Tuesday, February 26, 2008

RS: My Black History Month

People ask me why I go to church. "Oklahoma," I tell them. I hate the musical Oklahoma. Played Ike Skidmore in high school. Didn't audition. I didn't sing then. Not a lick. But Mr. Norman convinced me, by promising I wouldn't have to sing any solo lines. First rehearsal was "The Farmer and the Cow Hand." Takes place on Ike's farm. I was staged down front, in front of a microphone. I didn't give it a second thought, it was, after all, my farm. As we sang, I read ahead, what did I care? Then, I panicked as I noticed my character's name by a solo line. I had seconds to decide what to do. I could either stop the rehearsal and remind Mr. Norman about our deal, or I could jump in and be a trooper. I made the wrong choice. Throughout rehearsal and performance, my solo line never got any better. I hate Oklahoma.

I saw the revival on Broadway. I still hated it. What I loved was the collective experience in the audience. All of us creating a unique experience, along with the actors on stage, that would never be exactly the same. Connecting to each other, connecting to the music, our spirits expanded and enriched.

Church is the same. All those people wanting to feel God, touching them in a way that will sustain them throughout the week. Do I love meeting up with my friends? Yes. Do I love brunch after? Yes. Do I skip it occasionally when we decide to play hooky? Absolutely. But I do feel connected to a being larger than myself, in part, by connecting to a room full of people trying to connect to a being larger than themselves. And the music, the music is proof that life exists. People bow their heads during the Lord's Prayer, but I look right up to the roof at the stained glass window, because the light shining through makes me feel like my prayers go right up to the light and the light comes right down to touch me and fill me. And I do feel lighter in my skin.

This Sunday, the sermon was from Romans 5:

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us.

I have always struggled with the concept of suffering. Why is my suffering caused by an inferiorly bruleed crust on my dessert as someone else's is caused by an entire absence of food? And why does God allow suffering? A minister told me once that God doesn't promise us no suffering, he simply promises to be with us through the suffering. Perhaps applying Joni Mitchell is appropriate. I've looked at suffering from both sides now. . .I really don't know suffering at all.

This week the minister told stories, not calling each of us to suffer our way to redemption, but recalling the suffering for its historical benefits. Jewish friends tell me that all their holidays are about suffering. One said they could all be summed up as, "They tried to kill us. They didn't succeed. Let's eat." Protestants don't do the suffering. My minister said, "Jesus did the suffering, I'm over it." Me too.

But she told stories of individual black people who had suffered so she wouldn't have to. One of the people was her grandmother. She started cooking at 2 years old, standing on a chair. She didn't have the opportunity to finish high school because it wasn't allowed. She struggled to make ends meet and focused all her energy on saving, so her children would have something. As I listened, I realized it was my grandmother's story too. She suffered so my mother and aunt would suffer less. My mother suffered so I would suffer less. And during my suffering, my mother took it on too, hoping against hope that it might help me suffer less.

So, black history in the particular sounded a lot like my own particular history. And at the end of it all, character leads to hope. I don't always like what the Apostle Paul had to say. His words are the basis for a fair amount of the fundamentalist hatred that is spewed and diminishes and disregards Jesus's own words, words that are supposed to be the foundation of Christian faith. But I don't have a problem with character bringing hope. And he didn't say that suffering gave you hope. Suffering leads to perserverance, perserverence character, character hope.

It reminds me of Barak Obama, a black man who speak quite eloquently, and often exclusively, about hope. He catches a fair amount of flack for it. I was taken to task by someone I respect for name calling toward Hillary Clinton, so I won't. In truth, she gives me hope too. Last week, my 9 year old niece, growing up in a conservative place, with a devotedly conservative father, announced that she supported Hillary Clinton. She didn't much care for Obama because, well, she just didn't.

My sister, who voted for Huckabee because her husband insisted and because she knew he didn't have a chance in hell of winning, encouraged her. She also told her husband, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't allowed to say a thing to their daughter. My sister and I talked about the fact that my niece was growing up in a world where all she knows is that a black man and a woman and a white grandfatherly type were running to become President of the United States. She doesn't know any other way. That gives me hope. My sister would not allow her to be robbed of the normalization of that. That gives me hope. My sister is the single person in my family who I believe actually takes the impact her vote might have on me and my life when she steps into the voting booth. She, too, gives me hope.

This year, I am supporting a black man for President. Not because he is black. No, I get to live in a world where he just happens to be black. And this black man speaks about hope. Some tell me it is all he has to offer. I wonder why, in this day and age, that isn't enough. My minister helped me see this as my black history month. When we look at lives in the particular rather than in the general, they are each our lives. My niece made it my black history month too. She, like that black man running for President, gives me hope. And that is more than enough.

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