All posts by DLynn

Dana Stringer is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, writing instructor, and poet based in Atlanta, Georgia.
cross & flag

America: A Nation Under Sin or Love?

cross and flag*After a full week of wading through a plethora of online tirades by opponents of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on marriage equality, I am not only reminded of how challenging it is to change the laws of the land, I am  also reminded of how difficult it is to change the hearts and minds of people.

As some cite the Constitution, and others cite the Bible, the plot to America’s story seems only to be thickening, leaving little doubt that marriage equality and LGBT rights will go down as one of the most controversial and polarizing social issues in this country’s history.

Here is what we do know and must accept:  every citizen of the United States of America is now guaranteed equal protection under the law, as stated in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with liberty to exercise his or her rights regardless of moral or religious beliefs, or the lack thereof.  However, it’s important to clarify that not all opponents of same-sex marriage are religious, and not all supporters of same-sex marriage are irreligious—albeit some people would argue that religious supporters have compromised their values, beliefs, and convictions and succumb to societal pressures of tolerance and political correctness.   Nevertheless, what became profoundly evident ­— over the course of this past week — was that biblical illiteracy is rampant; the inability of certain minority groups to empathize and identify with other minority groups is apparent; and the likelihood of The Great Commission being fulfilled anytime soon by those who reject instead of reconcile is quite doubtful.

What we also know is that a religious marriage can still be considered as a marriage based on a religious covenant, and that a nonreligious marriage can be considered as a marriage based on a civil contract.  Now as simple as that may seem for many of us, there is a growing fear, or perhaps paranoia, rising from within the religious community that same-sex couples will now flock to their churches in droves, demanding that ministers with an obvious aversion to the couple’s union immediately wed them.  And that the LGBT community will now be eager to flood into businesses owned and operated by those who oppose their lifestyle, in an attempt to pay their hard-earned money to secure wedding services.

Now as beneficial as it would be for people to tattoo their sexual orientation on their foreheads, there is no sign that the law will require this—at least not right now.  Therefore, gay customers might be able to occasionally go undetected inside of a tuxedo shop or bridal boutique owned by someone who opposes their union.  Whereas the gay fireman who put out the house fire, or the gay paramedic who saved the infant’s life, or the gay doctor who diagnosed the illness, or the gay police officer who arrived on the scene of the fatal car crash will never have the option or right to withhold services from any citizen without it being considered discrimination.

Fortunately, amid all of the verbal attacks and insults that I combed through online, I was able to decipher that the majority of the religious community, predominantly Christian, believes that judgment and the downfall of America is now imminent, and the LGBT community, along with its allies, believes that America is finally honoring the words of the Declaration of Independence, which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  And so, this is where the plot gets more interesting, especially for those who assert that America was founded upon Judeo-Christian values; yet I could track down countless Native Americans and African Americans (slave descendants) who know the unabridged history of this country, and would beg to differ.  I’ll even venture to say that this country could finally be reaping the harvest of a history steeped in social injustice and racial inequality.   Perhaps.

I discovered that most of the online ranting centered on the commonly cited Bible scriptures forbidding sexual acts between the same sex, and the idea of love being the ultimate virtue to practice and uphold by all.  And that’s exactly where the holes in the plot begin to surface.  People are expected to observe some scriptures while other scriptures no longer require observance.  Then the whole idea of nonreligious people (or non-Christians) being held accountable for obeying biblical laws just makes all of the twists and turns remarkably confounding.

So, for the sake of argument, I’ll momentarily concede and subscribe to the idea that millions of people have simply decided that gay sex and intimacy is better than heterosexual sex and intimacy.  Hence, the gay community is voluntarily opting to go against all moral values, social norms, and religious beliefs that often estrange them from family, friends, and loved ones, as well as places their careers and housing in jeopardy.   I mean, after all, carnal lust and sexual gratification are apparently a higher priority than these other important aspects of life.  And thus, same sex relationships would indeed be considered sinful according to the Bible.  But wait.  Interestingly, in the letters to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes,  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).   Then he writes, “…But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…”(Romans 5:20, NIV).   He also writes to the churches in southern Galatia,  “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14, NIV).   Finally, the Apostle Peter writes to the church in Asia Minor, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV).

Undoubtedly, there are more scriptures that confirm God’s unconditional and never-ending love for all of mankind, regardless of behavior or personal choices.  But wait.  The Bible has a lot to say about marriage, divorce, and adultery.  For instance, Jesus states, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9, NIV).  Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  So, it’s safe to say that the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is not a metaphor for something else.  But what’s interesting is that the Book of Leviticus, which includes the heavily referenced scripture in opposition to same sex intercourse, is preceded by a widely ignored scripture that states, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10, NIV).

