Rev. Ike’s Last Amen

The preacher known as Rev. Ike died on Tuesday. He was part of the backdrop of my childhood, one of the more prominent black preachers whose voice rang out from our radio during weekly or nightly broadcasts.I don’t remember ever seeing him on TV. My mother listened to Rev. Ike, but not because she subscribed to his philosophy of the ‘God in you’ or the gospel of prosperity. Being an old-school Christian and conservative to the core, she listened only to gather fodder to scoff at and criticize him. It didn’t matter to me back then, and aside from the fact that his surviving children and wife deserve comfort and pity at this time, his passing doesn’t really move me today. I’m not conservative enough to be offended by what he preached and I’m not part f the ‘name it, claim it’ crowd either.

What piqued my interest, though, was his full name: Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, which is a Dutch surname if I’ve ever heard one. Here is a photo of him that ran in The New York Times. So I did some Googling about this fallen American icon. There is also an NPR obit on the late preacher. Rev. Ike

Sure enough, it turns out that his father was Dutch Indonesian and his mother was an African-American. His parentage, or late parentage is the main reason I’m talking about this guy. His parents divorced when he was 5 years old. Normally, I’d say it is a pity that he came from a broken home, but clearly he found a way to bounce back nicely, wouldn’t you say?

A Cutie Pie Splish Splash

I bought baby’s first swimsuit last month for our road trip to Vermont, hoping that we would have weather that was clear and hot enough for her to use it at a nice lake or something. It is blue, with a cutaway back (don’t ask me why an infant’s swimsuit has a cutaway back), and little frills on the back. Super cute.

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Alas, we never got to put the swimsuit to use, because the weather was never clear or warm enough. Instead, we had damp and mild conditions during the nearly week long trip. I don’t understand why we continue to get so much rainy, dreary weather. I’m not discouraged, though. Summer is not over. If the weather changes and gives us a couple of consecutive sunny, clear and hot weekends, and if Hubby and I can act fast enough, maybe we can organize a day trip to Cape May or another family-friendly beach in the area.

Meanwhile, I wandered onto a celebrity news slideshow, which purported to have summer vay-cay pictures, hoping to spot some of my favorite “Lattecafe” moms. Alas, there was only one — of Halle Berry with her darling daughter Nahla. Anyway, here they are. Nahla’s dad is not in this frame, but here you can find more photos of the beautiful family’s Miami getaway. So my question is: What is that conspicuous piece of jewelry on Halle’s left ring finger? Have I been under a rock lately or did Halle and Gabriel get married in secret?

The Church on the Hill

In late June I recreated a familiar ritual from my childhood, and attended a Friday evening service at the Church of Jesus Christ, Apostolic, Inc. I loved growing up in that congregation, now popularly known as CJC; the preaching was always thunderous, and on occasion, it was inspiring. The congregation is largely Jamaican, which is what you would expect, since the founding pastor is also from that island nation. (He was born in Cuba, and spent his early childhood there before his parents moved to Jamaica.) During the jubilant worship segments, my friends and I would bop and bounce to phenomenal music that had evolved over the years from upbeat ska and traditional hymns to American gospel. The more daring and sly musicians would slip in riffs of R&B, funk and hip hop during what was called testimony service, the 30-minute portion during which congregants stood up to share personal stories of triumph, pain or even lead the congregation in a short song.

Before heading out the evening of my visit, I did a quick Web search for a service schedule. Didn’t find one of those, but I did come across one of the younger members’ YouTube page. Wanna see a video? I’m not in this clip, of course, but I did spot my godfather, two cousins and of course, several childhood friends.

On the surface, everything about CJC remained as I remembered it: the worship was lively, the women exemplified modesty and natural beauty in their fanciful straw hats and long skirts, and the men where well-groomed, kind and handsome in their sharp suits. What about the ‘too cute to do much more than clap’ seasonal visitors seated in the gallery? Yes, they were there, too. But on the whole, the church seemed to have lost something. For one, attendance was sparse. Seating was remarkably easy to come by minutes before the start of service. This was shocking for a Friday night, when the main sanctuary would be tightly packed 30 minutes into the service, as hundreds of congregants had come from several states and foreign countries to worship during the annual gathering. The youth ministry would run Friday evening services, and their brash confidence, combined with standing-room only attendance, would fill the house with raucous energy. Also, the service was pretty much the same as it had always been: testimonies, exhortations from church delegates, offering, sermon, altar call and wrap up.

