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Growing up, my family could best be described as "casual Catholics." My mother attended Catholic school as a child and completed all of the sacraments, so my siblings and I were naturally christened Catholic. We attended mass sporadically, recited Catholic grace at meal times and lined up for forehead smears on Ash Wednesday. Besides abstaining from a pleasure during Lent, eating fish on Fridays and always attending mass on Christmas and Easter, we weren't cloaked in Catholicism.

Occasionally, my non-Catholic dad attended Christmas eve midnight mass at the white parish in our neighborhood, but usually he did not. I'm not sure if my dad disliked being one of the few black families in church or if he just didn't dig mass. I think it was a swirl of the two. There weren't that many blacks at our suburban school, and the few that were there weren't Catholic. As black Catholics, we were definitely different, but we were welcomed into the Catholic fold. 

In college, I started attending mass at the on-campus Catholic center. In order to better endure the academic rigors of Northwestern University, I knew that I needed to dialogue with God on a regular basis. Without my mother's order of service prompting and cues, I found the mass ritual a tad mysterious at first. A quick study, and a disciplined student, I followed along and knelt when others did, memorized the Nicene and Apostolic creed, and worshiped on my merry, Catholic way.

 

On Sunday mornings, I watched as some of my black classmates left the dorm dressed in heels, dresses, ties and suits to attend worship service at a black church walking distance to campus. All of them carried Bibles. Most Catholics don't take Bibles to mass. The first time I opened a Bible was for a comparative religion course in college. I was curious about this black church pilgrimage, but not curious enough to follow them. Besides, I could attend mass on Saturday evenings wearing jeans and check church off my 'to do' list before joining my crew to partake in our college-student, Saturday night shenanigans. And so I did.

A few years later, I met a "very Catholic" guy. In order to marry "very Catholic" guy in the Catholic church, I learned that I had to be confirmed Catholic. My dad's youngest sister had converted to Catholicism in order to marry her Catholic beau. Catholic Sister and her husband served as godparents to my siblings and me, probably because they were the only black, Catholic couple that my mother knew. Catholic Sister served as my confirmation sponsor. Years later, Catholic Sister "sidelined" her Catholic husband and Catholic faith, and started attending a black mega church. Perhaps feeling a genetic pull, I joined a small Baptist Church not long after marrying "very Catholic" guy.

For me, attending a black, Baptist church the first few times was like watching a toddler groove to Bruno Mars. It was joyful, spirit filled, electrifying, and it felt like home. If you have never attended a black Christian church of any denomination, trust me, black church takes 'make a joyful noise' very seriously.

At my new black church home, I found many things to be different: the music, the length of service, and the baptism by submersion in water to name a few. However, one of the first things that I noticed right away was that the senior pastor removed his shoes at the pulpit before he preached. Perhaps I'd  missed it, but I'd never seen a Catholic priest remove his shoes before delivering the homily. Or, maybe I just couldn't see it underneath the long, black robes that they wore. Armed with the study Bible used for my comparative religion class, and dressed in my 'black Church appropriate' Sunday best, I was excited to learn the inner workings of the black church experience. At my new church, there was a nine-month new member intake process. In order to receive the "Right Hand of Fellowship" which signaled that you were an official member of the church, new members were required to meet as a group each Sunday afternoon over the course of several months. New members were only allowed to miss a few sessions, and each session was two hours long. The senior pastor wisely wanted to ensure that new members were given a proper foundation in basic Christian principles and the values of the church. In his words, he did not want people 'playing church' or joining the church because it was trending. We learned the books of the Bible, participated in small group discussions on both the Old and New Testament teachings and reviewed required homework assignments.

For some, the new member intake experience probably felt like Christian boot camp. But not to me. As a lifelong learner and Bible study neophyte, I enjoyed the camaraderie, discipline and formality of the process. It was adult Sunday school, and I found it nurturing and informative. During one of our homework assignments, we were assigned to read a Bible passage from the book of Exodus 3:5 (chapter 3, verse 5). In this passage, Moses sees the burning bush and hears from God. But before Moses can proceed any closer, God instructs Moses to remove his sandals because 'the place where he is standing is Holy Ground.' "Aha!" I say to myself. "This must be why the pastor removes his shoes before preaching. Mystery solved." However, upon further reflection, I realize that when the associate pastors and guest ministers preach, they do not remove their shoes. Mystery not quite solved.

As part of the new member initiation process, the senior pastor would visit each new member class during our final class meeting/potluck dinner celebration. At this pastoral meet and greet, he shook everyone's hand and lingered for small talk. We were encouraged to ask the pastor any questions we had. Equipped with my newfound knowledge, I asked the pastor if he removed his shoes before preaching because of Exodus 3:5. He tilted his head to the side and replied, "I take my shoes off because my feet hurt when I stand to preach." I smiled, and tried to disappear into my seat. I remember silently reminding myself that there is  no such thing as a stupid question. I was curious about something. I asked a question and received an answer. Certainly a different answer than I expected, but an answer nonetheless.

