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Archive for the tag “Pentecostal”

Blue Line Black Men: I am not afraid

There were black men yelling on the Market Frankford El today.  We all got on the train at the same time, but separately, at 69th Street, the end/beginning of the line.  The first guy, who sat across the aisle from me, was on his cell phone.

“Did you hear about the Sixers?… They tradin’ Hawes!… That’s a bad move, man!”

Other guys pile into the car, in uniforms and work boots, bundled in puffer coats or in hoodies covering their heads.  They take empty seats or stand near the poles at the double doors, some of them with their friends and in their own conversations.  But the man on the phone is loud and the other passengers are forced to eavesdrop.  A murmur begins among the strangers.

“Naw, that’s good!”

“That’s a good move for the Sixers, dawg!”

“That’s what they need!”

The man on the phone hangs up with the caller as the train begins to leave the station.  Before hitting the button to close the call, he is responding to the other passengers. The men all become passionate about the subject. There are hand gestures and scrunched up faces, “naw dawg’s” and “C’mon man’s.” The oldhead tucked in the corner of the car offers up a comment and they all pause to hear him before they all chime in at once again.

The train stops at Millbourne, 63rd and 60th Streets, gaining and losing passengers, both pushing traffic through the loud, good-natured discussion.  It’s all gibberish to me. I know nothing about the 76er’s and could care less about basketball.  But I enjoyed being caught up in that moment with them—black men yelling, unafraid for those moments, interacting with each other, passionate about a thing.

I am used to black men yelling: my father is a Pentecostal preacher, my grandfather was a bit of a pimp, my brothers get pretty riled up when telling stories, my Uncle Joe sits on my grandmother’s couch quoting Farrakhan from behind an open Final Call.  I am not intimidated.  I am not shaken. I am not moved.  As a matter of fact, I feel right at home when it gets loud and rowdy—whether it’s on a Septa train, in a family room back home, or when walking past a neighborhood basketball court.

More importantly, though, I am used to black men.

I am reminded of this when I enter the classroom of Philadelphia FIGHT each week to teach my writing workshop, “Making Each Word Matter.”  When collaborating with FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice and their weekly creative writing class, I am in a classroom with black men, 20-30 of them, ages ranging from early 20’s to late 60’s, all of them armed with pens and paper, spilling ink and creativity.  And I tell you, it is only here, in this room full of black men, first loud with their ideas, then quietly writing their words, then patiently waiting to share what they’ve written while patiently listening to others… it is here in this room, full of stagnant stale air, yet vibrant with fresh art, that I become afraid.

I am afraid that no one will hear their stories or know their worth.  No one will hear the rhyme, the rhythm, the cadence of their poetry.  No one will hear the questions, the answers, and the brilliance of their tales.

I am afraid that whether black men are yelling on the El or yelling on the page, the only ones who will listen are those of us who are not intimidated, shaken, or moved—those of us who are used to black men yelling. Or more importantly, used to black men.

The others, too busy blinded by the darkness and deafened by the noise, will continue to keep black men silenced and make up their own stories.

And I am afraid that that will not be enough.

It’s raining sunshine

I am soaked down to the bone

My skin is my proof

—- John Tolbert, haiku from “Making Each Word Matter”

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One God. Same God.

Day 2. This is an excerpt from my senior thesis work,

a collection of essays titled “Faith and Bullshit.” Circa 2011.

There is no light outside the window when he begins to move restlessly in bed—only an orange glow that spills onto the carpet and against the walls from the lamppost across the street.  I finally feel his warmth slipping away as he slowly peels back the comforter and sheets, careful not to disturb me.  It is minutes from sunrise and Hasan has to make his first salat.   He slips into a pair of shorts and t-shirt and tiptoes to the bathroom to make wudhu before he makes his prayers.  I lie awake in bed, silent as if still asleep, and listen to the way the water moves in the bathroom: the steady stream from the faucet to the basin intermittently interrupted by his cupped hands scooping water to his face, around his arms, and on top of his head—and then the squeaky turn of the knob to close the water valve.  He shuffles out of the bathroom, feeling his way through darkness until he reaches his designated place of prayer—a little area in the corner of the bedroom that allows him to face the Ka’abah.

 He begins the series of movements that accompany his prayer routine—takbir, ruku, qiyaam, sujud, jalsah—as he utters the rhythmic, foreign words from his mouth, his monotone voice sounding musical at certain intervals of his recital.  I am completely awake in bed now, eyes fixed on the ceiling, pondering when and how I would get on my knees and make my own petitions to God.  I decidedly keep my place after convincing myself that Hasan is hardly worried about who is holier than who—that was usually my role in our relationship.

After several minutes, Hasan completes his sura and, for a brief moment, there is stillness in the room.  The morning light has finally rested on the pillows and throughout the house and I am able to clearly make out Hasan’s silhouette as he disrobes before rejoining me under the sheets.  My body is considerably warmer than his now, so he pulls me close—my back to his chest and one of my breasts already cradled in his palm.  I feel his humid breath on the nape of my neck before he settles his lips there to whisper a sweet and sensual “good morning” which will serve as his invitation to commit today’s first sin.

It wasn’t long before meeting Hasan that I had settled into my own religious walk— the original faith of my childhood now repackaged and reintroduced as a personalized adult version of Christianity.  This new and improved God wanted to be my friend, my father and was described with words like patient, forgiving, full of grace which were different from the harsher and more familiar terms like angry, wrathful, and jealous.  While it seemed so much easier to worship this nice God, it was often just as bewildering to have once been plagued with legalistic checks and balances to now only be covered in the “blood of the Lamb,” once and forever after repentance. The Presbyterian doctrine of today seemed so different from the Pentecostal gospel of my youth.

Yet I never revealed such ambivalence about my beliefs to Hasan.  Instead, we engaged in stimulating conversations about our respective faiths—he maintained that there was only one God, and both Muslims and Christians served the same God, while I insisted that his religion lacked the vital component of recognizing Jesus Christ as Savior of mankind and ultimately the channel through which one reached salvation.  Hasan would allow me to say my piece before he offered a reassuring smile, sometimes lifting my hands to his lips before speaking again. After a long pause he would respond softly, “Zenique, the truth will find you.”

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