musings of a lover… of … yes… that, too…

Re-Thinking

I haven’t been able to write and I need to do so. But I have been reading to write (writers will understand this concept). I ran across something that I wrote in 2012 and posted in 2013 on Facebook. For some reason it moved me to post it here. Maybe it will help someone else. It helped me to revisit it…

 

Some years ago there was a Luzianne Iced Tea commercial where an old man who had drank Lipton up until that very second stared out from a porch, looking pensive. He had just “discovered” that Luzianne tasted so much better than Lipton’s tea. He then looks into the camera and says, “it makes me rethink my WHOLE life.” We are, of course, supposed to know that this taste of tea was more than a “game-changer.” It was a life-shattering, life-altering, reality-breaking moment.

I had that day yesterday. I am always examining my life–some of my friends think I do it too much. But I don’t know how one lives in a world where she or he is not willing to see the way her or his fingerprints, footprints, hand print, life is affecting people around her or him, the environment, the planet, the universe. But yesterday I ran into the walls of self-perception and self-deception. Perhaps I have been deceiving myself, I said. I HAVE been deceiving myself, I said. Damn! I have been deceived! I said. And I have been the Deceiver. (If enough people reflect it back, maybe it is you, and maybe the “others” are reflecting your own distorted self-perception).

We all have our “version” of what happened in history. I know because I come from a big family and sometimes when I listen to the telling of an event where I was present, I don’t remember much of the details or emotions I hear being described. None of us is deliberately lying (I think that even when I think some of us are purposely embellishing). But the way we remember, and what our memory stores, is directly related to where we “were” in the cosmos when the event occurred–where we were emotionally, professionally, spiritually, psychologically, etc.

That then, is why one’s memory of a thing can change as one is healed, reconciled, or just does not care anymore. But listening to other’s telling of “a thing” becomes important to correcting our perceptions. I don’t ever want to hold on to a distorted perception that will kill relationships. If an experience really is “life-altering,” my great hope is that I’ll be able to learn from it again and again as I hear and see it from different angles and out of others’ memories. I want to be better, all the time–which means I don’t want to live in or help create deception.

(This Reflection was written and not posted on January 11, 2012–I’m sitting here wondering what the “experience” that I considered so significant was. I don’t remember–and that too, is a part of the point of this post on October 26, 2013 [and now, on June 21, 2014]).

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CONFESSION:

I am triggered by the Macklemore/Lamar situation at the Grammys, but not for the reasons others seem to be.

I’ve had a stomach full of private pull-overs by “colleagues,” staff, board members, and students, all acknowledging “privately” that I had been “robbed,” “lied to,” “abused,” “put in an untenable position” (cold comfort). That’s the PRIVATE story.

Publicly, they’ve lauded their goodness (“we’re the best thing”) and cast conspiratorial whispers on whether I  ever was “the right one” or whether I had lost my mind (“I’m really worried about Dr. Valerie,” complete with “the look”). They’ve chided me if I even LOOKED as if I was going to acknowledge my own pain from trying to survive in a system that was killing me. “You’re trying to destroy us!” I was told. “You HAVE to bless us as you leave!” I was told. No, really.

Never mind that I was LITERALLY dying. Bleeding out of every orifice (I mean every: eyes, nose, ears, vagina, rectum and open sores) while laying in my vomit from violent convulsions because I had a migraine that was trying to take me out. I knew, one day, it was going to kill me. I was going to die. Someone would find my dog sitting near me, whimpering in the shadow of my cold corpse. It would take a couple of days because–for all the talk of community–I wouldn’t have been missed until the second or third class and then it would be to reprimand me, not to check on me. Laying on the floor in my basement, I knew that I wasn’t even a cog in the machine: I was the nuisance everyone wanted to just disappear. Or as one person said: “If you’re so miserable, why don’t you just leave?” [unspoken parenthetical: and while you’re at it, you’d better not tell people we worked at making you miserable and stood back sympathizing with students while they accused you of things later proven a lie. You’d better not tell people we started blaming you for the abuse you were taking].

I left, not because I didn’t feel “called” to that place. I left because I was going to die. And cold comfort that after all the attacks, the lies, the abuse, the neglect, the reneges on promises, the silencing that two board members should pull me aside, or in the case of a local pastor, take me to lunch to say: “you’re right. We didn’t honor our contract with you. We did make you promises that we didn’t keep. We did demand you do things that your contract expressly said we wouldn’t. We didn’t befriend you. We left you to fend for yourself. We didn’t embrace you.” These words are sharp arrows in my memory tonight and a different kind of bleeding is happening. My one gift is: I’m not bleeding out and this time, I’m not going to die. At least not tonight.

