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Dr. Piper: Lecrae & #Facts about “White Evangelicalism”

 

 

I was puzzlingly enthused, encouraged and perplexed by Dr. John Piper’s response to Lecrae’s recent interview on Truth’s Table. Immediately, I realized that Dr. Piper’s response could be so more than that. It could actually be a seed that could sprout into dialogue and action that are both sorely needed, centering on the major question he asks in his blog post: “What are the implications when young black men and women state they are loosening ties with white evangelicalism?” I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll share my insights in hopes of continuing this incredibly important issue.

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Why was I so enthusiastic about the post? My journey into ‘white evangelicalism’  had largely been a one-way street. Like many young black men and women who have found Jesus and been nurtured in the context of this particular movement, I have imbibed deeply of its fountains. White evangelicalism’s heroes became my own and the institutions they have built, have become those in which we have served. I have been serving with one of the largest of such organizations for 17 years- practically my entire adult life. Young black folks have embraced the teachings, proclaimed them passionately and studied the debates astutely. We have embraced the declarations of the Reformation, the Confessions, and Creeds. We have defended them against any adversary even when they were at odds with our own traditional black churches. Though many in our own communities have criticized and questioned our loyalty when we have raised financial support to join the missionary and church planting movements launched by white evangelical entities completely foreign (and often historically hostile) to our people, we pressed on- determined to serve Jesus and believe in the best of our white brothers and sisters. Our faith in them was often was in the face of evidence to the contrary as we were consistently stereotyped, and misjudged and held to different standards than others. Young, black Christians who hold to the same creedal confessions of evangelicalism rarely experience someone of Dr. Piper’s platform, influence or credibility in white evangelicalism engaging us on our terms. In that context, his listening was very meaningful. Using his platform to comment on what he heard was even more significant. Why? Because we’re used to the exact opposite. Normally, our voices and words have been ignored in dealing with issues of race, justice, and unity in the church. Truth’s Table wasn’t celebrated but attacked when the groundbreaking podcast first aired. The hosts, Ekemini Uwan, Dr. Christina Edmonson, and Michelle Higgins were called out, not called upon to share their insights. Similarly, Jemar Tisby, who co-hosts the Pass The Mic podcast has been castigated for speaking on racial issues. Even someone like Dr. Eric Mason, with all the bona fides of Dallas Theological Seminary, Acts 29, books and countless other ‘white evangelical’ credentials still finds himself wondering aloud why people question his loyalty to the Gospel when talks about race. I’m grateful that Dr. Piper broke from this trend and actually listened because white evangelicalism seldom has listened to us.


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Why was I encouraged? When the rare moment occurs that those of us “young black women and men” experience engagement from ‘white evangelicalism’ it is often the type that is dismissive. If we had a dollar for every time someone chastised us to just “focus on the gospel” when we bring up the significance of doing anti-racism work, none of us would have to raise support anymore. Dr. Piper not only listened in on the conversation, but he chose to emphasize that which he was thankful and hopeful for instead of being critical. That was very encouraging especially because he didn’t necessarily agree with all that he heard or read … or even understand it. But he offered Lecrae enough respect to listen and celebrate what he did grasp. That gave me hope. He set a tone that makes it more likely that others will follow suit because he is a respected elder in the tribe.

Why was I perplexed? I am grateful that Dr. Piper spent his personal capital to essentially support Lecrae on his blog but found it puzzling he pushed back on the term “white evangelicalism”  commenting it “puts too many whites in bed together” and therein lies my perplexion. Young black women and men didn’t put white evangelicals in bed together … they put themselves there! Ironically, Lecrae addresses this in “FACTS”, the second track on his new album, All Things Come Together:

They say, “‘Crae, you so divisive, shouldn’t be a black church”

I say “Do the math, segregation started that first!”

