Sausages and Love

I was downtown for a medical appointment. The friend who dropped me off went into a store that’s been a part of the landscape of downtown for years, at least as long as I’ve been in California, 48 years.

Done with my appointment, I walked over to the store and found my friend standing in front of the meat counter. In the glass enclosed case in front of me were trays of sausages. My mind immediately went back to the member of the church who would go home to Texas and when she returned, she would gift me with some Texas sausages. I loved those sausages but could never find anything close to their taste. I would occasionally search for it in California but never could quite get to the taste of those Texas sausages.

But, here in front of me in this glass enclosed case are sausages labeled Texas Brats. I bought four of them right away with the hope that this would be “the taste!”

As soon as I got home, I cooked one. As soon as it was done, I bit into it. Yes, there was the taste! I planned to cook the rest for Saturday morning breakfast.

That Saturday morning a memory hit me like a ton of bricks and I cried. It was a memory of a Sunday breakfast of short plump red sausages, steak, and rice and gravy devoured around my grandmother’s kitchen table. This was not the usual breakfast; this was a treat, the Sunday after Market Day breakfast. Market day was that day when my grandfather get dressed in his khaki shirt and pants, slip into his blue jacket and would hitch a ride to town with a cousin (if she stopped and blew for him on the road that ran in front of the house) or he would walk out to the highway and hitch a ride into town. I do not remember what else he would bring back from market, but those short, plump, red sausages were a mainstay. I have searched for those sausages, also, but I have not been able to find them. The memory of them makes me both droll and smile. Drool because of the taste and smile because I was seated around my grandmother’s cheesecloth covered kitchen table warmed by the wood stove and her love.

It’s been a challenging year, this year of the pandemic, racial unrest and political chaos, loss and isolation. I’m so very grateful for the memories that warm my heart when it seems the world has grown cold. Memories that remind me of simple things, red plump sausages and love.

NIP IT, NIP IT IN THE BUD!

I am not much of a television watcher but when I do watch TV, I choose programs that do not require me to think too much or have to follow a plot line, figure out “whodunit” or enter into someone’s contrived reality. I like resolution at the end of a program which is probably why I like home make-overs and food shows.

When I climb into bed, I log into programs on my iPhone that don’t require me to think. I connect, turn the volume down, and before the program is even five minutes in, I am asleep. When I awake during the night, my phone is asleep, too, because the episodes stop at a certain number, waiting for me to tap “continue.” I, instead, go back to sleep, the program having accomplished its mission assignment.

Lately, I have found some favorites, episodes of individuals cruising British canals in their narrowboats … and the Andy Griffith Show. Yeah, no hard thinking here.

You did hear me correctly, the Andy Griffith Show. I unapologetically watch those old black and white episodes of the Andy Griffith Show. I’m not so enamored of the episodes in color because some of the nostalgia of the time is lost for me, but I will also watch them from time to time.

I do, however, have an issue with the show and it’s probably not what you would think.

I am well aware that if any black people or people of color lived in Mayberry, they had no ties to Andy or Barney or Aunt Bee or Helen or Thelma Lou or Floyd or Goober or any of the other residents of that small fictitious North Carolina town. There weren’t any visible black kids or children of color in any of Opie’s classes. If they lived in the area, they probably had their own stories of joy and sorrow on the other side of the tracks.

I do recall one episode where a Native American was integral to the plot and in one of the colored episodes (no pun intended), there was a former professional football player who came on the scene to coach Opie’s football team. Yes, I know, he was made more palatable to the viewers because of his history and what he brought to the community, his athletic prowess.

Yeah, I do not watch the show to see people who look like me. There are no main characters who look like me; heck there are no characters who look like me though I think I once spied a black man walking down the sidewalk as two of the characters had a conversation.

No, the absence of black people or people of color does not bother me; it is a sign of the times. It is, rather, the comfort and simplicity of the episodic story lines that remind me of a time when life seemed simpler maybe because I viewed it through the lens of a child under her mother’s care in a small town.

What irks me about the show is how Barney Fife, Andy’s know-it-all deputy, is allowed to continue in his delusions of grandeur and no one checks him or calls him out. Episode after episode his ego (dare I say narcissism) leads him into ridiculous situations from which he has to be rescued.

