He Loves Me Anyway: Black Nativity

Guest Post by Christine A. Scheller

What good is a shepherd
that goes to sleep? Suppose a wolf would come,

and steal your lambs away,

what you gonna tell

your master next day?

—Langston Hughes, Black Nativity

Who is the shepherd? Who are the sheep? Those were a couple of my questions about a new film adaptation of the 1961 Langston Hughes play Black Nativity after seeing it twice and then reading the short play for myself.

Is the reverend who drives his daughter away the bad shepherd? Or is it the man from whom he tries to protect her? Maybe it’s her, as she deprives her child of his heritage because she refuses to forgive. Or the mother, who enables her father’s dysfunction.

I didn’t think about these things until I compared the film with the play. I also didn’t realize how entirely different they are—the word adaptation may be a stretch. The film is metaphor for the play, I think. Or as its writer/director Kasi Lemmons said at a Los Angeles press junket, it is a “container” for Hughes’ work, which appears toward the story’s end as a Christmas pageant in the wayward pastor’s church.

“If you tell a lie your tongue might slip. If you tell the truth he might bust you in the lip…. You can’t preach one thing then up and do another, look out for yourself but try to con your brother. No-good shepherd! No good-shepherd!” wrote Hughes.

[Read more...]

Complaint to a Profligate God

I am sick of God’s injustice.

Everywhere and at all times, the guilty walk free, indistinguishable from the innocent. The blasphemers, the idolaters, the moneychangers, the prodigals—God finds none too rank to be seen with, none too foul to implore. There is no discernment among persons in him. The just are jostled and trounced by the unjust, with never a flag thrown or a whistle blasted.

Why is it that I—stuck in mid-level management—can spot the sheep, know the goats? I can separate them, and do so daily, so why won’t he?

But no; with his Oedipus act, God stands aloof from the counting house; he is too good for the scales, and insists that all are welcome here. His neon sign never goes out—Open—Open—Open—it flashes, and every sort of trash walks in the door and sits at the table.

Oh, I know, I know. It will not ever be thus, I’m assured. One day justice will prevail; there is a limit to this irresponsibility, to this misfeasance. One day, professionalism will be resumed, and the exactions I crave will be doled out.

But that’s not until the scroll of time spools up like a window shade and the vastness of heaven crumples like crepe paper set alight. Even then, it’s rumored that his “justice” is only letting people have what they want—forever allowing them the dark distance that they seek. “Hell has a door locked from the inside,” they claim.

That’s better than nothing, I guess, but how does it serve me now? I, who rankle at the disparities unseen, at the extremities and enormities unpunished?

[Read more...]

Honor Thy Mother

It came to me one quiet afternoon, a couple weeks after we were home from the hospital, my newborn son asleep on my chest, the flicker of memory sharp and quick: I see my mother’s mouth wagging, furious, the garbage can full to overflowing, my brother’s task left undone.

“Are you stupid? Is that it?” she screams, stepping toward my brother, who can’t be more than eleven, his mouth torn open by sobs, the light passing through the windows flat, gray, engulfing. “Answer me!”

I step in front of her, hot with fear and rage, and everything goes blank.

When I found out I was pregnant, I knew that I was about to begin another series of careful negotiations; the lines I had drawn between myself and my parents would have to be crossed and redrawn, possibly many times over.

What I did not know was how hard parenthood would be on my memory, how the bits and pieces of what I remember would hurl themselves at me with such raw, shocking force.

I did not realize how becoming a mother would turn me into a child, or at least, return me to my childhood, my own mouth torn open in recollection’s rush and grief.

As a writer, my subject is my family and personal history. I spent most of high school writing short stories that were really just veiled nonfiction, the narrators always teenagers who watched their parents self-destruct. When I began writing nonfiction, my essays were dotted with words like “codependent” and “emotional trigger,” phrases that my mother strung around her like a rosary, a self-help litany of protection against what she couldn’t face about herself.

As I wrote more, the focus became clearer, and my parents began becoming more themselves on the page, less psychological study or sensational stereotype, more fragile and demanding and dangerous.

That is how my parents are in real life, too—as they get older, their wounds and trespasses seem to multiply, and it can be a daily fight to interpret their intentions, their capacity for both impotence and causing hurt.

[Read more...]

Friendship, by Guilt or Grace

In February I published Love and Salt, a book of letters I wrote with my friend Amy Andrews, and found myself in the uncomfortable position of being expected to talk and write about the subject of friendship.

I’ve become something of an expert on the topic. I can quote Cicero and Aristotle and Montaigne and Lewis on the subject. I can tell you stories of great friendships in literature, from Ruth and Naomi to Frodo and Samwise. I can even call up statistics that show friendship is on the decline in the digital age and a scientific study that posits women are biologically hardwired to make friends.

But here’s my dirty little secret: my knowledge is all academic. The truth is, I’m not a very good friend.  Growing up, my closest and most treasured friend was a long-distance pen pal I only saw a couple of times a year.  Thirty years later, nothing has changed but the pen pal.

[Read more...]

Practicing Forgiveness

A few months ago an old friend of mine emailed and asked me to forgive him for any harm he had done me in the past. It seemed odd to me. I told him he hadn’t done me any harm but if it would give him any peace then sure, I forgive him. The very next day I saw a Facebook post from my friend and fellow “Good Letters” blogger, Caroline, also asking for forgiveness.

What was going on? Had Caroline and my old friend both joined AA and it was time to start telling everyone sorry? I didn’t even bother telling Caroline she had nothing for which to apologize—which she didn’t; she’s only ever done good by me. I just commented, “Done.”

Then I watched the same response, by different people, pop up over and over again. There was some variation in wording, but it was this: I forgive and God forgives. Please forgive me. [Read more...]


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