Of course, my first question is whether or not this is still applicable?  If not, why?  And if so, there’s a lot of people that we need to immediately put on high alert.  God forbid if it’s death by either stoning or hanging, which is still practiced in some parts of the world.

The fact is, from pulpit-to-pew, churches are filled with congregants on their second and third marriages that we would not refer to as adulterers, although the Bible clearly states otherwise.  So, in essence, divorcees who have remarried are committing the sin of adultery, but they have been permitted to marry multiple times and well beyond their reproductive years.

Part of me believes this is why the Apostle Paul expressed his opinion in favor of singleness.  He writes, “For I would that all men were even as I myself…I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry:  for it is better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:7-9, NIV).

What’s even more interesting is that Peter is the only disciple of the twelve who is even mentioned as having a wife in the Bible.   So, on one hand, people are encouraged to marry with the understanding of it being the will of God.  But on the other hand, marriage is discouraged and considered a distraction for those who want to devote themselves solely to the Lord.

I admit that I rarely come across individuals who are content with remaining single.   Although it is a reality for many, it also paves the way for something else the Apostle Paul asserts as forbidden conduct:  premarital sex.  But there was no way that he could have predicted 2,000 years into the future that 72% of African American children would be born out of wedlock.  Thus, with 78% of African Americans identifying as Protestant, obviously some of us didn’t get Paul’s memo forbidding premarital sex.

The reality is that all throughout the Bible there’s evidence of various practices being permitted and forbidden in ancient Jewish culture that are no longer applicable today.  So, the question still remains—what exactly are those particular practices?

There is no doubt that we are in a cultural war in this country, primarily because we insist on imposing the private onto the public and the public onto private. It’s far too elementary to accuse opponents of marriage equality of being homophobic and bigoted.  Just like it’s too easy to demonize the LGBT community as being perverts and pedophiles.  It’s just a way to keep us attacking one another.  We can always find people who think the exact same way that we do, and who validate and reinforce our beliefs, fears, and doubts.  And with the poor track record of reconciliation between the LGBT community and the religious community, it’s obvious that America’s story needs some revision.

Most of us have simply resigned to agree to disagree. Whether some people are staying true to their religious beliefs and personal convictions, and other people are unabashedly living out their truth and seeking equality, the one thing that we must always remember is that we are all under the grace and mercy of a loving Creator.  In our desire to be right and righteous, there are always a handful of scriptures and people who remind us of where we are falling short.   But if we truly believe that God created all things then we must diligently work at seeing God in every human being, as opposed to looking for “sin.” If we simply make that our first step, then I believe we can genuinely begin to love others like we love ourselves.

dana l stringer (b&w)Dana L. Stringer is author of In Between Faith.  She is a writer, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and writing instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer. You may email her at: [email protected]

kasim reed

A Fiery Battle Over Religious Beliefs Wages In Atlanta

kasim reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

*A firestorm is blazing in Atlanta after Mayor Kasim Reed’s controversial firing of Kelvin Cochran, the city’s fire chief, on Jan. 6 for publishing and distributing his self-help book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?   Apparently, Cochran distributed the book, which includes a passage referring to homosexuality as “vile, vulgar, and inappropriate,” to coworkers throughout a widely diverse fire department.

Mayor Reed insists that Cochran’s firing was not a result of the former fire chief’s religious views, but for using poor judgment and for not obtaining permission to publish and distribute the book.  Cochran, along with his supporters, asserts that his firing is discriminatory and a direct violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religious expression.   As a result, we now have two highly regarded and widely respected African American public figures in the national spotlight, fueling the on-going debate over religious beliefs, sexual orientation, private lives, and personal freedoms protected by the Constitution.

Although there is no record of Cochran discriminating against any gay employees, the unsolicited distribution of his book containing inflammatory remarks obviously creates deep concerns for Mayor Reed, who is leading and overseeing an administration that has a vested interest in moving the city of Atlanta forward in marriage equality, diversity, and inclusiveness.

Whenever these contentious battles are fought on the national stage, my concern naturally rests with the individuals who are caught in the crossfire—the parents, relatives, friends, and loved ones of LGBT people.   But my deepest concern is for the casualties in this endless cultural war—LGBT youth and young adults who remain gravely wounded by the psychological and emotional trauma caused by rejection, bullying, teasing, and verbal harassment, an experience that I’m sure Cochran and his zealous crusaders are unfamiliar with.  It is, in fact, an experience quite similar to the kind of injury and reinjuring that takes place when Blacks are perpetually viewed as “ugly, unlovable, animals” by other races.

