‘You Cannot Kill My Soul’

‘You Cannot Kill My Soul’

UNPREDICTABLE FIGURE: Moammar Gadhafi in 2009. He ruled Libya for 42 years.

In the modern pantheon of the world’s dictators, Moammar Gadhafi stood apart. Far apart.

Erratic and mercurial, he fancied himself a political philosopher, practiced an unorthodox and deadly diplomacy, and cut a sometimes cartoonish figure in flowing robes and dark sunglasses, surrounded by heavily armed female bodyguards.

He ruled Libya with an iron fist for 42 years, bestowing on himself an array of titles, including “king of culture,” “king of kings of Africa” and, simply, “leader of the revolution.” It was as an actor on the world stage, though, that he showed his gift for unpredictability. President Ronald Reagan called him “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian president, once said Gadhafi was “either 100 percent crazy or possessed of the devil.” Others thought he was both.

When Gadhafi took power in 1969, he embraced an adventurist foreign policy, championing his dream of a utopian, Islamic nation that would span northern Africa. He eschewed both communism and capitalism and called his political system jamahiriya, or “republic of the masses.

He soon evolved into an international troublemaker: His Libya funded guerrilla groups, built a nuclear weapons program and launched terrorist attacks on the West _ including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Then, as the United States began hunting terrorists worldwide, he did a diplomatic U-turn, making oil deals with the West and providing back-channel help for American spy agencies battling international terrorists.

It was the “Arab spring” uprising against tyrants in the Middle East that ignited an internal rebellion against Gadhafi, turned his regime into a NATO target and led to the end of the reign. On Thursday, in his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean Sea, it was over. He was 69.

Rise of a Revolutionary  

The only son of an illiterate Bedouin herder, Gadhafi was born in a goatskin tent about 20 miles from Sirte and spent his early years living the life of desert nomads. His father scrimped and borrowed to send his son to a nearby Muslim school. It was there that Gadhafi listened daily to a Cairo radio station that carried speeches by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a pan-Arabist and leader of the independence movement in the Arab world.

“We must go into the army,” Gadhafi told his classmates. “That is the only way to make a revolution.”

He was 14 when he led his first demonstration in support of Nasser, and by the time he was 19 he had taken the first step toward formulating a plan to overthrow the corrupt, pro-Western regime of Libya’s King Idris by entering the Royal Military Academy at Benghazi.

Gadhafi surrounded himself with fellow conspirators and imposed the same moral standards on them that he demanded of himself: abstinence from tobacco and alcohol, no womanizing or gambling, prayers five times a day. In 1966, he studied armored warfare tactics in Britain, where he learned to speak English.

On Sept. 1, 1969, Gadhafi, a 27-year-old signal corps captain in the Libyan army, and his group of “free officers” overthrew Idris, who was out of the country, in a bloodless coup. Gadhafi himself went to the state radio station to broadcast the news to the Libyan people.

LEADER OF THE REVOLUTION: Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser (right) with the young Gadhafi in 1969.

“Give us your hands. Open up your hearts to us,” he said. “Forget past misfortunes and as one people prepare to face the enemies of Islam, the enemies of humanity. … We shall resurrect our heritage. We shall avenge our wounded dignity and restore the rights which have been wrested from us.”

He moved quickly in an effort to change Libya overnight. He ordered the closure of the United States’ huge Wheelus air base _ negotiations were carried out amicably between Washington and Tripoli _ and the evacuation of British military bases. He expelled 20,000 Italians and nationalized most of the oil industry. Nightclubs and casinos were shuttered, alcohol was banned, and unmarried women who became pregnant were flogged and sent off to reformatories.

Angered by the amount of time his bureaucrats spent reading newspapers and drinking coffee, he had most of the desks and chairs removed from government offices. The bureaucrats were not fazed; they took to reading their newspapers leaning against the walls and brewing their coffee on the concrete floors.

During his first full decade in power, Gadhafi was a popular leader. He invested some of the nation’s $50 billion in annual oil revenue in developing agriculture and building schools, hospitals and housing.

In the 1970s, Gadhafi developed his so-called Third Universal Theory. It was his blueprint for a socialistic welfare state in which there would be no laws, no money, no government, no private enterprise. The leader — Gadhafi never called himself president — published this philosophy in a slim volume called The Green Book.