He makes an ignorant assessment of a situation and off he goes on a Barney tangent and Andy has to bail him out. He makes a dumb decision that turns into a victory, again because of Andy, and he is allowed to take credit for that victory. In his attempt to appear knowledgeable, his ignorance is on full display and no one says a thing. In one episode when a prestigious club invites Andy to a meeting of the good old guys, Andy brings Barney along with him. Barney, in full Barney mode, keeps his foot in his mouth throughout the evening. When the invitation is extended to Andy but not to Barney, when Barney is informed by Andy that only of of them was chosen, Barney immediately rants about how could they not accept Andy as a member. Pure Barney perspective that it’s always about him. Though it is apparent that he does, from time to time, recognize his shortcomings in some episodes, he refuses to be less than the blowhard he really and truly is. His insecurity is cloaked in a braggadocios flow that everyone allows to run unchecked even when they are trapped in its undertow.

Yes, that Barney character gets on my nerves. But, wait, what about the Barneys in our lives today? Do we have the courage to redirect their thinking, to challenge their choices and to love them back to reality? Do we allow them to continue in their delusions of grandeur without calling them to accountability for their own actions? Andy and all the others did not want to hurt Barney’s feelings so they covered for him, rescued him, time after time, from his own foolishness. I wonder, if this were real life, how this impacted Barney’s progress in life, especially when he found himself surrounded by those who left him to his own devices, stood on the sidelines and laughed at him and his shenanigans.

Here is the irony of one of Barney’s pet sayings, “Nip it, Nip it in the Bud.” No one ever took the steps to nip Barney’s antics in the bud!

I wonder whose lack of growth are we enabling in friends and family when we do not call them back to reality or allow them to learn the lessons that are rooted in failure? Who do we need to tell, “Nip it, nip it in the bud!”

When I have my Barney moments, will I accept the counsel and wisdom of a friend?

I’m just wondering.

The More Things Change…

March 13th will mark one year for me, the beginning of the year of the unusual not just for me but for the entire world

Yes, it has been a year of change all around. This year is quickly coming to an end on the calendar but not so much when it comes to the side-effects, confusion, misinformation, . There is an old saying, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Julius Caesar was warned, “Beware the ides of March.” No one warned us and maybe we, like Caesar, would have ignored the warning anyway. As it stands we e were lulled into a false sense of security. Who us, worry? We are America, the land of the free, the home of the brave. No foreign enemy has every set foot on American soil to wage war against against our democracy (9/11 notwithstanding). But, March 2020 came in like that proverbial Lion that continues to hold us at bay with its roar while we shelter in place and wonder when will it all end?

The changes have snatched the covers off a lot of things, stuff that had often been cloaked in intentional silence. But, in the heat of change, when those covers were ripped off, we startled onlookers looked out the window and immediately saw that the Emperor who walked among us was stark naked. Why had we not noticed his bare nakedness before?

Maybe we were stuck in some kind of mind matrix, comfortable in the assumption that the beat goes on and when the rhythm changes, it’s always to the good. Yeah, that’s where we were. Today, not so much.

The more things change…

The Pandemic demanded our attention, snatched us out of our comfortable comfort zones and threw us into a swirling vortex of “What now?” The cacophony of clashing political voices stopped us in our tracks. Neighbors and friends chose colors previously relegated to the Bloods and the Crips to became gangsters for their cause which they saw as a call to immediate action. They demanded that opposing voices shut up when they tried to speak up to out about the blatant injustice paraded under the guise of “Make America Great,” a statement that raised the question, “Make America Great for Whom.” Social media because the platforms where duels of words took place, the goal being to destroy credibility and undermine support. Fake news abounds, conspiracy theories thrive and instead of burning books, people gather to burn masks and decry the ignorance of the masked and hand sanitized.

The more things change…

Change ripped the covers off the undercover agents of white supremacy. The agents who had managed their “leanings” behind the corporate shield of eligibility and “we already have one,” and tentative pats on the head. The racial divide was always in place but suddenly those agents stripped themselves of their white collars to align themselves with their blue collar brethren wrapped in their 20th century confederate flags. They unified in this new manifest destiny of continued greatness to excoriate those who did not join in their lock-step demand that not only should America remain great, it should also remain supremely white controlled.