Yet Cochran claims that he is the victim and that he is under attack, while the language in his book works to further diminish a sense of value, self-worth, and self-love in LGBT youth contemplating suicide, which is the leading cause of death among this group.

Cochran’s language also exacerbates the prevalent issue of gay men who inevitably surrender to societal pressures to marry the opposite sex, while privately leading double lives, a trend not uncommon in Black churches.  The level of judgment, condemnation, and shaming that recurs is one of the primary reasons why African Americans, in spite of the scars that we still bear from racial discrimination, segregation, and inequality, are now perceived as being one of the most intolerant and oppressive racial groups in the country.

Frankly, Cochran has every right to publish a book expressing his personal religious views on homosexuality, but his unsolicited distribution of the book in a diverse workplace of employees who serve a diverse population of taxpayers is quite audacious.

It’s unfortunate that Cochran, along with so many others, seem to only view gay individuals through the narrow lens of sexual acts, impairing their ability to see the full humanity of sexual minorities who are equally entitled to exercise their individual freedoms and rights like every U.S. citizen.  But the most disheartening thing about these particular issues is that, unbeknownst to Cochran, gay 911 operators would dispatch gay firefighters with gay paramedics to save the property and the life of any individual, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and without prejudgment.

The reality is that religious beliefs and personal opinions are unlikely to ever change, but we must realize that our lives are far more connected and intertwined with individuals who don’t share our personal beliefs.  All of the rhetoric and demonization that comes from both sides of the debate only works to erode our ability to respect, regard, and appreciate our differences.

I only hope that, in the midst of our perpetual fight for rights and righteousness, we are all convicted by the inner knowing that God remains pro-human being and pro-His Creation.

DLynnDana L. Stringer, author of “In Between Faith,” is a writer, playwright, poet, and screenwriter based in Atlanta, Georgia.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter:  @danalstringer. You may email her at [email protected]

 

dana l stringer (b&w)

Dana L. Stringer: Ferguson Triggers an Exploration of Institutionalized Cover-Ups and the Abuse of Power

Police Officer *Sporadic aftershocks can still be felt after explosive verbal wars and protests that spanned from New York to Los Angeles to the small Midwestern city of Ferguson, Missouri shook and divided the country along racial lines.  And for those of us who are familiar with America’s brutal treatment of African Americans, it should be no surprise as to why another killing of an unarmed Black man by a white police officer ignited immediate outrage and intense emotional reactions.

It’s hard for us to imagine that race doesn’t play a factor in cases that bear such a striking resemblance in detail and outcome.  For example, an unarmed Black man is targeted by white police officers; white police officers decide that he’s either a suspect or poses a threat, then shoot him multiple times; a black corpse ends up in a body bag while an unapologetic police officer attempts to justify his violent reaction.

Unfortunately, in these cases, history has proven that the pendulum of justice rarely swings in our favor, deepening distrust in law enforcement and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system.  And yet non-Blacks can’t seem to understand why.

Perhaps it’s because we have always bore the brunt of police brutality, and the Blue Code of Silence practiced inside a well-constructed culture of cover-ups legitimizes the abuse of power against those who are at a socio-economic disadvantage.

Wrongdoing persists among individuals in authority because they believe that their authority makes them untouchable and exempt from accountability.  The lack of transparency and accountability creates a pattern of misconduct that is concealed more often than revealed, permitting people in authority to operate with impunity.  Thus, protecting the reputation of an institution, an organization or an individual becomes more important than providing the public with the truth.

For decades, Catholic priests were able to cover-up thousands of claims of child sexual abuse while accused priests were merely reassigned to new parishes as children and families suffered in silence.

Only in recent years has the public been made aware of sexual assault and sexual harassment pervading in the armed forces.  Military personnel who had been victimized were either ignored or faced retaliation for coming forward with allegations, especially with claims against higher ranking personnel.

Corporations are constantly settling class action suits once their fraudulent business practices are uncovered.  And as far as government is concerned, very few people actually trust the government as a result of widespread corruption among politicians elected to serve the public.

In essence, a person doesn’t have to be Black to understand the kind of indignation an individual experiences when people in authority abuse their power and conspire to cover-up wrongdoing with delay and avoidance tactics.  Adding insult to injury, people most vulnerable to the abuse of power are typically low-income minorities, whose concerns, questions and claims get easily dismissed.

