The Pregnant Girl

After my father’s death in 1993 I found some of his old writings, thouhgts and insights in the unfinished journals he left behind. Before his death I used to dismiss his writing as “chicken scratch” … I couldn’t read it at all! But after he died, miraculously, I could understand his writings … because I needed to.

Written hurriedly with his left-hand … pages partially filled with small, tight, stingy letters that handwriting experts would likely tell you is exemplary of a selfish person … but I submit it was from a man with the largest heart I will ever know … whose thoughts just happened to form faster than his pen could move. He would always say, “Boy … wait ‘til I write my book!” but, alas, he never got the chance.

I found answers to questions long pondered and sauve for wounded souls in his prophetic words. I thought here would be a safe place to posit some of his thoughts and share his writings with the world as he shared himself. This unnamed poem – that I’ve decided to entitle, The Pregnant Girl – written some 30 years ago is one such example.

 

 

I met a pregnant girl today,

Who seemed so sad inside;

I asked myself, “Why should this be?

On the eve of the birth of her child?”

 

And then I thought as I watched her eyes,

Once filled with joy but now tears

Things have been rough with her delicate heart,

Especially the last few years!

 

She’s torn between a love once felt,

And what her mind screams in her ear;

“It’s over now! To hope is futile!”

My God! Why won’t she hear?!

 

Perhaps the birth of a new life begun,

Will give her the strength she needs

To face reality – and leave him alone,

And surround the babe with good seeds.

 

She’s changed from the girl I once knew,

Who lived, loved and really swung!

And now she’s sad, burdened and troubled,

As if an albatross around her neck has been hung!

 

The marriage ended before it began,

For no foundation was there from the start;

She thought she could change the one she loved,

But they’re only much further apart!

 

God is no fool! He demands the best,

From her, whom He’s given much,

She is destined for so much more in life,

Than to be a useless crutch!

 

I pray she’ll awaken, get hold of herself,

And prepare herself for her child;

Do now what’s best for the unborn babe,

Stop saying, “I can’t” for awhile.

 

The pregnant girl is sad, I know,

Her heart is broken and bruised;

Her cheeks are worn with hurting tears,

And her whole young life is confused!

 

And so I watch her in her struggle,

To break the chains that bind;

Her to her own self-made prison,

Where she now has lived for some time!

 

So now I say, Oh babe, yet unborn,

My heart goes out to you,

I pray the pregnant girl I saw today,

Will become the girl I once knew!

 

She’s leaving now – walks out the door,

An escape she hopes to find;

A walk – a talk – a word – a thought …

“Lord, please keep me off my mind!”

 

-Rev. Wendell H. Phillips-

What a Difference a Week Makes

Last week I sat in front of my television with my heart full and my eyes glistening with tears as I watched one of the Bible’s renowned stories acted out in real life. The story of the” Good Samaritan” (played by Doral Chenoweth, III) who helped the “poor man on the side of the road” (played by Ted Williams). The “poor man by the side of the road” had been “robbed, beaten and left for dead” (played by life). At that point, the story was inspiring yet in the back of my mind loomed thoughts of a developing cautionary tale that I dared not utter for fear of bringing it to life.

When most of us first met Ted Williams he appeared to have had more than his share of hard times. To his credit he made no excuses about his sordid past. Williams blamed nothing but his bad choices and took full responsibility for his part in his fate. Yet, in spite of nearly a 20 year downward spiral, regardless of how much fire or firewater he sucked down his throat, Ted’s “Golden” voice was spared by the One who gave us all the Golden Rule. And we all got to see it unfold. That was the good news. The bad news? We ALL got to see it unfold.

Many of us relished the opportunity to send up prayers of thanks for the fact that our lives, no matter how disappointing or frustratingly off track, hadn’t gone as far off track as Brother Williams’ had. There were others of us who held hope for humankind in our heart once again. Then came the onslaught of “opportunities” supposedly “for” Ted. I am a man of modest means but I am willing to wager when all is said and done those offering sat around a table and figured out what they stood to gain in ratings and/or publicity by engaging Mr. Williams.

Many organizations came running. Entertainment Tonight and Kraft Foods were names that Williams mentioned in the blizzard of interviews but the one that made me chuckle was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Desperate for a public relations win after the team’s owner, Dan Gilbert, talked about LeBron James “deserting” Cleveland in a manner that made me feel he thought LeBron James belonged to him, the benevolent and loving Cleveland Cavaliers offered Ted Williams a job with the organization as Announcer.