For the most part, like Kendrick Lamar, I (and others like me) have just taken it and  moved on. I mean, what can you do when people know something is evil and blame you and shun you for saying it out loud? Or, what do you do when someone refuses to pass the peace to you in worship because you decided to tell the truth about you: “No, I didn’t get kicked out of my house; no, I didn’t get fired; no, I’m not crazy. And yes, if you have issues with something here you should say so. ‘Your silence won’t protect you.'” What do you say when people insist that you didn’t give the institution a “chance,” even though you gave it four years while you were bleeding to death?

And it’s harder still when colleagues from other institutions who’ve been abused or maligned as much or more than you decide to join the chorus because they’re afraid of being kicked off their particular plantation, afraid that my ‘insolence’ will rub off on them. What do you do when they start writing a narrative about your life that is so far from your reality as to be laughable?

Yes, I walked away. A black woman tenured in America and I walked away to save my life. And for that salvific act, it is possible I may never teach again in a religious institution because truth-telling when you’re bleeding out is anathema.

My friend and I have been processing some of my experiences again for the first time in a long time today. I’m raw. So Macklemore’s private tweet to Lamar hit that exposed nerve like the sharpest knives. This time I decided to say, “OUCH!!!!

I have a special affinity to Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom I share a birth day–he was born 30 years prior. I grew up admiring and loving him and wanting to be like him. I grew up hearing, “two great people were born on January 15.” And I felt the pressure of the notion that I should be “great” like King. History will judge me as it is judging and will judge him. But I will NEVER lead a movement in the way he did.

Today, I am aware of how irritating King Day celebrations are to me. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Here are my initial thoughts.

I resist the notion of the “exceptional negro” and the “lone wolf” as the way we speak about King and the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and beyond. It’s easy to tame a movement if one can tame the one man that people consider the “legitimate” leader of the movement. There were many leaders and even more activists in the movement. People took on the beast of brutal white supremacy and racism and lost their lives. Those people were young, old, black, white, Hispanic/Latina/o, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheists, non-religious, formally educated, not formally educated, poorly educated, wealthy, very poor, middle class, sexist, feminist/womanist, military, anti-military and on and on. I wish on King Day we owned the fact that he was an imperfect leader inspiring a mass movement that inspired other mass movements. I wish we didn’t need to deify our leader in order to respect him. I wish we didn’t have to act as if critiquing his foibles was an act of disloyalty and/or treason.

During the Civil Rights Movement, many people were jailed, beaten, shot in cold blood or hanged from trees. Students left school as they embraced the spirit of the times. Parents tried to stop them. Religious leaders used religion to try to temper the movement. The government used sanctions, death, surveillance and threats to try to stop them. And they kept coming. King got his courage from God, first, yes. But he also got it from those other young people (he was young, too, you remember?).

On MLKJr Day and beyond, I hope we will not merely reflect on his life, but also on the lives of people who helped to make him the Voice of the movement, especially the prophetic women who kept pushing the movement to righteousness. I say his name, yes. But I also say: Coretta Scott King, Viola Liuzzo, Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall, Mother Dorothy Height, Mother Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, Songbird of the movement Bernice Johnson Reagon, and many more. I think of all the high school and college students, black and white and otherwise (there were many Mexican Americans in midwest and western states, for example) who put their lives on the line for the Movement.

And beyond remembrance, I am challenged to take on the anti-militarism, anti-racism, and anti-poverty work that King embraced. As a womanist, I want also to challenge this legacy of blatant sexism, of his dismissing women or using them as props (or taking their work and calling it his own). Mumia Abu-Jamal’s reflection on King’s call reflects particularly on my concern. I want also to challenge the way he and other black leaders/preachers to treat with disdain the man who was the architect of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, a gay black Quaker who helped put the theory of nonviolence into practice. Rustin mentored King in an existing tradition of nonviolence resistance.