The more things change…

March 13th will mark one year for me, a year of change and self-evaluation. It has been a year of distress as I’ve watched the world evolve into planned chaos and no one seems to understand the power of unity for the well being of everyone. We live in our separate camps and give the side-eye to anyone who dares to cross over to offer a peace offering. We trust no one but those who mirror our reflection. No one will take the initiative to storm the Maginot Line of the mind. We shelter in place behind our closed doors. We hold tightly to what we believe is our right and we wrap ourselves in our self-constructed self-righteousness and the Emperor? He still has no clothes.

The more things change…

When Grief Takes Up Residence In Your Heart

The world has entered into a season of profound grief. It is most likely a season of common grief that is shared around the world. Quarantined inside the four walls of apartments and homes, isolated from loved ones and physical touch. Jobs have been lost. Homes have been lost. Income has been lost. Relationships have been lost. There is food insecurity and housing insecurity that results in the new homeless. All are common events around the globe.

But, the most overwhelming loss, the most devastating loss, is the death of loved ones, some, too soon, others, too young, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and partners. All are losses that fiercely deposit grief into our hearts.

It is interesting to me that death always seems like a thing that never happens until it happens to someone we know or someone we love. Death is not embraced as a part of life so when it does take up residence in our living rooms, we are so surprised that it would dare cross our thresholds. As such, too many of us are not prepared for the grief that follows to demand absolute control of our thoughts.

Moment by moment, we are drawn into the shadows of life with only “Why” as our companion.

Those individuals who express a faith in God may turn to Him with their “Why,” but are often to broken unable to quietly process His response through their grief and the anger that they even have to ask the question.

What do we do when grief takes up residence in our hearts? Here’s what grief experience has taught me:

  1. Breathe intentionally, even if you have to set an alarm to remind yourself to take deep breaths
  2. Do your best to center yourself in the moment, heart wrenching though it may be
  3. Accept the depth of the pain but try your best not to wrap yourself in it
  4. Sort through the memories, literally/figuratively, welcome the laughter and the tears
  5. When the broken moments/meltdowns come, go with the moments then come up for air
  6. When you feel like retreating from the crowd, retreat without explanation or apology
  7. When you need help, seek help, either a good friend or a professional counselor
  8. Don’t feel compelled to explain your pain/tears/silence
  9. There is no need to take care of everything in those early days; handle what needs to be handled now; leave the rest for later

Zig Ziglar, the Master Salesman and motivational speaker, wrote that grief is not only unavoidable, but desirable because it “brings us to the point of realizing the vastness of our love,” and it “puts us in a position to trust God alone for our restoration, that it “is perhaps the most profound way of expressing love; the more we love a person we have lost, the greater our grief.”

This is not a truth any of us would want to embrace but it is definitely understood by every broken heart.

In the beginning, the grief that takes up residence in our hearts is cold and hard, slow to dissolve, but as the moments roll on, memories begin to warm our souls that eventually begin to melt the cold lump in our hearts.

I have read in the Bible that God captures our tears in a bottle. The context may be one of acknowledging our pain but I find it somewhat comforting to think that God cares enough about me to keep track of my sorrow. While most people are embarrassed by or turn away from my tears, God captures them.

One final word: Give yourself the grace to grieve. When people ask, “How are you doing?” tell them how you are doing. They may not understand. They may not be able to fix anything but you will have given them the opportunity to step into your grief with you. That is the definition of compassion (your heartbreak becomes their heartbreak; your suffering becomes their suffering).

I am grateful that He is the God of Comfort, especially when grief takes up residence in my heart.

LIVING BLACK IN A POST RACIAL AGE?

This piece was written at least twelve years ago, but it still seems applicable to today’s cultural climate.

They tell me that Sam Cook’s proverbial and prophetic change has come to America via the election of Mr. Obama. I hear that the almost 400 years of deprivation, marginalization and disfranchisement is at long last coming to a close because America has finally elected a black man as President of the United States of America.