Doctrinally speaking, the Barna Group has both clarified and described the murkiness in how the term “Evangelicalism” is used. Broadly speaking, this Wikipedia definition is helpful: Evangelicalism “is a worldwide, trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity which maintains the belief that the essence of the gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ‘s atonement.”[1]

What about the white evangelicalism? White evangelicalism is real and is rooted in the historical heresy of white supremacy. One can not discuss the American church without discussing slavery, segregation, and racism. It was St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia that sinfully insisted on segregating its congregation. Richard Allen, refusing to endure the false doctrine of white supremacy, left the segregated ‘fellowship’ and started the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1789. It was the Southern Baptist Convention which separated from the Triennial Convention in 1844 rather than turn away from its members’ idol of slavery. The National Baptist Convention started in 1866 by Black Baptists, who rejected this false teaching and practice, is the reaction to this idolatrous racism. And of course, it was the white Christian leaders who strongly criticized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for demanding that the doctrine of Imago Dei be lived out in this nations laws, practices and churches. It was to them that he wrote the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Time does not permit us to detail how “white flight”, targeted marketing, and the rejection of those who speak about racism have all contributed to the creation of ‘white evangelicalism’. The racial divide in the church is not only a historical vestige of slavery, but a result of continued practices that marginalize people of color in the Christian community. White evangelicalism has been cultivated and crafted to be just that. It’s not a historical accident. Those people of color who are passionate about racial justice who stay among this tribe do so in spite of it. They stay affiliated supremely aware they must carefully eat the meat of epistemological fidelity and spit out the bones of ethical infidelity and racism, and this is a particularly bony fish. The movement that often syncretizes American exceptionalism and uncritical patriotism with what it means to be Christian is White Evangelicalism. The movement that openly speculated that the first black president was the anti-Christ is White Evangelicalism. The movement that overwhelmingly was silent when a presidential candidate they endorsed race-baited and pandered to white supremacists is White Evangelicalism. The movement that ignores issues of justice and the crisis that black people are suffering at higher rates than whites in just about every measurable way is White Evangelicalism. It’s a movement that too often neglects to identify the socio-economic realities that our Scriptures clearly link with injustice and therefore is one that many of us have decided to discontinue identification with.

Those people of color who are passionate about racial justice who stay among this tribe do so in spite of it. But because it is hyper-individualism, white evangelicalism is predictably unaware of itself or of its importance.

What’s a recognized global leader in ‘white evangelicalism’ to do? I celebrate Dr. Piper’s post. He thought the sentiments of what Lecrae shared on Truth’s Table was worth celebrating and pondering. But more needs to be done. White Christians like Dr. Piper must press into this issue of “white evangelicalism”. If dynamic young African American Christian leaders are saying that the air is so toxic in this movement that they need to leave, perhaps an exploration and some type of assessment of their complaints are warranted? I implore anyone confused about the term ‘white evangelicalism’ and the reasons why many of us are disillusioned by it to look into history, learn and tell that story. Then change the story. Don’t just dismiss it, but explore it. It has already been reported that part of the reason for Lecrae’s decline in sales is because he is tackling issues of race and justice. (Album Sales is only one measure of success and this album has critical acclaim and unprecedented reach, it’s still a tangible indicator of Lecrae’s point). If you’re a white evangelical, buy the album, encourage others to do the same.

Still confused about the term ‘white evangelicalism’ and the reasons why many are disillusioned by it? Learn the history, tell that story, then change the story. Don’t dismiss it, explore it. (Recommended: books like Divided By Faith and Doctrine and Race) I say this as one who respects and appreciates Dr. Piper and not as a cynical critic. Lecrae and so many of others who also have given up attempting to scale the wall of white evangelicalism acceptance deserve more than thankfulness that they are still in the faith. They deserve advocacy from those on the other side of that wall. They are the Hellenistic Jewish widows with a complaint about the distribution of dignity and justice in Acts 6. Will white evangelical leaders, like the disciples did, call together those under their influence and see what must be done? If things don’t change, then more will continue to look for other places to be seen and heard because their calling is bigger than the confines of ‘white evangelicalism’. But wouldn’t it be awesome if white evangelicals actually tore down the walls of their own structures?

 

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Un-Presidented

These are unprecedented times. Two days after the President of the United States referred to NFL players as “sons of bitches” who should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem, the players responded in a historic manner. The number of those who joined in protest rose from only 9 to over 180. Just about every team displayed some type of support. It was an act of solidarity among opposing teams seldom seen in the NFL.  In an even more unusual site, team owners stood with arms locked with players. Many of these owners voted for Trump and themselves donated to his campaign. Their stand with the team was not about politics, but about something much bigger.

Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions

 

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The same weekend, NBA players, even those who are typically archrivals, expressed an unprecedented unity. Why? The President of the United States publically uninvited 2-time NBA MVP Steph Curry in retaliation of Curry hesitating about going to the White House in the customary celebration of the team’s championship. LeBron James, who has lost two NBA championships to rival Curry’s Warriors, replied with a tweet that supported Curry fiercely. Mr. James’s support was not about politics, but it is innately political. trump-tweet-seth-curry

Days before, ESPN personality and journalist Jemele Hill, was personally attacked as the President expressed that she should be fired for tweets she sent claiming that he associated with white supremacists, and was himself one. (Hypocritically, the fact that he called President Barack Obama a racist while he was starring on Celebrity Apprentice was somehow acceptable.) An outpouring of athletes and journalists came around her, and The National Association of Black Journalists personally visited Ms. Hill. Many of her colleagues still use her image as their avatar. Why did she receive such widespread support as well as criticism? This was not about politics, either, but about division as a strategy to distract and polarize.

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We’ve never seen anything like this before in our lifetimes. And it is deeply disturbing. Whether one agrees with people taking a knee, desiring a photo op with the President, or expressing the view that he is racist, is not the point. The point is that the President of the United States is actively inflaming passions and using his power to single out law-abiding citizens who exercise their constitutional right to speak freely … and that is bad for all of us.

The context of these attacks is even more problematic. Just weeks prior to these strongly worded comments, this same president chose a much more temperate tone in the face of actions far more deserving of such vitriol. After white supremacists and Neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, he initially refused to categorically condemn them. Then the day after he denounced the white supremacists, he continued to morally equivocate and emphasize the counter-protesters were just as bad as the ones chanting “Jews will not replace us!” He referred to them as “fine people”, but he called these overwhelmingly black athletes, ‘sons of bitches’. Where were the Twitter-rage and abusive speech when torch bearing, gun toting, hate-spewing white supremacists marched through the town with the goal to intimidate?

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There is also a broader context. Many suspect the debate and division that has followed is deliberate and intentional. While many who are offended on either side of the flag issue trade insults and attacks, one of the most pressing concerns facing our nation, how we come together in spite of our differences, gets pushed to the side.

As a nation, we are deeply divided. The issue of race is at the center of much of it: Charlottesville and NFL protests (over racial bias in the criminal justice) center have race in common and so does how the President has handled those issues.

This isn’t simply a social issue but one I take personally. While I didn’t agree with Colin Kaepernick’s chosen approach to bring attention to police brutality, I admired his courage and desire to want to do something. When Ms. Hill, Mr. Curry, and Mr. James were directly and personally attacked by arguably the most powerful man in the world, I felt it personally. Something deep inside of me said, “That’s not right!” And that’s been the cry of so many others.

I don’t write about politics. And this isn’t politics. This is something different. This is about the danger and injustice of the President leveraging his power in ways that attack those who disagree with him. I’m not sure what the endgame is (distraction, division, or something else), but it’s simply wrong. President Barack Obama didn’t do it. President George W. Bush didn’t do it. No other president in our lifetime has done it. We have been accustomed to at least a measure of decorum of what it means to act presidential. But this week, that power has been “unpresidented”: taken out of its proper place of restraint and respect, and that brought many to their knees. Let’s raise up a standard that will inspire us to be “presidential” even when our leaders don’t. Let’s take a knee to pray for unity, empathy and that our leaders would use their power to bring people together. Let’s stand for each other in times that are unprecedented and unpresidented.

Good leaders cultivate honest speech; they love advisors who tell them the truth. Proverbs 16:13 MSG

 

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Confederate Monuments: Our Golden Calf

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“History is not the past.
It is the present.
We carry our history with us.
We are our history.
If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.”
–James Baldwin

 

The Israelites had been waiting for what must have felt like forever. Yes, they had just seen Egypt, the most powerful nation in the world, forced to release two million slaves after an epic battle of Biblical proportions. But now, seemingly stranded in the wilderness, with no clear vision or leadership, they needed to move on. But how? An idea spread like wildfire in the camp:

“Let’s build a golden calf, worship it, and continue the traditions we learned from our oppressors. Let’s tell the story how we want to so we can own our past and our present course of action.”