Reality hastened to the fore quickly with the timed-release introduction of Williams’ family members. The reunion with his mother, Julia, seems that it could have happened any time as they were both in Ohio. That was a flag for me. Ted Williams was long-lost to his family emotionally but not geographically. It appeared that their estrangement was rooted in years of broken dreams, promises and hearts that resulted in more of a writing off than being physically “lost”. Nevertheless, the pain and frustration of some of Williams’ family members was palpable.

On one of Ted’s television appearances with his mother she spoke of him being good hearted but “weak” and easily lead astray. She told stories of her grandchildren telling her they had seen Ted standing on the corner with a sign. Sounds like Ted had probably worn out his welcome and the only love left was the tough love that a mother employs when her heart can’t stand to be broken any more. The broken promises and fulfilled lies are life companions of an addict. Picture Samuel L. Jackson as “Gator Purify” and Ruby Dee as “Lucinda Purify” in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever or Christian Bale’s “Dickie Eklund” and Melissa Leo’s “Alice Ward” in The Fighter. Ted Williams doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as violent or delusional as “Gator” or “Dickie” but his mother seems to be tougher than either “Lucinda” or “Alice”.

As wonderful as the Good Samaritan part of this story is there are children who had become accustomed to their father not being there who now – prayerfully – will be able to muddle through all of the hurt and anger and come out on the other side whole. There are grandchildren who may have never met their grandfather and those who have that may have never seen him sober. Trust will need to be reestablished and that is among the steepest mountains that Ted will have to climb … and it should all be done out of the public eye.

Brother Williams will need our prayers more than our adulation. He will receive many things that are beyond his ability to handle presently. Most of what he has been given has been charity which, if we are honest, does more for the giver than the receiver. Be that as it may, I am cautiously optimistic for Ted. The road to recovery is uphill, dark and bumpy but it is, indeed, with the proper assistance navigable and conquerable. May God bless Ted Williams, his family and his millions of brothers and sisters the world over.

Take your time, Ted. We’ll be here.

What a Difference a Week Makes © 2011 by Wendell F. Phillips

A Call For Leadership


As a Political Science major and recovering state legislator I have been constantly reminded of the separation of church and state. Whether it was the subject of study at Morgan State University or couched in a heated debate over prayer-in-public-schools during my time in the Maryland General Assembly, the merit of the separation of church and state reared its head over and over again. Yet as the son of an activist preacher that separation always seemed to be a direct contradiction to what was my everyday experience. While I thought I knew the intent of the phrase it hadn’t been my reality. In fact, I would go as far to say that it wasn’t the reality for most Black folks who either lived or were students of post slavery Civil Rights movements. For Black folk in America – whether they acknowledge it or not – there has never been a separation of church and state.

With that in mind it should come as no surprise that my father, the founding pastor of Heritage United Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland and the first Black chairman of Baltimore City’s state legislative delegation, certainly believed that God was God of all or He wasn’t God at all. Consequently, there was no place where God’s word was not sovereign even if it was not always welcome. As a matter of fact, Dad often remarked that he learned all of his politics from dealing with church folk in the first place. He needed only to model his older brother, Channing E. Phillips, who was the pastor of Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ when he became the first Black to be nominated for President of the United States of America by a major political party from the floor of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. For as long as I can remember Black Clergy has helped lead and advocate for “the least of these”.

Members of the faith community used to have a lock on leadership. They came with their own army of workers and if the choir was good, they even had their own soundtrack! The soldiers in this army suffered similar if not identical inequities and the inhibitors of their progress were easily identifiable. None of that is the case today. “Faith leaders” are likely to be as trifling as the proverbial Snake Oil salesman of yesteryear. This is not a new phenomenon. Without getting too preachy, the Bible is rife with references to false prophets and those who are called to comfort His people but do not. That’s right, I said it! Shysters were abundant even in biblical times. Nevertheless, the fact remains that problems persist regardless of the era. And on some level there will always be need for leaders. And on some level they will need to be selfless. And that is hard to do for long. Human nature and history have taught this lesson well; America’s political history especially!

