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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.

Look At Me (Part Three)


by: on October 4th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

When we think about the meaning of events in the world around us, we interpret them through a fusion of past, present and future horizons. Philosopher Hans-Georg-Gadamer wrote about the fusion of past and present horizons in the interpretation of texts, but I say that the future we want to bring into existence is also part of the eternal now that forms the context of our thinking.

We live in a country where writer Gore Vidal called the USA the United States of Amnesia. It often seems as if we cannot remember from one day to the next, much less the last century. However, if we are to understand the current moment, it is important to understand the past. When I wrote about the Anita Hill portion of the Clarence Thomas Hearings, I put that moment in a historical context. Here is some more of what I wrote:

“Once upon a time in America a discussion about birth control was considered obscene, and to tell even married people about ways to control child birth became a free speech issue. In 1912, Margaret Sanger, a nurse and birth control activist, started speaking to left-wing audiences about health issues, including sex education and venereal disease. . . . Sanger published “Woman Rebel”, a paper aimed at working-class women, and one of her goals was to advocate for “birth control.” She argued that a woman’s body was hers alone and to force a woman into motherhood was to deny a woman her right to life and liberty. She did not print birth control information, but she printed letters from working-class people requesting the information. The post office refused to mail the publication and indicted Sanger. She used the arrest to call attention to her cause. . . . Sanger did not stand trial for the charge but left the country instead.

Before leaving, Sanger published a pamphlet that gave information on contraception: “Family Limitation: A Nurse’s Advice to Women” which was distributed by her friends with the Industrial Workers of the World, a socialist organization working to end capitalism. Her pamphlet was intended for poor people who could least afford a large family and who did not have access to information that middle-class women had. Some working poor women were eager for the information, but many were embarrassed to speak of such things openly and others did not have the capabilities or the energy to put birth control information into practice.

Sanger found it difficult to enlist both poor and middle-class women in her struggle until she opened a birth control clinic in the fall of 1916. Making sure that the district attorney was notified, she was arrested, tried, and convicted. The publicity surrounding her arrest and trial brought wide support from middle-class women. As a result of her work, the New York Court of Appeals broadened the law so that physicians could give advice to married people about how to prevent or cure disease. Birth control information was given by doctors under this provision.

Once upon a time in America, women were excluded from political convention platform committee meetings. In 1924, a list of women’s concerns had to be taken into the platform committee meeting by a man. Those concerns included conservation, an 8-hour work day, collective bargaining, a federal employment agency, equal pay for equal work, federal aid for maternal and child health and welfare, and education to prevent venereal disease. Many of these concerns became federal policy during the New Deal. During the depression and during World War II, women found themselves caught between the domestic ideal and the realities of national emergencies.

Abortion had been legal in the United States until around the end of the 1800s. In contrast to their daughters’ daughters’ and their daughters, women’s rights advocates of the nineteenth century did not favor either contraception or abortion. According to historian Nancy Woloch “. . . throughout the nineteenth century, contraception and abortion were condemned by a wide range of women, from feminists to free love advocates to pious churchgoers, since both encouraged the sexual exploitation of women.” But in the early twentieth century, women began to celebrate their own sexuality and to reject Victorian notions of female purity and restraint. At the same time, economic realities set in and both men and women wanted to find ways to control childbirth. Illegal abortions became common and many women sacrificed their health and in some cases their lives. So, in the 1970s with rise of a new wave of feminism, the repeal of anti-abortion statutes became an important component of the feminist agenda.”


Look At Me (Part Two)


by: on October 2nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

When Ana Maria Archila, national committee member of the Working Families Party and executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, and activist Maria Gallagher confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, they demanded that he look at them. Their imperative is one that demands that we see women today and see women within the context of the history of women in the United States. When I wrote about Anita Hill, I read her testimony within this context. Here is some of what I wrote:

“Once upon a time in America, during the Revolutionary War, women became boycotters, refusing to buy British goods, were camp followers, petitioners, fund raisers, loyalists and patriots. Still, at the writing of the Constitution, women were not citizens. In the 1800s, women were seen as the keepers of values while they had no control over property, children, or the number of children they bore. Many women were illiterate, so a lack of education and a lack of birth control kept women in traditional household roles. According to historian Nancy Woloch, reason was considered a masculine quality, even by women themselves, and an effeminate mind was thought to be “vain, capricious, fickle, foolish, frivolous, or extravagant.” In the 1800s women were expected to display personal virtues: “modest, cheerful, timid, delicate, tender, affectionate, graceful, sympathetic.” While women were expected to display these qualities, a man’s approval, husband, judge, legislator, was necessary for a woman to exercise any legal rights.