Located on a hilly street on the north side of Paterson, this church used to be one of several hubs of activity for Jamaican immigrants in North Jersey. In my estimation (and I’m no church historian, so take this with a grain of salt), the church saw its heyday during a 25-year stretch from the 1970s to the late 1990s, when it launched and allied with churches from Massachusetts to Florida on the East Coast, plus international congregations in Canada, England, Africa and India. And of course, Jamaica. At one point, when CJC was on evening radio broadcasts, the bishop went on regular mission trips to India and Africa, and congregants had bursts of creativity and entrepreneurship publishing books, cutting records and opening businesses, the church was a force, a tropical storm that had originated in rural parishes in Jamaica, and was on the verge of being upgraded. But Hurricane CJC never materialized. When CJC’s message, mission and values should have breached a tipping point and appealed to people from all walks of life, its progress really slowed down. Ultimately, its stubborn Jamaican roots held it back and it could go no further.  With few constructive places to put all that energy, no consensus to guide its progress, the church turned on itself. Foreign churches and daughter congregations broke their alliances with CJC.

This was sobering to watch, the underused potential of CJC. There were times when remnants of its ministry have given me the push I need to do better in some area of my life. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that I, and a lot of my church contemporaries have ultimately found what they believe to be better spiritual care elsewhere.

Still, I think that despite the quietness of the church, it has a lot going for it. For one, I’ve always found that it had a strong backbone and brain with its generally decent men. The young people are emotionally devoted to the head man who is the founder and prelate, and for good reason. He was always generous with his time and affection toward them and they could always count on a treat, in one way or another, for birthdays and graduations, etc. Sure, he could thunder and roar from the pulpit about any doctrinal issue, but I remember a man who was much gentler and understanding if you took the time to get to his house or the parsonage and talk your issues over with him. If he gave you a reasonable reprieve on some MINOR lifestyle issue in hot debate at the church, he might send you off with a tiny grunt to let you know you shouldn’t broadcast the conversation to everyone else afterward. He’s not in the best of health these days, and spends a lot of his time in warmer Southern climates. But there he was, seated near the rostrum and presiding over the service. Even young people who have grow up, moved away and start families come back to visit him—the men to shake his hand, and the women to present their babies.

If the men are the backbone of CJC, then the women are its heart and soul, and I don’t mean that in a soft sentimental way. Do you know much level-headed, clear-eyed work is involved in running a church like this? The women have been indispensable lieutenants in whatever the church has needed, from teaching Sunday School to preaching at ordination services. I’ve benefited from warm, smart, generous women who took me and my other girl friends under their wings in our critical adolescent years. I’m so grateful to them for taking their free time on Saturdays to mentor us about boys, relationships with our parents, dealing with ‘worldly’ expectations and any other of our teenage issues, that I keep in touch with them to this day. They’ve come to my wedding and received Baby’s birth announcements. Women hold up half this church, if I could borrow a phrase from the Native Americans. As long as the leaders listen to them, it will never falter.

Let’s not forget that music. No church, whether black, white or multicultural will go anywhere without a reason to get the congregation inspired and involved in the service. This church’s medium is brilliant, brilliant music.

By the time the offering was collected, Baby was exhausted and slumped on Hubby’s shoulder. He was giving me clear signals to pack up and head home. Hubby’s not used to Apostolic/Pentecostal marathons (uh, services). When I want to give him a hard time, I take playful jabs at his upbringing. But I knew that church time would have been the most inappropriate moment to call his childhood church candy-@ssed by comparison!

A ‘Something New’ Preview: Bollywood Hero

It looks like Maya Rudolph, child of singer Minni Riperton (“Loving You”) is going to be featured in a cable television miniseries called “Bollywood Hero.”  While this story is not about an interracial relationship involving a black woman, it does feature a black/biracial actress. I don’t have cable — are you aghast?— so I won’t be able to see this movie when it premieres on August 6 on the IFC, but judging by the premise and the one trailer I was able to catch on YouTube, it seems funny. I love comedies and satires, and I think Chris Kattan is really entertaining. This is the YouTube trailer. I didn’t see Maya that much in this reel, but she is listed among the major cast members in the iMDB listing. If anyone does get around to watching this movie, definitely let me know what you think about it!

Paradise Lost?