I’m old(er) now. I had someone I admire tell me that I was important “to the movement” and someone else who strengthens me called me “brave.” I am important and brave, if I am, because I am a member of a movement for equity and justice, for righteousness and for peace. I will always withstand powers and principalities that destroy dignity and try to erase personhood. I will always oppose racism, militarism, making people poor, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, trans-antagonism, and any other death-dealing power that intends to shame, limit, or kill people. I am for loving the whole folk. And when I am called to lead, I hope I do it with some real recognition that I lead in a movement, among leaders. When I am called to follow, I hope I do it with some acknowledgement that we must support leaders who need the energy of the many to speak on our behalf. I wrestle my own elitism to submit to causes. I struggle with my own sense of inadequacies to take up mantles. I like to think King did too. And despite any propensity for egoistic grandiosity (demons that plague all leaders), I like to think he’d be irritated at the way we’ve deified him to the point of impotence.

(Edited version on a January 20 post on my Facebook page)

Christmas Time

It’s Christmas time. And here’s what I’m thinking:

Holidays are difficult for many, many people for a variety of reasons but most are related to loss of some kind.

Everyone is not “happy” and our attempts to “make them cheer up” (for godsake) only exacerbates feelings of depression and loneliness. They know we can’t be trusted with the truth that their hearts are aching, that they are sore from grief, that there are relationships they want to restore and can’t no matter how hard they try, that memories of their dead kin and/or friend/lover makes them hold their breath to keep from feeling the intensity of the pain, and on and on.

They know that their grief makes us feel helpless (or even angry)… I mean, forgod’ssake at least through the holidays, fake it for US!!!! “YOU’RE SO SELFISH! IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU!!!” And so we make those who suffer almost unbearably during the holidays feel bad for not taking care of us and our emotions. If we can’t see a “real good reason” for them to “still” be sad, depressed, lonely, etc., then we’re REALLY pissed off. And besides, our compassion only lasts through the first story of their grief. They’re not allowed to sit near it or (godforbid) in it. And if there is more, we become more Job’s friends than Job’s friends were. We begin to theologize and philosophize about why they are the way they are, in the condition they are in, unable to break out ot the condition, and on and on.

I am praying for people struggling in this Christmas time. Not every shepherd heard angels sing. Not everyone saw a special star. Not everyone dreamed dreams. Some people hobbled along without any sense that anything had changed around them. There are still people who don’t. I am praying for you.

On Monday, December 9, someone forwarded me a post on Facebook about an initiative by the Bishop-Elect of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. I read all of it and was disturbed. I posted about it on WomanPreach! Inc.’s Facebook page. People asked whether I would respond further. I pondered it and decided, “Yes.” And then, my response became OUR response, taking on a life of its own. I appreciate the people who signed this letter and the people who wished they could have. This is what justice-making and beloved faith community-building look like to me–a group of people from the church, not all whom would agree with each other about everything, but who know that the table of God is expansive and who know that it takes all of us to change the world for good. I’m glad to be on the journey with you all (and the many unnamed and unsigned people not reflected on this post).

December 12, 2013

Open Letter to Presiding Bishop-Elect Joseph W. Walker III and the “By Invitation Only” Attendees of the Inaugural Meeting of the SHIFT

Brothers,

How an initiative begins significantly affects how it goes forward.

We read with interest the well-crafted December 9 press release of the coming “SHIFT,” a new initiative spearheaded by Rev. Joseph W. Walker III, Presiding Bishop-Elect of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. We paid special attention to the quotations and looked at the pictures. What a curious title: “Rebranding in the body of Christ: The Ultimate Leader Shift.”

As we read the letter, we became increasingly more disturbed and troubled. Although our first response was “no women were in the room,” in fact our concerns are deeper. It was just sinful and wrongheaded for a group of men to gather without active, real participation of women. We want to be clear about what disturbs us in this moment. Generally, we ignore lists of “100 most influential,” “10 best preachers,” etc.—how could we know who are the 10 best preachers, given all the powerful preachers who will never have a stage? So we read “chosen ones” and “greatest movement” with a grain of salt. But if those gathered intended to communicate an inclusive, progressive, dynamic, forward thinking agenda, your images and rhetoric failed you.

The post-letter from Bishop Walker—apparently written in response to comments made about the absence of women—said “a number of women who were invited… many were unable to attend” (though there were NONE present). We are hard-pressed to believe that all those busy men could come to the SHIFT meeting, but not one woman was available at the time. Quite frankly, if scheduling the meeting proved to be that problematic for women only, then one would be forced to rethink its planning strategies and organization. In the interest of being in solidarity with your womanist sister clergy, if this initiative really intended to be “new,” “progressive,” and “bold,” we think our Womanist/Black Feminist allies in the photo ought have refused to meet or release anything without a critical mass of sister leaders present, not as tokens, but as full participants. If there were men in that room who were in fact appalled by the lack of female representation because they did not know beforehand who would attend, we would hope that our brother allies would publicly declare their disappointment that a meeting with no women present was not rescheduled.

