are merely sperm donors. It takes a lot to fulfill the duties and the mandates of fatherhood. It is more than just a notion that the father is truly the head of the household. In other words, it is the father who is commissioned by God to move, make decisions, and lead by divinely ordered directives. There arises a serious chasm, however, a rift, disjointedness, a regressive rebuttal when those who do what is necessary to become a father do not take on the responsibility required to secure one’s place as a true father. There are far too many “dead beat dads” in this country today and particularly in the black community. It makes no sense for so many black babies to be born without a male father figure in their lives. Please believe, I’m not pretending for one moment that there are not those who simply are not ready for fatherhood; however, I want to serve notice today that it’s time for the real fathers to please stand up. There are those who are not fathers yet have the spirit of a father and could easily mentor these young boys especially who grow up without a father at home. It is truly time out for playing games with this thing. We as men need to reassert ourselves and repent for shirking our God-given responsibilities so that we might be able to continue to lead our communities the way God intended for us to lead. How do we do this? Well, it starts with a true connection with God. I by no means wish to lump all fathers into one not so admirable category, but I am calling for all men and women to be aware of what has been plaguing our communities for years and to recognize that there is already a solution, but it involves some work.We must strive tirelessly to reclaim our communities, and I believe there is no better launching pad then with the men, particularly the fathers.

02 May 2009

Equal Justice Under the Law

Equal Justice Under the Law: The Case for Cocaine Sentencing Reformby Andrew Wilkes 04-22-2009
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but an accurate weight is his delight. (Proverbs 11:1)
I call upon all people of goodwill to support H.R. 1459, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. Senator Jim Webb recently sounded the alarm about the brokenness of our prison systems. His pronouncement, of course, is nothing new, but it lends visible and much-needed support to the cause of prison reform. And, to be sure, altering cocaine sentencing policy lies at heart of prison reform.
But why, inquiring citizens ask, should we use every available means at our disposal to contact our respective members of the House Judiciary and House Committee on Energy and Commerce and express support for H.R. 1459? Briefly phrased, cocaine sentencing disparities disproportionately impact minorities, interrogating our national commitment to equal justice under the law. H.R. 1459 aims to alter the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate two things. First, it aims to “eliminate increased penalties for cocaine offenses where the cocaine involved is cocaine base.” And secondly, it aspires to eradicate “minimum mandatory imprisonment penalties for cocaine offenses.” The title of H.R. 1459, Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, assumes that a gross inequity exists within current sentencing policy (the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, PL 99-570, to be exact). The inequity, referred to by many as the “100:1 quantity ratio”, means that “it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger … harsh five and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences.” According to a report by the 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition, the disparity, despite being “facially neutral,” unevenly penalizes minorities.
If we are to “achieve our country,” as the eloquent James Baldwin once said, then policies championed by the White House must not unfairly punish those who go to the crackhouse. If we are to achieve our country, let us call on Vice President Joe Biden, a repentant architect of this sentencing policy, and the White House Office of Urban Policy to proudly and persistently support this bill. All too often, the penal structure of our criminal justice is a modern-day example of unbalanced scales. Although not always in intent, cocaine sentencing consistently—and adversely—impacts minorities in ways that are so horrifically disproportionate that the words of the black bard Tupac Shakur come to mind: “Lady Liberty needs glasses/ And so does Mrs. Justice by her side.” Let us move from aspiring to equal justice under the law to its actuality, and achieve our country by supporting H.R. 1459.
Shoutout to James Rucker and colorofchange.org for being a drum major for justice on this critical issue.
Andrew Wilkes is a former Sojourners policy and organizing intern and second-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

