My Black Church Experience July 5, 2010Posted by Matt in church, race.
Tags: black church, church of christ, common meal, race, Southaven, Temple of Light Church
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Sometimes I think I was born the wrong color.
You know that scene in The Jerk where Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin) looks at his adopted black mother and says, with anguish in his voice, “You mean I’m gonna stay this color?” A lot of times I feel like that and yesterday marked one more instance.
I had several reasons for deciding to stay in Sunday morning – earlier on Saturday I came away with a scratch on my eye and was forced to wear glasses, which meant that I was not too keen on driving, we had stayed up late the evening before and all of us were tired and wanting to sleep in, and Diana was working overnight, so I was taking care of the kids alone – so, I made the decision that we would sleep in and take it easy. I arose from my nightly slumber before the kids and prepared a big brunch-like meal of French Toast and bacon to meet them when they awoke.
A little while later, after we had finished eating but before any of us had gotten dressed and ready for the day, I heard the doorbell ring. Once I realized what it was, I quickly rushed down the stairs and threw open the door, where I was greeted by a little girl who is a friend of Rachel’s from school that lives nearby. I greeted her with a smile and she proceeded to invite our family to their church that afternoon at 1:00. By this time it was around 11:30 and I knew getting the girls and I (Jackson would be down for his nap by then) fed, bathed, and dressed in time would be difficult, but I told her we would do our best to make it.
The girls did well, and by the appointed time of 1:00 we entered the Community Church sanctuary that stands just down the street from our home. On Sunday mornings and evenings, the building houses a moderately sized white, suburban, Evangelical church, but for a few hours on Sunday afternoons, the clientele is a bit different. For it is at this time that the Temple of Light Church, headed by the grandparents of Rachel’s little friend, occupy the worship space. In case you haven’t figured it out, the Temple of Light Church is a black congregation.
My experience with black congregations is lacking, so I was not exactly sure what to expect. The membership of our church home in Memphis is close to an even split between white and black, but services are still fairly close to the white bread ones I grew up. Though there is a little more soul and a few more amens flying about, the format is still a familiar one. Given that, yesterday’s experience was one I will not soon forget.
It is a small, newly formed with church, that filled out to around 30 people by mid-service, but they more than made up for their lack of numbers with the amount of spirit and soul swirling around the place. Accompanied by a keyboard and drums, the wife of the pasturing couple and two other young ladies moved through song after song of upbeat praise, and you just couldn’t help but stand with the rest of the small crowd, moving and clapping around the room, despite my Navin-esque lack of rhythm. There was a little boy no more than 3 year old seated next to us who was dancing in the aisle like a young Michael Jackson, the spirit of the music moving him about in a form of physical worship so alien to those of us born and bred in the Church of Christ. The call-and-response of “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord,” filled the entire oversized room, despite the fact that the congregation only occupied a small corner.
And the preaching was really something to behold. I’ve been attending one Church of Christ or another for most of my 32 years, so I’ve grown accustomed to the academic, and sometimes admittedly boring, lectures that make up most sermons. In those circumstances, a sermon is a lesson, a time for transferring objective information to a group of people. Yesterday, though, the tables were turned. Pastor Roy, the grandfather of Rachel’s friend, stood behind the microphone and held the small crowd in rapt attention, moving them to periods of loudly shouted exclamations of, “Praise God!” and times of quiet meditation. His cadence rose and fell and with it the congregation moved about like a singular organism. He read from the Bible for part of the time, but much of the time was spent with him just talking, his improvised words accentuating the main point that we make our “Day of Independence” a “Day of Dependence” on God.
During the invitation he invited those present to come forward as the crowd arose (the sermon was one of the few times people spent sitting) in song. As each member would come forward, Roy would place a hand on their head and loudly say a prayer for them as the music went on in the background. Every word spoken was done so with reverence and emotion, and the parishioners responded likewise. It was a welcome reprieve from the icy stoicism that so often characterizes our denomination.
After worship I took the girls to the pastor’s home for a late (or early?) 3:30 barbecue dinner. The girls ran off to eat with the other kids and I sat with the pastor and most of the rest of the congregation to eat through piles of pork, beef brisket, corn on the cob and a wide selection of pies and cakes. We sat and visited until around 5:00, talking at great length about our families, churches, and work situations (the pastor doubles as an art teacher in Memphis City Schools). They are wonderful people who made me feel right at home, as if we are all part of the same family, one in which racial differences matter little. It was a true community of faith, one in which everyone belonged. He made sure to invite us to come over to their house anytime so that they can “feed us,” and those of you who know me know that is an offer I can’t refuse.