He managed to attract a group of leftist scholars to Libya in 1979 to debate the wisdom of “The Green Book,” though most impartial observers found it most noteworthy for its naivete and lack of depth. One example from its text: “Woman is a female and man, being a male, does not … get pregnant … (and) is not liable to the feebleness which woman, being a female, suffers.”

Gadhafi detested communism as much as capitalism, distrusted the Soviet Union no less than the United States and had little use for the moderate Arab states. In 1984, displeased with his North African neighbors, he sent one of his planes to bomb the state radio station in Sudan and, it is widely believed, one of his ships to sow mines in Egypt’s Gulf of Suez.

Some critics dismissed Gadhafi as mad, and pointed to unsubstantiated reports of frequent mental breakdowns. Others believed he was simply obsessed with his self-proclaimed assumption of the mantle of Nasser’s pan-Arab movement, which had lost its credibility elsewhere years earlier.

Whatever the explanation for his behavior, he was a man who marched to his own inner voice, convinced that he was the only Arab in step with the times.

A Schizophrenic Ruler

It was during the late 1970s and ‘80s that Gadhafi’s reputation at home began to suffer serious damage. He began to crack down on dissent, banning strikes and stifling the media. He banned private enterprise and Western literature, and his agents assassinated government opponents at home and abroad.

Known by many names, including Colonel and Brother Leader, his attempts at economic and political reform also withered as the government became increasingly decentralized. Libya was largely run by local “revolutionary” committees that were inept and corrupt.

Despite the troubles at home, Gadhafi began to cause mischief further afield, giving money to guerrilla groups and reportedly attempting to stage coups against other African leaders. Libya was swiftly earning a reputation as a dangerous, rogue state.

He was linked to an attack on a Berlin disco frequented by U.S. soldiers that left two servicemen dead and prompted Reagan to bomb Libya in 1986. Two years later, Tripoli was implicated in the bombing of the Pan Am 747 over Scotland. Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, an alleged Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted in 2001.

Gadhafi agreed to pay nearly $3 billion in compensation to families of the airline bombing victims. Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 for medical reasons, drawing criticism in Britain that a deal with Gadhafi had been struck to protect European businesses and trade.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 startled Gadhafi. Worrying that his own regime could be in jeopardy, he denounced weapons of mass destruction and offered to open his nuclear program to international inspectors. The move helped ease economic sanctions against Libya and put Gadhafi in the spotlight as leaders such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Tripoli in 2004.

“It was strange, given the history, to come here and do this and of course I am conscious of the pain that people have suffered as a result of terrorist actions in the past,” Blair said of his meeting with Gadhafi. “But the world is changing and we have got to do everything we possibly can to tackle the security threat that faces us.”

President George W. Bush announced the gradual restoring of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya. Condoleezza Rice visited Libya in 2008, the first secretary of State to make that journey in more than half a century. A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks suggested that, although Gadhafi avoids making eye contact, he was a voracious consumer of news and was eager for the chance to “share with you his views on global affairs.”

Still, Gadhafi, who had survived attempted coups and assassinations, retained his swagger. He pitched tents during his travels abroad and periodically railed against the imperialist West.

In a vintage 90-minute-plus address to the United Nations in 2009, he called the 15-member Security Council the “terror council” and quipped that anti-terrorism measures in the U.S. were like “being a prisoner in the Guantanamo camp, where there is no free movement.”

Meanwhile, diplomats traded gossip about the reclusive leader’s habits. Other U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks suggested that he was a hypochondriac who was afraid of flying over water, often fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and loved flamenco dancing.

Beginning of the End    

Things weren’t going well for Gadhafi in Libya, though. His political and economic reforms were seen as ruses by a population stifled by repression and limited opportunities.

In recent years, the country had watched schools, hospitals and other institutions built by the oil money fall into disrepair. His son Seif Islam “implicitly criticized” his father’s regime, according to one U.S. cables published by WikiLeaks.

Gadhafi himself blamed his government for corruption but it was largely seen as posturing.

The eastern part of the country around the city of Benghazi, a long-simmering anti-Gadhafi stronghold, grew more restive. Major tribes, the key to power in Libya, grew increasingly wary of him. Gadhafi had lost his touch with manipulating clan loyalties with money and power.