Once upon a time in America, in the early 19th century women organized for charity work and social reforms. Middle-class women in the North, kept from official authority, made a public place for themselves between the house and government. Still women found themselves confined to a “woman’s proper sphere.” They were allowed to stay home and to visit the unfortunate. Dorothea Dix visited prisoners and worked on prison reform, trying to get insane people put in different facilities from common criminals. Women worked for peace, temperance, and against slavery. They worked for moral purity of male and female. The 19th century saw more young women leaving home, working as seamstresses, factory workers and clerks in cities. Moral reformers, watching out for the welfare of single women working in the cities, became advocates for women’s rights and they became abolitionists. Women now became concerned with politics and with the public limitations imposed on women. During this time in America, it was scandalous for a woman to address a mixed audience of both men and women. Margaret Fuller wrote in 1845 that women ought to end their psychological dependence upon men.

Once upon a time in America, between the Civil War and World War I, women in America continued to work as unpaid labor in their households and thereby, during western expansion, helped to establish European-American communities. Meanwhile, because of increased urbanization and industrialization, women became wage laborers, in larger numbers. Young women worked in factories producing cloth, clothing, food, and tobacco. They worked as teachers, nurses, office workers and salesclerks. But, once married, women were expected to leave wage labor and work inside the home. After the Civil War some two million blackwomen* entered the labor market. Most blackwomen of necessity did not conform to the white domestic ideal of the mother who only works at home. Yet, despite blackwomen’s role as wage earners, black men still wanted to assume a male dominant role. The notion of male supremacy was therefore not incompatible with female labor.

Once upon a time in America, both men and women often worked 60-hour, five and a half-day weeks that required “standing, stooping, lifting, and hauling, as well as heat, dust, dampness, noise, monotony, and exhaustion.” Children worked in factories. Women reformers who wanted to change the working conditions of women and children often saw women’s own passivity as part of the problem. According to one reformer, women had not learned to “work” only “to be worked.” Wages were low and women rarely organized into unions. Male dominated unions while not welcoming women as members, called for equal pay for equal work because they did not want to see women create a cheap labor force that would reduce men’s salaries. Union men therefore supported the domestic ideal. Later, protective laws restricted working hours, imposed a minimum wage, but also kept women from working at night, carrying heavy loads, working in dangerous places, including mines and bars, and these laws were largely supported by women’s rights activists.


Look At Me (Part One)


by: on October 1st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

On Friday, October 28, when two young women -Ana Maria Archila, national committee member of the Working Families Party and executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, and activist Maria Gallagher — confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator as he was on his way to a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Maria Gallagher demanded that Senator Flake look at her.

“Don’t look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/us/politics/jeff-flake-protesters-kavanaugh.html)

In her demand to be seen and to be taken seriously, she was speaking not only for women during this #MeToo moment who are telling their stories of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment, but I heard in her demand the echoes of women who have made that demand ringing down through the history of the United States.

When I wrote about the Anita Hill portion of the Clarence Thomas Hearings, I thought it was important to put that moment in historical context. Here is some of what I wrote:

“Once upon a time in America during the 17th century, during colonial times, women were “silent in church, subservient at home, and dependent on men,” just as they were in England, according to historian Nancy Woloch. There was a shortage of women and so shiploads of women were imported. Woloch tells us that: “Between 1620 and 1622 about 150 ‘pure and spotless’ women disembarked and were auctioned off for eighty pounds of tobacco a piece and more to future husbands.” In both North and South nearly all white women were married because families were necessary for settlement and for producing a labor force. Colonial mores established male authority and female submission. At the same time, the 17th century home was also the workplace, and women were important workers in that environment. In North Carolina and Virginia women hunted deer, turkey, wild cattle, and hogs. Yet, despite their work, women had no control over family resources. At the same time, if a husband or father died, a woman often assumed control of his business. Women therefore were shopkeepers, booksellers, tavern keepers, even blacksmiths, butchers, and gunsmiths. A single woman, a feme sole, was a legal individual. She could buy and sell property, sue, and be sued, enter into contracts, administer estates, and hold power of attorney.

