Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Michelle Obama: A Real American Beauty

When Barack Obama was running for president, I joked with one of my friends who supported Hillary Clinton, trying to convince her to switch her allegiance.

“We need a First Lady who rolls her hair up at night.”

It was a joke, but it was also a serious statement. Michelle Obama is the first African-American First Lady. One of the many things that I love about Michelle Obama is that she is a beautiful black woman and you don’t have to scratch your head and wonder if she’s of African descent.

Most of our African-American models of beautiful women tend to have long hair and light skin. And these women are beautiful. Beyonce, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Alicia Keyes, Tyra Banks. They are without a doubt beautiful women. But where are the brown-skinned women who are held up to the world as examples of beauty? The other day I had a conversation with a friend, trying to identify high profile actresses, models and singers with dark skin who are considered beautiful. The list was small.

Throughout our country’s history, our paradigm for beauty has too often been the sentiment that Dr. Joseph Lowery invoked in his inaugural benediction. “If you’re black, get back. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re yellow, you’re mellow. If you’re white, you’re alright.” In other words, the closer you are to white, the more acceptable you are.

That’s why a young man could say to me as a teenager (and think it was a compliment), “You’re cute to be dark.” So the assumption is that dark is usually not cute or attractive.

Unfortunately, in 2009, we still see those attitudes. A recent Tyra Banks show featured women who bleached their skin because they thought their dark skin was unattractive. Although our new First Lady has been hailed for her fashion sense and style and compared to Jackie O, many of the comments left on Web sites like Women’s Wear Daily whenever there is a story about Michelle Obama are so hateful, calling our First Lady a gorilla and Aunt Esther, that I wonder why they even post them.

When I see Michelle Obama, I see a real American beauty. She is tall, statuesque, intelligent, compassionate, educated, confident and articulate. When I see Michelle Obama, I see me. A black woman.

When Vanessa Williams won Miss America, my brother and I sat in the basement watching the pageant, trying to decipher if she was black or white.

“She looks like she has some black in her. Yeah, she’s definitely got some black in her.”

When Vanessa won, we jumped and screamed. We were so excited about the first African-American Miss America. But although I rejoiced, Vanessa Williams didn’t look much like me. My eyes were not green, my hair not sandy brown, my skin not fair and nearly white.

It was a few more years before I saw a Miss America that looked like me.

But now I have a First Lady who rolls her hair.

“How good looking is my wife,” President Obama said at one of the inauguration balls.
Very good, indeed, Mr. President.

I hope people all over the world will appreciate the beauty of our First Lady. That’s a change I can believe in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Prayers for Our President

Tears streamed down my face the Sunday after Election Day.

More tears fell on Sunday then they did on Election night when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States of America. In the predominantly African-American Baptist church that I attend, there were many tears. They were tears of joy. They were tears of celebration. We shouted and praised God for the election of our new president.

While the African American community was celebrating, I imagine that it was a more solemn scene at some other churches around the country.

I read that one priest said it was a sin to vote for Obama. I was disheartened during the campaign to read accounts of nooses with images of Obama hanging at “Christian” colleges. I was disappointed, but not surprised at the “Obama Waffles” which featured a racist cartoon of Obama that were sold at a Values Voter Summit during the campaign. I wonder what type of values these voters have that they embraced racist imagery and words so freely. I now refuse to listen to Focus on the Family and James Dobson, a program that I used to value for its biblically based advice on family issues, when I heard that on its web site Focus on the Family had asked folks to pray for it to rain on Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (

Ironically, the start of the Republican convention was disrupted by a hurricane.

While they were praying for it to rain on Obama, millions of others across the country and world were and still are praying for his success and protection. Frequently during the long campaign, I would hear black people and especially older ones in particular say, “I hope they don’t do nothing to that man.” They had seen the carnage of hatred from the assassinations of the Kennedys and King to Malcolm X. They knew folks who were good “Christians” during the day who donned white sheets at night and killed black men with impunity.

Whether you voted for him or not, there is one thing that we as Christians can agree on. We need to pray for our president. During this time of crisis on so many fronts, we need to pray for our country and all of our leaders. The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders. And with the crises facing our country, our leaders, and especially our new president, need all the prayer they can get. Barack Obama faces extraordinary challenges. For some he is a messiah. For others he is a pariah. For some he symbolizes hope. Others can only see him through the prism of racial hatred.

His actions and policies should be examined and judged as any other presidents. But I believe his actions will be more scrutinized and criticized as the first African American president. Although he didn’t make this mess, he will be expected to miraculously clean it up. He will make mistakes and we will not agree with all of his decisions. I do believe that most Americans, however, do not see Obama as a messiah, but as a man and they are not looking for him or Washington to solve all their problems. But they are looking for a leader with intelligence, compassion, moral integrity and conviction. They are looking for a change from the arrogance of the last eight years.