Meanwhile, the antics and lavish lifestyle of his family, which diplomatic cables described as providing “enough dirt for a Libyan soap opera,” became more of an embarrassment. His son Mutassim, Libya’s national security adviser, paid Mariah Carey $1 million to sing four songs at a private party in the Caribbean. There were reports that Mutassim was among those killed along with his father Thursday.

A 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable titled “Thug Life” describes Gadhafi’s strained ties with Switzerland after his son Hannibal was arrested in Geneva on charges of abusing servants.

The final rebellion against Gadhafi was years in the making, and it burst forth in a wave of uprisings against autocrats and kings that swept North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.

SOLIDARITY FROM AFAR: In March, Libyan expatriates in Dublin, Ireland, protested in support of the "Arab Spring" rebels back in their native country.

Gadhafi underestimated the rage against him as protests in eastern Libya flared across the country. Rebels pushed toward Tripoli from the east and west and battled his beleaguered army and band of mercenaries.

The leader’s vicious assaults on his own people _ his forces fired antiaircraft guns at civilians and shot worshipers near mosques _ stunned the world. Much of the military and many Libyan diplomats and officials abandoned him as tens of thousands of people died.

As the revolt spread over the ensuing months, Gadhafi became increasingly cornered. North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombardments of government military forces strengthened bands of poorly equipped and ill-trained rebels.

‘Until the End of Time’    

Yet, the leader remained defiant. Addressing thousands of Libyans in Tripoli’s Green Square in July, he threatened to dispatch Libyan suicide bombers to Europe in relation for the NATO bombings. “I told you it is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” Gadhafi said.

He disappeared from public view, releasing video speeches until finally, as rebels closed in, transmitting only audio messages from hiding.

“I say to Crusader cowards, I live in a place you cannot reach,” he said during one broadcast. “I live in the hearts of millions. … If you kill my body, you cannot kill my soul.”

All along, he was unmoved by calls for his ouster, arguing that his authority transcended any official title.

“Moammar is not a president to leave his post,” he said. “Moammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.”

Single Moms Are Not Fathers

Single Moms Are Not Fathers

I have an idea for a good Father’s Day present: a Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Inside is the definition for father:

  1. A man who has begotten a child.
  2. A male PARENT.
  3. A father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.

I would give the dictionary to deadbeat dads, but I’d also give it to those being duped into honoring single mom’s on Father’s Day.

The gift idea came while I was in Wal-Mart to buy a card for my dad. My wife, as she shook her head sadly, pointed to the category “Happy Father’s Day, Mom” in the Mahogany section. Mahogany is Hallmark’s brand for African Americans. I looked through the general Father’s Day card section, but couldn’t find the “mom” category.

Hmmm. Why?

Some people insist on making a buck by selling the idea that Father’s Day is also for single moms. Hallmark has been offering the mom cards for a few years, and a Web search also revealed a few entrepreneurs selling T-shirts, mugs and the like. Being a dedicated black father of three grown children who looks forward to this one day that celebrates what I willingly do every day, I find this offensive and even dangerous, particularly for the black community.

Nationally, 1 out of 3 American children live in homes where fathers are absent, according to the Center for Disease Control. The black rate is 2 out of 3. The message to the black community is that single motherhood is acceptable, so celebrate with a Mahogany card.

Bull.

By marketing “some love” to single moms on Father’s Day, the role of dads is devalued, especially in a community that badly needs fathers to step up and be real parents. It’s also capitalizing on a self-inflicted wound. Society should be lifting men who are honoring their role. That’s what the National Fatherhood Initiative is doing. The organization, which promotes fatherhood among all racial groups, is targeting the deadbeat crisis with a Call to Action that aims to mobilize black churches. Urban Ministries, the parent company of UrbanFaith.com, is involved. I recently spoke with Roland Warren, the president of NFI, who agreed that celebrating single moms on Father’s Day doesn’t help. Warren, who like me is a product of divorced parents and was successfully reared by a loving single mom, is a married father of two. (Hear the entire interview on The Wil LaVeist Show on June 22 at Noon EST at www.whov.org.)

I called Hallmark to ask why they’re capitalizing on this crisis, but hadn’t heard back from them. (Update: Three days after this article was published, a representative from Hallmark did contact the author. See Editor’s Note below.)