So they shared this idea with the leader in charge, and he approved legislation to build this monument and declared at its dedication: “Behold the god who delivered you from Egypt!”

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The idolatry was not just found in the golden calf, but in the deceptive story the people wanted to tell about themselves. The truth was that golden calf represented the idol of wealth (hence golden) and their desire for power to create their own story of the past.

The defense of Confederate monuments and memorials reminds me of this moment in Exodus 32. It is not just a defense of bronze and marble. It’s not even a defense of preserving the hard truths of history. It is a defense for the way we remember things, and what those things tell us about ourselves today. It’s one thing to tell the story of history, it’s quite another, to celebrate those who fought to oppose the vision of the nation we hope to attain. Germans and Israelis seem to recall history quite well without Nazi statues in their midst.

But this should be of no surprise. The fight for the meaning of the war that took more American lives than any other, and split the nation into what President Abraham LIncoln called “a house divided” was always contentious. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln told this story in a sobering way:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

By the Civil War’s end, Lincoln interpreted it as a sort of divine judgment on North and South for the evils of benefiting from African Americans’ “250 years of unrequited toil”. But his was not the only interpretation in play. His own assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth and the Compromise of 1877 sought to remove the memory of the war as a monument to a new America in which former slaves would be equal citizens. These moments sought to tell a different story.

By 1905, Thomas Dixon Jr. opened a play called The Clansman, which told the story of the Civil War and the Reconstruction (which sought to enforce the citizenship rights of former slaves). Dixon told the story of noble Southerners being oppressed by lazy, lustful, black men and self-righteous greedy Northerners. The play would be made into the first national blockbuster film: Birth of A Nation. Released in 1915, (just 50 years after the Civil War ended) Birth of A Nation, was met with enormous box office sales and critical acclaim. It’s hard to overestimate the significance of this particular form of storytelling. This film created burning crosses, later used as a symbol to intimidate blacks, prompted a revival of the Klan, and popularized the notion of black men as violent. The film was so powerful, President Woodrow Wilson, in office at the time, gleefully wrote to the writer of The Clansman: “This play is transforming the entire population of the North and the West into sympathetic Southern voters. There will never be an issue of your segregation policy”.1

Movie Poster For 'The Birth Of A Nation'

The title change is instructive: from The Clansman to Birth of A Nation. The idea was to tell history. And make no mistake about it, Birth of A Nation was seen and defended by its supporters as an accurate portrayal of American history. Fearing its impact on the nation, NAACP fought unsuccessfully to ban it. This golden calf was an expression of the idol of racism and the power to create a version of the nation that would once again “Make America Great Again”.

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Why were those who descended on Charlottesville so motivated by the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue? What caused such chants as “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!”? 

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Baldwin’s words are instructive here: “We carry our history with us. We *are* our history.” The removal of monuments is a statement that a key component of their story (slavery and the Confederacy) was steeped in racism. That also forces us to look into the current legacy of that past in everything from segregation, lynching, the Civil Right struggle and current issues of racial inequality. To interpret the Confederacy honestly is difficult for those wanting to see their past heroically. How do we tell the story of a rebellion against the United States motivated by the existential crisis Southern states felt based on a fear of an impending abolition of slavery? It is a difficult thing when one wants to see their ancestors as nobility and their culture as idyllic. What does one do with that history?

Once again the words of President Lincoln, who no doubt felt the shame of his own previous moral equivocations, are instructive. He told the story of the Civil War not primarily based on heroes or villains, but centered on its most vulnerable population: the two million African Americans who were in bondage. Based on that most egregious truth, he recognized both sides had culpability. I don’t think Lincoln would have been in a hurry to put up any monuments for Union or Confederate troops. Perhaps the monuments really need to go up to those enslaved Americans who endured the suffering with great courage and therefore show us the way forward.

And in that regard, it might not be such a bad idea to reexamine how we tell the history of our past after all. Maybe this is why God instructed the Israelites when Moses finally did come down from the mountain: “Make no graven image.” What is clear today is that these monuments reflect a deep difficulty we have in telling the story accurately. The white supremacists who clamor to them, and defend them show us the danger of what happens when we keep the golden calfs up, instead of tearing them down, reflecting and mourning what they mean. America has always struggled to tell the truth about its brutal past because we struggle to tell the truth about our brutal present. We must tear down our idols so we can build a nation for all of us.

