Men + Myself + God

Month: September, 2011

Interview Chronicles: The Gatekeeper **

by Patia Braithwaite

I was a naive little kid. I actually thought I would grow up and become a Pastor of a white church because I was a member of a white church. I didn’t know the difference between white and black. Every time I looked at my mother I saw a white person, so it took me a while to figure out the concept of race. And so I thought love was  and unconditional, it wasn’t based on what race you were. I thought God loved everybody and I actually thought that everyone loved everyone else. It wasn’t until much later that I figured things out. My age of innocence lasted longer than most people’s…” – D. Young

There was a funeral in progress when I arrived at Siloam Presbyterian Church. The shiny black hearse parked by the curb should have clued me in, but I didn’t immediately notice. However, when I opened the large wooden doors, I found myself in the middle of mourning. There were about fifteen people standing in the darkened lobby, some of them making polite conversation, while others were silently comforting each other. I spotted a few well-behaved children. They did not seem to notice the sadness that surrounded them. Two little boys were giggling while the adults around them remained solemn.

I immediately tried to make myself invisible, moving through sad faces and tearful eyes so as not to rub against the rawness of their emotions. I tiptoed out of the lobby and spotted an office in the hallway.

“I’m here to see Reverend Young,” I whispered from the doorway.

An older man glanced up from his computer screen and looked at me. Slowly, he rose from his wooden desk and came over to the door. He squinted at me, perhaps sizing me up and assessing my intentions.

“You mean Pastor Young?” he said. “I think he’s ’bout to do a funeral service.”

I glanced over my shoulder, and looked into the sanctuary. The room was large and bright, filled with rows of wooden pews. Siloam Presbyterian Church was built in 1849 by a former slave, and every inch of the building was filled with history and purpose. I glanced up at the altar and spotted men in black trench coats talking with one another. I imagined Pastor Young comforting the men, ministering to them, their bodies heavy with grief. I did not see him, but I was certain that he was there.

“Nah, he’s not doing the funeral” a woman’s voice called out. “That’s just a rental. He’s upstairs in his office.”

The older man tilted his head to one side. He smiled at me, but he studied my snow boots, and the scarf around my head. I tugged at my short pea coat, and automatically tightened the scarf around my neck.

“He’s expecting me,” I explained. I was growing impatient. I glanced over my shoulder again. The men were starting to make their way toward the lobby.

“Hold on sista,” the man said as he walked back over to his desk and picked up his phone. He mumbled into the receiver, laughed, and then hung up.

“Aiight then,” the man said finally. “Go on up.”

I climbed the sturdy old staircase and smiled. No matter where you go, there is always a gatekeeper. I thought about the funeral unfolding below my feet, and remembered the childhood stories of Saint Peter, the saint that allegedly stands at the gates of heaven.

There’s always a VIP section, I thought to myself. It never ends….

 

 

(**excerpt from my chapter called “The Man Inside the Minister”)

God/Man Theory Revisited

by Patia Braithwaite

I am writing this post from a street corner in Brooklyn, more specifically,  the corner of Park Place and Franklin Avenue. I have just passed 637 Park place, an apartment building that was,  a few weeks ago, the scene of a violent crime. The windows at 637 are open and gospel music flows through them. The music, Kirk Franklin, makes me want to cry. Last week there was a pink sign on the door filled with messages for a dead woman. Today, life and music float through an open window.

Across the street, two uniformed cops chat with each other while an overweight girl jumps rope. It’s dark out, but cars are whizzing by and conversations swirl around me. Of course it’s Brooklyn, so yes, it smells like garbage, and, yes, there’s probably a crackhead nearby, but, in these moments I think of God, free from any dogma or religion – just this awesome universal energy that flows thru us and around us.

I mention all of this to provide a little insight. Yes, I have this theory that how men see God can give us insight into how he will treat his romantic relationships, but here’s what else you should know:

1. There are no value judgements here: I’m writing this book based on my crackpot theory, but I’m in no way arguing that religious men are better partners. In fact my experience has taught me otherwise. Just because a man acknowledges (or worships) some convention of God doesn’t mean he makes a better mate than, say, an atheist.

2. I believe that we are all seeking some semblance of heaven on earth: Said simply, we all just want to be happy. By that standard, we are all guilty of imposing and projecting some of our unrealistic ideals onto our mates. So here’s how my belief works:  If a man, for example, believes in a judgmental and vengeful God, he might try, in an effort to create his own personal heaven, to push his partner into playing that role in his life.

3. I am here to learn: More than wanting to prove my theory, I want to learn and expand from the stories and ideas of others. I really work hard to eliminate judgements and preconceived notions. I’m here only to listen and grow.

Hope I’ve made things a bit clearer. I don’t want anyone to think I’m on this journey with a huge bias. (Tho, admittedly, I might be a little hard on fundamentalist Christians…Trust me, I’m working on that.)

A Few Good Men

by Patia Braithwaite

I have to say, public tweeting has been a difficult transition for me. I’m used to being inappropriate in the company of about 26 people who know me offline. Today, though, a really interesting twitter conversation erupted regarding a recent study conducted by BestBlackDatingSites.org. The study claims that for every 100 available black women, there are only 3 “good” black men. I suspect this “study” it is part of an effort to stir up controversy and drive traffic to the site.

In any case, the folks at BestBlackDatingSites.org boil the “good black man” down to 7 of the most cliché (no) superficial, (no) “common” criteria used among black women (and by “black women” I mean black actresses in urban movies from 10 years ago). I’m not attacking the criteria, everyone has a right to define their own terms; however, as a woman who has dated “good” black men and “not so good” black men (as well as a few white and Hispanic men that fall on both sides of the spectrum), I am struggling with the requirements that the folks at Bestblackdatingsites.org have laid out.  I mean, one of the requirements is that he’s “fit.”

(I don’t know about you, but I can stand to do a sit up or two. I don’t think that makes me any less “good.”)

As a writer, it scares me when we box ANY group of people into categories like good and bad based on some arbitrary rubric. What would happen if I approached my book interviews this way? If I encountered each man I met with a check list that boiled down to “good” or “less than good.”

I’ll tell you what would happen — my work would be flat, judgmental and superficial – and yet, this collection of statistics is an acceptable to choose a mate?  

I am always looking for interesting men to talk to, and I think that we often rob ourselves of new experiences by making snap judgments. It could be that the man that looks great on paper is completely screwed up, and the man who seems to have nothing to offer you (except a baby momma and some love handles), might just be everything you never knew you wanted.

I’m NOT saying that anyone of any race should settle for less than they want/deserve. It’s just that “studies” like these reinforce the idea that black women are somehow unlovable and unmarryable, and I (being a black woman), must vehemently reject that.

I have to believe that there are wonderful men in the world, even if that means looking beyond race and “statistics” to begin seeing with an open  heart.

I actually wrote out a list of issues for each of the criteria, but I decided not to post it. I’d rather have you all click on the info-graph and decide for yourselves. For me, there’s a bit of a gap b/w the statistics that they provide and the conclusions that they draw. What do you guys think?

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