That’s what solidarity and ally-ship look like.

We’ve been chastened not to call black male church leaders out in public. We’ve been told that we have misunderstood. The rising bishop responded in his follow-up letter in what he called “a teaching moment” that we should “ask questions” rather than assume, presumably to correct his errant critics. We say that the gathered brotherhood of clergy should make their commitments clearer. What exactly do they hope to accomplish on behalf of the church? Does it matter to anyone other than women that women are invisible in a gathering of putatively this import? The Bishop’s letter read like a justification for male privilege. The usually “invisible cloak” of arrogance and male-only leadership was visible. All the rhetoric sounded like everything we’ve ever heard from male-dominated meetings.

As Womanists-Feminists-preachers-scholars-activists our responses come from several places. We are not making assumptions. Your press release and its attending images speak volumes. You are not interested in iconoclastically breaking from tradition. You’ve made clear that even if women were invited their insight, input, or wisdom was not considered significant enough for the group to wait. Indeed, the notion that women have to be “included” is itself a male privilege power move. Surely, you are aware that most black churches are comprised of as much as 80% female membership. We also know that women do the majority of the work of the church, without whose labor the organization and mission would fail. To be crystal clear, women’s gifts and capacities in all aspects of church leadership are as critical to the survival, relevance and progression of the church as men’s. Are women not already included in God’s plans?

You’ve communicated—loudly—that (male) “Generals” would strategize and tell all the foot soldiers what to do. A clear inference one gets from your invitation to meet is that God only calls “Generals” who are notorious and already “celebrity” preachers, i.e., those considered “important” and “special” people. Only those with thousands of members know anything about impact or leadership. We understand. That presumption makes sense in an entrepreneurial understanding of the church, where faithfulness is measured only in dollars and size. It smacks of religious elitism. What could an inner-city pastor with only a few members who’s faced gangs and helped people who are poor and struggling to thrive possibly have to offer? You’ve communicated that the hierarchical, “Fathers-know-best,” male-centric table works for you and you’ll scoot over and cram in a couple more of some you deem “worthy.” It is presumptuous and ill thought-out.

We will take you at your word that you didn’t intend to communicate most of the above, if you’ll take our word that’s how many people who care equally about the future of the church received it.

Intent and impact are two very different things. Be clear. Images matter. Rhetoric matters.

In this climate in which the black church finds itself on the brink of becoming irrelevant in the public’s eyes and where black preachers are portrayed on TV as money-grubbing pimps in the pulpit, it would seem that preachers serious about redeeming the times and restoring the reputation of the black church would be committed to justice that reflects genuine shared leadership with women. More than 27 years ago, Rev. Prathia Hall challenged the black Baptist Church on its rampant patronizing exclusion of women, and we find ourselves having to do the same. Dr. Renita Weems once asked, “What will it mean in the history of the church if record droves of women experience and accept their call and we go on with business as usual?” By your omission, you dishonor the legacy, ministry and lives of the biblical general Deborah and prophet Huldah; the church house leader Chloe; and deacon Phoebe and co-workers in the gospel Euodia and Syntyche. You dishonor the work and ministry of women such as Jarena Lee, Septima Clark, Ella P. Mitchell, Brenda Piper Little, Shirley Prince, and Bishop Barbara Harris, and countless of notable and unnamed others.

The challenge with critiquing SHIFT and movements that exclude more of God’s people than they include is that onlookers immediately think it’s personal. Religious male-centered leadership is “normal” and “sacred” and any attempt to question it is deemed perverse or personal. Our call is not for women to have access to patriarchal power, but that we all work together to create new, healthier, more humane—and therefore more godly—systems. We ask you to consider, not only those at the table you’ve spread, but those who are not present. We believe such consideration is central to the ministry of Christ. Women are invisible at the table, but so are many others, including, self-identified same-gender loving Christians. As you consider what or who has their feet on the necks of those you want to liberate, consider whose necks your feet may be holding down. Self-reflection and self-critique are deeply important in justice work.