Once upon a time in America, Puritans saw the family as a way to transmit religious values and they were expected to show personal virtues of submission, obedience, meekness, and humility. Outspoken women were called “meddlers.” Woloch writes: “Conveying a sense of incompetence and illegitimacy it was frequently used to describe the sort of intrusive aggressive female behavior to which seventeenth century men objected.” In the 1630s, Anne Hutchinson, wife of a landowner, merchant, and public official, mother of at least 14, midwife, and theologian, challenged the sanctity of ministers who opposed her and was expelled from Massachusetts in 1637. She argued that it was better for believers to depend on God rather than to depend on intermediaries. Hutchinson moved to New York and was killed by Indians in 1643. Mary Dyer, a Hutchinson follower, was accused of “error” and called “censorious” and “troublesome.” Mary Oliver criticized ministers and magistrates and ended up in the stocks. Ann Eaton of New Haven, Connecticut disavowed infant baptism and was excommunicated in 1644 for lying and stubbornness. Ann Hopkins, Eaton’s daughter, was said to have been driven mad by reading, writing, and thinking of things that only men should think about. Ann Hibbens, wife of a prominent Boston merchant, was tried in 1641 for lying and slander, was excommunicated and denounced for usurping the authority of her husband. According to Woloch: “Female dissent or aggressiveness remained evils to be suppressed before they got out of hand” If a woman dared to challenge a man, she dared to challenge patriarchy itself. Courage to challenge was interpreted as indicative of mental and moral weakness:


Power and Knowledge Then and Now


by: on September 20th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

I was interested in the Clarence Thomas Hearings before Anita Hill came forward with her allegations of sexual harassment. As I watched the hearings in the early 1990s, I was already a PhD student in the religion department at Temple University. My initial question was: why do people fight wars in the name of God? As I took the foundational courses required in the program I became interested in hermeneutics which led me to think about how people find meaning inside texts. As I watched the Thomas hearings, it occurred to me that what was happening was a matter of text interpretation. Texts inside texts. Contexts, pretexts, and subtexts collided.

When Anita Hill’s allegations came to light and the hearings were reopened, new facets of a clash of interpretations became visible. Issues of race, class, and sex made a complicated situation even more complicated. I believed Anita Hill then, and I believe her now. However, I must confess that before I started to study the hearings in depth, before I began to study women’s history, existential feminist theory, and womanism, I did not understand the daily struggle for respect that most women experience or the trauma of sexual harassment and assault. I may be one of the few women in the United States of America who do not have a “me too” story.

However, when I did begin to study these issues, I began to see that what Anita Hill experienced then and what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is living through now is of a piece with women’s history that dates back centuries. One thing that remains the same is evidence that French philosopher Michel Foucault was correct when he helped us to understand the relationship between power and knowledge. There is a common saying that knowledge is power. However, Foucault taught that power determines what knowledge is. Power determines what we will know and what will remain unknown or at least uninvestigated.

Then, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of speaking to her about pornographic material in the workplace and inappropriate sexual advances. Thomas issued a categorical denial of the accusation and called the proceeding a “high-tech lynching” invoking an emotionally charged racial trope. Hill testified. Thomas testified. Witnesses came forward to support Thomas, including women with whom he had worked. People came forward to support Hill. There was at least one witness who claimed that Anita Hill was given to delusions about whether or not a man was attracted to her. This was in keeping with the narrative that the Republicans wanted to advance that Hill was crazy. Women who dare to cause trouble for men have been called crazy for centuries.

However, there were women who had experiences with Thomas in the workplace similar to that which Anita Hill described. The powers that be on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not allow this testimony to be heard publicly. It is a part of the record of the hearings, but the general public did not have access to this information.

Fast forward to 2018. As I write this, Dr. Ford has not said whether or not she will appear before the committee. Her lawyers have said that she wants an FBI investigation before she agrees to appear, and she wants other witnesses called. Both are reasonable requests. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the judiciary committee has said that he will not ask the White House to order an FBI investigation and that he will not call additional witnesses. We shall see what happens. This is another example of power making a determination about what kinds of knowledge the general public and the senators who are duty bound to say yes or no to this nomination will have.