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A Letter To My Ancestors On July 4th

To: Orangeburg, South Carolina
From: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date: July 4, 1776
Dear  Isaac & Sarah Berry, my loving Great Great Great Grandparents,
The rumors are true! The American colonies of Great Britain have written King George a Declaration of Independence! Finally, after all the tyrannical impositions, they’re fed up with the oppression and systemic injustices, the taxation without representation. They declared in most resolute and virtuous fashion: 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. Isn’t that beautiful! This day is one of the most significant moments that will shape the next 241 years of human history! Nations around the world not even in existence yet, will build their societies on these magnanimous words and see them as a guiding light. But, I have some terrible news for you, Me-mom and Pop-pop (I can call you that right?). Even though,  “All men are created equal” sounds like a revolution worth your fighting for … they don’t mean YOU. Because, like the “merciless Indian savages” they accuse King George of not allowing them to ethnically cleanse from the land later on in this Declaration, they don’t count you as human, Pop-pop and Me-mom. So, they expect you to continue to pick their cotton and build their wealth under the threat of the lash, and still with no compensation or choice or legal protections (yes, this is the worst form of taxation without representation, I know). And if you resist, and assert your own unalienable right to liberty they will torture and kill you without legal consequence as time will tell. And, Me-mom, when they leave what they call Independence Hall in Philadelphia full of self-congratulatory pride, they expect to still be able to celebrate by raping you whenever they desire … because they see you as their property. This is shocking, I know, but it gets worse … your son Sam and his wife Elen (my great great grandfather and great great grandmother) will be born under these same inhumane conditions. Before your die, you will have to hear of the British abolishing slavery throughout their empire about 30 years before these United States, who declared Independence from British tyranny. And you will wonder how the lives of your sons and daughters would be different if they had been born under British rule and emancipated instead of enslaved in the land of the Free.
Fortunately, your grandson Daniel and his wife Ollie (my great grandfather and great grandmother) will be born free after the 2nd great American war. Yes, another one is coming. It will be called the Civil War between the northern and southern states and will take place over the issue of slavery. No, not out of northern states altruism, but again that’s a long story, I can’t get into right now. Unfortunately, after that Civil War, the president who ended your son’s slavery is shot dead because of his desire to incorporate you and your kin as full citizens, with voting rights, into these United States. His slave owning successor will then pardon all of the Confederate leaders who broke off from the Union and a program of state-sanctioned terrorism will take place for the next few decades led by a group that calls themselves the Ku Klux Klan. Some of your grandkids will be lynched and murdered with the participation of their local authorities, others will escape and flee Orangeburg, South Carolina for Philadelphia where they still hold on to the dreams for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness promised in the Declaration. They have my grandfather, Richard, your great grandson.
Unfortunately, they learn that Philadelphia isn’t the utopia they hoped for. My grandparents are met with trouble at every turn. Grandpop responds to Uncle Sam’s call to protect his nation against another form of tyranny in Germany. He risked life and endured merciless taunts, not from the racist despot he was in Germany to defeat, but against his fellow American soldiers. Still, he fought bravely and demonstrated once again, patriotism, courage, and honor. He returned home only to find the dehumanizing taunts and hatred spewed at him by the Nazis was replaced by that of segregationists who refused to honor his sacrifice.  The stress takes a toll on their relationship and the marriage comes to an end. My grandmom, full of ambition and hope, starts a new life and pursues the American Dream of home ownership. But by now it’s 1955, and a woman can’t own property in the cradle of liberty. City Hall has blocked out certain areas where she other black people could live (they call it ‘redlining’) and the house she wants with the good schools isn’t in one of those areas. Ever resourceful and persistent (that family trait definitely got passed down), she cleverly works with a generous Jewish man who bought the house on her behalf so she could move in. He then transferred the title to her so she’d have a place to raise my mom, aunts, and uncles. Within days, “For Sale” signs go up on the entire block and something we call “white flight” happened. The people who had access to all the jobs, wealth, and influence departed leaving folks like grandma behind. She could only get a job as a domestic, cooking and cleaning in their houses, in spite of her talent, ingenuity, and industriousness.
But another strategy was attempted to keep up the “pursuit of happiness”. This dynamic, visionary minister from Georgia begins to preach the gospel in a way many had ignored. He even has a rally right there in Washington DC where he tells over 200,000 people that the promissory note that the Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence bounced back ‘insufficient funds’. He declared on that day, in 1963, that the true creed ‘all men are created equal’ included all of us, even your great, great grandkids.
Eventually, after he, and many other leaders like him, were murdered in their attempts to fulfill the promises made on this fateful day in 1776. By the time grandma has my mother (your great-great granddaughter), she has a modest hope for a better life. But by the time my mom meets my dad in high school in the 70’s, he also suffers from the unfulfilled promise of the Declaration too. He can’t get work and turns to the informal, underground economy of the streets. Tragically, he’s killed out there on those streets, but not before investing hope in my older brother and I. I actually end up going to schools that neither you nor the rest of your kids or grandkids could because of the bravery of men and women who gave their lives for our pursuit of happiness. And get this, Pop-pop and Me-mom, I just saw a man, who if you saw him in your day, he’d be picking cotton, actually become the president of the United States! Yes, it’s true! It really is!  (but then they tried to disqualify him by saying he wasn’t born here. One rich guy led the charge to spread this rumor about him). You really won’t believe what happened next to that guy … but I don’t have the heart to share that with you right now Pop-pop and Me-mom.
So you see, it’s going to get a lot worse before it starts to get better, And then it’ll get worse again. But, as long as we keep the same courageous spirit you two have, it’ll improve again. We still endure some indignities. Thankfully though, nothing like what you have to on in hearing about an Independence Day on your way to those fields. And strangely, even though you are being forced to pick cotton in sweltering, July 4th, South Carolina heat, we, your descendants will be criticized for reflecting on the tragic irony of this day with a modicum of sadness and anger mixed in with our gratitude for being here: the survivors of our enslaved ancestors, and oppressed forebears. It’s strange, I know but I’m writing this to you to let you know that your strength has energized us to tell the truth anyhow, to hope anyway, and believe anyway. Because Love hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things … like the Good Book says (yes many of us are still inspired by the liberation it declares just like you).
So, Me-mom and Pop-pop, regardless of what the next 79 years of slavery, and 177 years of legalized segregation and terrorism hold, know that every breath you breathe brings us one step closer to justice. And I will continue to use that truth to remind me of the same thing for my daughter for her children.
So on this 4th of July, I won’t say “Happy Independence Day!’ to you because that would be historically inaccurate and incredibly insensitive to your current circumstances. Instead, I’ll just say through the tears of knowing what you’ll have to go through for me to get here; “Thank you! I love you! You’re not forgotten!”
With Deepest love and admiration,
Your Great, Great, Great, Great Grandson
Rasool Berry
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Humble Beast, The Non-Profit. I Like the Sound of That.

