Embracing Pride (Part 1)

Talk about unlearning – this is one for me.  The word pride has always given me several different thoughts and reactions – and yet I could never put them together to come to a conclusion of what they meant and how I should or should not apply them in my life.  Some studying has helped me to adjust some of my thinking.  Let me explain.

American English is a language that has words which carry many multiple meanings – especially when you mix it with the slangs that become part of the language and culture of communication.   English is not the oldest language in existence.  And many of it’s words derive from root words of other languages such as French, and Greek etc.  Therefore, the process can be complex for non natives when it comes to mastering the words and their meanings.  For instance, when we speak of love it has basically one definition.  And we roll it off our tongues quickly; i.e. “I love you baby” or “I love that song” – {or that car or my pet etc.}  I overheard a conversation once when a man told a woman he loved her, and she responded, “Like you love the old women at your church?”  And yet in the Hebrew language there are several words to describe the different forms of affection and devotion to describe a love for a parent, versus a love for a pet, versus a love for a significant other.  In English, we are left with one word and with that word the speaker and the listener are left with the task of deciphering which clear definition is really intended.  Or as Run DMC said back in the day, “Not bad meaning bad – but bad meaning good!”

This is the problem with the word pride.  I was taught to shun the word and embrace a singular meaning.  This comes mostly from my teachings reflective of the bible from scriptures such as Proverbs which talks about pride coming before a fall – how God hates pride and so forth.  We are taught to give all the praise and glory to God even when we as people accomplish something good.  I embraced those virtues so even when I’ve accomplished some of my own personal goals or saw some success I’ve earned through discipline and hard work, I have always been careful to reference God and take no personal reward for the accomplishment.

An example that comes to mind was when some years ago I formed, managed and played on a men’s basketball team and we won the league championship at St. Louis University.  As the buzzer sounded giving us an exciting one point victory, while all of my teammates jumped for joy and congratulated one another, I knelled down and thanked God for allowing us to win.  I was more humbled by the victory than anything else because I had built the team from scratch and I knew what we had been though as a team to get there.  It was very personal to me for reasons I won’t elaborate on now.  The main thing is that I didn’t want to give the appearance to God that I was celebrating or enjoying this too much.  The whole experience was actually very anti-climatic. 

Because I did not have a complete assessment of the whole picture – I did not enjoy this victory as I should have.  With pride I had one word to reference – and one reference to define it.  There are other similar words we have within our language such as arrogance, but somehow or another they always seem to find connection back to the word pride. 

There is a 7 book series by various authors which deals with each of the 7 deadly sins.  According to Professor Michael Eric Dyson who penned the book dealing with the sin of Pride in his book by the same name, the words defining this vice were first separated into their respective categories in order to reflect a more definitive understanding of the differing meanings.  But then they were combined later on.  Writes Dyson,

…Evagrius of Pontus was one of the first Christian thinkers to refer to cardinal sins-there were eight of them in his reckoning -and vainglory and pride snagged the sixth and seventh spots on his list.  It wasn’t until late in the sixth century that Pope Gregory I boasted pride to, well, its pride of place among the sins.  Actually it was superbia, the Latin equivalent of the Greek hubris, that Gregory’s list until the concepts were subsequently combined in pride, which eventually earned the premium nod on most conventional list.  Gregory held that “pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as scripture bear witness: ‘Pride is the beginning of all sin.’

With this revelation and in reading the book completely – I have come to understand that pride in its separate manifestations can mean different things – and are not at all synonymous.  As stated above there is vainglory – which defined in my perception is an arrogant way of perceiving ones self for example.

As creative beings, we have the power to re-define words and their meanings to fit into our spectrum.  We do this all the time but more so on a social communicative level – like in the 70s we used to say, “That was cold-blooded.”  Cold-blooded had no reference to the reptiles in my science books – but to describe for example: an attractive woman, the style and shine of a vehicle, the fashion in which someone did someone wrong, or an outfit.  We used these interchangeably and most times if you were in on the lingo, you knew which meaning held serve.

This is the same way for pride.  As Al Pacino said in “The Devil’s Advocate,” Vanity, (or Vainglory) my favorite sin!”  This speaks of the temptation man falls into when his ambition supersedes his core values which will lead to a fall.  Pride can be used as a form of stubbornness when a person will not receive instruction or correction – in claiming that he/she must always be right.  These are the negative sides of pride.  For me the negative form of pride in short is when one exaults himself above another in thought, word, or deed.  This is not an issue of status, but of the heart.  If there is some circumstance, position, amount of money, status, knowledge, etc. that allow one to place himself above another in his heart – that is vainglory or vanity or the bad side of pride.

