(The Prophet’s Complaint) ” O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-therefore judgment comes forth perverted. ”
God we open ourselves to you. We stand before you hurting and confused. Our world is in desperate need of your arms to hold us. We are scared, tired and weary. Hear us, O God. We have faith God. Our faith did not leave us. We stand before you angry. We stand before you human.
Heal the sick. Protect the helpers. Protect the elderly. Protect the young.
We stand naked before you God, with all of the ugliness, rudeness and unloving things that we have done. Forgive us O God! We need you. Don’t turn away from us. Amen.
I started writing this piece on February 20th. I stopped for some reason, but I find it to be relevant as we are in the midst of a pandemic with Covid-19. So from where I left off…
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Faith Forum 2020 in Las Vegas, NV. I was overwhelmed with joy, seeing people operate in their perspective faiths, for the goal of liberating the oppressed; the low-wage worker, the transgender, the single parent, the uneducated child, all of God’s children that we pretend not to see. And what a place to gather, a city where residence struggle for housing and living wages. The moment we got into the Uber, the driver asked us whether we were there to party. Once we told her the reason for our visit, to be in a space with other like-minded loving people of God, she immediately said, “I am taking care of my friend’s four children, because she is homeless and her children were taken away because she had no place for them to live.” One of us gave her information to contact an organization in her city. I don’t know how anyone else felt in the car, but I wanted goodness to happen immediately. I wanted those four children to have their own rooms and a big backyard to run and play. That would not happen today. Unfortunately for many poor families in our country, playing in a backyard is a far away dream. We were dropped off in front of this glamorous hotel. The driver offered us free water just for being a customer. I’m sure each of us offered her a silent prayer.
During the forum, we had the opportunity to hear what others were doing in their perspective communities, transforming neighborhoods, prison reform and speaking to government officials concerning fair education funding. I felt proud to be among what I called great prophets, speaking to the Goliaths, telling them that all people are to be treated fair and these prophets would not back down. It was amazing! But then I had to deal with my shit. As I sat listening, I wondered where have I participated in transforming power. Wanting the four children to have their own room is one thing but how have I helped back home, creating space for prosperity among my neighbor, speaking on behalf of the voiceless? Realizing at that moment, that my wanting was a far away dream as well. Yeah, I could imagine it, the beauty of raising my power fist in the air, the feel good feeling of sitting at the table with all these strong prophets, but I wasn’t doing shit to make a difference. Seriously, nothing!
It dawned on me that I was invited to this table. Invited by good people who believed in the work of justice. Growing up in the 1960 South, whenever you were invited to someone’s house, you were taught to be respectful. You were appreciative and you smile a lot, nodding and being quiet. I understood from this moment that every table I’ve been invited to, if it’s a new job, a new church, a new community, a new school, a new oppressor, whatever. The mere fact of me believing that they invited me in, I should be nice and respectful, quiet and appreciative. At least I was surviving at the benefit of their invitation. I realized that I’ve been sitting at the table all my life believing that I should just be glad to be at a table. God forgive me. I screamed with joy in front of those prophets who invited me and said, “I have a right to be at this table, I don’t need to be nice or kind!” I’m so glad at this table they comforted and smile and said… “We would be glad to be invited to your table!” These were the most powerful words I had heard in my life time. I didn’t know what to do next! But at that moment, I mattered! All the injustice I could never explain, all the pain and guilt of growing up in an oppressing time and accepting scraps from the table because I just wanted to merely survive! At that moment I had power. My table was worthy enough.
As we all go through this pandemic we need to be aware that others will invite us to their table, not physically of course. But they will invite us when they are trying to figure out how to make a living on an unemployment check. They will invite us when there is not enough food in their cupboards, they will invite us when their communities experience gentrification, they will invite us when their health care no longer exist, they will invite us when they are unable to bury their child due to senseless gun violence. And they will invite us as Covid-19 tears apart all they have worked for. I never sat down at the table of the Uber driver taking care of four children. I heard her and smile, nod. Maybe none of us that day, actually took time to sit at her table. It requires the discomfort to leave ours, knowing that we may not have all the answers or knowing that maybe just sitting with her trouble is all that’s required. Maybe we didn’t think her table was worthy enough or maybe we just wanted to feel good, smile, nod and dream of what can be instead of dealing with the ugliness of what is. The Uber driver table is worthy. The four children’s table is worthy. The homeless mom’s table is worthy. Sitting at the table means that you will probably get food thrown on you, you may not like the main dish, the kool-aid may not be sweet enough, but hey, deal with! Don’t you think they’ve sat at your table long enough?