There are many legit and even painful reasons beyond control for why moms end up rearing children alone: Abusive relationships that wives flee; rapes, where the woman (or girl) heroically presses through the pregnancy; fiancés and husbands who die suddenly. However, there are adult reasons that happen within our control. Since the 1960s, increased divorces and out-of-wedlock births have dramatically spiked the number of households headed by single moms. And, unlike my father who stayed involved with his children, many dads cut and run. It’s also true that many moms force fathers to stay away, reducing them to monthly paychecks.

I also understand that school children, whose dads aren’t around, are often led to make Father’s Day gifts for their single moms to make them feel better. Children don’t need pity. They’re resilient and can handle reality. Having them show appreciation for their next closest positive male role model—an uncle, coach, pastor, or neighbor—is a better option that could help replenish the value of men in the black community among future generations.

I respect dedicated single moms, but understand the definition. A woman can never be a father and a man can never be a mother. Both parenting roles are equally unique and invaluable. Even among same-sex parents, you’ve got two moms or two dads. The idea of Father’s Day was actually inspired by a single dad who reared his six children after his wife died. Mother’s Day is in May. You also have the lesser-known Single Parents’ Day on March 21.

A mother being celebrated on Father’s Day makes as much nonsense as telling a single dad Happy Mother’s Day.

I doubt you’d find a Mahogany card for that.

Why?

It wouldn’t sell.

*******

Editor’s Note: Following publication of this article, columnist Wil LaVeist did receive a response from a Hallmark representative. That email is reprinted below in its entirety.

Mr. LaVeist,

First, let me apologize for our delayed response to the question you left for us last week. We were unable to confirm facts with the Mahogany and Father’s Day card teams prior to the deadline you noted in your message, so we missed the opportunity to provide context. But I thought it might be helpful to share our point of view.

Hallmark’s goal is to offer cards for the wide range of our consumers’ relationships so that everyone who wants to connect with others in positive ways can find a card to meet their need. For years, consumers have expressed a desire for cards addressing this relationship, and we’ve offered them for the past several seasons. The Mahogany Father’s Day collection included 66 cards to help people honor dad and other special men in their lives, and that selection included two cards recognizing mom. Please note that our general Hallmark Father’s Day line also included a “To Mother on Father’s Day” card and several “Like a Father” cards to acknowledge those who play a father-like role in someone’s life.

We’ve shared your post and the discussion in the blogosphere with the Mahogany team. It’s always helpful to have insight from varying perspectives as we plan selections to meet people’s card-sending needs.

Thank you,
Kristi E.
Public Relations | Hallmark Cards, Inc.
 

Henrietta Everlasting

 

Henrietta Everlasting for Urban Faith

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks uncovers the heartbreaking story of the woman behind one of the most important discoveries in modern medicine. But it’s also a book about the intersection of race, science, and a family’s faith.

On a basic human level, most people desire to leave a legacy. I’ve found myself wondering what kind of impact my life will make on generations to follow. In our families and in our work, we spend a large portion of our lives trying to leave some sort of legacy, often in the form of monetary or material inheritance. But that seems so limiting, like life has been reduced down to money and things. Most of us would agree that we want to leave something far more meaningful than just stuff. But what if your legacy spurred some of the greatest medical discoveries? Most of us would be pleased with this. But what if this legacy had been left completely without your knowledge? How would your descendants approach such a gift? This is the scenario found in the bestselling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Skloot, a science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Discover, gives the reader an intimate look into the life of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman born in 1920 who, without knowing it, helped transform medical history. In February 1951, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer. During a medical visit, her doctor took a biopsy of the tumor growing on the outside of her cervix without informing her. Henrietta died later that year, but by that time scientists had discovered that her cells had a very important trait: they didn’t die. The HeLa cells (pronounced hee-lah) reproduced at an astounding rate and had already started yielding scientific data before Henrietta’s death. Her life had ended, but the tissue she left behind soon earned designation as the first strand of immortal cells.

Skloot’s fascinating book is not only the story of Henrietta’s life, but the life of her immortal cells and their journey through the medical community. And an incredible journey it was.

HeLa cells are directly responsible for the development of multiple medical breakthroughs, from the Polio vaccination to in-vitro fertilization. Despite all that her cells have done, many people, including the medical and scientific community, had no idea who she was. Skloot does an impressive job of relaying complex medical truths in a way that doesn’t stall the reading. Told in an alternating-chapter format that shifts between the story of the HeLa cells and the lives of Henrietta Lacks and her family, the book is as gripping as it is informative.