Perhaps the greatest misfortune, or what I consider to be an offense, is when good people within the ranks of these institutions and organizations remain silent out of fear of alienation, retribution or job termination.  It takes courage and personal conviction for an individual to overcome the mounting pressure to conform without feeling disloyal or a sense of betrayal. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs because the overall image of the institution or organization seems to take priority over justice and public interest.

It’s perfectly natural to hold individuals in authority to a higher standard. We expect them to operate without bias and prejudice. We expect them to lead by example by acknowledging mistakes and misconduct.  We expect them to accept full responsibility for their actions.

The abuse of power is a grave injustice to anyone regardless of race.  We have a right to expect fair and equal treatment as well as transparency and accountability.  It may not necessarily heal all of the open wounds in this country but it’s certainly essential for rebuilding trust, respect and confidence in authority.

D. L. StringerDana L. Stringer is the author of “In Between Faith.”  She is a writer, playwright, poet and screenwriter based in Atlanta, Georgia.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter:  @danalstringer. You may email her at [email protected]

black woman (face)

Dana Stringer: Hidden Dangers of Being A ‘Strong Black Woman’

black woman*Whenever an African American woman displays qualities synonymous with strength, she is characterized as a “strong Black woman.”

The popular phrase is one of the most highly coveted compliments bestowed upon Black women, yielding a deep sense of pride and validation.

By most accounts, it is considered a virtue to be strong, garnering respect for a race of women whose journey has often been one of struggle and hardship.

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black male graduate

Dana L. Stringer: Unconventional Advice for Graduating Seniors

black male graduate *I started thinking about this year’s high school and college graduates a few days ago, and what advice I could offer them that would serve as a blueprint for their future.  So, here it is.

Find your gift and give it to the world.

Whether you discover your natural talents and gifts early in life or later in life, commit yourself to mastering them and sharing them with the world.  The world is waiting for your gifts and talents.

Find your passion and pursue it.

Unfortunately, far too many people rely upon a job to give them a false sense of purpose.   But purpose is fueled by your passion.  If you’re not passionate about what you do, then it probably has very little to do with your true purpose.

Also, the stress of finding a job in order to repay student loans and/or monthly expenses can pressure you into settling for an unfulfilling job outside of your field of interest. The sense of purpose either gets lost or remains undiscovered once you’re launched out into the real world and are faced with the need to survive. 

However, don’t allow the “rat race” or the quest for the proverbial “American Dream” to distract you from identifying and living out your true purpose.  The key is to find out what you’re deeply passionate about, and what it is that gives you a sense of meaning and fulfillment and pursue that.

Find a cause and be willing to die for it.

Unlike the previous two centuries when fighting on the front lines for what one believed in could mean a matter of life and death, the chances of being killed or having to die fighting for certain rights are unlikely nowadays.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean there are no causes worth fighting and dying for anymore.

Be careful not to be lulled into indifference and complacency because life is good for you and yours.  You don’t have to be a hostile agitator protesting and boycotting in the streets, but at least find out what’s deeply important to you and be willing to sacrifice your reputation, your life and your image serving that purpose.

Find your voice and tell us something we haven’t already heard.

There are both pros and cons to the surge in content online, on mobile devices, on air and in print.   One of the pros is that you have free and unlimited access to content and information whenever you want it.   The con is that much of what you read and hear has been said for the last few decades.  It can be a challenge to find a fresh voice with fresh insight because the majority of people simply recite what others have previously said. 

Avoid the temptation to parrot the words, thoughts and opinions of everyone else.  Find your own voice and tell us something new in your own unique way. 

Find your God-given place in the world and occupy it without fear.

There is a place designed just for you.  And you are individually designed for that place.   Your personal power and influence is in that particular place. 

Don’t allow anyone to dissuade nor discourage you from operating fearlessly in your place in the world.

Find at least one person who truly believes in you.

Finding people who genuinely believe in you and who authentically support your aspirations can be a challenge. 

Although family members and friends love you dearly, they are often too familiar with you and sometimes minimize and discount your ability to achieve the impossible.  Or they want to lock you into what they feel is a “safe” place for you.

The key is to find at least one person who truly believes in you—someone who will support your goals and encourage you during periods of self-doubt.

Find the good in every living soul.

Human beings are fully flawed and consistently imperfect.   But regardless of the vices and misdeeds of others, nobody is all bad. 

Passing judgment has always been too easy.  Therefore, it is important to take into consideration the life experiences of each individual.  The key is to exercise mercy and strive to identify the good in others.

Find the courage to be different.