It was a truly great experience, one that will stay with me for some time. Though I love my church and wouldn’t entertain thoughts of leaving, this did cause me to reflect a bit on what is missing in my spiritual life – spirit. That being said, I may do a series this week over that very thing – what my ideal church would consist of. Yesterday I saw one aspect, but there are certainly others that are just as important. It should be interesting.
A Diverse Raising May 10, 2010Posted by Matt in family, race.
Tags: children, demographics, diversity, friends, Mississippi, population trends, race, suburbs
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Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, you might say that my kids are growing up as black children in Mississippi.
Last night my oldest daughter, Rachel, was doing one of those little girl playground chants and I was halfway listening when two words caught my ear – “black power.”
“Honey,” I said, “what did you say again?”
She repeated the lines for me, complete with the two words that grabbed my attention earlier.
“Where did you get that from?”
She looked at me with a sly smile on her face, “I learned it from T____”
I smiled back at her, “That’s cool, honey,” and she scampered on her way, saying the little rhymes she picked up from her friends. It’s not often that you hear a 7 year old little white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes use the term “black power.”
Later on I was talking with Diana about it and we both found it very interesting that most of our daughter’s friends are African-American. It seems as though they gravitate toward each other. In close proximity to our house there are six little girls around Rachel’s age (she is 7, so I’ll consider anything from 5 to 9) and of those six, three are white and three are black. While she is friends with and plays with all of them, she shows a definite tendency to prefer the company of the black girls – including the aforementioned T. From what I gather from her about her school friends and who she invites to our home, the pattern tends to hold steady. It’s the same way at our church as well. Though she has close white friends, they are outnumbered by the black ones.
While some of this stems from us – her church friends are the children of our friends – much of it comes directly from her. It is so amazing to me the way that kids do not see color as an issue, a barrier that separates them from each other. The continued experience of diversity is the answer to the prejudice problem that still plagues our society.
I read an interesting article today regarding race and society, this dealing with the changing face of America’s suburbs and how they are moving from being deliberately lily white to something that more matches the general populace. The article details a sort of reverse white flight trend, in which many whites, particularly young professionals, are moving back to the cities, while at the same time the suburban areas are seeing an influx of racial and socio-economic diversity. It’s quite fascinating to look at the numbers.
We live in Southaven, the largest suburb of Memphis, and have been here for six years. During that short time I can tell you that we have seen a good deal of demographic change. According to the latest population estimates I can find, Southaven has about 45,000, making it the fifth largest city in the state – though I suspect that once the latest census figures are tallied we will move ahead of Biloxi and maybe even challenge Hattiesburg. Though our city retains a decidedly white majority (65% vs. 25% black and 10% other), it is quite smaller than the other towns in our county (Olive Branch – 86%, Horn Lake – 83%, Hernando – 76%). In addition to that, our kids’ school is among the most diverse in the county, with a racial breakdown of 62% white and 30% black. This stand in contrast to some of the newer schools in the county which have much larger white majorities (80%+). So, in our section of the Memphis metro area, we have seen many move out to greener (or should I say whiter?) pastures farther away from the Memphis city limits – either to the far, more rural, reaches of the county or out of it altogether.
A large part of me would much rather live in Memphis than where we do now, but if we are going to be suburbanites, at least we can hold know that our children will grow up with diversity. I can think of few things as important as that.
White Men Can’t Jump…or Can They? January 20, 2010Posted by Matt in race.
Tags: All-American Basketball Alliance, race, white people
According to an article bouncing around the Twittersphere (has that word been copywrited yet?), a new professional basketball league, the All-American Basketball Alliance, is looking for cities to house its 12 proposed teams. So, you ask, what’s the big deal? What makes this any different from, say, the CBA?
Well, the league has certain requirements that differ from other leagues. According to their official press release:
Only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.
For real, it’s a white guy basketball league. Don “Moose” Lewis, the AABA commissioner, says that racism does not play any role in the league, though.
There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing. i don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental baskeball, which they like.
Lewis later says that he wants to emphasize fundamentals, rather than the “street ball” played by “people of color.”
I don’t really know if anything else can be said…
P.S. I was really wanting to include the old video from Saturday Night Live with the white Harlem Globetrotters, but I couldn’t find it. If you know where it is, let me know so I can post it.
The Great White Hope January 19, 2010Posted by Matt in race.
Tags: Avatar, race, The Blind Side, The Great White Hope, White Messiah fable
In the early 20th century, boxer Jack Johnson seemed unbeatable, becoming the first African-American to hold the World Heavyweight Championship title in the face of a multitude of opposition from the general public. The masses called for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson and reclaim the title and thus the phrase denoting the wish for a white savior to arise and reassert the dominant status of the majority race.