I love visiting my cousin Melinda, who is my aunt Mary’s daughter. Whenever I’m in her large, beautifully decorated home, in her upscale neighborhood, I come into contact with one or several of her many amazing and accomplished friends. It’s like being in the company of America’s black glitterati, with their advanced degrees, impressive jobs at Fortune 500 firms and connections to people who might rule the world one day. I’m sure they work so hard and face down so much in the way of office political b.s. that don’t feel so high and mighty, similar to how everyday millionaires accumulate wealth through diligent financial planning and by avoiding extravagant spending. Never mind the humility—another reason I like Melinda’s friends: they don’t name drop—her friends are the kind of people who often make me feel good about having to go into work everyday and, seemingly, work really hard and face down a lot of crap just to get noticed. If I can manage to keep abreast with them in conversation and have homes almost as nice as theirs, without trying to imitate the Joneses, I will feel like I’ve gotten somewhere.
So I took special interest in one of her friends, Angela, who is a Delta Sigma Theta soror. In everyday parlance, she’s ‘a Delta’. Angela started explaining that one of the higher-ranking black executives at her company got wind of the fact that she is a Delta, and because he is a member of the Delta’s unofficial brothering fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, he took notice of her. He shows a lot of professional interest in her, throwing projects her way, whether or not they fall into her domain. At one point, she sighed, seeming weary of the new workload. Secretly, I was jealous, because at least she had a well-connected comrade looking out for her best professional interests. I have one black woman who is a senior-level editor in my company, who I turn to for advice from time to time. But I do not think that is enough.

NetworkingWhen I was a college freshman or sophomore, I almost pledged Delta Sigma Theta, thinking it would be a great way to get more out of college life. I went to a couple of pre-rush meetings, met the young women who were supposed to be my ‘line sisters’, learned the Greek alphabet, memorized the list of founding sorors and even got a pledge name. But the $600-plus membership fee in the first year, stopped my progress cold. There was no way I could have coughed up that much money by the end of my pledge process,or justified doing so to my very pragmatic mother, a first-generation immigrant. Further, a family friend and mentor discouraged me from pledging. She worked in my college’s financial aid office (I was always grateful that I never needed to spend a lot of time in that place, with its bad yellowish lighting and utilitarian furniture), where I would visit her and talk about whatever was going on with me in my classes and among my peers. So I never pledged any black sororities. I cannot say that I bitterly regret skipping the pledging process, but there are times when I wonder whether I made a mistake. Like whenever I run into my old high school vice principal for instance. I’ve come across Ms. Lennox in a range situations, from Alvin Ailey performances to supermarket aisles, and for a while, she always seemed to be more advanced in her career than the last time I saw her. When we part, I begin to wonder whether I should have gone through with Delta sisterhood, because it might have brought me into closer contact with more high-profile professionals.

Maybe one day I’ll accumulate enough professional contacts to compensate for never having an undergraduate sorority membership. Or maybe it won’t matter at all, and I’ll figure out other ways to be perfectly satisfied with my life.

The ‘Older Guy’ Crush

Have you ever had a secret crush on an older man, including someone outside your race? Perhaps it was a teacher, neighbor or co-worker who caught your fancy and sent your young heart aflutter? I have. Several of my friends have had them, too, including Jocelyn, a friend from work. Jocelyn clued me in on her infatuation the other day. We were talking in one of the common areas of the office, when she came down with a mild case of the giggles. Eyes a’ twinkling, she said: “There he is. My office crush.”  I looked around, but failing to see a brother in his thirties, I said: “Nobody’s there. Who are you talking about?” She pointed him out again and when I took a second look, I realized that she was talking about an older white guy! He looked like an everyday Bruce Willis, with a medium athletic build and a neatly trimmed goatee. He was fashionably bald.  I had never spoken to him at length about anything, but he always seemed nice enough in passing. On that score, I understood why Jocelyn was, and probably still is, mildly twitterpated by this guy.

Since no one can explain the laws of attraction (if we could, then many literary masterpieces would never have come about), I won’t try to sum up why Jocelyn liked this guy. She added that she would never act on it. Maybe her feelings are just a benign pastime, which switch on when she comes into the office and probably switch off whenever she logs out at the end of the workday. Her crush is neatly contained within the context of our office. Maybe it is a welcome relief from everything that punctuates our existence there—the demoralizing memos, dirty air vents, stale carpeting and bathrooms in dire need of renovation.

I was most surprised by my own reaction to this little piece of gossip. I married a white man. This should have endowed me with better countercultural sensibilities. Instead, there reared a traditional, perhaps conformist instinct that made me expect to see a black guy strutting across the room. And for the briefest of moments after I realized whom she was talking about, I thought: ‘Great. I’m not the only one.’ For shame! All kinds of crazy questions raced through my mind: Why can’t he be 20 years younger? That way he could ask her out, they could get married and they could buy a house and move to my state. I would have a friend—outside my family—involved in an interracial relationship and we could talk all about it. Drat!

As for my older, cross-cultural crush, it was on a reporter at a daily newspaper, where I worked early in my career.  Who knows what happened to him? He probably published a book and moved to some exotic place overseas, all without ever realizing that for a good six months, while we overlapped at that daily, my ratty old newspaper office was actually one of the most cheerful places to be.