I am excited to hear the news, really I am. A black man is going to live in the White House! Wow! But even more Wow! than this mind boggling fact is the reality that a black woman is going to be the First Lady of the land! Does this now mean that the black woman will become the woman to validate the guest list of every simpering socialite? Will we become the women to watch and emulate (as if this were not already happening) simply because we favor (as in we look like her) our First Lady?

A thought that is a little worrisome, however, is the notion that we African American women will now have to be the standard bearer for our First Lady , and what if we drop the ball and do something dumb or ill-mannered and the effect is immediately translated to the First Lady of the land? What will I do then? After all, I have spent most of my life making sure I did nothing that would warrant the continuation of a stereotype; what am I to do now that my race and my gender is even more subject to the scrutiny of the masses?

Living Black in America comes replete with an unwritten compendium of regulations and by-laws and rules of conduct and good manners for those moments when we find ourselves in the presence of the majority culture, none of which are set in stone tablets anywhere. Nevertheless, most of my generation, as well as the generations that came before me and passed the image torch on to me, know the “shoulds” and the “oughts” of good behavior and living Black in America.

The older women who raised me (the village mentality was very much intact during my coming-of-age years) were always neatly kempt and tastefully stylish. They may have worn uniforms to clean Miz Anne’s house, but those uniforms were always crisply and starchily pressed. Every tightly wound, hard pressed curl and every stringently marcelled wave was neatly in place and the red lipstick (that always turned orange on us) stayed put even in the heat of the kitchen.

Perhaps it was the constraint of the weekly white uniform that dictated the dramatic dress of Sundays. I remember my grandmother’s faux hair, a length 0f curled hair (real or not, I do not know) that was attached to a band of elastic which she would slip onto her head and then comb her hair over it to blend the two. To handle the recalcitrant gray at her temples, she would use a black stick made of what I do not know to cover those unruly strands. It never seemed to occur to her that the goo she applied to her edges would eventually succumb to the sweltering summer heat of south central Texas to liquify into black rivulets of sweat that ran down the sides of her face.

Yes, Sunday meant dress-up and the cost of a black woman getting herself together to enter into the presence of the Lord was never too expensive or too demanding or too strenuous.

I can still “see” my mother on many a hot summer Sunday morning wrestling herself into long-line bras and latex saturated girdles. This main event of the morning was usually followed by the putting on of make-up which would then go into battle with the rapidly rising temperature usually resulting in another full application after the donning of the di regeur Sunday suit. A hat was always carefully and stylishly set upon her head, whereupon she would then hustle us into the car (if we hadn’t already walked ourselves to Sunday school) to get to church and congregate with all the stylish mavens of our Baptist Ekklesia. How these women managed not to swoon somewhere between the long-winded and rote prayers of the deacons and the whooping histrionics of the pastor is definitely a mystery.

No, denomination was not a divider when it came to Sunday morning style (unless you were of the Pentecostal persuasion and eschewed fancy dress, lipstick, powder and paint (those ancient trappings of the vile Jezebel, that wicked manipulator of King Ahaz and persecutor/prosecutor of the prophet Elijah); most of the good sisters of my southern community always dressed to the nines on Sunday.

But I digress, greatly. Change is here so I hear and we African Americans should be excited, nay, hysterical with ecstasy and unbridled joy. The long night is over! But I am a little bit concerned about this cultural leap into positive change, so I have a question. How long will it take my cultural eyes to adjust to the light of this new day? Can I really step into the sunshine of change and quickly shake the dust of the collective past of my people from my weary feet?

Have I, have we, truly overcome?

A Feminine Voice In A Masculine Theology

A few days ago, I sat next to a woman who is a minister. We were in a training retreat for a few days (not faith-based) and this was the first time I had the opportunity to ask the question, “How has the journey as a minister been for you?”

She shares some of her stories with me and the conversation branches off into the experience of women who are also pastors/preachers. Another woman who was a pastor for ten years joins the conversation and we all, to a certain extent, discuss the ins and outs of daring to be a woman who announces her call to preach out loud in front of everyone.

I share the counsel the seasoned pastors gave my husband when he started to pastor: “Sit her down; let her look pretty and don’t let her get involved with the people.” In other words, “Don’t let her make waves.”