What is Soul? The Artistry of Aretha Franklin


by: on August 26th, 2018 | No Comments »

In 1970, the P-Funk music group Funkadelic asked the question: What is soul? There answer was “I don’t know.” Then they made some suggestions: ham hocks in corn flakes, bathtub ring, a joint rolled in toilet paper; rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps, chitlins foo yung, woman, and funk.
What is soul?
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, defined it: “Soul to me is a feeling a lot of depth and being able to bring to the surface that which is happening inside, to make the picture clear. Many people can have soul. It’s just the emotion and the way it affects people.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/aretha-franklin-musics-queen-of-soul-dies-at-76/2018/08/16/c35de4b8-9e9f-11e8-83d2-70203b8d7b44_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee707280b8c8)
What is soul?
I say that soul is a holistic spirituality that “understands that our spiritual person is at once connected with divine transcendence, with the Source, with Divine Love, and it is connected with our fellow human beings, animals, the natural world and all of creation. The spirit also takes us deeper into ourselves. It is the wellspring of emotion. It is the source of our intuitive insights. It celebrates and it mourns. It is within and beyond reason, mind and body. The spiritual self longs to understand itself within the context of ultimate reality and ultimate meaning” (“Just Peace Theory Book One” xxxii). Soul is body, mind and spirit moving through the world in harmony and cohesion.
What is soul?
Soul is, in the words of Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon “Thinking with our hearts; feeling with our brains.” (https://vimeo.com/239890586)
Dr. Cannon taught her students that it is more than a mistake to do our work as if the head and the heart were separate parts of our being. To try to separate thinking and feeling is a violation of our humanity. Soul makes no such violation. Head and heart come together to understand the logic of our emotions and to think with feeling, joy, passion, inspiration, and sensitivity.
Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul because she made our feelings sensible and our thinking passionate. Her voice was a divine force that brought Holy Spirit into our sacred and secular lives if such distinctions even make sense within a holistic conception of self. For those who have ears to hear, we can hear echoes of the field hollers in Aretha Franklin’s singing and we can hear the Holy Ghost shouts that come when the sweet sweet Spirit of God enters into a worship service.
When Aretha sang, she was not present to the music to serve the notes and the words of a particular song. The words and music of the song were there to serve her task of communication and demonstration of the human emotion that the song could convey. She became a conduit of Holy Spirit. Her singing provided a moment of transcendence, and this is why her music made multiple levels of meaning available to us. For example: she took the song “Respect” written by Otis Redding about a man coming home to a wife and asking for “just a little respect” in return for handing over his paycheck and turned it into a feminist and civil rights anthem. The truth that came from her rendition emerged from the depths of her being, from her thinking feeling heart/mind, from her humanity to say that respect is something that every human beings not only wants, but deserves. The song is at once sexual and political. It is a cry for recognition and a demand.
For the fiftieth anniversary of the song, “Respect”, Essence Magazine published a commemorative edition that it has now reissued. In the commemoration, African-American women write about the song’s significance. In her essay – “The Song” – Diane McKinney-Whetstone writes: “With her sister Carolyn and Erma singing, ‘Sock it to me’ in the background and Aretha herself going to church on the piano, she offered up a voice that is both of this world and holy. It has astounding range and an ability to engage, head, heart and soul in a transcendent swirl” (10).
In her essay – “The Icon” – Farrah Jasmine Griffin writes about how Aretha Franklin’s music was the music of black people: “Steeped in the black church but also fluent in the jazz idiom, Aretha put Black genius on full display. And she didn’t do it in the rarified confines of classical music. She did it in R&B and soul, the music of the people. The song echoed from windows and cars, in clubs and on basketball courts. When it was released, she was only 25 years old, but her voice carried and extended an entire tradition of Black singing: the field holler and the spiritual, the blues moans, gospel shouts and jazz improvisations. Bessie, Mahalia and Dinah as well as Sara and Ella. Aretha is their heir” (34).
Aretha Franklin’s music made an impact on individual people’s lives. Writing -”The Impact” – Ylonda Gault says: “Mama taught me many things: God don’t like ugly. Be your own best friend. And never -ever – let anybody play you close. Today that sounds trite, a no brainer. But in the late 1960′s – as a newfound spirit of Black militancy began to emerge from the ashes of Martin, Malcom and Medgar – in many ways, a sister’s outspoken indignation was a revolutionary act in itself. In 1967 Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” simply set Mama’s smoldering vexation – with her husband, with her assembly-line foreman, with her life – to music” (68).
Similarly, when Aretha recorded “Natural Woman” in 1967, a song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, it became a hit and one her iconic songs. The song makes no sense to me since I consider myself an existential feminist/womanist who is suspicious of the notion of a singular natural woman. I say and say again that I agree with Simone de Beauvoir that women are made and not born. There are so many different ways to be an authentic woman in this world or to be a female who wants to move beyond such thinking altogether. We live in a time when gender nonconformity is acceptable.
Further, in the event that I have defined for myself what kind of “natural” woman I want to be, I would certainly not put the power of me feeling like the natural woman that I am to be in human hands. Such would give far too much power to another person. However, the logic of the emotion with which Aretha Franklin sings the song, transcends a human relationship. I am the “natural” woman that God, Divine Love, the Source created me to be and it is that Love that makes me feel like a natural woman.