During the 1950s & 1960s our political gains were social imperatives. Whether or not Black folk deserved to be treated as equals and other “quality of life” issues should not have been matters for the Supreme Court of the most powerful and technologically advanced country in the land to settle. But they were. And those causes … those “campaigns for justice” were waged by men and women of God. His Word was carried from the church house, through the streets to the White House. There was no separation.

Concerning the state of Black/White race relations in 1966, the late Dr. Nathan Wright, Jr., an Episcopalian minister, scholar, and a member of the Republican Party, in his book Black Power, pointed out that “we are now faced with a situation where conscienceless power meets powerless conscience, threatening the very foundation of our nation”. Some 44 years later it can be argued that a portion of those who now hold conscienceless power are Black. Following that same logic, it stands to reason that those now with powerless conscience not only include Blacks, but poor Whites and Latinos can be added to the ranks.

This seemingly cyclical dynamic paves the way for a Superhero; a vibrant leader or chain of leaders who will champion all causes for those who experience grave injustice.

Yet, today a “Black Agenda” is not only impossible to define but there are Black folk who have reached a certain degree of comfort who would opt out even if such an agenda existed for fear of losing their seat at the table of sameness and validation.

“We live in a system”, says Derrick Bell in Ethical Ambition, “that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained”. Bell further asserts that though there are huge disparities in opportunity and income between the “haves” and the “have nots” those who should challenge the system do not. In fact, those disadvantaged by the system are “culturally programmed” to accept things as they are. Yet, with the advent of technology and easily accessible public information the “have-nots” now know what the “haves” have and they aren’t happy about the disparities. Undoubtedly there will be those who step in to fill that huge gap between anger and action with the hope of making a difference and perhaps even [insert suspense music] becoming “leaders”.

We have all heard stories of leaders with “modest” or “humble” beginnings … those Horatio Alger, quixotic stories of victory being snatched from defeat, “rags to riches”, “poor-kid-from-the-hood-makes-good” type of stories. But sadly those stories, while inspiring, are still the exception. The truth is, at the risk of sounding like a new-age Black Panther, “all power” truly belongs “to the people”. The sad fact is that “we, the people” have relinquished ours far too often. Election after election we hear of abysmal voter turnout and lament over the pending doom of this country. It should be noted that favor will never find those who employ apathy. And it should come as no surprise that apathy’s employers are all too often the same who can least afford the consequence of inaction.

I can tell you from personal experience that choosing to serve the public is a difficult choice and should not be made on a whim. Parenting aside, there is no occupation that brings with it more heartache and opportunities for misunderstanding then serving the public yet there is nothing nobler or more rewarding. That being said one may feel a fair measure of reluctance but should not be paralyzed by the same for true leaders – those who seek to educate and empower – are called by something much greater than any reason for trepidation. I would say that a leader has no more (and usually markedly less) than a 15 year run from the time most people begin to refer to him or her as such. After that time either “things” begin to “happen” or conversely, nothing happens anymore.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look … how far back would you like to go? Jesus? Okay, let’s take a look. Theologians will agree that Jesus’ first miracle was changing water to wine. Most followers of Christ will concede that event marks the beginning of His ministry … His leadership. Three years later? He was crucified. Now if you are a believer then you know the story did not end there. But even if you don’t believe but follow History, you must concede that Jesus was killed less than five years after He gained some notoriety as a leader … as He began to help change the way people thought which ultimately challenged those who thought they were in power. Too far back? Okay, how about President Kennedy, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (post Mecca Malcom X), Martin Luther King, Jr., or Robert F. Kennedy, Sr.? All killed within 15 years of being leaders whose words helped galvanize people and began to challenge the powers that be.

Now, here lately, it hasn’t been so drastic or final, thank God, but severe damage has been done. I fear there aren’t enough people who actually see beyond their own lives to help anyone else much less speak with an authority that only truth affords; because history has taught us that telling the truth can get you killed. Leaders are neutralized or somehow rendered inconsequential at a much quicker rate than we create them. Political leaders can quickly render themselves insignificant with just one scandal. No one goes into office looking to part of a scandal but the longer one stays in office, the greater the opportunity for them to be caught up in one. While said politicos are physically alive they are, for all intent and purposes, politically dead. Other politicians may languish and wither away in seats (held sometimes across generations) with but a mere fraction of the power they once wielded. So we are left with a void that widens as years go where the hour went.