Catholic mass is a beautiful experience, and billions of people experience an energy similar to the energy that I feel in black church in Catholic mass. The tenets and worship experiences are certainly different; however, sometimes, different is neither good nor bad, it's just different.

 

In Dancing with God's Grace and Sunshine on Sunday, books IV and V in my Black Diamond Series, the girls are now college co-eds and young adults. They discover that one of their inner circle friends is not who they think she is and learn that another friend is managing a potpourri of differences on her life's journey. The girls circle up and wisely accept that love is love, and different is not always good or bad, sometimes different is simply different.

As our nation prepares to purge brave, selfless, transgendered persons from the military ranks and rob them of their livelihoods for being "different," we must be reminded that sometimes different is just different. Let us never forget that after slavery ended, blacks were considered different and denied basic human and civil rights in the south because of the color of their skin. Blacks were not allowed to serve in the military side by side with whites, and after serving in segregated units in the military, blacks who lived in the south came home to deep segregation. They were not allowed to attend school with whites, dine at lunch counters, work with or sit next to whites on the public transportation systems that their black tax dollars helped finance.  It was a 'different' time, and it was called Jim Crow.  Sadly, and almost unbelievably now, many southern whites saw nothing wrong with the 'separate but equal' tenets of Jim Crow and the cruel, barbaric treatment of black citizens that went on for almost 100 years post reconstruction. Thankfully, the hard fought Civil Rights struggles (championed by blacks and whites) forced the sleeping nation to wake up and challenge "Jim Crow" as unjust and wrong. When you know better, you must do better, and we certainly know better now. Or do we?

Sometimes, it is far too easy for those in power to view different thru a lens of ignorance and fear. The government should take lessons from the church and the girls in the Black Diamond series. Worship is worship even if the church is filled with people who look different or experience worship differently. If a person is able to endure the rigors of basic training, that person should be allowed to serve in some capacity. The military is not Holy Ground. The government should not expel the transgendered from the military based on an unfounded fear that they are soiling its hallowed ranks by wearing foot apparel that they believe best fits their gender identity. And they should not be released from active duty based on an ignorant, unfounded presumption that their unique healthcare needs are or will become too burdensome. Footwear chosen as a result of gender reassignment surgery is still just a shoe. Different is just different.  Let the transgendered serve.

May God bless the people of Houston and those impacted by Hurricane Harvey's horrific path. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Growing up, my family could best be described as "casual Catholics." My mother attended Catholic school as a child and completed all of the sacraments, so my siblings and I were naturally christened Catholic. We attended mass sporadically, recited Catholic grace at meal times and lined up for forehead smears on Ash Wednesday. Besides abstaining from a pleasure during Lent, eating fish on Fridays and always attending mass on Christmas and Easter, we weren't cloaked in Catholicism.

Occasionally, my non-Catholic dad attended Christmas eve midnight mass at the white parish in our neighborhood, but usually he did not. I'm not sure if my dad disliked being one of the few black families in church or if he just didn't dig mass. I think it was a swirl of the two. There weren't that many blacks at our suburban school, and the few that were there weren't Catholic. As black Catholics, we were definitely different, but we were welcomed into the Catholic fold. 

In college, I started attending mass at the on-campus Catholic center. In order to better endure the academic rigors of Northwestern University, I knew that I needed to dialogue with God on a regular basis. Without my mother's order of service prompting and cues, I found the mass ritual a tad mysterious at first. A quick study, and a disciplined student, I followed along and knelt when others did, memorized the Nicene and Apostolic creed, and worshiped on my merry, Catholic way.

 

On Sunday mornings, I watched as some of my black classmates left the dorm dressed in heels, dresses, ties and suits to attend worship service at a black church walking distance to campus. All of them carried Bibles. Most Catholics don't take Bibles to mass. The first time I opened a Bible was for a comparative religion course in college. I was curious about this black church pilgrimage, but not curious enough to follow them. Besides, I could attend mass on Saturday evenings wearing jeans and check church off my 'to do' list before joining my crew to partake in our college-student, Saturday night shenanigans. And so I did.

A few years later, I met a "very Catholic" guy. In order to marry "very Catholic" guy in the Catholic church, I learned that I had to be confirmed Catholic. My dad's youngest sister had converted to Catholicism in order to marry her Catholic beau. Catholic Sister and her husband served as godparents to my siblings and me, probably because they were the only black, Catholic couple that my mother knew. Catholic Sister served as my confirmation sponsor. Years later, Catholic Sister "sidelined" her Catholic husband and Catholic faith, and started attending a black mega church. Perhaps feeling a genetic pull, I joined a small Baptist Church not long after marrying "very Catholic" guy.

For me, attending a black, Baptist church the first few times was like watching a toddler groove to Bruno Mars. It was joyful, spirit filled, electrifying, and it felt like home. If you have never attended a black Christian church of any denomination, trust me, black church takes 'make a joyful noise' very seriously.