09 February 2009

Facing Tomorrow

Someone once made the claim that “To borrow from tomorrow is to be in debt to time.” Simply put, worrying about tomorrow is not beneficial or productive. In other words, it is not good for us to worry about what tomorrow will bring; however, being told not to worry is counter-cultural. We live in a society and a nation in which planning is a valuable practice. We plan for trips. We plan for going to college. We plan for applying to jobs and schools. We plan for parties and social events. We even plan when we are playing sports; what is practice other than a planning session for a game. We plan to get married. Some of us plan to have children. We plan for their education, and then we try to plan for retirement. Life is spent in either a planning mode or an enacting mode. We fear remaining still; we thrive on forward progress and upward mobility. That is the culture in which we live, a culture that is founded upon action.
The Constitution is supposed to be an active document. The Pledge of Allegiance is a statement of active commitment. The Emancipation Proclamation was a document calling for action. Even in the midst of the current economic situation, our President Barack Obama has pulled together an economic team. The significance behind this is that a team has a goal, a mission, a prize for which is the object of their striving. The members of a team are conditioned to keep pressing in the midst of adversity. They are commissioned to go out there and play the game in the manner dictated by the coach. As long as the coach’s game-plan is followed, the team will in the end emerge victorious. Similarly, our God has prepared a game-plan for us in his Son, Jesus who taught and showed us the way to win in life. Yes, we are in the midst of difficult times. Yes, we are on the cusp of uncertainty. Nevertheless, we are in a position of potential. We are on the brink of a transformative move of God, but in order for the transformation to take place, we have to be able to accept the fact that we do not have any dominion whatsoever over tomorrow.

05 November 2008

Invisibe Woman

Ralph Ellison penned the novel Invisible Man; however, I would like to propose the significance and reality of the "invisible woman." In reading W.E.B. DuBois' Dark Princess, we see the invisible woman--not just the invisible black woman but the invisible white woman as well. In the opening scene a young man Matthew Townes is presented as a bourgeoning scholar and obstetrician in America. He is at the top of his class and has a very good rapport with the administration at the University. The issue, however, is that he is black. The dean tells him that he is no longer able to register for classes and in essence no longer able to pursue his aspirations. The dean tells him, "Juniors must have obstetrical work. Do you think white women patients are going to have a nigger doctor delivering their babies?" Here we see the underlying issue. It is a case wherein we see the white power structure or perhaps white patriarchal institutions accepting white mediocrity as acceptable as opposed to black excellence. It is a situation in which the white women cannot speak for themselves, rather the white men who control the very nature of all others' participation in American society establish a preference for the white women . I would like to think that any woman would want the best obstetrician possible when it comes to her well-being and the successful delivery of her children. Perhaps that is a statement of ignorance, but I think it is irrational nonetheless. In fact black women have been midwives for a long time receiving little, if any, objection from white women. The difference, I would say, lies in the fact that midwifes can only ensure successful delivery but have no "power" per se. They are not viewed as enforcers; they are merely instruments. Yet, these black women are key players in the very life of white America and their existence in a sense. BUT THEY ARE STILL SILENCED. They are invisible. Matthew Townes admittedly states that his mother was the one who worked so that he might be able to attain an education. In that way, she was the source of his strivings and successes. Even still, these women are forgotten. The fact is that women, both white and black, have died for the successes of men. Think about it!

03 September 2008

Who is the Black Church?

When asked the question who is the Black Church, many other questions arise—what is meant by Black, what is meant by Church, why the question was posed and “who is” as opposed to “what is?” These questions drive my thoughts as I attempt to explain the identity of the Black Church in today’s social context. First of all, we must locate the Black Church in America for an accurate and potentially definitive conceptualization.

The Black Church in America, having its roots deeply embedded within the institution of chattel slavery, is truly unique and in some ways diametrically opposed to the democratic ideals of the American culture, a culture founded on western philosophy and built upon an explicitly Eurocentric foundation sustained by the pursuit of happiness and freedom at whatever cost. Hence, most Americans consistently cringe at the thought of certain words like suffering, failure, and outcast. The American Dream or rather the pinnacle for all American’s individual strivings finds its precipice at the point of prosperity and ultimate, self-sufficiency associated with independence. Moreover, the Dream is promoted as being assessable to and attainable by all; however, this Dream is merely a mirage for the masses in America, particularly African Americans.

