Who Dat?

Family of Man – Identity

Pentecost 113


This blog post is the first of a three-part series that might be entitled Family Tree or Family of Mankind.  It is based upon an old folk tale about three beings – Willow, Branch, Leaf.  There will be more on their story on part three.  We are a few hours out after two bombings on the East coast of the United States of America.  One was at the scene of a Marine Corp marathon which, quite fortunately, had a delayed starting time.  The other was in a busy section of New York City, frequented more by locals than tourists.  Both were not just attacks on those in the immediate area.  They were attacks on the family tree of mankind.


Who are you?  When I first began writing this blog, someone asked me that very question.  Then I was asked to complete a profile and again, that question came up.  What is your identity?  More importantly, what do you want people to remember about you?  In the second attack, a young lad gave up his seat in an ambulance to an older gentleman.  Both were injured although thankfully not too seriously.  I do not know the name of the young teen but I will forever remember his act of chivalry and generosity to his elder.  For me his name is unimportant; his behavior tells a story of a marvelous human being.


We’ve discussed in past blog posts about “Who dat?”  I know many New Orleans Saints NFL team fans want to believe they invented this phrase but, alas, history proves it predates the National Football League.  It was first sung as a line in a song in an operetta written by Dunbar and Will Marion Cook entitled “Clorinda: the Origin of the Cakewalk”.  It was presented as part of the 1898 “summer Nights” show produced by E. E. Rice. 


US service men picked up the catchy phrase and it was often heard over plane radios as servicemen radioed each other.  One of the lines of the original song asks a question we might all ask ourselves:  “Who dat inside who’s dat outside; who’s dat inside who dat well outside?”


The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, a man quoted in this blog from time to time, frequently asks not just his flock but his fellow human beings:  “By what identity do we want to be known?”  In other words, when it comes to believing and sharing God’s love, do we want to be picky and choose only certain ones?


George Orwell once wrote “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.”  No one wants to be an outsider.  We all want acceptance.  We all wonder what is on the other side of a closed door.  The enticement of the unknown affects us all.  Who do you want to be?  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wanted to be known as a man.  He wanted his children to be just children, not identified by color but by their being.  They had names, not shame.  They were God’s own.  Maybe not in the eyes of people way back when but now we mujst continue that fight for acceptance to all by all …Who dat?


Who are you?  What do you believe?  What is evidenced by how you live?   I have to live my beliefs or else they are worth nothing.  That is what gives me my identity.  Not what someone else thinks or sanctions but my own actions.  My identity is what I do, what I say, how I evidence my faith in my life.


We humans are a curious lot.  I am certain someone famous has said that but tonight it is my own quote.  In an effort to support and expand their own beliefs, these bombers are actually creating a schism with themselves and the world.  The issue seems about who qualifies as being entitled to respect, love, and forgiveness…all those things we humans expect. 


I do at times if these fanatics think they have invented a new breed of mammal.  It really is not about who the outcasts are.  It is completely about who we become with such decision.  What identity do we then take on when we fail to recognize all as having a right to live?  This is not living a life.  To bomb innocents who you do not know and with whom you have no connection is to create a division for yourself.  You become the enemy of not only the people who are your victims but also your own being.


Martin Luther King, Jr, had a dream that one day all people and children would be seen as just that – people and children.  “Who dat inside who’s dat outside; who’s dat inside who dat well outside?”  We cannot be well in our identity if we fail to see the inner soul and respond to the being within. 


My identity is not that of any superior being.  I am no better than another.  Who dat?  It’s me, a child of my creator, a child of the world, a child who still hears the echoes of Dr. King’s words.  I, too, have a dream, a dream of a world in which respect is given to all living things.  My identity is based upon equality. When it comes to acceptance, I don’t think anyone should be left outside.   Who are you?

Choice and Families

Choice and Families – Pentecost #155-158

Pentecost 155 – Choices

Today is All Hallow’s Eve, a holiday which has its roots in Celtic mythology.  While In America the custom of children wearing costumes and going door to door to receive treats only dates back about one hundred years, those customs and the holiday dates back to at least the sixteenth century in Great Britain and Ireland.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania loves to brag (and rightly so!) about its Mummer’s Day Parade.  Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana have their costumes and joyful Mardi Gras festivities.  Rio de Janeiro draws the world with its glorious Carnival.  Clearly mankind loves a party!  Halloween, the more common name for All Hallow’s Eve, or Samhain or Calan Gaeaf were all much more than simply excuses to dress up for a party.  Ancient Celts believed in Aos Si, the spirits of the dead who could, at this liminal time, return to earth.   These spirits were presented food or drink left as an offering and it was believed that dressing up as these spirits would protect one from harm.

In the ninth century A.C.E., the Christian church made November 1st a church holiday.  November 1st was named All Saints Day (originally All Hallows Day, “hallow being a synonym for saintly’).  In the fifteenth century the custom of sharing “soul cakes” was instituted. This custom was even incorporated by William Shakespeare into the action of his play “The Two Gentleman from Verona”.

Many use Halloween as a chance to step out of their everyday persona.  The term “trick or treat” is only about seventy years old, although the concept was evident in Wales in the seventeenth century.  AS a child I remember towns and municipalities offering an extra school holiday if the youth of the area restrained themselves from trickery or malfeasance.  It really boils down to a matter of choices, doesn’t it?