At my new black church home, I found many things to be different: the music, the length of service, and the baptism by submersion in water to name a few. However, one of the first things that I noticed right away was that the senior pastor removed his shoes at the pulpit before he preached. Perhaps I'd  missed it, but I'd never seen a Catholic priest remove his shoes before delivering the homily. Or, maybe I just couldn't see it underneath the long, black robes that they wore. Armed with the study Bible used for my comparative religion class, and dressed in my 'black Church appropriate' Sunday best, I was excited to learn the inner workings of the black church experience. At my new church, there was a nine-month new member intake process. In order to receive the "Right Hand of Fellowship" which signaled that you were an official member of the church, new members were required to meet as a group each Sunday afternoon over the course of several months. New members were only allowed to miss a few sessions, and each session was two hours long. The senior pastor wisely wanted to ensure that new members were given a proper foundation in basic Christian principles and the values of the church. In his words, he did not want people 'playing church' or joining the church because it was trending. We learned the books of the Bible, participated in small group discussions on both the Old and New Testament teachings and reviewed required homework assignments.

For some, the new member intake experience probably felt like Christian boot camp. But not to me. As a lifelong learner and Bible study neophyte, I enjoyed the camaraderie, discipline and formality of the process. It was adult Sunday school, and I found it nurturing and informative. During one of our homework assignments, we were assigned to read a Bible passage from the book of Exodus 3:5 (chapter 3, verse 5). In this passage, Moses sees the burning bush and hears from God. But before Moses can proceed any closer, God instructs Moses to remove his sandals because 'the place where he is standing is Holy Ground.' "Aha!" I say to myself. "This must be why the pastor removes his shoes before preaching. Mystery solved." However, upon further reflection, I realize that when the associate pastors and guest ministers preach, they do not remove their shoes. Mystery not quite solved.

As part of the new member initiation process, the senior pastor would visit each new member class during our final class meeting/potluck dinner celebration. At this pastoral meet and greet, he shook everyone's hand and lingered for small talk. We were encouraged to ask the pastor any questions we had. Equipped with my newfound knowledge, I asked the pastor if he removed his shoes before preaching because of Exodus 3:5. He tilted his head to the side and replied, "I take my shoes off because my feet hurt when I stand to preach." I smiled, and tried to disappear into my seat. I remember silently reminding myself that there is  no such thing as a stupid question. I was curious about something. I asked a question and received an answer. Certainly a different answer than I expected, but an answer nonetheless.

Catholic mass is a beautiful experience, and billions of people experience an energy similar to the energy that I feel in black church in Catholic mass. The tenets and worship experiences are certainly different; however, sometimes, different is neither good nor bad, it's just different.

 

In Dancing with God's Grace and Sunshine on Sunday, books IV and V in my Black Diamond Series, the girls are now college co-eds and young adults. They discover that one of their inner circle friends is not who they think she is and learn that another friend is managing a potpourri of differences on her life's journey. The girls circle up and wisely accept that love is love, and different is not always good or bad, sometimes different is simply different.

As our nation prepares to purge brave, selfless, transgendered persons from the military ranks and rob them of their livelihoods for being "different," we must be reminded that sometimes different is just different. Let us never forget that after slavery ended, blacks were considered different and denied basic human and civil rights in the south because of the color of their skin. Blacks were not allowed to serve in the military side by side with whites, and after serving in segregated units in the military, blacks who lived in the south came home to deep segregation. They were not allowed to attend school with whites, dine at lunch counters, work with or sit next to whites on the public transportation systems that their black tax dollars helped finance.  It was a 'different' time, and it was called Jim Crow.  Sadly, and almost unbelievably now, many southern whites saw nothing wrong with the 'separate but equal' tenets of Jim Crow and the cruel, barbaric treatment of black citizens that went on for almost 100 years post reconstruction. Thankfully, the hard fought Civil Rights struggles (championed by blacks and whites) forced the sleeping nation to wake up and challenge "Jim Crow" as unjust and wrong. When you know better, you must do better, and we certainly know better now. Or do we?

Sometimes, it is far too easy for those in power to view different thru a lens of ignorance and fear. The government should take lessons from the church and the girls in the Black Diamond series. Worship is worship even if the church is filled with people who look different or experience worship differently. If a person is able to endure the rigors of basic training, that person should be allowed to serve in some capacity. The military is not Holy Ground. The government should not expel the transgendered from the military based on an unfounded fear that they are soiling its hallowed ranks by wearing foot apparel that they believe best fits their gender identity. And they should not be released from active duty based on an ignorant, unfounded presumption that their unique healthcare needs are or will become too burdensome. Footwear chosen as a result of gender reassignment surgery is still just a shoe. Different is just different.  Let the transgendered serve.

May God bless the people of Houston and those impacted by Hurricane Harvey's horrific path.