But there are also virtuous definitions as well.  One can have pride in being good and excellent at what he/she does.  Pride in this sense is the same as having a standard that says value will not be compromised.  I have participated in sporting events when my wanting to be my best cause me to push myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish in order to claim sporting victories against better skilled athletes.  When I check the spelling and grammar in my writing – or double check the processes of an assignment at the office – my standard of excellence is a source of pride. 

Another virtue of the proper pride is that it sets limitations when necessary.  We will not be abused mentally or physically by others when we have proper pride.   Proper pride (what I will call dignity)

In the biblical sense there is a scripture in Romans where it says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think.”  By the text I surmise there is a level of high thinking that we should embrace. 

Though I hate arrogance, (yet another word similar to vainglory) even when I see it in myself, there is nothing wrong and everything right with having a sense of personal excellence.  The will manifest in love of and confidence in self – though not in the degradation of others to justify the love and confidence.  Reality says there is no competition among unique beings.  My struggle – my task is to become as great as I can possibly be by maximizing my own talents and gifts – and then displaying them into the world where rewards will come.  Finally whether one has pride or is vain-glorious is an inward issue.  Sometimes others can see whether we are full of ourselves, but with a bit of quiet reflection we can see for ourselves and must judge for ourselves where we really are.  I want to embrace the good pride of excellence within the humility of love and servant-hood.  I cannot accept credit for gifts that The Creator has given me – but I can enjoy using these gifts in service to others while reaping some personal rewards with an inward satisfaction when my light shines.  When rewards come, I should celebrate and enjoy them, knowing that they were earned.

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Black on the 4th of July

 

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As this nation celebrates its 238th birthday I am annually conflicted with the holiday.  For me, its a day off work and in this case paid I may add so its all good.  As a youth it meant fireworks, hotdogs and picnics.  I don’t recall a lot of talk about independence from England with the exception of 1976.  That was the 200th year or Bicentennial.  Otherwise, back then as it is today its about the festivities and in some years as this one a three day weekend.

As an American of African descent I am not sure how to comprehend this day.  I love my country for sure.  I love it enough to embrace its virtues and criticize its faults.  I am a patriot but not a nationalist.  Also I happened to have recently read Dick Gregory’s book “Callous On My Soul.”  Talk about great Americans… Gregory is one of the greatest Americans we have ever produced.  Anyway, in this book I have learned so much more about both the virtues and vices of this country we call America.  And considering the racism, classicism, poverty, and arrogance we so readily embrace, as a young nation we still have far to go to be as great as we think we are.  In many ways we live in separate Americas.  One for white and one for black, one for rich and one for poor.  One for those who are in and another for those who are out.  And yet when we celebrate these type of holidays we are expected to embrace the meanings in the same fashion.

I think of September 11th and how that forever changed many in America in terms of how they viewed their own patriotism and vulnerability.  But what about the many people of African descent, Native American as well as poor whites have viewed their patriotism and vulnerability.  For this I reference Gloria Ladson-Billings who argues:

Over and over people in this country describe the world as pre-September 11 and post-September 11.  Yes, this is a significant date, for now, but it takes history to determine whether or not it will become a teleological fault line.  For me time and chronology can be divided in an infinite number of combinations: Pre-April 4, 1968 (assassination of MLK) and post-April 4, 1968, pre summer of 1963 and post-summer of 1963 (bombing of the little girls in the Birmingham church), pre-summer of 1955 and post-summer of 1955 (murder of Emmett Till).  Each of these events made me feel less safe, less secure, less able to lay claim to any notion of myself as American. 

This illustrates a voice of Americans rarely heard and mostly ignored.  This makes sense in that in 1776 independence was not meant for people who were not Europeans.  So in essence the freedom they sought was also freedom to hold and sell slaves, freedom to rape and oppress others etc.  And even if one does not believe in reparations certainly a sincere apology may be at the very least useful.  This probably won’t happen in my lifetime – and thus the conundrum.