Sit at someone’s table where life happens and trouble comes. Don’t rush through the meal and conversation; it is a worthy table with worthy people.
I’m looking at the 2020 Oscars and having a moment. Remembering when I was eight years old and saying one day I’m going to be on stage getting that Oscar. I loved acting and singing, knowing at such an early age what my talent was. I just knew one day I would be there. I’m not.
Yes, I’m sad that I did not reach out for my dreams. I’m sad that I didn’t try, at all to go for what I knew I could do. I should have listened to my heart and not listened to my mother who wanted to make sure I was able to eat and said, go to college, study business administration and get a skill to fall back on. I remember sitting in the back of the college auditorium, seeing students rehearsing for their upcoming play, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Me, next day, singing, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, in the girl’s dormitory bathroom and hearing one of my floor mates applauding the sound of my voice. I should have changed my major then.
It’s not anyone’s fault. But let me just say this to a parent who could be poor, afraid that you don’t have much to offer to your children, afraid that your children’s life may pattern the life of yours. Tell your child to trust their gifts, tell your child their talent is big enough to carry them into success. For if you don’t, you child will pattern their life after yours, a life of being afraid, a life of shoulda, woulda, a life of sitting sixty years later, drinking a glass of red wine, wondering what could have been.
I don’t dislike my life now. It took be a while to get to a place of contentment. But damn, I could have been a star!!
I was attending a visit with a client and his daughter when suddenly I had this urge to check Facebook. I gasped when I saw the first status of my friends were from my niece with the message, “It is with sadness that Carl Pinkney passed away on Jan 2, 2020.” Immediately, I ran out of the room in tears that my nephew, who I called my brother was gone. I wasn’t upset on the way I found out about his death; that wasn’t an issue. I was upset because I never told him how special he was to me.
Carl and I were born ten days apart. Carl was the oldest. Carl’s grandmother, Katie, took me into her home when I was only a couple of hours old. If anyone from the South read this, they would understand that when a young teen girl gave birth and was unable to take care of her child, there were families who stepped in and raise that child. No questions asked. No legal papers drawn. This was how shame and caring functioned at the same time. This is how Carl and I met. Babies who would be raised together, sleeping in the same crib, starting kindergarten together, first grade, fighting with each other and being friends. We were inseparable. We held hands walking into our kindergarten class together and when we went to first grade, we were in the same class. I always felt safe because he was near.
Our homes were next door to each other and I spend almost every night at Carl’s house for supper. To be honest, Carl’s mother, Katie’s daughter-in-law, was a great cook. I felt like I belong sitting at their kitchen table. At Katie’s house there was just her and I, but the house next door was always filled with laughter. Carl love telling jokes and sometimes they were not clean jokes. One time, his mother actually washed his mouth out with soap. He was my hero.
Carl and his family moved to another part of the county when he was a teenager. His high school and my high school were arch rivals. Of course, Carl’s high school had the better football team and marching band. Carl played saxophone in the band. He idolized his older brother, Earl, who also played saxophone. Earl died when we were eight. We still found ways to see each other on the weekends, partying in places we should not be, smoking weed and drinking Colt 45. His friends became my friends and vice-versa. After graduation we attended the same college; we both dropped out. We both seemed to be chasing a dream or chasing life that would, so we thought, make us whole and complete. Carl joined the military. I moved to New York. We became distant from each other, chasing whatever desire we had that demanded us to give up our childhood.
