There are some works of art that become landmarks in a person’s life. The person knows who they were before they encountered the art, but not who they are afterward, and among the pieces of themselves that have scattered to the floor they find new elements, new additions to their identity. Moonlight is undoubtedly one of my landmarks. It is my Washington Monument, my Statue of Liberty. It is all of that and more.
The LGBTQ community continues to fight to be recognizably human, and attacks like the one here in Orlando remind us why that fight is so important and still so necessary.
At the vigil downtown on June 13, an evangelical Hispanic preacher spoke. He said, “Not all evangelicals hate you. Some of us love you and we welcome you in our congregations!” And when he prayed, many prayed with him.
One of the principal goals of My Jesus Project, a yearlong effort to better understand what we mean when we talk about following Jesus, is to practice and embody right-heartedness, or what I call “orthopathy.” I believe that, though our beliefs — orthodoxy — and our actions — orthopraxy — are important, both are anemically informed and out of balance in a Christ-like life if the so-called heart work doesn’t come first, to inform the other two.
Some of which I saw when reading prominent voices within the Southern Baptist Convention criticize Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock, known as one of the most influential voices in preaching in the past century, before his body was even in the ground. Craddock, who was 86 and had struggled with Parkinsons for a long time, died on March 7. He left behind a family, an extensive publishing library, and a nonprofit — The Craddock Center — that has done tremendous work for those trapped in poverty in Appalachia.
Two days after Craddock’s death, Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., reduced in a blog post Craddock’s lifetime of preaching work to “a mild-mannered man encouraging mild-mannered people to be more mild-mannered” — on March 9, the day of Craddock’s funeral.
He also called Craddock’s essential claims to be “dead wrong,” claiming that it led to “no true preaching.”
Criticism of Craddock by members of the Southern Baptist Convention is not new. But there’s a big difference between lodging criticism a half dozen years before a man’s death and doing so the day of his funeral. Allen brazenly demonstrates one of the greatest dangers in what I have often called “valuing our ideology over others' humanity,” which dehumanizes and denigrates as a result.
This dehumanization does not play political or ideological favorites, either — any of us can fall prey to this trap when we hold our beliefs closer than our love of God, neighbor, and self.
Coach Smith planned his funeral so that the music and Scripture would reflect his deeds and the values of his heart:
- Howard Lee, the first African-American mayor in North Carolina, read 1 Corinthians 13. Through the reading, Coach reminded us that God is Love.
- We sang “Now Thank We All Our God.” Through the hymn, Coach stressed he was so grateful for God’s grace that he could not help but show his gratitude through service to others.
- His granddaughter, Morgan, read Matthew 25. Through it, Coach told us that what counts is how we treat the “least of these” — for that is how we treat Jesus.
- We sang “Amazing Grace.” Through it, Coach reminded us that its melody and lyrics are so transcendent that they are sung even by those at the most advanced stages of dementia (and they include Coach and my own mother who died last year).
- We departed to “Lift High the Cross.” Through it, Coach uplifted us from our sorrow with a reminder that ours is a faith of triumph.
Revolutionary love has given birth to new life.
We are gasping, breathing (I can’t breathe)
Screaming (We have nothing to lose but our chains)
We have been in the womb long enough
Blinking to the blinding light of the revolution
Our eyes adjusting
And we answer with what love looks like in public
I’ve been thinking about the life birthed out of revolutionary love. The night I met Waltrina, we stayed up until an ungodly hour — instant sister-friends. We bonded, talking about everything, about finding and losing faith — in God and humanity — then slowly picking it up again piece by piece, about being the diversity in mostly white professional spaces, about friends, family, and the struggle to find our places (as 30-somethings) in this “new” freedom movement.
Out of a deep revolutionary love inspired by Jesus and nourished from the well of our people, we have determined to get in where we fit in, living out the belief that there is a place for everyone in the movement.
