Monday, December 8, 2008

Odetta: Queen Mother

When I first met Civil Rights legend Odetta, she was stunning at age 75. The folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, needed a wheel-chair to get around, but only to the rear of the stage. When she performed for the 100th Anniversary commemoration of the Niagara Movement meeting in Harpers Ferry, W.V. in mid-August 2006, she walked on and off the stage. She would not let her audience see her in her wheelchair. Odetta joined the ancestors Dec. 2, 2008. She was 77.

Born Odetta Holmes, she died of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks earlier. In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished. That's the way she was when I met Odetta.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites. She first came to prominence in the 1950s and later influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other well known singers. When Rosa Parks was asked once which songs meant the most to her, she replied, "All of the songs Odetta sings."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Is Obama a Muslim?

I confess. I am more than a little perturbed at the lingering insinuations that President-elect Barack Obama is a Muslim? He has said he's a Christian. I take him at his word.

But if he was a Muslim, what would be wrong with that?!

Gen. Colin Powell articulated my view when he appeared on "Meet The Press" in October. <>

But it seems as though there's this pastor who missed that meeting, and is still getting air-time on CNN to spew his hate. <http://www.cnn. com/video/ #/video/bestoftv /2008/11/ 20/nr.sanchez. preacher. sign.cnn>

Sadly, the folks at CNN are not as learned as a rich, major institution such as theirs should be. Host Rick Sanchez should go back to Civics-101 class. it is obvious that neither he, nor most other people sounding off on this subject have read the U.S. Constitution, in particular Article Six which emphatically and unequivocally makes the point: THERE SHALL BE NO RELIGIOUS TEST for public office in the United States! Not for President! Not for butler at the White House!
To wit: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Duh! That's not what the Founders felt or believed, or intimated, or wrote in letters before or after the fact, that's what's written in the document itself!

So what if the President-elect's a Muslim? (He's not!)

And what's wrong with being a Muslim anyway? (I am!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Old Time Religion

Worship time on Sunday, the most segregated hour in America. But this day, one day before the kick-off of the 2008 Democratic National Convention—or the first "official" event on the convention schedule, depending on how you might want to spin it—promised to be different. It was an interfaith gathering featuring choirs, Indian singers, an opening prayer and litany featuring pastors, an imam, a rabbi. There were texts from the Holy Bible, the Holy Quran, the Metta Sutra, the Torah. It was not at all segregated. It was truly multi-cultural, interfaith. I attended in part because this was the only event on the convention schedule where Muslims were featured. Although Muslim clergy have given the invocation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and despite the fact that there are now two (count them) Muslim members of Congress, no Muslims have been scheduled for any of the invocations or benedictions at this convention. No chance for the Republican Islamophobes to try to play that guilt-by-association game on presumed Democratic presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. Barack Hussein Obama (D-Ill.).

No siree.

I also hoped that by attending I might hear some, fiery preaching like I remember from those Missionary Baptist Churches I grew up attending in the Mississippi Delta and in Los Angeles, Calif. I hoped I would once again feel "That Old Time Religion." The Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2008 Democratic National Convention did not disappoint, nor surprisingly, did Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. The musical selections by Richard Smallwood & Vision were lively enough, but they were out of the "new" gospel tradition, not like the old Negro Spirituals I wanted to hear. The Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) did not live up to my expectations of how a real "Holy Roller" should preach. Meanwhile, the two Muslim sisters who spoke did not make my heart race with their remarks, and one of the rabbis literally put me to sleep, going on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

But thank God, Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun with a Southern accent, and the author of Dead Man Walking, was on the program. Hallelujah!

Sister Helen preached! She brought tears to my eyes. She invoked not only "text," but "context." Her subject was "Our Sacred Responsibility to Our Nation," and she spoke about her experiences, counseling and escorting men on death row to the chambers where they were put to death. She condemned the racism and class-ism that accompanies capital punishment in this country—those who don’t have capital receive the punishment—and she tied the unjust U.S. capital punishment system to this country’s moral standing in the world. I saw the lightning flash. I heard the thunder roar.

Amen. Sister. Amen.