Thankfully, my husband ignored those wise men and gave me space to grow, learn, teach and speak in his ministry. I am pretty sure his friends gave him the Baptist side-eye, though. In those days the wife just wasn’t that involved aside from the women’s ministry or working with children/youth. I often taught with my husband in workshops, I co-taught some classes with an assistant pastor, and when my husband was out of town, I often had the opportunity to fill in for him at Bible study. My husband did not accept women preachers/pastors, but he trusted me with his vision, I loved every moment!

When he died, I’ll wager that some of those pastors waited for my public announcement of being called to preach. What they missed or even overlooked, perhaps, is that a passion for the work of the ministry is not necessarily a desire to stand behind the sacred desk (as it’s often called) and declare her call to the ministry but it is, rather, a purpose-driven passion. The one call I continue to proclaim is that singular call found in 1 Peter 2:9.

But, isn’t every believer called to serve, called to proclaim the gospel of Christ, to be that witness wherever he, or she. may land? Oh, yeah, what happens, though, when she lands on that spot marked “men only.”

The conversation got me to thinking. The minister to whom I first turned is working on her doctorate and she is, in her words, “Looking for a different angle to this discourse.”

That’s when this phrase came to me: “A feminine voice in a masculine theology.”

Why is it considered an intrusion, this feminine voice in a masculine theology, the idea that the feminine must be muted when it dares to raise its voice in a self-aware declaration, of “I am here!”

Why must the men take it upon themselves to not only denounce the call but also despise the woman who steps forward into the glare of male scrutiny? What threat might she be to a ministry that has tightly shut the doors of ministry to the feminine pulpiteer? Could it be that there is a fear of a female uprising in that local assembly, that women will rise from the pews to bum rush the pulpit or might take their tithes, offerings, gifts and service to a more open door?

I myself am a bit ambivalent about whether a woman should pastor but I will not join the ranks of “silence her, silence her!” I dare not try to confirm or validate another’s call. It is between that individual and God, and while I’m on this particular tact, allow me to hurry and say that since this has nothing to do with one’s salvation that is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, why the furor? If you don’t accept it, don’t accept it and allow the chips to fall where they may.

Oh, yes, I know someone is ready to tackle my thought/concept of a “masculine theology,” that there is no such animal, that theology is the study of God and man’s hand is nowhere in it. It’s God’s revelation to mankind who in turn studies God to draw nearer to Him.

Yes, this is true. Theology is all about God, but when man adds his personal perspective, the theology that should solely be of God and about God can be corrupted.

From my limited view, it appears that conversations about women and the pulpit are too often male-driven with a smidgen of testosterone soused ego thrown in for an impact resulting in declarations that too often seem condescending, rude and machismo driven. This is when God’s theology becomes a masculine theology determined to eradicate the feminine voice.

However, I must also hasten to say that I’ve often been a little distressed to hear a frustrated and feminine voice seemingly almost scream for affirmation or validation from the purveyor of masculine theology. I’ve had the opportunity to say it a few times, “If God called you to it, then just be about the work and leave the door opening to God. If a man says “Not in this house,” respect the house and go construct your own. If God called you to it, He’ll get you to it!

A never-ending conversation? Perhaps. But, at some point, maybe the opposing parties can disagree their way to unity as the feminine and the masculine each take their place in their respective works to praise God that the Kingdom Agenda for Kingdom Building continues to be fulfilled.

Let the Church say “Amen.”

 

 

 

The OG

OG or Original Gangster is a term used these day as a nod to or a sign of respect for someone who has been around for a while (as in old).

A group of ladies, including me, was sitting around a table at a church breakfast gathering. As a younger woman walked by, she called out, “A table of OGs”

Some of the other ladies laughed. I did not. I can’t remember my response but it was something to the tune of “Seriously?”

Listen, I don’t mind my age.

What I do mind is assumptions made about me because of my age.

American hates aging; the older you get, the greater the depreciation when it comes to your value and place. Here’s the thing; unless one dies young, he or she will get old! I just wish I could be around when  all those young and energetic people turn old and ignored!

Don’t play with me. This OG just might show you how it’s reallly done and take no prisoners in the doing!