This is what I remember about my brother, Carl kept his childhood alive, I gave up mine. He always had a twinkle in his eye because he kept chasing life. The way my niece described him, Carl was optimistic. He never lost hope. Even in his flaws, and there were many, the twinkle was always there. Carl lived life on his terms that were always not so pleasing to all of us, but he lived life still chasing the fullness of it. He struggled, got back up, struggled and got back up again. He told stories, yes some fabricated, but he had a gift of gab and he knew it. His stories were warm and humorous; his mission to make people laugh at themselves, stop and see the beauty and struggle of life.
Carl purchased a home in October of 2019; something that may seem simple for some but for him, it was major! After his 60th birthday, which was August 2019, he finally did something to let people notice that he could never fail. He was proud! He posted pictures of his home on Facebook, with emphasis of the pool in the backyard. He standing proudly with his wife after signing the mortgage papers, with key in hand! I can only imagine him saying, some folks counted me out, but God never did. He won’t get to swim in that pool but I’m sure he takes delight that his grandchildren will. He won’t get to sit in the rocking chair on the front porch, sipping on ice tea, or something else, telling his stories, but I’m sure those of us who love him will sit and sip ice tea, or something else, re-telling his wonderful fabricated stories and remembering to laugh at ourselves.
Carl was baptized a few months before he bought his home. His vices tried to defined him but he kept seeking life and he kept seeking his dream. I love him for that. I believe he found peace. I believe he knew, this time for sure, that he could never fail. Failure just wasn’t in him. John 16:33, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world!”
I hope we all can learn from my brother. Carl would say this; “When the world is kicking your ass, because the world will, never give up, never give in, never stop fighting, never stop believing; because God has already ordained that, you will win.”
It’s cold and rainy in Philadelphia. Close to the end of the year! My sweet husband has made dinner reservations for New Year’s Eve in Center City. I’m looking forward to walking shoulder to shoulder with people who are just as crazy as we are to go out of the house on New Year’s Eve. Who would miss the opportunity to hear frustrated drivers who can’t find parking or the women who are slaying that outfit, but can’t walk so well in those nice heels! Or the homeless guy who just wants to be your friend for five minutes, just to feel like he belongs (because he does) or the folks who are still trying to get home because their bosses wouldn’t allow them to leave early. Excitement will fill the air!
In July of 2020, it will be three years since we’ve moved to Philadelphia. I came kicking and screaming. I had never visited Philadelphia before living here. It was not a place that was, should I say, inviting. At least that’s what I got from family and friends who once visited or lived here. I accept that I would just figure out how to adapt and somehow life would just go on, in spite of living in Philadelphia. I didn’t expect what happened next.
I fell in love. I love Philadelphia. Seriously, I don’t know when it happened but, yes, I love Philadelphia. I love the parks, the bike and walking trails, the color of flowers that bloom in spring. I love the museums, Kimmel Center and the local theaters. I love the history. I love the people. Philadelphians, not sure if that is the proper name or not….but I gotta say, they have heart here. I have found myself being part of community that serves it’s brothers and sisters with love. And unfortunately, there are parts of community where violent crimes have caused over 300 deaths this year. This hurts! Philadelphia, you are better than this. Because what I have witnessed so far is that Philadelphia really has good folks who want the best for their city. I have seen neighbors working together to end gun violence, I’ve marched with women who seek that all children have a right to fair funding for education. I’ve sat in a temple and heard stories from immigrants who felt safe enough to share their stories. And I’ve received blueberry dumplings from a woman who heard me say how much I missed this southern dish.
Yes, I love Philadelphia. It is a great city with great people and of course, we can’t forget about those Eagles, right? Well? Ok, I’m still trying to understand the football fans, but hey, they’re passionate about their team, so respect!
My prayer for this great city is to recognize your greatness! My prayer for this amazing city is to appreciate the people here who have struggled with you when others have denounce your existence. My prayer for this historic city is that you hold on to the different ethnicities which makes this city vibrant and alive. My prayer is that this city will hold on to her children and fight for them no matter their zip codes. My prayer is that brotherly and sisterly love be the trueness of who you are because people like me love to call you “home”.