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I just watched the video announcement of Humble Beast’s move to a non-profit organization and found it moving, brilliant, counter-cultural and necessary. Historically, the most highly regarded art in Western Civilization was commissioned by patrons who invested in artists. Works like Michaelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel were sponsored by the Church and were the highest forms of art in their culture. While the politics surrounding these commissions was often problematic, the broader point was that the Church at one point realized that artistic expression was a major priority in the cultivation of culture.

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People knew that artistic expression was the best way to saturate their culture with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness –  found in the Creator and reflected in creativity. The commodification of art as a product has had the disastrous consequence of replacing patronage with Big Business and transcendent values for sales and profit. The goal of the few corporate monoliths which control most of the music and entertainment industry is to find the next marketable hit instead of finding the next meaningful truth that our cultures need.

Sadly, Christians have too often settled to simply fight for inclusion into this corrupt entertainment industry at the expense of their witness and distinctiveness, instead of seeking to utilize their talents and media for redemptive purposes. Perhaps even more tragic is the resignation of creating a sub-genre ‘Christian art’ (as if creativity doesn’t by nature challenge this characterization). The cottage industry of safe and sterile expression that shuns the provocative seems ironically estranged from Psalms that David wrote (like Psalm 13 or 73 which question God’s goodness and the usefulness of living a righteous life). Such songs are hard to imagine becoming popular in the sanitized ‘Christian music’ culture of today. And that’s why this announcement is so important.