The American dilemma
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often exclaimed that the political and cultural systems of America pride themselves on taking necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. King alludes to the fact that there are simply some programs and policies that are set up to keep certain people at certain socioeconomic levels; the distribution within this society is similar to a bell curve. The group huddled in the middle is affected the most. The issue with this approach to governmental procedure, policy making and socio-cultural expectation is that it opposes indirectly (yet sometimes directly) the philosophy behind the American Dream. The American Dream is for all, yet Blacks by and large have not had equal access to this physical “Dreamland.” Unlike the dominant and free white culture that has blossomed in America since its founding and is in control of the intellectual pursuits of its constituents, black existence in America has always been bodily. The fight to manage the body is a political one rooted in what Dolan Hubbard calls “lofty and legalistic ‘visible’ public documents (e.g., Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Fugitive Slave Laws) [which have] a direct impact on these ‘invisible’ people’s bodies and bodily movements.”[1] The members of this outcast community had to rely on the things that drew them closer together, those functions that are elemental to humankind including dancing, singing, and speaking. Therefore, the black proclamation is actually dichotomous with the white proclamation. Whereas there is supposed to be a unified proclamation in Christ, the reality is that while whites subscribe to a covenantal God-man relationship in which God speaks and man listens, the black encounter with God is expressed as “our fathers/mothers cried and God heard their cries.”[2] This rendering of a bifurcated proclamation within the Christian Church in America is what I believe is the central organ of not only the Christian Church dilemma in America but moreover the cultural, social, economic, and political dilemma in America.

The Proposed Solution
There are various dividing walls set up within American culture, yet we as Christians teach and preach the Pauline assertion of unity: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”[3] How do we combat the reality that what we as Americans practice is not quite what we preach? It indeed requires a healing of sorts.[4] While the ultimate healing and deliverance will come from God, we can initiate the process by examining the role of the church. I believe Marian Wright Edelman offered a viable solution during the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta, GA, by stating that “the church needs to rediscover its prophetic voice.” It will allow us to share the word of God to the people so that we can reset the moral compass of America.

Abraham Heschel notes that the prophet actually “feels the pathos of God.”[5] In other words, the prophet recognizes that change is God’s work. For decades the Black Church has been the headquarters for the prophetic voices to sound off and be heard, yet with a prophetic word we have often also seen much opposition and rebuttal. For instance, just a month or so ago, Reverend Jeremiah Wright made some remarks during a National Press Club meeting that did not sit well with the majority of the public. In addition, just last week, in light of what had been said by Rev. Wright and the undue media attention the Trinity UCC seemed to be getting, Barack Obama decided to resign from the church, a church he had been affiliated with for some 20 years. It seems as though the media is attempting to force the black church’s hand and replace truth with political expediency.

The Black Church is more than a political arena; it is the hub of spiritual and moral instruction. The Black Church has always been a beacon in the community, and we find ourselves at a point where we are being told that letting our light shine is acceptable as long as it doesn’t shine too brightly or clearly proclaim truth and potential consequences. This prophetic ministry is not limited to the Black Church alone, but it is embedded within the very ethos of the Black experience in America. Perhaps it is not readily accepted by mainstream America because it is antithetical to the American Way of freedom without guilt. Or possibly, just as with the biblical prophets, the power structures and shapers of policies are too consumed with themselves and their own agendas that they cannot see any truth in the messages rendered.

Who is the Black Church? She is the embodiment of Christian ideals. As such she is bold. She is vibrant. She is unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian. She steps out boldly proclaiming the messages of her ancestors that still speak loudly to the current socio-political tenor of America. She has been the platform for some of America’s most influential voices: Frederick Douglass, David Walker, Martin Delany, Henry Highland Garnet, Richard Allen, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Gardner C. Taylor, C.L. Franklin, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Joseph Lowery, Andrew Young, Otis Moss Jr., James Forbes, Benjamin E. Mays, Howard Thurman, W.C. Turner, and Jeremiah Wright just to name a few. The Black Church is more than a sounding board; it is the locale at which God speaks fresh words to the children of God. The Black Church is the source of community for Blacks in America, and, dare I say, the Black Church is the starting point for gaining a real sense of actualizing the essence of the American Dream for all Americans.
[1] Hubbard, Dolan. The Sermon and the African American Literary Imagination. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994. p. 2.

[2] Exodus 3:7.
[3] Galatians 3:27-28, KJV
[4] James Forbes alludes to this at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration. “It’s about healing…Jesus said, ‘I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly.’”
[5] Heschel, Abraham. The Prophets. New York: Harper Collins, 1962. p. 29.