In response to your invitation for dialogue, here are a few questions to get the dialogue going: How do leaders who claim to fight for justice not know that sexism—excluding women or only including them as afterthoughts—is just as vile and sinful as racism and that it takes intentionality to transform, if in fact you intend to do so? How do self-proclaimed Womanist allies not include women and men who are Womanists and/or Black Feminists in the shaping of vision? Womanist/Black Feminists are not concerned only with the “inclusion” of women in public religious life. That’s about numbers. As people of faith, committed to the cause of radical inclusion, justice and love, we would be remiss in our integrity and derelict in our respective vocations, if we did not speak to injustices and oppressions as evidenced by this introduction of your initiative. We are interested in vision and shared influence and the building of the Commonwealth of God, beloved communities where everyone is valued, heard, protected, and helped to thrive, even if we disagree with them on a number of fronts. Jesus modeled this expansive community best and thus was persecuted for it by self-styled religious movers and shakers of his day.

One last point. You can understand, can’t you, why talk about “core family values” by a fraternity of male preachers raises concern for many of us? We have seen from this last election cycle what happens to women, poor families, and same-gender loving people when right-wing conservatives draft laws and draw up policies in the name of God and family values. Is SHIFT an initiative of black men merely reflecting the same toxic politics and policies? In other words, who is permitted to sit at the table and to fully participate as self-possessed people? Are single people okay as single, or are they people who need to get married? What about single people who’ve adopted children and built families on the village model—a very African approach to family? Is there room for LGBTQ families already among your ranks, or is yours a movement bent on silencing, demonizing, or maligning them? Is there enough emotional, theological, and intellectual bandwidth within the organization to partner for social change with people with whom you don’t agree? I wonder what would happen if you thought Dream Defenders, New Black Man (in Exile), Moral Monday activists or Black Youth Project members, leaders of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, for example, were just as important collaborating partners FROM THE BEGINNING?

Bishop Walker noted that women’s full inclusion is a key priority. If so, one social justice organizer said, “If you say it’s for ‘us,’ don’t do it without us.” A noted activist once said that if you’re comfortable with everyone in the room, you’re not leading a revolution.

Finally, you may ask: “What do you want to happen?”

We want this group to commit that all future SHIFT meetings will include women religious leaders around the table, clergy and lay, pastors and academics—the presence of women whose voices you admit are critical and crucial to participating with male religious leaders in redeeming the times and redeeming the future of the black church.

We want members of the group to publicly acknowledge that, though you may not have intended the slight, this first gathering was sinful and flawed by these exclusions. If this exclusion was not the intended message, take a good faith opportunity to correct that error.

We raise these concerns and questions because it is faithful and just to do so. As catalyst for this letter, Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, along with any number of the undersigned, is willing to be in an open dialogue with Bishop-Elect Walker and any of those in that first meeting.