I found myself heartbroken over the struggles of Henrietta’s husband and her children, who paint a stark picture of a dysfunctional family. They endure a string of health and financial challenges after Henrietta’s death. None of her children developed cancer, but they were riddled with a number of other health problems. Unfortunately, they lived most of their adult lives without the benefit of health care. Their mother’s contribution impacted millions but never fully trickled down to her own family.

Though Skloot’s primary goal was to tell the story of Henrietta and her cells, she also accomplishes another feat. She offers a glimpse into how medicine has been practiced throughout history. Like me, readers of this book will gain a greater appreciation of the blessings of modern medicine. Skloot not only exposes what we would consider barbaric medical practices, she also reveals how African Americans perceived doctors and medical treatment over the years. In the past, most went to doctors but did not question the diagnosis or opinions that medical professionals gave them, in part because of the legacy of slavery that spawned a passive and compliant demeanor toward authority figures. Several times in the book it becomes clear that Henrietta’s children never outgrew this mindset, as they repeatedly stated that they simply accepted whatever the doctor said because they felt they couldn’t ask questions.

There are some who might hear Henrietta’s story and cry injustice. Most of the procurement of Henrietta’s specimens happened without her or her family’s permission. Skloot takes a neutral stance on the issue of medical consent, but she does raise some thought-provoking issues. As of right now, it is completely legal for doctors to use anyone’s biological material for whatever research they desire. Scientists and even former President Bill Clinton have pushed for some kind of consent form that notifies patients that doctors will be using their specimens, but the idea hasn’t taken hold.

As I read this book, I found myself torn regarding the issue of consent. On the one hand, it is disturbing to think that the biological materials we leave behind at a hospital could be harvested and exploited by a biotech company that goes on to make untold millions off of our cells, as was the scenario in the Henrietta Lacks case. On the other hand, if our specimens can contribute to advancements in medical research that will benefit the greater society, then shouldn’t we embrace that — as long as no one unfairly profits from it financially?

As of this date, Henrietta’s children have received no financial benefits from anything her cells did. How much money biotech companies have made from her cells over the years is still a mystery.

I wanted to believe that I was reading a page from the distant past when I picked up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Unfortunately, as the book progressed, I realized the subject is still very relevant to us today. Race and consent are ongoing issues in the medical community when it comes to scientific research. But perhaps with Skloot’s book these issues will come to the forefront of our discussions in the African American community. Then maybe Henrietta Lacks’ story will do as much for the cause of justice as her cells have done for science.
______________________________________________________________________

‘I Read the Bible for the First Time’

How Henrietta Lacks’ story changed Rebecca Skloot.

Author Rebecca Skloot (right) recently talked to the Atlanta weekly Creative Loafing about the making of her bestselling book. In the interview, she explained how the religious beliefs of Henrietta Lacks’ family affected her personally.

SKLOOT: [Writing the book] was an 11-year process and it has changed me and affected me in ways I’ll be trying to figure out for years. I came from a non-religious background, a completely different culture than [Henrietta’s daughter] Deborah. The religion was so surprising to me. It was such an important part of their story and their lives and their understanding of the self. I just knew nothing about it and in the process of learning I read the Bible for the first time. I went to the church with [the Lacks family] and I saw faith healings; things I had never been exposed to. I spent a lot of time learning about what their religion and spirituality meant for them and how that interacted with the science.

I think I learned a lot about religion just in general and about lots of different ones and the roles they play in people’s lives and the ways they can be incredibly positive and helpful. With the family that’s a lot of how they came to terms with what happened with the cells: They believe she was chosen and came back as an angel in these cells to cure diseases. In terms of the family, it’s still happening. They are still responding to the book and there are now generations of Lackses that have read the book. Several of them have read it many times. The grandchildren have been reading the book out loud to their parents cause they don’t read so much so that’s been a great thing for them. Now they’re able to see the full story — what are these cells and how are they used. To see how people are responding to the story serves as some kind of validation to what they’ve been through that they’ve never gotten before.

Source: CreativeLoafing.com; photo by Manda Townsend.

Giving Back

To thank the Lacks family for their trust and help in the writing of her book, and as a way to thank Henrietta Lacks for the cells that have done so much to further science, author Rebecca Skloot has set up the Henrietta Lacks Foundation to provide financial assistance in the form of scholarships to the descendants of Lacks. Skloot is donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to the foundation. You can read more about it or donate at henriettalacksfoundation.org.