The challenge is obvious … step into the void … with our imperfect selves and help lead this world. As Arthur Ashe so poignantly stated, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Our focus must include more than ourselves or our children but generations yet unborn. However, our children are a good place to start. The older I get the more confident I become that the void is created for those who recognize it to fill it or at the very least help point it out to those who not only miss the forest for the proverbial trees but also those who can’t see the trees for the bark.

Those who are called to lead will never be perfect but the cause will be. Those who try and perhaps do not reach their goal can revel in the fact that their efforts have elevated the cause for the next wave of leaders to move the needle a little closer toward the goal. Perhaps I am guilty of oversimplifying at times but I liken leaders to cars; they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. There will be some with more features than others and some with a little more polish but the fact remains that if it’s made with the right stuff at its core, even a raggedy one can move us forward.

I happen to still be foolish enough to believe that we are all placed here to fill some specific, unique function that only we can do the way we would do it. I also believe that many of us stagger through life without ever putting our unique quality to work. So as we move through our lives let us be mindful of the voids that we see and let us then begin to fill them.

Witness. Testify. Act!

A Call For Leadership © 2011 by Wendell F. Phillips

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! That’s What POTUS Means To Me

 

In life we will experience things that for some reason make us uncomfortable. Maybe we are unable to put a finger on it, perhaps it rubs us the wrong way but there have been events that leave us feeling unsettled.  I experienced one such instance recently. Actually, I should say that I experienced another such instance recently. Over time there have been many examples but the “last straw” incident which was the impetus for the inquiry of my friends occurred on a national morning news show. The slight – I will allege it so – was made by a reporter; a supposed media professional.

As I recall, the story was about the coming hurricane season and the effect it would have on the efforts to quell BP’s oil volcano (I refuse to call something that massive and out of control a “spill”). I remember the strange feeling I got upon hearing the reporter then refer to the President of the United States of America (POTUS) as … just … “Obama”. I do not remember any introductory phrasing or prior mention of the president that could have excused the reporter’s last name only reference.  Granted, I was merely listening to the newscast while tending to other things so it is entirely possible that I could have missed something. Not wanting to assume the worst I put some “feelers” out to see if anyone had heard what I thought I had just heard. My intent was to ask them  1) what morning news show they watched and 2) if they happened to be watching the same news show I watched, did they witness anything  strange but I didn’t even have to ask! As soon as I referenced the event and they said, “Yeah, I saw that, too … and I cringed. I’m tired of it!”

I am far from a media professional but I am familiar enough with politics, news and reporting to know what is usual and customary with regard to respectful references to the “highest office in the land”. Even if we feel that the person occupying that office doesn’t deserve said respect, because they are sitting in that office, it’s theirs by default.  Now we may “talk junk” about the person in the office amongst our friends in private but, for the most part, in public we are respectful. Media professionals most certainly should be, at the very least, respectful.

After having my suspicions substantiated I began to rummage through my mental Rolodex to recall the major slights that this particular occupant of the White House has had to endure in just 20 months:

1)Day 1 – Oath of office snafu. There was so much made of this that President Obama felt he needed to have a “do over”. So he did. And from what I saw it appeared the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court actually made the blunder.

2)New York Post Editorial cartoon appears to depict President Obama as a dead chimpanzee.

3)Birthers – Questioned President Obama’s American citizenship and nationality.

4)Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina essentially calls President Obama a liar when he shouts, “You Lie!” while the President addressed the nation.

Clearly these examples are evidentiary of a fundamental lack of respect for something or someone. So which is it? Is there no respect for the office or the individual who occupies the office of President of the United States of America?

I am sure there will be those who read this and dismiss them as twaddle from an overly sensitive writer who must be Black. And, with the exception of “twaddle” and the “overly sensitive” part, you would be correct. But your being right doesn’t necessarily make me wrong. Any sensitivity that one may detect is born from the insensitivity that has run rampant since this President’s election. As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t quite a year ago that a member of Congress called the President of the United States of America a liar. This wasn’t the British Parliament. Joe Wilson wasn’t sitting in the balcony of a B–movie theater hollering at the screen. This was on Capitol Hill! So, was he calling Mr. Obama a liar or the President of the United States a liar? And which – if any – is excusable?

There will be those who think my objection is all about race … that my “sensitivity” is rooted in the fact that this President is Black and since I happen to be Black I am now paying attention where I paid none before. But it is precisely because I paid attention to the “ghost of President’s Past” that the last name only reference disturbed me so.

