There is no doubt about it, I had a very enlightening and culturally signifigant afternoon. So much so, I had to write about something I heard today.
Let's see if I can explain..
My husband (the egyptian) met a guy at his job named Farnell. Farnell is from Birmingham and I am not sure where he grew up, but he seems to be a really normal, regular guy. Nice, educated, truly a good guy. He and the egyptian became fairly good friends. I have a feeling the two of them discussed religion at great length at work, because Farnell invited the egyptian and I to his church.
For anyone new to my blog - my husband is a 5-times-a-day-praying-fasting-for-ramadan-devout-sunni muslim. I, on the other hand, am roman catholic.
Farnell is.. evangelical christian - at an african american church.
The egyptian was thrilled to go - he had always wanted to see a gospel choir, and I told him - it is truly something to see! Especially down here in the south, the african american churches with the gospel choirs are simply amazing.
We got the address last night as to where to go. I was not sure where Faith Chapel was, then I decided to Google it. It was located in Ensley. Ensley is the west side of Birmingham.
When I first moved to Birmingham from Macon, Georgia - I remembered asking people, "Hey, sooo where should I NOT go after dark?" Meaning - where are the high crime areas. 100% the response was Ensley. As time went on, I watched the news and read more information and it became apparent, this was the hot bed of prostitution, gangs and drugs.
Okay - so THAT is Ensley.
Now back to the church.
I am not one of those (and I am just going to say it) silly white people that freak out about going into the poorer neighborhoods of various ethnic groups. However, I am not a fool either. I mind my own business, do what I need to do, and that's about it. So - it was never an issue with me going there. Though some eyebrows raise anytime someone mentions that part of town.
This morning we prepared for "church" and headed down to Ensley - it takes about 25 minutes from where I live and we meandered through the streets and found the building.
As we drove up and got out of the car, you could almost see people stop in their tracks. Why? Well my dear readers - this is Alabama, not just Alabama - this is Birmingham, and not just Birmingham - this is the more segregated part of town. Don't be fooled my friends in different states, racial issues are alive and well in the deep south. If you are not familiar with the civil rights movement and the events that took place in Birmingham, AL - please click here: http://www.proseandphotos.com/birmingham.htm
See, many older african americans from Birmingham who actually witnessed and/or experienced the civil rights autrocities are still alive and walking around. I stepped foot across the invisible territory line - I was white and in Ensley and standing shoulder to shoulder with people from all types of backgrounds.
You must know this about me - I could care less about the fact I was the only white person. (Hello?? Egypt is in African.. technically I am married to an African..) But I am sensitive to the perception and I know all too well, what the people of Ensley deal with and have dealt with.
As we approached the church, a few older gentlemen gave me an odd look and said, "Good morning." I remained humble and smiled. Yes, I was sincerly grateful to be there. 30 years ago, in this very town - not only would I have been beaten for walking into this church (by the cops or "upstanding white people of the community").. the good people of this center could have experienced hardship beyond belief. Don't believe me? Do you know about the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham? This is just a few miles from where I was this morning - here is what wikipedia says about that church:
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was a racially motivated terrorist attack on September 15, 1963, by members of a Ku Klux Klan group in Birmingham, Alabama in the United States. The bombing of the African-American church resulted in the deaths of four girls. Although city leaders had reached a settlement in May with demonstrators and started to integrate public places, not everyone agreed with ending segregation. Other acts of violence followed the settlement. The bombing increased support for people working for civil rights. It marked a turning point in the U.S. 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The three-story Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was a rallying point for civil rights activities through the spring of 1963, and is where the students who marched out of the church to be arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign's Children's Crusade were trained. The demonstrations led to an agreement in May between the city's African-American leaders and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to integrate public facilities in the country.
At any rate, we entered the church looking for our good friend, Farnell. He, of course was late, and we were asked to wait in the lobby. As people entered in droves.. some lifted eyebrows, some made a point to smile and be welcoming.. and some just looked surprised!
Farnell finally made it in, and we entered the Sanctuary. We had to file into the pews.. and then the usher escorted this lady to our aisle.. she looked at the usher, then looked at me, and the usher just smiled. Every seat was filling up in the sanctuary - but she left one seat between us.
That's okay. I really do understand.
To sum up the experience - the music was PHENOMENAL. Their gospel choir, hands down, was something from a movie. Uplifting, joyous, excellent. There was even lyrical dance and pantomime. (Seriously!) Later, the Pastor came up and began his hour long sermon. I could not take my eyes or ears away from his words. Remember - I am a catholic, and this is completely different from the way I worship. The speaking back to the pastor, the amens, the hallelujahs, the clapping - was sooo different. But the message - the message was pretty awesome.
No - I am not about to get biblical on you - but there was a little something I took back with me and I think it applies to every one.
The topic was "Give me what is mine." Intrigued yet? Well - basically every one is born with some sort of gift. (If you believe in God - then it comes from God.. If you do not - let's just say it is your natural talent.) Okay.. sometimes we hold onto our "gifts" whatever they are, like a precious jewel. But our gifts are not for us - they are for others. And every single person has a gift. Grace is what allows us to nuture and share our gift. For believers - that means we believe God grants this.. for others, let's just say - you feel the need to make the world a better place!
I was thinking about - what does that mean to me?? I am going to use this outlet - my blog - as an example. Now we all know I am a horrible typist. I sometimes leave out words, or possibly butcher the grammar. Punctuation - out the door! But it is an outlet. I do like to tackle a wide variety of subjects, and no - I am not just documenting my days, I am leaving things up for discussion.
Now - if I take the sermon this pastor preached, and apply it to my life - my gift is communication. (Ha ha - certifiable.. well.. my degree is BROADCAST JOURNALISM.) It is my duty to give you what is yours - and that is share thought provoking posts that may or may not touch you, cause you to consider a new idea, or validate something you are experiencing.
How appropriate for my one year anniversary. So it is time I be a little honest. Yes, it is about having followers - why? Because i am writing to share a part of me, my existence, my adventures, my life. That is my gift - and with the Grace of God - I reach people.
Again, I am not a religious writer, but I thought it was an excellent point. It's not that I am not being humble - but this is what writing (publicly) is about - spreading and sharing a message. Whatever it may be.
In the end, I am glad I went to Farnell's church. Perhaps my visitation inspired someone who was hurt in the past by people with the same color skin as mine - to see that yes, we can cross that invisible line of segregation and move forward. And yes, I truly enjoyed the sermon and the music.
*not to mention, I did a little networking, one of the anchors at one of my media sponsor tv stations apparently attends, and she approached me and was very happy to see me there. She is african american, and the health reporter/anchor at one of the top stations in town. Perfect timing - and it was great to see her!
So on this 1 year anniversary of my blog - I hope to reach more people, truly open up the communication lines about a variety of topics, and perhaps we can all grow together.
What about you? What are your hopes for your blog or even your life? How are you going to share your gifts with others?