For Katie Geneva Cannon Let Them See Your Tears


by: on August 10th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

When a human being dedicates her life to the sustenance and joy of humankind, when she works with a will for justice and for the moral evolution of humankind, when she dies, it is fitting to pay tribute. This is nothing new for me, I think that works of mourning, acts of mourning keep us grounded and connected to a reality that life on this earth, in this delicate human flesh is fragile and fleeting and over far too soon. We all live moment by moment. We cannot take tomorrow for granted, and a life well lived is a work of art.

The Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary, the first African-American woman ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the first African-American woman to chair the dissertation committee of another African-American woman in religious studies, a pioneer of womanist thought, a towering figure in theological ethics, my own teacher, mentor, sister and friend has died. (https://www.upsem.edu/newsroom/professor-katie-cannon-first-black-woman-ordained-in-pcusa-dies-at-68/)

This for me is personal.

There is much that I could write about her scholarship and her pedagogies that have influenced a generation of scholars, teachers and preachers. We will be writing essays about her thought in the areas of ethics, homiletics, teaching and learning for years to come. There will be much to say about her concepts of unctuousness and her thinking regarding “ethosfacts” in her application of archaeological methods in the field of social ethics. We will be dancing the dance of redemption that she adopted and adapted from her teacher Beverly Wildung Harrison, made her own, and passed on to us for our own adoption and adaptation. We will make her thinking regarding the work of sociologist Oliver Cox part of a womanist peace theory. And we will, through her spirit, continue to “debunk seamless histories; . . .unmask the deadly onslaught of stultifying intellectual mystification; . . . and disentangle the ordinary absence of women of color in whole bodies of literature.” (Katie G. Cannon “Structured Academic Amnesia” in “Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society.”)

This, however, is personal.

There is an old saying that when the student in ready, the teacher will appear. That was the case with Dr. Cannon and me. I first met her at a Society of Christian Ethics meeting in Washington, DC in the early 1990s. She was already a star. I was just starting work on my PhD in Religion at Temple University, not exactly sure whether the academy and I would make a good fit, especially when it came to academic writing. I was trained in journalism and had worked in both print and radio. I was trained to write in a clear, concise and if possible entertaining style. Academic writing was abstruse and turgid. Why use a simple word or sentence when a complex paragraph will do?

Much of the discourse I heard at the conference was over my head, and I was not certain whether people really knew what they were talking about or if the difficult language was an obfuscation to cover up intellectual uncertainties and insecurities. I remember that she and I had a short conversation in the lobby of the hotel near the end of the conference. I do not remember how the conversation started. I probably saw her and walked up to her and started the conversation. As a journalist, I am not shy about approaching total strangers, introducing myself and starting a conversation. I do not remember much of what we said, but I do remember that she asked me what I was interested in studying and that she listen very carefully. She gave me her complete attention. After I had answered her question, she encouraged me to continue my studies. She thought that my intellectual project was worthwhile. I never questioned whether or not I ought to work toward the PhD after that conversation.


Faith in the Face of Bad Faith


by: on July 4th, 2018 | Comments Off

Shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, very shortly after, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the Senate would not consider a replacement nominated by President Barack Obama, he not only demonstrated bad faith, but he also showed that he does not function out of a duty to the Constitution of the United States. Worse, to cover up his naked disregard for the Constitution and his disregard for good faith understood as fair play, he used words from a speech given by Joe Biden when he was in the senate taken out of context to craft a fig-leaf, some non-existent something called the Biden Rule.