People will throw President George W. Bush into the mix. They will make mention of all the terrible things people said about him but excluding fanatics, in George Bush’s worst hour (and there were many from which to choose) even his worst media critics (and again, there were many from which to choose) referred to him as “George Bush” or “President Bush” but never last name only! That being said, if so called “professionals” can disrespect this President of the United States, who happens to be Black, what message does that send to young Black men (and I include myself in that number) nationwide?

It should be a “respect of office” issue – as it traditionally has been – not a “race” issue. But given the circumstances is that possible? So we get to choose. Either it has something to do with race – consciously or unconsciously – or the media professionals have suddenly lost respect for the office of the President. And if you choose the latter the question will be “why?” What’s different about this President? Is he a man? Check. Did he have enough charisma and political savvy to get elected? Check. Did he at some point make a majority of the people feel good about their country? Check. Did he make campaign promises? Check. Has he made promises that he is having difficulty fulfilling? Check. Has he had to deal with unforeseen circumstances? Check. Hmmm … sounds just like the other 43 Presidents that preceded him.  So what’s different about our 44th President … President Barack Hussein Obama?

Do I think the slights are always conscious? Not at all. Do I think that there are things woven into the fabric of this country that make unconscious slights commonplace and palpable? Indeed. Do I think there is a better country? Not by a long shot. Do I think this country can do better? Yes! … In fact, it must.

 

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! That’s What POTUS Means to Me © 2010 by Wendell F. Phillips

Standing In The Need … (A Spiritual Autobiography)

1.
Not My Mother …

My mother first met the idea of her spirituality in Rochester, New York at an Episcopalian church and she is a woman of strong faith. While there may be those who consider that statement oxymoronic I would dare you to meet my mother. Her mother, Cecile, worked as a domestic and was a faithful member of a Baptist church in Rochester. My mother’s father, John, worked during the week as a lumberjack in Canada and came home to Rochester at the week’s end. From what I can gather, he did not have much time for church or the spiritual life. That is not to say that he did not believe in “spirits.” In fact, he devoted much of his life to spirits – distilled – but spirits nonetheless. It soon became apparent that a spirit-filled life and a spiritual life do not always equal a match made in heaven and so in the early 1940’s my grandparents parted ways. John went his way and Cecile, with her two daughters, June and my mother, Dorothy, went another.

Some time later Cecile met and married Earl, a God-fearing, fun-loving, hard-working Red Cap (the railroad’s equivalent of an airport’s Sky Cap) who came to Rochester, New York from Atlanta, Georgia. It was Earl who was the member of the Episcopalian church. It was Earl who attended church with his stepdaughter, Dorothy, and as fate would have it my mother became responsible for taking her little sister, Yolanda, the child from Cecile and Earl’s union, to church with her. It was in this church that my mother began to tone her spiritual muscle.

Married life became rocky. Children are seldom concerned with the “whys” for they are not as important as trying to cope with everyday life and getting through each day. John, June and Dorothy’s biological father, was not around and had not been in the picture for quite some time. June, the older sister, began to act out. There was constant tension between June and their mother Cecile. Once again the “whys” held no import. Yolanda, the youngest of the trio, seemed to fair a little better. Unlike June and Dorothy, her father was in the home and while she and Cecile had their difficulties there was only so much that could be done to her for “Daddy” was ever present. Cecile and June however, was another story entirely.

Dorothy was the classic “middle child;” quiet, introverted and with the exception of her height and pleasant look, easy to miss. If life was a movie, then she would more likely be cast as an extra as opposed to the star. She loved both her sisters equally but lived life as a spectator observing the different ways similar outbursts between here two sisters were handled. More often than not it was Dorothy who cared for Yolanda as she was more than a decade older. She held Yolanda’s hand as they crossed the streets to go the church.

The sanctuary never held truer meaning than for Dorothy. It was in this safe place that Dorothy began to beseech God. It was in this place where her personal “whys” were pondered but refuge for all was requested. While in her home, Dorothy’s faith was constantly tested but in her church with her God she found a mighty sustenance that made the daily discomforts of life seem almost bearable.