As Michael Eric Dyson explains in his book, Pride, “During July 4 celebrations, some blacks spurn the holiday altogether, because the freedom celebrated is segregated by skin color and even class at times.  They resonate with Langston Hughes’ plaintive poem. “Let America Be America Again,” when he says, “America never was America to me/…(There’s never been equality for me, /Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.’)  Other blacks are torn.  One the one hand, they completely resonate with their bitterly disappointed brothers and sisters.  One the other hand, they acknowledge that black blood, sweat, and tears have built this country.  Hence they echo Martin Luther King Jr. when he declared, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”  King was responding, perhaps to mean-spirited critics who would dare deny blacks who fought for the nation’s freedom their right to criticize American in love as a gesture of profound patriotism.  Such critics use a pat line that is truly trite: “If you don’t like America, go back to where you came from.”  But as Deborah Mathis says of blacks, “Most of us – 91 percent – were born and have lived only here.” 

The Seven Deadly Sins

One thing is for sure… without the diversity that is evident in this nation – America would not be what it is today.  By this I mean in terms of industry, commerce, and culture.  And good bad or indifferent, people of color ARE and will always be a large part of America.  I close with the words of Stevie Wonder who in his song Black Man (written for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration) spoke truth to power when he said:

Now I know the birthday of a nation
Is a time when a country celebrates
But as your hand touches your heart
Remember we all played a part in America
To help that banner wave

Complete Lyrics of Black Man

BBG C-Notes Weekend Edition May 16-18

 

The Love Experience

Customer (Main Version)

 

 

 

 

As much as I am an “Old Head” when it comes to music.  I definitely appreciate the artist today who are original and soulful.  Jill Scott comes to mind among others.  Performers are cool and they serve their purposes for entertainment – but there is something about the “artist” of the world who inspire and make me feel things on the inside that words just can’t describe.  Artist move you, make you think, feel, reflect, they touch you whether it’s through acting on a screen or theatre production, through painting on a canvas, through instrument or dance.  With all of the technological advances and quick fix ways to imitate, I am thankful that there remains within our midst the artist who shape hearts and minds in ways that transform spirit through creative expressions.  One such artist is Raheem DeVaughn who released his second CD  called “Love Behind The Melody”.  DeVaughn is poetic, soulful, sensual, sexual, bold, imaginative, and tasteful in his mix of old school melodies and new school innovation.  I can clearly sense his love for the craft of music and the message he is looking to offer the world.   He is currently on tour and I was blessed to see him recently as an opener for Jill Scott.  He is headlining his own show as well so check him out in a city near you.  I recommend this artist to anyone out there who loves great music.  He is on my short list of potential greats for the 21st Century!  Thanks Raheem!  Keep on doing what your doing bro!

Supreme Court in California Overturns Gay Marriage Ban

File photo shows a gay couple holding hands (Reuters)

This is a fight that is not going to go away anytime soon.  One court rules over another in this politically charged issue.  Certainly the issue will be back on the forefront in the upcoming election as the canidates will be questioned about the federal or supreme court judges that either Senators McCain or (more than likely) Obama will choose.  One thing I know for sure, the nation was blindsided the last couple presidential elections because the gay issue took precedence over other issues that pertain to life outside one’s bedroom.  As a nation we cannot affored to allow poverty, high energy and food prices, an economy in recession, unemployment, housing crisis etc. to be placed on the backburner.  Let’s keep our eyes on the bigger prizes this time ya’ll!     

Happy Birthday!

A very special happy birthday to my main man… Alex McCaleb holding it down in the ATL!  He turns 15 on Saturday.  From what he tells me he is 5’9 now which would make him taller than me!  Wow!  I miss you and your brother so much!  I hope you have a great birthday!  I love you man!

 

Ahhhh, it’s May and time for graduations all over the nation.  Congratulations to my little cousin Bre’ Fields who will graduating from Collinsville High School in Collinsville, Illinois Saturday.  Sorry girl I’m gonna be working when you “walk” but I will be thinkin bout ya!

Wednesday night I got to spend some time with Rev. Michael Eric Dyson as he spoke at the St. Louis Public Library to lecutre and promote his new book, ,”April 4, 1968″ Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death and How It Changed America.  It was a great crowd and though I have met Dr. Dyson several times hearing him speak in St. Louis and Detroit, this was probably the most memorable as he preached and broke down the last few weeks and days of the MLK’s life, his obsession with death, the political climate, and how it relates to today’s voices such as Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  As always Dyson was insightful, humorous, enlightening and above all else truthful.  From what I can see this book is a great read and I plan to dive into it soon.  I enjoyed it immensely in the front row with my boy Rich from http://www.the-rich-house.blogspot.com/

But Mike, I am still looking to get that interview from you for MY book!  I got all of YOURS and six of them are signed!  Holla at your boy!

~Have a great weekend!