In America today this mindset is still somewhat prevalent, though it has taken a different turn, one that is not as concerned with exerting power (unless of course you are talking about preemptive war and building nations into our own image, but that is outside of my scope today) and is more interested in fashioning themselves into a Savior, thus bringing about what is sometimes called the White Messiah fable.
I was thinking about this phenomena based on two recent films, both of which are favorites for this year’s award shows – Avatar and The Blind Side. These films are very different from each other in many ways, but the underlying theme of the need for a white savior is certainly present in each of them. In The Blind Side, the savior takes the form of a wealthy, white suburban family that adopt a poor, black teen, thus “saving” him from poverty. Avatar revolves around a primitive, indigenous population whose only hope against outside forces resides in a white, dragon-riding Messiah.
It’s an interesting concept and one that certainly causes me to rethink my views on things. What do you think?
I Have a Dream January 18, 2010Posted by Matt in holiday.
Tags: Martin Luther King Day, quote, race
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“that one day the state of Alabama (or, in this case, the Memphis area),…, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”
Let Freedom Ring!
Living Colorblind November 18, 2009Posted by Matt in family, friends.
Tags: black, children, colorblind, diversity, family, friendship, race, white
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I grew up in a great atmosphere with loving parents and good friends in a small Arkansas town, but, though I didn’t realize it until later, there was something missing. All through school and college and for the few years after that I lived in the Dream Hometown, there was a glaring, yet at the time unnoticed, fact about my life.
All of my friends looked the same.
Of course there is not anything inherently wrong with having a group of friends composed solely of middle class white people, but from an outside perspective it now seems obviously incomplete. This can be easily accounted for by looking at the town I grew up in, which was around 95% white, and the college I attended, where I could probably count on two hands the number of minorities not brought in to play sports. Again, there is nothing particularly wrong about it. This is just the way things were.
Today, after living in the Memphis area for nearly 6 years, my perspective is far different. I was talking with Andy, my best friend growing up, on the phone a few days ago when I realized and mentioned to him that the majority of my closest friends now are African-American. But it even goes beyond friendship, they are a part of our family and we are a part of theirs. For the second year in a row we will be spending Thanksgiving Day here (we’ll be going to Beebe Friday) and eating the holiday dinner with a family we dearly love – they are like surrogate grandparents to our kids. Last year we ate with other friends to whom we were very close. At the top of this entry you can see a picture of our oldest daughter Rachel with her “boyfriend” Thomas and his sister (and one of Rachel’s best friends) Kennedy, both of whom come from a family that is, well, our family.
Beyond anything else, I’m glad that my children have the opportunity to grow up colorblind and around a group of people in which the color of one’s skin does not make one an anomaly. I like to think that we are living out the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King when he said that, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” The dream is real and alive and possible, and believe me, it’s worth it.
Freedom and Consequences October 15, 2009Posted by Matt in NFL, politics.
Tags: capitalism, Conservatives, free market, NFL, politics, race, Rush Limbaugh, St. Louis Rams
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As I’m sure most if not all of you have seen, one of the more dominant news stories this week has revolved around Rush Limbaugh’s attempt to become a part owner of the St. Louis Rams NFL team. After a public outcry against his inclusion, the right-wing talk show host was dropped from the group seeking to buy the team, but the story was carried through several news cycles and prompted many on either side of the fence to speak out.
Something that may surprise you about this though, is that I, as someone who is very liberal politically and is a big football fan, am actually torn by this issue.
First of all, I’m bothered by the fact that, despite the fact that we live in a capitalist nation, many think that he should not be allowed to spend his personal money on this business enterprise. My initial thought is that this just seems un-American to block a citizen’s freedom in this manner. It may be true that he has regularly shown great contempt for those whose skin color is darker than his own and that the NFL is 2/3 African-American, but should that be a deciding factor in whether or not he is allowed to spend his finances freely? I have a hard time with those who say that he should not be permitted to use his personal money as he wishes.
On the other hand, Limbaugh seems to think that words (at least his words) do not have consequences. Rather than acknowledging that a reaction to his vitriol may be leading the opposition, he seems to be blaming it all on some liberal conspiracy to squelch conservative voices. This is despite the fact that most NFL owners are decidedly conservative and left-thinking people are not calling for their ousters.
Of course, the best solution to this current situation would have been for the purchasing group to have weighed the consequences and to have never included Limbaugh in the first place, which would have avoided this circus altogether.
In the end, this matter merely gives credence to Limbaugh and his followers, who lie awake at night fearing a liberal conspiracy to raise their taxes, take away their guns and force them into gay marriages. It raises his notoriety and bolsters his audience while Rush laughs all the way to the bank.
Beer and Peace July 30, 2009Posted by Matt in Obama, politics.