God created individuals not clones.  There will always be an expectation to conform to the majority and the norm.  There is comfort and safety in familiarity and similarity. 

However, if you don’t fit in with a certain group or crowd, don’t attempt to change who you are for the sake of “belonging.”  Value your uniqueness.  Your difference is an asset.

Find people who know more than you and allow them to either mentor you or help you.

It doesn’t matter how much you think you know, there is always someone who knows more.  They have either been where you aspire to go, or they know a little something about how to help you get there.  Be humble enough to listen.  And realize there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom.   You will need a blend of both to accomplish your goals and fulfill your dreams.

Find personal integrity and be true to your convictions.

Be who you are and stand for what you believe.  Don’t allow ideologies or the opinions of others and the quest for the ideal to cause you to lie about your reality. 

Good advice, accountability and wise counsel are important.  However, don’t allow any individual, organization or institution to dictate to you what decisions to make and what actions to take.  Trust your conscience and follow it.

Find solutions.

There’s more than enough to complain about in the world.  And there’s certainly enough blame to go around.  Needless to say, there are countless books, articles, blogs, news programs and documentaries that are dedicated to highlighting the plethora of problems that plague our society.    But you have an opportunity to bring 21st Century solutions to the world.

Whether people listen to you or not, be determined to bring either an answer or an alternative to the table.

Find the heart to always forgive.

The likelihood that you’ll be hurt or disappointed by those closest to you is high.   And depending upon what exactly it is, it could leave you emotionally, psychologically or even spiritually wounded. 

The key is to forgive quickly so that hurt, bitterness and resentment don’t fester within your heart and reflect negatively in your attitude. 

Forgiving is simply letting it go so that you can become the best you that you can be. 

Dana L. Stringer is a freelance writer, playwright, poet and activist based in Southern California.  You may contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer.

dana l stringer

Dana L. Stringer

fantasia barrino

Fantasia: Winning at Gay Pride Festival

fantasia barrino*The R&B diva and Grammy award winning female vocalist is certainly no stranger to controversy and criticism.

But a resilient and liberated Fantasia took to the stage at the 30th Annual Long Beach Gay Pride Festival on Saturday night in Long Beach, California, rendering a passionate performance.

Audaciously fierce and more confident than ever, “Tasia” boldly proclaimed, “I am doin’ me and I don’t care what nobody has to say,” before kicking off her heels onstage.

Dressed in a white, tightly fitted cutout party dress, and revealing a much more slender and toned figure, the exceptional vocalist pumped up the crowd with her brief rendition of Drake’s “Started From The Bottom.”

If the relationship between Fantasia and the LGBT community was strained by her seemingly disapproving comment about gay marriage posted on Instagram in late December of last year, there was certainly no evidence of that as the crowd of thousands eagerly welcomed and embraced her.

To further demonstrate her affection for the supportive attendees, she spent several minutes stating, “I hate the gates” and requested venue workers to “open the gates” that were serving as a barrier between the stage and the front row of the audience.  She went on to clarify that she needed to “feel some people”—a gesture in alignment with her personable and down-to-earth reputation.

But after a bit of housekeeping, ‘Tasia didn’t waste any time kicking into high vocal gear with crowd favorites like “Man of the House,” “Free Yourself” and “Collards and Cornbread.”

Moments after confessing that she was a “music baby” who grew up on the “meat and potatoes” music from the 80s, Fantasia and her band brought the crowd to its feet with an invigorating throwback performance of “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, “In My House” by the Mary Jane Girls, Shelia E’s “The Glamorous Life” and “The Bird” by Morris Day & The Time.

Visibly empowered and energized, ‘Tasia continued to walk the crowd down memory lane with her rendition of “If I Ruled The World.”

Although concert goers got a strong sense of Fantasia’s reawakening as an individual and as an artist, when she performed “Bittersweet” and “Even Angels,” humbly stating, “Guess I gotta’ let it go, the situation wasn’t good for me,” we got a sense that Ms. Barrino is still in the process of recovering from the effects of failed relationships and disappointments.  And this could be no clearer than in her hit song, “Lose to Win” which she sang near the close of her performance.

Fantasia’s success with her newly released fourth album, Side Effects of You, and her recent Pride appearance certainly indicates that she’s on the upswing in her career.  Her performance of “Lighthouse” revealed that she remains undaunted by her critics and is determined to continue recording and performing with a greater sense of purpose.   In a nutshell, she’s finally “winning” again.

 Dana Stringer is a freelance writer, playwright, poet and activist based in Southern California.  You may contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer.

dana l. stringer

Dana L. Stringer