Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding Our Way Home

wood carving of a celebration of the birth of a child.

This crucifixtion scene was front and center at St. Sabina and captures contemporary issues that have been placed on the cross of Jesus. What is the significance of Jesus' absence? What relationship do the issues of violence, poverty, hunger, incarceration have to do with the persecution and death of Jesus?

Referencing this piece of art at St. Sabina Catholic Church, Louis Farrakhan stated the following, "This pastor sees a need in the family to love ourselves and he broke ranks with tradition and put a Black Christ before you and gave you root in yourself, brought our culture into a church that was designed to make us into the image of other than what we were."

The Black Family - St. Sabina Catholic Church

The above pictures are examples of the incredible art at St. Sabina, a Catholic church located in the heart of the black community on the southside of Chicago. Rev. Dr. Michael L. Pfleger, the consummate pastor/activist is the leader of this primarily black Catholic church. Father Pfleger is controversial if anything with his candid and opinionated comments that he is not hesitant to share. However, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese publicly supported him and the controversial vote in 2001 when the Southside Catholic Conference voted 11-9 to deny St. Sabina's entrance into its athletic conference. The rationale for the exclusion was "fear by certain coaches and parishes for the safety of their children." In other words, the neighborhood that St. Sabina is located in is perceived as so dangerous by white catholics that they refused to allow their children to attend athletic events in the neighborhood. Father Sabina charged racism.

While Father Pfleger's critics are numerous one of his supporters may come as a surprise to some. Louis Farrakhan, a controversial leader himself, contends that Father Pfleger is one of the, "best examples of love, charity, broteherhood and love for black people than any spiritual leader he has ever met.

Calling the Black family a disintegrating one, Farrakhan said, "it is not the whole family that it should be - that it once was." He added, "sometimes when God allows a family to break down it is because he has a better family in mind. Not a family of blood but (one) of spirit."

Farrakhan called for racial harmony and said that as a white man, Pfleger "made you to love yourself and gave us spirit that we did not have, and now, we must grow beyond just hue and the color but grow into the spirit of that Christ - that there will be one faith, one love, one baptism, and Muslim and Christian and Jew can sit down together and not argue about who is God or where is God - but we know that God is one."

In turn Father Pfleger has praised Minister Farrakhan and criticized the white media for what he contends is a false portrayal of Farrakhan. Father Pfleger condemned "...the system that wants to keep shackling and keep people down, but he {Minister Farrakhan} continues to speak the truth."

He futher proclaimed, "I thank God for this man every day. I pray for him every day," Pfleger said of his friend. He called the minister a man of "truth, justice, a man of fairness, equality. A man who is doing more about change than anyone walking this earth today," Pfleger said.

Good Friday, April 10, 2009
I recently attended the Good Friday Service at St. Sabina. Earlier in the day I had visited Trinity United Church of Christ, where the Rev. Otis Moss III is the pastor and the REv. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., is the Pastor Emeritus. The Good Friday SErvice was titled, Daughters of Thunder: Let the Sisters Say It. And they did! Seven dynamic female preachers had their say for three hours on the last seven words of Jesus. They rocked the house!

Later that evening I joined a couple of friends for my first visit to St. Sabina Catholic Church. The "Seven Last Words" of Jesus from the Cross to Resurrection were celebrated in a powerful worship experience. Like others that attend for the first time the liturgy challenged my stereotypes of Catholicism. The presence of gospel music, the emotive worship style of the parishioners, black preaching that included call and response and the energetic and passionate interaction were a welcome but not unknown to me. Clearly these folks evidenced a personal relationship with a god that is very much real and alive in their hearts and lives. The service was electrifying.

Those that say, " I would rather have content and substance than emotional appeal. Of the seven ministers that preached that night, four were Rev. Doctors (as is Father Pfleger). All the preachers sermons demonstrated scholarly competence that appealed to the head and they were also able to touch the heart. This false binary between heart and head is an ongoing struggle that Unitarian Universalists have grappled with. Coming from such a religiously pluralistic background I have worked to integrate these truths and to reject the normative either/or approach that not only separates head and heart but religion and our sexuality. It is this same binary approach that causes us to name ourselves as the normative and anyone else as "other." When this tendency towards tribalism intersects with race, class, gender, and heterosexism we are at risk for "othering."

Q. Where in your life have you fallen prey to a false dichomy that forces you to split off concepts and ideas and parts of yourself that do not serve you or others? How can you begin to heal those places? How do you allow yourself the opportunities to avail yourself of diversity? What supports can facilitate this process?

May you choose a path to travel that celebrates the fullness of your humanity and deeply resonates a wholeness of your being!
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

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