Tags: Barack Obama, beer diplomacy, Henry Louis Gates, James Crowley, race, Richard Neal, Sam Adams
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Today marks the much-talked about time of beer diplomacy set up by President Obama to talk through the racial tension brought about by white police sergeant James Crowley’s arrest of renowned black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, the two other participants in today’s event. Personally, I think Obama should be applauded for bringing both sides to the table for civil discourse and hope that it can be a model for the rest of us.
Now there has been a bit of controversy regarding the beer choices for this gathering, though. Obama chose Budweiser, Crowley picked Blue Moon, and Gates was trying to choose between Beck’s and Red Stripe, but Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts has balked at their choices, saying that the men should not pick brands owned by foreign entities (Budweiser is owned by a Belgian company). Instead, Neal suggests that they all settle in for a brews from Sam Adams, the largest American-owned and brewed beer. In case anybody’s wondering, I would side with Neal on this – not for any patriotic reasons, but because Sam Adams is my favorite.
Let us all hope that some good comes from this meeting over drinks. As the great philosopher Homer Simpson once said, “Alcohol: the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Let’s hope today’s event is more of the latter and that this act of beer diplomacy is a resounding success.
Church Statistics – Pt.3 March 10, 2009Posted by Matt in Christianity, statistics.
Tags: Christianity, church, diversity, education, geography, race, statistics
Yesterday I posted two entries looking at Trinity College’s 2008 American Religious Identification Survey in which we analyzed a few of the statistics regarding denominational preferences, as well as the demographic measures of gender, age, and marital status. Today I would like to sort out some of the findings on the issues of race and on some overall societal changes.
Decades ago, the great Martin Luther King called 11:00 Sunday morning “the most segregated hour in America,” and today, some 4o+ years later, the statistics show that to still be the case. Being a member of a racially diverse church, I find these numbers to be unsurprising, yet still saddening in today’s world. On first look at the numbers on race, I was surprised to see that the highest concentration of black membership is in the Baptist church, but that was before I read what each religious body listed in the survey contained. My initial thought, when looking at the word Baptist, was of the Southern Baptists, a decidedly homogenous group (92% white) if there ever was one. This survey, though, listed not only the SBC, but also the other Baptist conventions, as well as the somewhat cryptic “African-American” denominations. Other than that, it can easily be seen that nearly every religious group has shown a decline for all of the racial groups listed – White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian. The only Christian group that showed a discernible increase was the one marked Christian Generic (non-denominational). The proportion of the “nones” again showed the largest increase across all groups, nearly doubling for each one.
The second group of numbers under the banner of societal changes deals with education, namely the percentage of college graduates age 25 and over. In the overall U.S. population, 27% of the citizens fit into this category, yet, when analyzing American religious groups, we find that only two of them, Mainline Christians (35%) and Mormons (31%), have a greater concentration of the educated. At the bottom of the spectrum of the learned we find those of the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition (13%) and the Baptists (16%). On the positive side, every grouping showed a percent increase from 1990 to 2008, yet, for the most part, the faithful remain less educated than the general populace. As an aside, the “Nones” also increased to 31%.
The final measure found in this report deals with geography and religion, a calculation that is again enlightening and maybe even a bit surprising. The decline of faith in America can be seen across nearly every state and region, as Catholics and Protestants both show decreases and those known as the “Nones” post, in some cases, very large increases. In no other place is the waning of Christian beliefs more evident than in the Northeast, where we find former bedrocks of Catholicism falling into unbelief – Massachusetts posted a 15 point loss of Catholics, while the “Nones” gained 14 points, Connecticut displayed Catholics losing 12 points and the “Nones” gaining 8, Maine showed Catholics down 9 and Protestants down 7, while the “Nones” gained a whopping 14 points, increasing to a full 25% of the population. It is in Vermont, though, that the “Nones” have really made their case, for it is here that they (34%) are now greater than either the Catholics (26%) or the Protestants (29%). But it is not just in the Northeast that we see this transition taking place, a full 15% of Midwestern count themselves among the “Nones,” while Protestant Christians falter – most noticably in Iowa (decrease from 69% in 1990 to 54% in 2008) and Kansas (from 74% to 61%). Even in the South, where church attendance and right living have long been ways of life, Protestant Christians are hitting the proverbial wall, displaying double digit decreases across a multitude of states – Florida (from 62% to 49%), Georgia (86 to 72), North Carolina (86 to 73), South Carolina (88 to 73), Virginia (76 to 65), and Texas (68 to 48). Today in the South even the percentage of “Nones” has doubled since 1990, from 6% to 12%.
So, now we must take some time for reflection and ask ourselves, “What do we do now?” Obviously, the way that the Christian faith has worked in the past decades is no longer applicable.