Today's fight against the powers and principalities of systemic injustice cannot be left to the continued service of the elders that survived the 1960s civil rights movement, nor hoisted solely upon the shoulders of the teens and 20-somethings of today, just because they have energy and new ideas. Despite the focus on elders and youth, this is an intergenerational movement that requires all of us to answer the communal call. I am encouraged by one of my mentors, Mama Ruby (Sales) who says it is time to have all hands on deck.
Black-ish, the new ABC sitcom created by Kenya Barris, really is one of the funniest shows on TV this season. I laughed my head off watching a marathon run of the first four episodes On Demand. Now it's set to record each week on DVR. One of the things I really appreciate about Black-ish is that it takes universal issues and works them out through a genuinely African-American lens.
For example, in the pilot episode the father, Andre “Dre” Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, is looking forward to a much deserved promotion to Senior VP at a major marketing firm. He is surprised to find out he’s been promoted to Senior VP of the Urban Division. We can all relate to wanting the promotion, but Anderson’s challenge is one particularly familiar within the black professional class. How do you jump the dreaded, yet anticipated, pigeonholing of your value and worth to an organization as a “black” person? How do you become just Senior VP — not SVP of the “Urban” Division? How do you become human? The way Anderson works out this challenge is hilarious. I rolled with laughter even after the half-hour sitcom had reached its conclusion.
And then there’s last week’s episode when the biracial mother, Rainbow, masterfully played by Tracee Ellis Ross, loses her young son, Jack, while shopping at a department store. It turns out Jack is hiding inside a clothes rack and is eventually found by a sympathetic officer. We can all relate to this situation. Children hide in department stores. I did the exact same thing to my own mother when I was about Jack’s age. I hid between the racks at a Marshalls. But Rainbow and Dre’s conundrum rears its head when they are confronted with the question: Will they spank their son? It seems simple enough, but it’s not. This is not only a question of parenting, it is also a question of tradition and culture.
In fact, each episode presents a universal situation that pushes a particular issue of culture within the African-American community. Ultimately, the situation presses the question: “What does it means to be black?”
It feels awkward and even a bit inappropriate to be talking about ‘celebrity news’ when so much is going on around the world: Iraq, refugees in Syria, children stranded at borders, Michael Brown’s death and Ferguson, Ebola, Ukraine, and the list tragically goes on.
But then again, it feels appropriate because it’s another reminder of the fragility of our humanity.
As has saturated the news, Robin Williams passed away this week. His life ended way too short at the young age of 63 – apparently because of suicide. While this was news to me, Robin had been struggling with intense depression – especially as of late — and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
To be honest, I don’t get caught up too much on celebrity happenings mainly because there’s not much genuine connection. I don’t really know them personally. Make sense? Robin Williams’ death – on the other hand – just felt like a painful punch in the gut. Perhaps, it’s because Mork and Mindy (Nano Nano) was the first TV show I watched (along with Buck Rodgers) after immigrating to the United States. I deeply resonated with Mork – this ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’ from another land trying to fit in. Perhaps, it’s because so many of the characters he played in countless movies influenced me on some level as it did so many others.
Tom Junod of Esquire wrote an insightful piece about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman titled “ Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret: The cost of holding up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves .” The whole article is worth reading, but these words are especially important:
"There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets … no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off. He used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves; indeed, his whole career might be construed as a pre-emptive plea for forgiveness to those with the unfortunate job of cleaning up what he — and we — might leave behind."
In his roles, Hoffman played unacceptable, despicable, and broken characters. In other words, he played our cultural scapegoats. But the beauty of Hoffman’s work is that he humanized our scapegoats. Of course, his characters were unacceptable because they were guilty of being repellent jerks, underserving of love or sympathy, which is exactly why they made good scapegoats. The function of a scapegoat is to unite us in hatred against them, so the scapegoat who seems to us to be completely guilty, like a cartoon villain, the better sense of unity we can form against them. The best scapegoat is one who even agrees with us about just how terrible he is. As Junod writes, Hoffman “used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves.”