In Nigeria, there is a culture known as the Yoruba.  The Yoruba believe that a person’s success in life is based solely upon the choices made – not in life but in heaven before one is born.  The Yoruba word for choice is “ayanmo” and the road to achieving one’s choice is thought by the Yoruba to be ….patience.  The Yoruba name for their supreme deity for this matter is “Ori” which translates as “head” or “mind”.  Everyone has a choice.  Those who choose a wise head will have success and a life of relative ease.  Those who make foolish choices will not find success.

The Yoruba believe that even their gods need Ori to help guide them through life.  Thus Ori is both a personal and a collective concept.  Holidays are also both personal and collective.  Hopefully, if you celebrate today, you will do so by making wide choices.  And I also hope your choices in living will help you be a better person.  We all need to make better choices and the world can always use another person who is trying to be better.

Pentecost #156 – And Then ….

The Yoruba also believe that each of us is really a part of a trinity.  They believe in the “emi”.  The word translates as “breath” but refers to the spirit of each of us.  The emi lives in one’s heart and lungs and is fed by air breathed in through our nostrils.  The emi is the very core of a person, that which is responsible for our very living, our actions, our thoughts, our loving.

This wonderful culture also has a myth of the second part of a person, the “ojiji”.  The ojiji follows a person and is the shadow or shade of a person.  When we die, the Yoruba believe our ojiji will wait in heaven for our return.  [I confess I found this such a lovely thought.  We are never truly alone; we always have our shadow, even when we cannot see it.]

The Nigerian tribe of the Yoruba gave the third spirit of the trinity the name “eleda”, although some call it “ori”.  These names are translated as “guardian soul”.  It is believed that those who have died will return to the tribe as infants.

One never really escapes one’s past in these myths yet there is a chance for retribution and confession.  We all have made choices that left us wondering “What was I thinking?” and left others if we were thinking at all.  The nice thing is that there is usually always a chance for “and then…”.  All we have to do is find the strength to start again.  It is not easy but life is always worth it.  So, by the way, are you.

Pentecost 157 – Liongo

We talked about the Kamba culture of Kenya earlier this week.  Like most African countries, Kenya is a land rich in diversity and many cultures.  The Swahili and Pokomo people live in eastern Kenya and one of their mythical heroes is the poet Liongo.  There are seven cities which claim to be the birthplace of Liongo; no one known which claim is true.  He was described as being as tall as a giant and very, very strong.  Legend tells that Liongo could not be wounded by any weapon but, like Achilles in the Greek myths, Liongo did have his vulnerable spot.  We, like Liongo, all have our weak areas.  Not everyone can be an expert or authority is all matters.  We all make mistakes; hopefully, we learn something from them.

Liongo is not really remembered just for his might or the fact the he was the king of Ozi and Ungwana in the Tana Delta and of the Shanga on Faze or Pate Island.  There are a great many songs and gungu dances whose lyrics are poems attributed to Liongo and written in Swahili.  This is fitting because, with the introduction of Islam and the change in succession from mother to father, Liongo found himself arrested.  He escaped his shackles during a loud and celebratory song sung by a nearby crowd outside the prison.  The myths of Liongo open chapter of his tale with a song.

Liongo eventually was killed by his son who knew that a needle driven into his navel would prove deadly.  There is an old adage about choosing one’s confidants wisely and Liongo’s death testifies to this adage.  Of greater importance is making sure we not only are aware of our weaknesses but respectful of them and those of others.  On this day when so many are celebrating, we need to remember to be good stewards of our fun.  The real thing to fear is ignoring the wisdom in living a healthy and safe life.

#158 – The Family Tree

Trees in Africa are tantamount to life.  It is understandable that many tribes and clans have given themselves names that include trees.  Without trees, man would not have wood for fire and food would quickly spoil without the ability to cook it.  In areas where grass is hard to find, goats climb trees to eat the green leaves.  Other animals use trees as perches before capturing their meal.  Trees are where bees make their hives in Africa and those hives provide honey.

African mythology tells that each tree has a spirit and some have more than a few.  It has been a long-ensuing debate as to whether trees are spirits or are just inhabited by them.  Regardless of where you stand on that topic, the spirit is recognized and all seek to hear its voice.

Together, trees create a family.  Forests are just large tree families and continue to be revered and respected.  Drums in Africa are made from wood and the carver works very carefully to preserve the voice of the spirit of the tree.  The boat-maker also works to keep the spirit of the wood happy.  Otherwise it is believed that an unhappy spirit will sink a boat.

Namibia has a tree that is said to open its branches and swallow people whole.  In Zaire there is a myth about the man who married a tree.  His children, born of the tree, were said to have learned the secrets of the forest spirits and grew up to become respected herbalists.

We may not instantly think of a tree when we think of the word family and yet, an illustrated genealogy is called a “family tree”. Interesting, huh?  The popular song from the 1970’s “We Are Family” is singing through my mind right now.  I live near a wooded area and, given that we are in the middle of a light rain which is the precursor to a promised storm due later today, the trees and their spirits seem to be singing.

We are a long way away from Arbor Day, six months for those of us in the United States of America.  Yet, every day is a day to respect the trees.  Every day is also a good day to respect family – yours, mine, and the family of mankind.  After all, we really are family.