I pray that Barack Obama will be that leader that we so desperately need at this time.

There is an email circulating that I received that has a prayer for Obama. It says:

We pray for optimum health, mental clarity, and political prosperity for President Barack Obama.

We pray that what he lacks in political 'experience' you will make up with supernatural wisdom and power. We also pray that when his enemies come upon him, you will set up a standard against them and they will stumble and fall.

We pray that your love will fill his heart to the end that 'Your will' will be done through him.

We pray mightily for his protection. As we plead the Blood of Jesus over him and his family, we ask you to dispatch 'legions of angels' to protect them from all hurt, harm, danger, and from all accidents and incidents as he takes over as the next President of these United States.

You said in your Word that "If your people, who are called by Your name, would humble themselves and pray and seek Your face, and turn from their wicked ways, then You will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." We thank and praise you for answering our sincere prayers. In the mighty, matchless name of Jesus' we pray.


I say “Amen” to that. And I also say let’s commit ourselves to regularly praying for our president.

Maybe we can pray what Obama says that he prays for himself:

“The prayer that I tell myself every night is a fairly simple one: I ask in the name of Jesus Christ that my sins are forgiven, that my family is protected and that I am an instrument of God's will.”

What is your prayer for President Obama? Share it with the At the Well community by leaving a comment.

Lost in Space

Brother to Brother Column

Lost In Space

By John W. Fountain

Man, the brother could play. His fingers floated effortlessly, the sounds of the instrument that he must have been born to play, lifting the saints in song and foot-stomping praise that could make the walls sometimes seem as if they were crumbling down.

A good family man, he was handsome, articulate and devout. He and I were brothers in Christ—brothers at a branch of Zion in a city where we once attended the same church with our families, brothers in the struggle.

So I sat stunned for a while, years later, while visiting another brother in Christ as he conveyed to me the sad news. The news that our brother had disappeared—from the church, from his musical perch, from his deaconship, but most importantly from his home, his family.

Only more disturbing was the news that he had gotten ensnared by an old drug habit and was reportedly living somewhere on the street, exact whereabouts unknown. Most disturbing was that I also knew that none of his “brothers” who worshipped with him, broke bread, and fellowshipped with him had gone looking for him, nor would they.

Endangered Species

Such is the fate of lost souls. Of men who stumble and stray from that narrow path and who find ourselves lost in space.
But it has unfortunately become the lot of the lost to find their way back to the peace of emerald pastures where His still waters still flow. Except, so many cannot—will not—and seem destined to be forever lost prodigals, unless there is some beacon to guide—lead—them, us, safely back home.

I see them. On street corners, staggering in the old Chicago West Side neighborhood where I grew up, inebriated, dazed by substance and by circumstance, by the ill-decisions that can land a brother jobless, education-less and hopeless. That can leave a brother stifled sometimes by our own past irresponsibility, addictions and demons that gnaw at our psyches and souls.

I have seen them—us—in a Washington, D.C. homeless shelter where I and another brother once held bible study, in other shelters I have visited across this country and even here in Chicago, in the stares of black men wearing orange suits on a prison work line in a small prairie town. I have seen them, staring out from prison bars, separated by time and space—a nation of men who too often by our own hands have rendered ourselves an endangered species.

For despite racial discrimination and the difficulties of climbing from the pit of paltry socioeconomic circumstance, I, for one, know that we as black men have no excuses.

Adams Where art Thou?

What I also believe is inexcusable is the ease with which we in the church discard men who were one day our “brothers” and whom we soon forget the next day because of their own inner turmoil and demons with which they wrestle, and which sometimes win, cause them—us—to be lost again, swirling in pitch black spaces, in far-from-home places.

Inexcusable is the lack of empathy or grace. Inexcusable are the tongues too quick to assess a wayward brother’s former healthy spiritual state or conscientious commitment and to relegate him to all along having been a pretender of the faith to have now fallen back to his previous sinful state. Inexcusable is the sense that those men who remain in the fold are somehow better, are somehow not without their own sins and struggles—men who are merely constant redeemers of the coupon called grace. He is a God who, according to Genesis 3:8-9, went calling out to Adam after he had sinned, seeking Him to move from the place of shame and sin to repentance and restoration.

Which of us will do His beckoning now? Adams, where art thou?

How many times, I have thought about my brother, or been moved to tears by the loss of his family, by memories of his faithfulness and the light of sobriety and hope and wellness I remember seeing in his eyes. I have wondered whether he might, like the biblical Prodigal Son, come to himself.

If I close my eyes, I can still see him playing, still hear the music emanating from his God-inspired soul. And I pray for his return, not to that church in that city now far away where we once worshipped together, but to the fellowship of the body of Christ, to his wife and to his beautiful family.

And to that end, I also pray that the Lord will send a few faithful men to help redeem those brothers lost in space.
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