“Betty, you need to get rid of that “Bedroom Hair.” This is what Glenna Burgess told me that some of the good church ladies at their church in New Orleans said to my mother. Glenna Burgess was one of my mother’s closest friends in New Orleans. In 1949, my mother and father were married and settled in New Orleans where my father pastored a church.
I had dinner with Glenna this past Friday evening. She told me stories about my mother and father I had never heard. She began by telling me that she and my mother were pregnant and delivered babies within days of each other. I lived. Her baby died. She told me that my dad was constantly butting heads with the Trustee and Deacon Board of the church. I had never heard of any conflict with between my dad and his official boards at the church. Glenna told me that once my dad tried out a pair of glasses and she asked him when did he start wearing them? He told her that he really did not need glasses, but thought that his trustee board might take him more seriously if he looked older. But the story that really floored me was about conflict my mother had with some of the older women of the church.
My mother married my dad when she was 19 and he was 27. Glenna told me that some of the good church ladies pulled my mom aside and said, “Betty, you need to get rid of that “Bedroom” hair. I have never heard that expression, but it sounds like an insult. Evidently my mother shared this experience with Glenna. Glenna reminded me that my mother was enrolled at Dillard University and wore her hair like the other young female students. Glenna did not tell me how things were resolved, but she did say that it hurt my mother’s feelings.
As Glenna told me the story about how my mother was insulted, I quietly thought to myself about some of the insults hurled or muttered at me throughout my entire life. Most of the time I just keep moving with my head held high, because I don’t want the insulter to know that they have gotten to me. Sometimes I have devolved into throwing the insult back at the person who tried to hurt my feelings. I am not proud of this. Once in New Orleans when I was a student for the ministry, a mother told me I was light enough to marry her daughter, but my nappy hair would never do. My reply was, “what makes you think I want to marry your daughter?” While in divinity school, of all places, one of my classmates called me a name: “Nicky Nice.” He also called me “Paul.” When I asked him why he called me names, he replied, “Because you are nice to the white folk, just like Paul was nice to the gentiles.” At that point, when he called me “Nicky Nice”, I replied, “That’s funny you should say that, because that’s what your girlfriend called me last night.” In my community, when males start going back and forth like that, often it ends in a fist fight. He and I did not come to blows, but it was my way of letting him know that I was prepared to “Throw down”, even if he thought I was “Nicky Nice.”
Actually, I did get a little physical with that guy who liked to call me out of my name. We were all in our early 20’s and sometimes would play basketball. I enjoyed snatching rebounds from my insulting classmate and purposely would throw my elbows into him, saying loud enough for the other guys to hear me, “What’s my name? “What’s my name?” I think it was the basketball that caused him to start calling me by real name. Smile.
In the book of James, the writer encourages his readers to refrain from insulting each other. As believers, you and I should strive to rise above the temptation to degrade and demean others. If we disagree with another person, we should stick to the disagreement without resorting to insults and lies, and the throwing of elbows.
James 4: 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? 
Questions for Reflection:
- What have you learned from Jesus Christ about how to handle insults?
- What does this passage from the Book of James tell you about the temptation to “Speak evil against one another?”
Prayer: Lord, help me to rise above the temptation to insult others. Grant that I might always look for something positive, even in the worst of situations. If I cannot say something positive, teach me to hold my peace. When I feel that I cannot sit on the sidelines in silence, show me how to fight for those things I believe are true, honorable and just without sinking into an abyss of lies and half-truths. Lord, help me to rise above the temptation to insult and degrade others and grant me your peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior I pray. Amen.
Written by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III
Photo by a waitress at “Mandina’s”
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