Humble Beast, by giving music away, and now leveraging their creativity for a greater good is reminding us that we were never meant to live as those who would just consume artistic expression but to allow that expression to move us and then become a movement deepening our meditations of the Creator and his creation. Let’s support this move! If you enjoy music that teaches theology, uplifts the spirit, or that is just dope and therefore good for the culture … get the music, spread the word, and explore the resources they make available.

Let’s support this move! If you enjoy music that teaches theology, uplifts the spirit, or that is just dope and therefore good for the culture … buy the music, spread the word, and explore the resources they make available. One of my favorite Humble Beast artists, Propaganda, has a new album, Crooked release on June 30th … for free like all the music on Humble Beast! I also recommend getting The Art of Joy by Jackie HillPerryy, who is worth a listen as a teacher and an artist.

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Instead of one patron who gets to decide what’s important enough to invest in, we get to be a team who supports this work whether the amount is $50,000 or $5 … or anywhere in between. Good music “freely given” so we can freely give … doesn’t get much better than that!

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A Really Good Shabbos 

Day 3 Jerusalem:

We started the day with a guided tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem where we learned of some of the heart-wrenching stories of the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. so moved were we by what we encountered, there was nothing but silence and tears as our charter bus pulled away.

 We ended the day enjoying the traditional Friday evening meal observed by Jews all over the world called Shabbot (or Shabbos) in the home of an Orthodox Jewish family. 

What a day.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Jerusalem


The visit to the memorial was a painful reminder of the consequences of allowing hatred to antagonize and dehumanize the vulnerable in society and how easy it is to be complicit simply through silence.

The indifference of the international community as well as those closest to the Jewish victims of the Nazis was perhaps the most troubling reality of the history. And, with significant notable exceptions (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer), the church was largely silent. What a shame!

But this reflection isn’t about throwing rocks at those in the past but to consider what lessons we can learn by asking: 

What injustices are around us that we are silent about?

Before you go inside the museum there are beautiful memorials to the “righteous” who risked (and sometimes gave their lives) to save  the Jews who were being persecuted and annihilated.  The memorials reminded me of the Scripture:

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. Proverbs 11:10

Tragically, too few cared enough to cause the Jewish people to rejoice and as a result one of the most brutal and deadly instances of genocide in the history of humanity occurred just about 70 years ago. 

But we quickly learned that the resilience and strength of this people established by God Himself gives them an identity not rooted in victimhood. There is a hope and faith that inspires any who would care enough to hear their stories and rub shoulders with them. 

And that’s what we were able to do with the rest of the day. First we explored the famous Mehane Yehuda market and took in the sites and sounds of the living which reminded us that in spite of the horrors we had just relived, the darkness had not snuffed out the light! 

fresh fruits at the Mehane Yehuda Market

Yemeni Jew Showing Off Etro Gat Drink

Food tour guide explaining what we’re eating


As our guide led us through the market it was clear that a vibrant Jerusalem exists today in spite of the tragedies of the past.

But what can we do to make sure these things don’t happen again?

A Good Shabbos 

After our time in the Market, cell phones went away as we experienced the city shut down for the Sabbath. In respect for the tradition, we didn’t bring our cell phones or take pictures as we entered the home of an Orthodox rabbi to join them for the sacred Friday night meal typically eaten wth family known as Shabbos (Yiddish for Shabbot).

This family (including 4 kids) was warm, dynamic and charming as they entertained a group of 20 Christian leaders gladly.

They led us through the order of the meal patiently teaching us the songs and customs while hearing our stories and sharing theirs (including dynamic spoken word)! 

That was when the day came full circle: this is how we defeat hatred and the evil of silence! It starts by conversation, and inviting people different from you into your home and accepting being invited into someone else’s. Imagine if that would have happened across Europe 75 years ago. There would have been a lot more of the “righteous” who would have blessed the victims of the Nazis by standing for those who were being singled out and attacked. 

They would not have seen them as “the other” but as “my brother”. 

What is one simple way you can reach out to someone from a marginalized community around you? Who can you invite to your home for dinner?