I decided to start a blog… I’m not sure if I can call it that, but anyway! Let me start over here. I decided to start a blog because I was turning 60. The blog was not focus on anything specifically, just whatever my thoughts were at the moment. It’s been months since I’ve written anything, so I guess I just didn’t have any thoughts I wanted to share. To be honest, it’s been a little rough and a little embarrassing to share anything.
I retired, but I think I told you that already. Anyway, I haven’t been motivated and no not looking for anyone or anything to motivate me but turning 60 has stumped me. Yes, I can blame age on my lack of motivation! I have that right! I know there are many wonderful women 60 and over doing amazing things and living life to the fullest; Oprah, Gayle, Chaka, Lynn, Alfre, Loretta,Debbie & Phylicia, and of course I can’t leave out Angela, which I’m still working on getting those killer arm muscles, since the age of 30? Oh well.
One thing I’ve learned through this period of drooping, is that it’s unfair to call young people lazy or unmotivated. I’m here to tell you, old folks (okay middle age?) can be lazy “af” too! (Can I say that?).
So, I am now 60 and really have no time not be honest with myself. I know when I’ve laid in bed too long, I know when I’ve had too much wine, I know when I haven’t been kind. I know when I have not shown compassion or share in the burden of my neighbor. I know that along with others, I have hidden my face and quiet my voice from injustices I have seen recently in our country. I am aware of the lack of education funding for public schools and the lack of affordable housing. I see that young single mothers today receive less than young single mothers in my day. I acknowledge that voter suppression is a real freaking thing and I can’t just sit by and watch it happen.
Yeah, I’ve been lazy, unmotivated, just pure selfish. So God I seek your forgiveness. I have everything to get me up from this place of gloom and it’s really up to me to now get up. I have to make that decision to be inspired, not to make everyone say, “Wow she’s amazing! Of course, if that happens, I would be thrill; why lie? But let’s be honest….it’s really not about age and seeing what you have not done in this wonderful life you’ve been handed, instead it’s recognizing how important your being in this world matters to someone who still don’t know how amazing their life can be.
So instead of trying to race against my age, which is nothing I can do anyway, maybe I can just learn to be and to love.
Recently a clergy person tweeted a different view of looking at the Prodigal Son, a parable Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32. The clergy came from the perspective that the younger son is not a terrible person but from the view that possibly the son could be gay and when the Dad greets him on his return back home, his Dad affirms the son, and says I love you. I actually thought that view was great. Reading the Bible through the eyes of someone else, a marginalized and oppressed group of people can be quite compassionate.
For me I read this parable through the eyes of a black teenage boy who is struggling with a mental illness. I notice that every time I hear this parable preached in the church it is always that this young son was too fast, cared too much about himself, didn’t want to obey his Father and wanted freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. This preached word was always built on behavior, a bad terrible behavior, the young son has a sinful nature. The young son didn’t know what he had…and so he was taught a lesson. Now returning home, the Father embraces him and therefore God embraces the sinner when you return home.
I wonder why the young son is viewed through our eyes as being sinful. I wonder why we accept this view. Could it also be the young black boy who suffers from a mental illness is trying to cope at home but can’t and tries but becomes addicted to things he thought would make him feel better, realizes he made a mistake, didn’t think things through all the way. And Dad doesn’t focus on the “why” of the young son’s journey but instead embraces him and the family sets out to try again.
We do great harm at times to ourselves and to other people in our lives when we make the “why” a defining point of a person. Even the young son had determined that he was unworthy, he was no good, all because he spent all his money, became homeless and the only thing he could determine, because his journey wasn’t a successful one, is that he is not worthy. We make up the reasons we want for why someone is homeless, why someone is broke, why someone is gay, why someone is mentally ill…and we labeled them as unworthy. But you know….God will love you…when your behavior warrants an understanding from us.
I am a female black clergy concerned about our black youth who are dealing with mental illnesses. For me this is not a taboo subject. It is imperative that we view scripture from the lives of these young people whose journeys are different, but whose journeys are also worthy.
And yes, when reading this parable it becomes obvious that we are all the older son. The one who has already judged the “why” because we have determine that God sees others through our eyes.