Dorothy seemed to go through life without a great amount of risk or chance taking. To her, God was, is and forever will be a sure thing. There was no sense in seeking something or someone greater because there was no such thing or being. Pressing one’s luck did not make much sense to her. If I am painting the picture that my mother was boring, then I have done her a huge injustice. She was then and remains resolute, resilient and consistent – qualities not found in great abundance today. Mom has a self determination that to me, as her son, is at times maddening and refreshing at once. I have come to believe that those qualities are not only gifts from God. Each time she relies on those gifts she feels that she is honoring a God who loved her enough to give those gifts; she knows God is watching and it is her desire to please her God.

To this day Dorothy does not wear her faith on her sleeve. Her faith is not something that she has to show you or me anyway. Her faith is reserved for her God. It is not a faith that you see with your eye but rather a faith that you feel when you are in her presence. I can remember hearing her faith in an answer to a question that some theologian may have expounded upon for hours. I asked her, “How and/or why do people who seem to never get a break in life keep coming to church and why is their faith so strong?” In what appeared to be no time at all, she exposed my lack of faith and demonstrated the strength of the convictions she had learned as a child. Her reply was unassuming, simple and quick, “God said our reward is in Heaven. So we really shouldn’t be expecting too much here on earth. That is why anything that we do get while here is considered a blessing and we should be thankful for it.”

As a child, Dorothy learned there was a loving, forgiving, providing God. She believed it wholeheartedly and would come to lean on the strength that the phrase held repeatedly throughout her life.

2.
…Not My Father…

My father’s introduction to spirituality was more of an immersion. He was the next to the last child of Porter, Sr. and Dorothy’s (coincidently the same name as my mother) six (6) children. Porter, Sr. was the pastor of a Baptist church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dorothy kept the household going and also printed the bulletins for Sunday service, typed Porter Sr.’s sermons, taught Sunday school and as if all that was not enough, she was the organist for Sunday service. Of the six (6) children, there were five (5) boys, four (4) of whom were ordained Baptist ministers. The only girl married an ordained minister.

My father, Wendell, grew up under the teachings of Porter, Sr., a devout Christian and probably the holiest man I will ever have the pleasure of meeting. He was a preacher whose trajectory suggested that he was on his way to becoming a member of the Academy. He was an educated man who, in 1941, was already in possession of two graduate degrees, was working on his doctorate and had published a book entitled, W.W. Brown, Host. From the time I met him, Grandpa’s life was completely given over to “his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” He had never been to a movie theater, believed in hard work and providing for his family, and above all, serving God always in all ways. He was not overly involved with the day to day workings of maintaining the family, which was my grandmother, Dorothy’s job and she handled it quite well seemly loving every minute of it. Porter, Sr. seemed to always be focused on the next sermon. As soon as Grandpa came home from church he immediately retreated upstairs to his study to begin researching and writing his sermon for the next Sunday. He did that for close to fifty (50) years.

There was never any question of whether or not you were going to church. It was understood and expected. If there was the infrequent occasion where one of the children found themselves too sick to go to church (or school for that matter), then the remedy was always Castor Oil. To listen to my father tell the story, it would appear that Castor Oil was quite a drug. The mere mention of its prescription seemed to miraculously cure all who even thought they were ailing.

Young Wendell grew up witnessing the works of his father firsthand. Dad would often remark that his father was “the best sermon he had ever seen”. To Porter, Sr. the way to “God’s Kingdom” was through service and sacrifice. On those terms there was no wiggle room.

Though my father was ordained a Baptist minister, he was called by the newly formed Northwest Congregational Church in Baltimore, Maryland in 1964 – I was seven months old. That church later became Heritage United Church of Christ. The UCC appealed to my father because it gave the congregation a voice. Directives were not merely handed down from a larger, governing body or dictated by some demagoging pastor. The UCC invited people from all denominations to participate. It allowed a pastor’s creativity to flourish. The pastor could work with the congregation and vice versa. The people had a say in what they would do as a “body of Christ.” My father believed in God and religion, but he had grown weary of denominations and their doctrines. He was felt that the denominations did more to divide churches as opposed to providing cohesion.