I plan on doing so when I return. I’ll let you know how it goes! 

Well, as is customary to say ’round these parts on the Sabbath day…

Shabbot Shalom! Or maybe I should use the other option because it truly was a Good Shabbos! 

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In Israel, The Rocks Shout!

“In Israel, the stones don’t talk, they shout!”

– Jaymie, Israeli Tour Guide

panoramic-jerusalem-mountains

Day 1 in Israel

In our first day in Jerusalem our group of 20 pastors were led by tour guides to the top of King David’s palace. We were instructed to turn completely around and take note of what we see. Lots of stones. Everywhere.

They really just looked like someone took  a huge, light tannish boulder, crushed into smaller, hand sized rocks and then scattered them across the hillside. It didn’t look impressive, just messy. But the onion, which is the Holy Land, was still in its husk in my eyes and the layers had not begun to be peeled … yet.

 

As we turned around, I noticed the places like Mount Zion, and the Mount of Olives were not mountains by Colorado Rockies standards at all. They were much smaller. But I missed the major part. As it was explained to us that King David’s Palace was likely where we were standing, our guide asked us to imagine David, looking out of the window, and reflecting on these elevations all around him and writing:

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

    so the Lord surrounds his people,

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalms 125:1

 

mount-of-olives

Suddenly I could see what inspired David to write these words. These mountains surrounded us completely and suddenly it all became more real. The Bible isn’t just a theology book, but it saturated with history, and geography. Much of it was written in Jerusalem, by men shaped by the very sites I was seeing, and terrain in which I was walking.

But the stones had more to say. As we journeyed to the wall of Herod’s Temple Mount, we saw the stone enclaves, near the entrance to the temple, where the money changers ripped off the people and where Jesus made the whip to drive them out. Along another wall, a miqveh, also made of stone,  still stood over 2000 years old.. A miqveh is where Jews would ceremoniously clean themselves before going into the temple, by immersing  go to to a pool. 

 Our guide informed us they referred to the process of being “reborn” or “born again” by “living water”. So Jesus, when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” And the woman at the well, “I have living water”, he was drawing on the strong imagery these very stones were speaking of and he amplified their voices to the heavens.

 The stones, began to teach in a way I had never experienced and they shouted the good news that the historicity of my faith was standing on rock, solid ground!

 But there were other stones that told a different story, but with piercing, painful volume.

There were churches built in the 4th century free from injustice, but there others built a thousand years later by Crusaders who tragically imposed their will violently on the people in Jerusalem.

And even today, we saw walls, stone walls, built recently around West Jerusalem which kept out their Palestinian neighbors and which shout to those on the other side constant reminders: “You are not welcome! You don’t belong!”. They also keep shouting to the Israelis of the eminent threat of another deadly attack to their families. These stones shout of devastating conflict in this sacred place.

And these stones all said too much more to recite here, but they all shouted.

I have gained a new appreciation for the fact that Israel isn’t like the USA where I am used to the tendency of tearing down the old in favor of the new. If a stadium is 30 years old, we tear it down to build a new one. But not here. The people don’t think that way. No, those in the Middle East value the old over the new. They don’t like to remove that which their forebears built.  So we could touch rough, semi-eroded limestone walls that were 3,000 years old. That’s about 2500 years older than the oldest structure in the United States.

 

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Yeah, in Israel, they like to keep walls, and buildings and tombs where they are. We were pointed to the tombs of the patriarchs and Rachel’s tomb near Ramallah during our trip. These are thousands of years old, and the corpses still remain. It is hard not to be impressed with the age, and history of these rocks, nor how they called out to us. One stone, though shouted louder than all others. And while the other sites were impressive for what we did see, this one was more breathtaking for what we didn’t see.It was the one that was identified as Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. When we bowed our head to walk into the cavernous space carved from stone, unlike the other tombs we saw, this one was empty and vacated. So unique to see a tomb used for perhaps the most influential person who ever walked the Earth, Jesus of Nazareth, so plain and bare. It’s lone inhabitant left it vacant. Words can’t describe how peculiar and spectacular an empty tomb can be or how loudly this stone still shouts: “He is Risen!”

empty-tomb

The Empty Tomb, Jerusalem, Israel

 

 

 

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