There is no mistaking it: Shad Kabango's music is authentic and tenacious. With incredible humility, he speaks from his heart, with no fear of calling out the inconsistencies he sees in the world.
In the recent release of his 4th studio album, Flying Colours, the critically acclaimed Canadian emcee, better known as simply "Shad," hopes his music speaks for itself.
"It’s not easy to summarize or convey, I don’t think," Shad said of the theme of the album, in a recent interview with Sojourners. "Some sort of … feeling of hope, I guess, but hope within the complexity of real life and the challenges of real life."
What was supposed to be a touchy-feely, one-on-one interview by Oprah Winfrey with long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad has morphed into a broader, sometimes angry exchange about what it means to be an atheist.
Earlier this month Winfrey, 59, hosted Nyad on “Super Soul Sunday,” her weekly talk program on cable’s Oprah Winfrey Network. Nyad, 64, recently completed a 53-hour solo swim from Cuba to Florida.
During the hourlong segment, Nyad declared herself an atheist.
It is in times and tragedies like those that happened in Boston that our call to pray for our enemies is most difficult. May we be faithful to pray for them despite our circumstances.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, on all of us, sinners.
Father, we don't know who was behind the tragedies in Boston, but we do know that they were human. And we know we are to pray for our enemies.
In Jesus we see humanities true identity as ones who are to be agents of life, not death. Jesus, as first of New Creation, invites all humanity to reflect and participate in New Creation.
We are offered a significant choice, namely between two ways of being human. The difference between logical necessities or physical necessities and vital necessities is made clear in that in the latter we have the possibility of refusing ‘to turn away from a disaster’ – we can in fact choose a lesser way of being human over a fuller way. What is at stake in the necessity of cry is one’s own humanity, the meaning of one’s own existence, and to turn away from crying is to turn away from decision and responsibility. This is to deny the very possibility of becoming genuinely human.
Someone beloved to me is suffering from a horrific disease right now. If I could fight this disease with a sword all my pacifist tendencies would run screaming for the hills and I would take up that sword and I would fight. Just the thought raises a rage up within me that is passionately intense and I long for such a sword.
I can’t help but think that Jesus must have felt some of this, human as he was. Because of who he was and what he did the poor and the outcast and the sick were drawn to him and so he saw suffering every day. He healed and he taught and he called for others to follow him, yet the suffering still was all around. Some part of his humanity must have wanted to take up a sword and fight it. Yet he knew that violence was not the answer.
There was another way.
So instead of a sword, he took up... a towel and filled a basin with water.
Fifteen-hundred years ago, a Dublin-based shepherd made his mark on history by turning the Chicago River green, staggering inebriated through the city, and inventing the "Kiss Me I’m Irish" hat. Along the way, he wrote Bushmills whiskey drinking songs about the pain of being alive, mixed a cocktail whose name evokes an act of terror, and dyed his hair red.
He magically expelled snakes from the island of his birth, wrote a lyrical memoir of his terrible childhood, won the Rose of Tralee beauty contest, mixed lager and Guinness together (presumably out of an excess of self-loathing and bad taste), had a great oul’ Famine, stared meaningfully across the Atlantic, and dreamed of America.
But he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.
It’s St Patrick’s Day weekend, and despite the fact that millions of people will celebrate something like this vision of what it means to be Irish, pretty much none of the above is true.
“Marley was dead, to begin with.”
So begins the classic tale of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a story that has been told and re-told through various mediums since the novella was published December 19, 1843.
I sat down recently to watch the new Disney version of the tale. It features a CGI rendition of Scrooge with the voice of Jim Carrey.
After 15 minutes I shut it off.
It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I didn’t give the movie enough of a chance even to figure whether it was worth watching. What I realized is that I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same story again from a secular perspective.
A Christmas Carol, I would argue, is not ultimately about Christmas, but conversion.
Christmas is the stage and the catalyst through which transformation occurs. It is a leading character to be sure. But, it is the radical change that occurs in Ebenezer Scrooge that most compels me.