In the Struggle and in the Spirit,

Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, Ph.D. Biblical and Homiletics Scholar President & CEO of WomanPreach! Inc. Board of Trustees, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference  *  Dr. Iva E. Carruthers General Secretary Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference  *  Renita J. Weems, Ph.D. Biblical Scholar Nashville, TN  *  Rev. Carolyn Ann Knight The Seminary Without Walls Smyrna, Georgia Bishop  *  Yvette Flunder Presiding Prelate, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries Pastor, City of Refuge San Francisco, CA  *  Rev. Leslie D. Callahan, Ph.D. Pastor, St. Paul’s Baptist Church Philadelphia, PA * Jaha Zainabu, Poet  *  Rev. Maisha I. K. Handy, Ph.D. Pastor, Rize Community Church Associate Provost Interdenominational Theological Center  *  Robert Hoggard, Founder & President American Baptist College Affiliate of S.C.L.C  *  Matthew Wesley Williams, Lithonia, GA  *  Rev. Donna M. Vanhook, Burlington, NC  *  Rev. Marsha Foster Boyd, PhD, Englewood OH  *  Brittney C. Cooper, Ph.D., Departments of Women’s & Gender Studies & Africana Studies Rutgers University  *  Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Board of Trustees, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference  *  Myia Williams-Sanders  *  Rev. Martin L. Espinosa, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Community Church, Nashville, TN  *  Rev. Vivian Nixon, CEO, College and Community Fellowship & Founder, Education Inside Out Coalition  *  J.T. Thomas, Cleveland, OH  *  Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, Senior Pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn NY & Associate Professor of Homiletics, Drew Theological Seminary  *  Keri Day, PhD, Professor of Ethics & Director of Black Church Studies, Brite Divinity School  *  Rev Toni DiPina, Pastor, Rockdale Congregational Church Northbridge, MA  *  Rashad D. Grove  *  Rev. Carla A. Jones  *  Jeralyn B. Major  *  Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD, Boston University School of Theology  *  Rev. Asa J Lee, Arlington, VA  *  Rev. Carolyn Hutchinson, Temple Hills, MD  *  Rev. Rashad D. Grove, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Wayne, PA  *  The Rev. Dr. Violet Lee  *  Tamura A. Lomax, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University  *  Darnell L. Moore. writer and activist  *  Estee Nena Dillard  *  Rev. Tawana Davis, Executive Minister, Shorter Community AME Church & Assistant Coordinator, Rocky Mountain District Women in Ministry  *  Rev. Cherisna Jean-Marie, Atlanta, GA  *  Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt, Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, UCC  *  Karlene Griffiths Sekou, MPH, MTS  *  Rev. Cedrick Von Jackson  *  The Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD,  Chair of the Biblical Area and Associate Professor, Hebrew, Jewish and Christian Scripture, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia  *  Min. Jamie Eaddy  *  Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY  *  Rev. Andrea Clark, Assistant Pastor, Antioch Baptist Church Tulsa, OK  *  Rev. Quincy James Rineheart, M.Div., S.T.M.  *  Rev. Dawnn M. Brumfield, Associate Pastor, Urban Village Church Chicago, IL  *  Ashon Crawley  *  Pastor Michelle E. Freeman, M.Div., Houston, TX Min.  *  L. Proverbs Briggs, Atlanta, GA  *  Rev. Dollie Howell Pankey, MACM, MTS, Pastor, St. James Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Jasper, AL  *  Rev. Catharine A. Cummings, M.Div., Pastor, Wesley UMC Church, Springfield, MA  *  Rev. Earle J. Fisher, M.Div., Senior Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church (Memphis) & Adjunct Instructor of Contemporary Theology at Rhodes College  *  Rev. D.r Mitzi J. Smith, Ph.D  *  Charles Bowie, Ph.D  *  Rev. Carla Patterson, Associate Minister, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC  *  Rev. Vanessa M. Brown  *  Karlene Griffiths Sekou, President Dignidad International, Cambridge, MA  *  Rev. Felicia Y. Thomas  *  Rev. Carla Patterson  *  Rev. Alisha Lola Jones, M.Div., CEO & Founder InSight Initiative, Inc.  *  Rev. Margaret Aymer, Ph. D., Associate Professor, Interdenominational Theological Center  *  Min. Brenda Summerville, M.Div. Chicago, IL  *  Roger A. Sneed, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Religion Furman University  *  Rev. Andre E. Johnson, PhD., Pastor, Gifts of Life Ministries, Memphis, TN & Dr. James L Netters Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary  *  Rev. Althea Bailey  *  Rev. Yvette A. Assem, M.Div., Womanist Missionary Language of the Black Woman’s Touch  *  Min. Robin P. Sessoms, M.Div.  *  Rev. Dorothy Harris, J.D., Pastor, Unity Fellowship Church of Columbia (Maryland)  *  Carla E. Banks  *  Jamall Andrew Calloway, S.T.M., Associate Minister Mt. Aery Baptist Church, Bridgeport, CT  *  Rev. Benjamin Ledell Reynolds, PhD student, Chicago Theological Seminary  *  Fallon Wilson, M.A., ABD, University of Chicago  *  Rev. Karyn Carlo, PhD  *  Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Assistant Pastor for Special Projects Union Baptist Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts & John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor Colby College, Waterville, Maine  *  Rev. Charisse R. Tucker, Minister of Administration, St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA  *  Terry T. Hocker, Sr. Pastor/Founder, Bound By Truth And Love Ministries, Cincinnati, OH  *  Rev. Jamie D. Hawley, Chaplain University of Michigan  *  Rev. Kendal Brown, Dean of Students, Lancaster Theological Seminary  *  Rev. Melva L. Sampson  *  M. Brandon McCormack, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Departments of Pan-African Studies and Humanities (Religious Studies), University of Louisville  *  Charlotte Caldwell  *  Rev. Brian Foulks, Lexington, SC  *  Lisa Ann Anderson  *  Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D., Professor, Biblical Interpretation New York Theological Seminary & Visiting Scholar of Religion & African American Studies, Columbia University  *  Min. Hazel M. Cherry, Oakland, CA, M.Div. Candidate, Howard University School of Divinity  *  Bishop Andre L. Jackson, Founding Pastor, New Vision Full Gospel Baptist Church, East Orange, NJ, MA in Practical Theology/ M.Ed Candidate Regent University, VA  *  Rev Candace Lewis, United Methodist clergy  *  Rev. JoAnne Marie Terrell, PhD, Associate Professor of Ethics, Theology, and the Arts, Chicago Theological Seminary  *  Rev. Dianna N. Watkins-Dickerson, Chaplain, USAF  *  Larry T. Crudup, M.Div. Candidate, Perkins School of Theology  *  Rev. Rosalyn R. Nichols, D.Min. Organizing Pastor, Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church (DOC) Memphis, TN  *  Min. Guy Sebastian Johnson, Leesburg, VA, M.Div. Candidate, Lancaster Theological Seminary * EL Kornegay Jr., Ph.D., CEO/Founder The Baldwin~Delaney Institute, Chicago, IL  *  Liz S. Alexander, Seminarian, Chicago, IL * Candice M. Benbow, Durham, NC  *  Rev. Toni Dunbar, D.Min., Associate Pastor & Dean, City of Refuge United Church of Christ, Oakland, CA; Executive Director, YA Flunder Foundation; and Founder & Director, Refuge Leadership Development Institute  *  Rev. Gwen Thomas, M. Ed., Author, LGBT activist, & Huffington Post blogger  *  The Rev. Canon Terence Alexander Lee, Rector, St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Hollis, NY  *  Rev. W. Jeffrey Campbell, Executive Director, Hudson Pride Connections Center, Jersey City, NJ  *  Evan R. Bunch * Pastor Genetta Y Hatcher, Detroit, Michigan  *  The Rev. Fr. Marcus G. Halley, Associate Priest, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO  *  Rev. Dr. MarQuita Carmichael Burton  *  Rev. Don Darius Butler, Pastor, Tabernacle Community Baptist Church Milwaukee, WI * Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ph.D., The Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA  *  Dr. Tony McNeill, DWS, Director of Worship & The Arts, The Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA  *  Rev. William I. Spencer  *  Min. 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Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Director, Black Church Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary  *  Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis, Director of the Center for African American Ministries & Black Church Studies & Adjunct Professor, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL & UCC Pastor  *  Rev. Kimberly G. Walker, Pastor, Village of Hope CME Church, Stone Mountain, GA  *  Joshua Crutchfield, Nashville, TN  *  Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings, New Covenant Christian Church, Nashville, TN  *  Rev. Dominique C. Atchison, M.Div., Associate Minister, Brown Memorial Baptist Church & Sacred Conversations on Race Coordinator, Connecticut Conference UCC  *  Rev. Chaka S. Holley, MSW, M. Div.  *  Dr. Lynne S. Darden, Assistant Professor, New Testament, Interdenominational Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA  *  Rev. Dr. Judy D. Cummings, Senior Pastor,  New Covenant Christian Church, Nashville, TN  * Rev. Bianca Davis, M.Div., Associate Pastor of Children, Youth, & Young Adults, God Can Ministries, UCC  * Rev. 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I am (usually) a very reasonable person. I work with people, businesses and institutions a long time before I throw up both my hands and quit. I’ve been a customer of The Home Depot for as long as I can remember. I LOVE decorating and sometimes just showing up in the store to look at colors or rugs or even cabinet hardware would give me ideas. When I bought my house in Lancaster, my friend Thomas and I frequented Home Depot to buy everything from paint to light fixtures. I changed EVERY light fixture in my house except one from shopping at The Home Depot. I painted the entire house. Bought crown molding and floor edges. I redid the fireplace. Bought hard wood for my bedroom; tiles for the kitchen; backsplash, you name it. Plants for the landscaping…. In cash and on my card, I spent more than $20K to make my house a home. I planned to live in Lancaster a long time. That plan didn’t work, but I spent the money in order to make my space glorious. Wellllll, a funny thing happened on the way to being a “valued” customer. Turns out The Home Depot will take your money, and if they mess up, will continue to take your money and tell you to “sue them” if you want that to change. OK, Home Depot. I won’t be suing anyone. But you can believe everyone I can reach will know that I think they shouldn’t spend another dime in your stores. Here’s what I posted on my Facebook page today:

If I have ANY credibility with you, I am telling ALL my colleagues, acquaintances, friends, family, frenemies, wannabes, lovers, enemies: DO NOT PATRONIZE The Home Depot. They will take your money after having given you the WRONG order, taking 100+ days to install the wrong doors, ask you if the service people were “nice” and “courteous” while giving you the wrong doors, charge you MORE than what you wanted because they “upgraded” the doors for you and then tell you that you have to sue them to get your money back (which they know you won’t do because of the cost and aggravation).

Don’t COME FOR ME Home Depot. I PROMISE you that you don’t want none of this. I am in a personal zone of being SICK of institutions and companies that act unjustly and then put the onus on you to make them do right. I’m not suing you. You just have lost a customer who spent more than $20K in your store in the last 5 years. OK. NOT. ONE. MORE. DIME. And if I have ANY pull, not a penny from most of my friends.

Don’t send me a letter, an email, a tweet. NOTHING. If your mail does not have a check in it. Don’t talk to me.
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She had decided that it would be the very last time she called the number. Angela had insisted that she keep trying. “He won’t answer immediately,” she whimpered. “But he will. And I need my uncle.” She had wanted to call the child’s parents, but since she wouldn’t give her full name and the only number she would surrender was her uncle’s, she had no choice. The doctor wouldn’t treat her without parental consent. She had no such consent. And now, standing in the foyer of the emergency room, she was getting irritated at the one person the child insisted had to be there. “Pick up the damn phone!” she whispered under her breath. “Pick it up!” 

John sat by his bed in the overstuffed maize colored chair. It was his favorite from growing up and the only thing he had insisted on inheriting when his mother died. All the other children split the fine china, the antiques, and the two million dollar policy they were surprised to learn about at the reading of her will. He told them to keep his portion and divide it among themselves. The lawyer raised her eyebrow ever so slightly as she explained in a monotone that he would have to sign an affidavit and get it notarized in order for them to take his quarter of the money and give it to his siblings. He had already anticipated her response and had brought his own attorney and a notarized statement surrendering any and all effects left to him, to be divided among his siblings and their children as allowed by law. He had already told his sisters that he only wanted the chair. Sitting here now, he waited once again for the phone to stop vibrating. He had looked at it each time, and had not recognized the number. He waited for the person on the other line to actually listen to his message instead of merely hanging up when the message center picked up. “Idiot,” he thought. “You can find out you have the wrong number if you just listen to the message.” He turned his thoughts back to the comfort of his chair and the latest collection of Alice Walker essays, “Living by the Word.” Running his fingers over book spines in Book Lover’s Haven, the title had caught his attention. He wrote, but had not yet figured out how to live by what he wrote and hoped there would be a hint, an inspiration in the volume that would help lead him.

She walked back into the emergency bay where Angela was curled into a fetal position with four blankets thrown over her. Even so the child shivered as if she were naked in a snow blizzard. Her heart hurt for the baby. “Honey, he still hasn’t answered. Please give me the name of someone else to call. Or I’m going to call the principal at the school to come identify you so we can get you some help.” Her own desperation was talking over. Almost in concert The Voice and the little girl said, “No!” She shivered, but not from cold. “Please try one more time,” Angela said. “He’s there. He’ll answer this time.” She sighed, some out of frustration, some out of compassion, but mostly out of unbelief. Thirty minutes of nonstop calling did not give her hope that this time would be a charm.

He put the book down and closed his eyes to imagine himself at a reading from his own novel and a book signing. He saw himself smiling as his sisters and their children lined the walls, watching him with admiration. He caught Angela’s eye and winked. She was his favorite niece, the child he never had. He was more than uncle to her and, holding her when she was five as she cupped his face, he promised her with the earnestness that she demanded that he would never leave her. This promise felt more covenant than anything he had ever said in his life, and he had meant it. In this reverie, she looked intently at each person that approached him and either approved or not. She had his attention even as he signed books, but…

The phone interrupted his daydream. He looked again. It was that number again. He decided this time to tell the person how much of an idiot he thought she or he was.

“Hello, you crazy person,” he answered the phone with the irritation and sarcasm he felt. She was taken aback and paused. “Well. You’ve been calling for the past 30 minutes. What’s wrong? You realize you’re an idiot when I answered the phone.” He was amused at the silence on the other end. “I, I… I’m calling for your niece Angela.” She didn’t know how to respond to his rudeness. But she knew Angela needed her not to give a damn about his phone manners in that moment.

“What?!? What’s wrong? Who is this? Where is Angela?!” he asked with rapid fire cadence as he reached for his keys and his coat. “WHERE is my NIECE?” he screamed.

“Angela is going to be okay. She’s at Mercy Hospital and asked for you.” The phone clicked off. She knew the rude uncle was on his way and she would have to meet him. She wanted to calm down before she did because right now, in that bed crying was a little girl who needed them both. The Voice had insisted.