My father strongly believed that God was either God of all or he was not God at all. Consequently, there was no place where God’s word was not sovereign even if it was not welcomed, including the political arena. He learned this lesson from watching his older brother, Channing, who was the pastor of Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ when he became the first Black to be nominated for President of the United States of America by a major political party from the floor of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Dad consistently put his faith into action. As an entrepreneur, he opened a religious bookstore and card shop in the neighborhood. When I questioned the logic, he would just reply with, “The community needs this.” I did not understand. I thought the purpose of going into business was to make money and “the community” could certainly use a record shop. He ran for public office and was the first minister to be elected twice to terms in the Maryland General Assembly amid cries from some that the political arena was “no place for a pastor.” He went on to become the first Black to chair Baltimore City’s Legislative Delegation and in the mid 1980’s helped to deliver more money to Baltimore City than had ever been delivered before. He did these things and many more based solely on the beliefs imparted to him by his father and mother. Without question, my father was the greatest sermon that I ever saw.

3.
…But It’s Me, Oh Lord …

As you have probably been able to discern, my story is not the story of someone who has constantly toiled through life. It is not the story of one who did without the “finer things”. It is not the story of one whose parents were scattered about by lofty ideals or haunted by the lack thereof. Not to in any way belittle the situation or the powerful witness that these stories contain but mine is not the story of a “black boy from the tough, inner city, raised by a single-mother” or grandmother because his father was not there or both parents were strung out on drugs, incarcerated or some seemingly insurmountable combination of the two. And though “some of my best friends” have come from those realities, I thank the Lord that I did not. My parents provided everything I needed. I did not have to “do without.” Nevertheless, my life has not been without struggle… beautiful struggle.

It may come as a surprise that though I grew up around so many ministers I really do not know much about the Bible. My lessons usually came from watching great people who I have encountered attempt to live out lessons from the Bible. From those observations I have tried – for the most part – to live my life adhering to what I feel are the two most important lessons in the Bible: 1) place no one and no thing above God; for there is no one greater and, 2) “Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do so unto me.”

While my parents grew up in different types of homes I benefited from the main thing they held in common – their sense of spirituality. My parents seemed to recognize that it takes a certain amount of introspection to unravel the questions related to one’s spirituality. No matter how one grows up there must be something on the inside that helps determine one’s path. Unlike me, my parents both had siblings. In my mother’s instance, she chose a different path then her sisters. In my father’s situation he chose the same (or very similar) paths of his siblings. My mother and father found each other and I was able to benefit from both of their strengths regarding spirituality. My mother’s quiet, reserved dutiful but unshakable faith coupled with my father’s “faith in action” afforded me the best of both worlds with regards to spiritual teachings.

4.
… Standing In The Need Of Prayer.

On January 29, 1993 my father died suddenly. Needless to say my world was rocked; shaken to the core. My mother and I were devastated. Dad was everything to both of us and a whole church and surrounding community grieved with us. Had you asked me prior to his death how I would live without him, I would have told you that I could not. Almost seventeen (17) years later I am still here. I have two daughters to whom I am teaching the spiritual lessons taught to me by my parents and in that way he lives on through me and now to them. Though I did not think that I was ready for him to be gone it seems that Dad had helped fortify me with most of the tools needed to survive. My mother has lent to me some of her remarkable strength to help balance out the equation.

I struggle sometimes with the inevitability of death and, at times, when my faith is low, the finality of death. But then I am reminded that when a caterpillar “dies” a butterfly is born. Through my spirituality I have come to accept that once a person has learned all they need to learn or taught all they need to teach their work on this earth is done and whether we know it or not we will be ready.

As I stated earlier, my journey to this point has not been without struggle. When you are born with the same name as your father society immediately relegates you to forever stand cold in his shadow and I am sure the same holds true for women and their mothers. It matters not if people speak well or ill of him your place remains unchanged. You inherit all of his enemies and half of his friends and the struggle to define yourself – at times for the sake of others and at other times in spite of others – begins.

I never felt that my parents forced religion or spirituality on me. Yes I had to go to church but I never felt that I “had to” attend church. I went along with what people expected the PK (Preacher’s Kid) to do with regard to griping about “having to” go to church but the truth of the matter is that I really enjoyed “living” in church. I learned some of the best lessons that could have ever been taught, met some of the greatest people God’s ever created, laid down some of the heaviest burdens, cried some of the most cleansing tears and experienced some of the most outrageous joy. I remain in the process of becoming. My spiritual growth is a work in progress and I may never get it right, but I thank God for each opportunity that I have to do so, for without God, I am nothing.

Standing in the Need … (A Spiritual Autobiography) © 2009 by Wendell F. Phillips