The Balancing Act of a Successful Woman

The Balancing Act of a Successful Woman for urban faithOur culture often still doesn’t know what to do with ambitious women who strive to be successful both personally and professionally, and many women are frustrated or confused as a result. Perhaps we need to go back to women like Ruth, Esther, and Mary for some insight and guidance.

Hollywood isn’t real life, but when real life (mine and the lives of the actors) and Hollywood converge it is great fodder for thinking and conversation. My husband Peter and I can’t stop talking about one of our recent date night movies, Up in the Air, the Oscar-nominated film (now out on DVD) starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.

IMBD’s description of the film: “With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.”

My oversimplified movie description: Ryan Bingham has a mid-life crisis.

But I’m not so focused on Ryan Bingham (that’s for another post). What I am still thinking about is how I was drawn to Alex Goran, played by real-life mom and wife Vera Farmiga. Alex is a strong, confident, beautiful, sexy (but not slutty, for the most part), successful, intelligent business woman whose opening exchange with Ryan had me and Peter talking about power dynamics into the wee hours of the morning. (Peter and I really are a fun couple.)

Women have a different balancing act than men, especially in the corporate world, in terms of how they communicate through their words, body language, and even the way they dress and carry their sexuality. Times are changing, but Equal Pay Day, when women finally catch up to what men earned the year before, still isn’t until April 10, 2010. We’ve come a long way, but it’s still not a level playing field, which is in part why the length of the skirt, firmness of the handshake, and awareness of the hair flipping matters. You may not agree with the rules, but there are rules. Changing them means knowing them first.

As a Christian woman who works in the tension of a management position in a Christian missions organization, my concerns and thoughts on “dressing for success” can either be dismissed as being superficial and too concerned with “the world,” or hijacked by important and related conversations about women’s roles, marriage, and parenting (and then get into the messier conversations about whether or not a mom should get a paycheck for her work, whether or not a woman can lead other men over the age of 18, whether or not women can be women without tempting men) while ignoring the obvious truths. God gave all of us, men and women, more than one sense in which we interact with the world and, therefore, people. Sight gives us literal lenses through which we make judgments and assumptions. Hearing allows us to interpret tone and volume and pace. Even smells, touch, and taste play into the ways we interact with one another and how that affects success and effectiveness. Again, understanding and awareness are not the same as agreement with said rules.

Successful women are often portrayed in both Hollywood and real life as the “byatch.” The stereotypes are easy: successful women essentially act like men but happen to have breasts or they are women who have used their breasts to gain access. Even in Scripture we have to wrestle and understand the cultural norms and stereotypes of women as we interact with Ruth and Naomi, Queen Esther, that virtuous and hardworking woman in Proverbs 31, and even Mary the mother of Jesus along with the unnamed sinful woman and the woman at the well. When Bible teachers and trainers are asked to teach on leadership, where do they turn? I turn to those women.

I digress.

The reality is a balancing act of trying to embrace our leadership, our femininity, and our voice alone and alongside men. Personally I struggle and am confused when colleagues describe me as being “motherly” and describe other male colleagues as “pastoral.” I don’t want to be overly vain and concerned about my appearance, but I’m not going to pretend that my appearance doesn’t matter to others or myself.

Which is why I found Alex as a character fascinating. Alex, from what little we know, is neither a man with breasts nor a “byatch.” When the younger female character Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, is in crisis, Alex listens and speaks frankly without cattiness. Alex is a woman who has, in some sense, arrived in the corporate world and in mid-life, unlike the younger Natalie. Alex was a woman comfortable with her sexuality, success, and choices, and Natalie was still struggling to figure out what her choices would be, how she would view success, and how her gender would play into those choices.

Twenty years ago I was Natalie, and I suspect I would not have resonated with the movie or the characters in the same way, which is why I say rent Up in the Air. Hollywood gave me 109 minutes of entertainment and lots about reality — past, present, and future — to think about.

Great Reads for Black History Month

Over the years a host of books have been written on the subject of reconciliation and social justice in the context of Christian faith. In honor of Black History Month, here is a small sampling of important titles. After you’ve checked out our list, feel free to recommend your personal favorites.