Church and Library: Bible and Books

Ida Rogers, right, raises her hand in prayer during a service celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield, Conn. on January 18, 2009.  (AP Photo/George Ruhe)
Ida Rogers, right, raises her hand in prayer during a service celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield, Conn. on January 18, 2009. (AP Photo/George Ruhe)

This past Saturday while driving to the Carver Public Library in San Antonio, Texas I passed a number of prominent churches. The parking lots were packed, but when I arrived at the library the parking lot was empty, and only a few patrons were inside. It appears that churches now have become their own little fiefdom. Each has its membership, and they seem to carry on a life inside the walls of the sanctuary, separate from the life all around them. Very few people go to the library, but scores of folks find their way to the church. The question can be posed to the many separate fiefdoms, how often do the leaders encourage their members to visit the library? How often do they encourage their members to read a book, other than the Bible? Please don’t misinterpret what I am writing; there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading the Bible. But shouldn’t our ministers encourage their followers to visit the library every once in a while, and not only check out a book, but also read it?

This segues into another concern. Has the Black church effectively changed its mission from what it has been over the past one-hundred-years? The Black church has always taken a leadership role fighting for economic and social justice. The great Dr. Howard Thurman, Chaplain at Howard University in the 1930’s, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Vernon Johns of Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama respectively, and of course the greatest of them all Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., all made social activism to eradicate bad laws and poverty key to their ministry.

As we watch the growth of the mega-church in the Black community surrounded by poverty, crime and debilitating living conditions for the residents, we must wonder have these churches lost focus. One time while sitting in the barbershop, I heard two men arguing as to whose minister had the biggest Mercedes Benz. It reminded me of a line in Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” He writes that we must be somewhat discouraged when “we see a minister driving up to his church on Sunday morning in a Cadillac.” Today the Mercedes Benz and, in some cases the Jaguar, has replaced the Cadillac, but the result is the same. Woodson further writes, “While the people are feeling happy the expensive machine is granted, and the prolonged vacation to use it is easily financed.” Woodson referred to this mentality as a thoughtless drive back toward slavery.

C. Eric Lincoln in his seminal work, “The Black Church in the African-American Experience,” questions whether the church has moved beyond the poor. Mr. Lincoln, thirty years after Woodson asks, “Whether Black middle-class churches will effectively continue to devise programs, provide leadership, and reach out effectively to the truly poor?”  In light of Dr. Lincoln’s writing, a final consideration that must be examined is whether we want to continue as a Christian dominated culture, or should its primary source for its sustainability be literature, art and the music.  In other words, should our library parking lots be filled to capacity on Saturdays instead of the church parking lots? There is, no doubt, a great deal of knowledge in the Bible, but can’t we also find knowledge in the secular writings of the dynamic thinkers from the past? As you consider tithing to the church, consider pledging time to the library; both are important and are needed for a vibrant and healthy culture.

What’s in a Name?

Image Courtesy of
Image Courtesy of

I recently participated in a discussion group at the Carver Library in San Antonio, Texas. During the exchange of ideas among the participants, one brother who called himself, Brother Cedric X, asked me why I hadn’t changed my name from my slave name of Williams. That question changed the entire dialogue of the discussion and was an attempt to make those of us who still have our “slave names” deal with “our failure to break free of our slave mentality.”

It has also triggered my thoughts on what is in a name? Does it really matter that millions of Black folk haven’t taken on an African name? And would it have altered the direction of our history if we had? Does it really matter that Martin DeLaney, Frederick Douglass, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, and A. Phillip Randolph did not change their names? Could Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been a more effective leader if he had been Martin X or Martin Muhammad? In other words, what is more important the individuals’ deeds and accomplishments or their name? What more could Rosa Parks have done if her name had been Rosa Ali? What about Fannie Lou Hamer? Wasn’t it really her no-nonsense fiery personality that made her so effective and not the name?

It seems that our heritage and culture have evolved from African to African/ European because of over four hundred years of absence from Africa, and presence in this country. Furthermore, because of the abuses of slavery we all have a mixture of blood, both African and European. During an interview on the Joe Madison Show, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, host of “Finding Your Roots” PBS program, conjectured that the majority of African Americans can have as much as 20% European blood, and with some as high as 40%. Does the name change help eliminate that influence on who we are? Through the change of names, are we trying to build an African based culture in this country? Name alone will not accomplish that. Culture is about language, religion, music, literature, foods and most important a continuity in history from one generation to the next. What names best fit those variables?

We represent a cultural transformation that has made us a very unique and beautiful people who evolved out of slavery and through Jim Crow and oppression. Our ancestors triumphed over the worst and created the very best not because they were African, but because they were very strong human beings. I, for one, am very satisfied with my African heritage for what it is, and not what I am trying to make it to be. However, in the best interest of our culture and its sustainability, we must accept the fact that we are also influenced by the European/English cultures. Dr. Maya Angelou made that quite clear in an interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio when she explained that her prose and poetry evolved from the rhythm and imagery of Black southern preachers, the lyricism of the spirituals, the directness of gospel and the mystery of the blues. In the same interview, she told Ms. Gross that one of her favorite poets was Paul Laurence Dunbar and she learned a great deal from his poem “Sympathy.” She also mentioned her admiration for William Shakespeare and was moved by the great English writer’s ability, “to know my heart…a Black woman in the twentieth century.”

For my beautiful brothers and sisters who have changed their name that is something they chose to do for their identity and that is admirable. But that is not what we all must do in order to love and cherish our African past, and absolutely does not mean we harbor any positive feelings about the oppressors from whom our names evolved.