According to McConnell’s lie, the Biden Rule says that the Senate ought not to consider a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. McConnell said “the people” ought to decide who would make the next pick. Clearly McConnell and his invertebrate GOP minions in the Senate who lied then and continue to lie now, who are participants in a theft of a Supreme Court seat, have forgotten that we live in the age of fact checking, that there is video tape that allows us to see what Biden actually said.

First, according to PolitiFacts, the context of Biden’s remarks was very different. When Biden spoke about this in 1992, there was no vacancy on the Court. Biden made his remarks thinking of the toxic political climate at the time and suggested that if a vacancy were to occur, that the process ought to wait until after the election. Second, there was no recommendation that President Bush the elder not fill the vacancy. Biden spoke about compromise in the event that Bill Clinton won the election. (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/mar/17/context-biden-rule-supreme-court-nominations/)

Beyond the lies that McConnell told about the so-called Biden Rule, some people want to say that McConnell’s move to end the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominations is the next logical step from the action taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013 to end the filibuster for nominations to the federal judiciary below the Supreme Court. This again is an analysis that does not consider the context.

Some of us do not live in the United States of Amnesia. We remember 2013 and before that. We remember the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy where Republican leaders of Congress met at dinner to conspire to obstruct EVERYTHING President Obama would propose. This while President and Mrs. Obama were dancing at the various inauguration balls. This while the nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, while fighting two wars.

Mitch McConnell did not attend this dinner, but he announced that his primary goal was to make President Obama a one-term president, and the Republicans in the Senate did all they could to not only stop President Obama’s legislative efforts, but to stop his nominations for cabinet positions and for judgships. The unprecedented obstruction continued after President Obama won a second term. This is why Reid and the Democrats who were in the majority changed the rule.

When the Republicans won the majority in 2014, they had the numbers to take obstruction to its ultimate by refusing to allow President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court the respect of a hearing and a vote. During the 2016 election, more than one Republican senator spoke of refusing to give a hearing or a vote to anyone who Hillary Clinton would nominate if she were to win. For McConnell and the Republicans to talk about the nonexistent Biden Rule or to blame their obstruction on Harry Reid is disingenuous in the extreme. The refusal of the majority of one body to do its job was probably unthinkable to the founders.

So, McConnell is a liar and a thief. He and his colleagues failed to honor the Constitution that they are sworn to defend. Here is the oath of office for United States senators:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” (https://www.cop.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Oath_Office.htm)

Regarding nominations to the Court, the Constitution says in Article II Section 2 describing presidential powers:

“. . . and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.” (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript)

There is nothing here about an exception for an election year. The people voiced their preference during the previous election, and the president’s term is four years.


A Family Reunion


by: on June 6th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

When my family gets together it is a good time.

This Memorial Day Weekend, my paternal extended family met in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a good time. A family reunion is interesting because it links past and present in the eternal now, and we see in real time, in flesh and blood and music and dancing and food and stories told and new memories made and worship and more food and more music and more dancing our connection—in blood and in love—to other human beings. These people look like us and act like us, and we are growing old together.

Since my father’s death in 2013, I am part of the elder generation. We get together and laugh about who is the eldest of the elders, remembering when we were the young bunch. We see younger cousins who remind us of aunts and uncles and cousins who were long dead when they were born. We tell the stories of these people so the younger generations will know that they too are connected.

While in Memphis, our family visited the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. This is a historical site that tells the story of the Underground Railroad, a system of houses and hideouts that helped enslaved people to escape slavery into the north even into Canada. When my younger cousins who had organized the reunion said we were going to the Slave Haven, I must confess that I experienced cognitive dissonance. What kind of haven could there be for slaves? Now that I am of the elder generation, I am determined not to be a mean old lady who is constantly critical of the younger generations. So, I held my peace and just decided that I would see in the due course of time what a slave haven was. I was not disappointed. (http://www.slavehavenmemphis.com/)

The museum is located in the home of Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant and a member of the anti-slavery movement who helped enslaved people escape from 1855 until the end of the Civil War. I know the story of the Underground Railroad well. When I lived in Rochester, New York, I lived near houses that were stops on the way to Canada. When I lived in Dayton, Ohio, I learned of the route of the enslaved as they crossed the Ohio River on their way to Michigan and on to Canada. I have always pictured the houses on the secret road to freedom to be in the north. I always imagined slaves hiding in swamps or in the southern woods until they found their way north. However, the Slave Haven helped me to understand that there must have been people in the south who were willing to risk their own lives to help other people get to freedom by allowing their homes to be a stopping point.