 

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YEP! YEP!

 

 

Mayberry, Oh Mayberry

I’m not sure why, but for the last few months I’ve been on an “Andy Griffith Show” binge.

Yes, you heard me right, an “Andy Griffith Show” binge.

I’ve gone through all eight seasons, from black and white to color though my preference are those black and white episodes.

Speaking of color, yes, I am well aware that there are no people of color who visibly live in Mayberry. Now mind you, I have sighted a few representatives here and there (a nod to the changing times, I suspect) but no major roles for any people of color except one color episode as the show neared the end of its run.

Still, noting this lack of color in the black and white episodes did not derail my binge (my people from the South will get the irony here).

As I stated above, I’m not sure why I’m on this binge, what triggered this hunger to be a vicarious part of Mayberry, North Carolina (or is it South Carolina).

I suspect my binge watching may have something to do with the years that keep stalking me, the numbers that are adding up fast and the birthdays that feel like a runaway train headed downhill.

I want lazy Sunday afternoons spent on the front porch in a rocking chair and me chock full of a traditional dinner of roast and mashed potatoes that I’ve washed down with an ice cold goblet of sweet tea.

I want cicadas to sing me to sleep every night.

I want to take a Saturday trip to town and run into familiar faces on Main Street, stop to share pleasantries before we each scurry off to the next errand that demands immediate attention.

I want to sit on wooden pews in a clapboard covered church to watch the robe clad choir march in and nod off as the minister drones on because the summer heat has prompted me to take a quick nap.

I want houses nestled on broad, quiet streets and neighbors to chat over the fence with one another as they pot flowers or weed gardens.

I want winter holidays so cold that my ears tingle and my nose needs a warmer.

I want to shake my head at the self-absorbed antics of a Barney Fife, snicker at the serious quirkiness of a Floyd the barber, have a goober aptly named Goober pump my gas from an old school gas pump, wonder about Opie’s unique name and speculate with Clara Edwards and Aunt Bea as to why Helen Crump and Andy Taylor are still engaged after eight years of courting (and hand holding?).

I want the nostalgia of Mayberry with just a little more color in the mix.

I want the wisdom of a small town sheriff who is content with his place and purpose in a hometown he did not leave until years later (and apparently finally married Helen) only to return because he knew what I now understand, “Home [really] is where the heart is.”

Though my home, these days, is far removed from the small town in which I was raised, my heart still lives in the memories of my yesterday community.

Yeah, I want Mayberry living these days. I just want it thirty minutes away from the bright lights of a big city (to appease my “black-ish” moments).

Mayberry was created In someone’s mind; my hometown was home grown!

Oh, by the way, Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea) in real life did not like Andy Griffith (Andy Taylor) at all!

I guess Mayberry wasn’t so “pure” after all.

 

A World Of Difference

I am cleaning out email boxes and I discover some notes from a writing class I took at a National conference that addresses multicultural education

I discover a piece I wrote in the class about an experience I had as an assistant librarian in an independent school.

When you’re the multi in a culture not so used to difference:

She is in the second grade
She stands in the library,
surrounded by books, a determined seeker
of that which only she knows.
There is no smile on her face but she does not frown either.
Deep in thought, surrounded by her classmates
she does not see anything but what she seeks.
The found book is brought proudly to the circulation desk
where I stand. I do not frown but I do know this is not the book
she can have right now. I do not remember why it is not right.
I just remember it is not right for her right now.
She balks and pouts and keeps asking “Why,” as if to hear me
say the same thing over and over again. I sense that she is not used to
the color of my voice,
this child with permission to resist an adult.
It is a battle of the wills, her determination vs. my authority
which I do not think about in that tug of war moment.
I want what’s best for her seven-year-old mind.
She wants what she wants. I do not see the steel in her eyes
when she turns to leave the library with her class.
She leaves sans coveted book, but wrapped tightly in her determination
she tells a different story of intimidation
when she gets home to Mama.
who writes to the teacher who writes to me
though knowing me does not defend me
but succors the mother.
I am a black woman who manages her voice at school,
tempers it to match the sensibility of my little patrons.
This time.
I lose.

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