On A Royal Wedding Sermon: The Power of Love or When Love is the Way


by: on May 20th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

When the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, prepared the address he delivered at the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he knew he would not only be speaking to the couple about to be pronounced married and to the 600 guests in the building and thousands more outside. He knew he would be speaking to millions of people across the globe, and he did not miss his opportunity to preach the good news about God who is Love.

There was no title for his address published in the order of service that I saw, but I say: we can title his remarks the “The Power of Love” or “When Love is the Way.” When Meghan married Harry, the couple brought elements of an African ethos into the proceedings, a way of being in the world born from the history, beliefs, philosophy, and spirituality of a people. An African ethos is one that values community and a spirituality that comes from the participation of the community in ritual.

Within an African, African-American, African-Caribbean, African-British, context the preaching moment is an oral performance that invites and even requires audience participation. The task of the speaker is to bring speaker and audience together into a spiritual community that unifies head and heart, intellect and emotion, to hear the voice and the will of the Divine. The truth cannot come forth from a passive listening to a speech stripped of emotion for the sake of decorum. Within a pan-African ethos, the voice of the Divine comes from the affirmation of the people. It is not given to a consecrated individual who tells a passive audience what God wants. It does not come through a sovereign, constitutional or otherwise. It is bottom up, not top down.

Bishop Curry brought emotion and logic to his sermon in a way that baffled and or amused some in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle who were not accustomed to the African-American preaching tradition. No one there would break decorum and give Bishop Curry the out loud “Amens” that he would have received in a black church setting. However, this did not stop the power of his words from reaching millions across the globe. The truth of his sermon resonated anyway.

He started by quoting a part of the scripture reading from the Song of Solomon that speaks of the power of love, that speaks of love as a fire that cannot be extinguished. Next he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. on the power of love. He told his global audience that God is Love and that Jesus commanded his followers to love God with all of their hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love the neighbor as we would love ourselves. Such love is deeper than the love between lover and beloved. Such love is revolutionary.


Why I am Participating in the National Day of Prayer


by: on May 2nd, 2018 | 3 Comments »

I must confess that I am suspicious of a National Day of Prayer (the first Thursday in May), especially when it is a matter of law and is proclaimed by the president. My suspicion predates the current political moment. It existed before Donald Trump and before the acquiescence and complicity of the so-called religious right to Trumpism. (https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2010/04/27/the-dangers-of-a-national-day-of-prayer/9027)

I am suspicious of the National Day of Prayer because it opens the door to a civil religion that in my judgement is idolatry. It is a worship of the state as an ultimate entity when the state is not and cannot be ultimate. To worship a created thing rather than the creator is idolatry. The civil religion therefore is idolatry that has the danger to make various religious traditions denominations of itself.

Last year, the presiding elder of my church asked me to organize a National Day of Prayer service in cooperation with a local consortium of Christian churches. I said yes because I do believe in the worth of prayer, and it is the duty of religious organizations and communities to pray for the nation. Christians are instructed to pray for leaders of the nations: “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (I Timothy 2:2)

While the National Day of Prayer is supposed to be for people of all faiths, the National Day of Prayer Task Force website is run by people who call themselves Christians. When I looked at the staff, it was clear that these were some of the same people who support President Trump. There is a statement of faith that is exclusively Christian in its orientation. There is information on voter registration and an exhortation to encourage friends and family to vote. I am not mad at this. I think churches and religious communities ought to encourage good citizenship, and voting is an important duty that comes with living in a free society.

What makes my participation difficult this year is because I do not understand how anyone who calls themselves a Christian can support Mr. Trump. A Christian is a follower of Christ. It means to belong to the party of Christ. The people who support Trump are not followers of Christ, but they have become followers of Trump. Let us set aside Mr. Trump’s past sexual behavior. Let us set aside his bragging about predatory behavior and the several women who have come forward to say that he did what he said he did without their consent. Let us set aside his unscrupulous and possibly illegal business practices, and his vulgarity. Let us set aside the ways that he demeans the office of the presidency on a daily basis with his disrespectful name calling of his enemies. Let us set aside his attacks on the free press, the FBI, his own Department of Justice, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What no person who claims to follow Jesus ought to overlook is his slander against President Obama and his continual lying.

Jesus of Nazareth taught in the Gospel of John: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Jesus goes on to say that the people who do not believe him cannot hear him because they are not of God.