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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

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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

 

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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!”

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The Empty Tomb, Jerusalem, Israel

 

 

 

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Album Reviews, Uncategorized

Album Review: The Narrative by Sho Baraka

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Is The Narrative socially conscience or Christian? Is it a protest against racism or a celebration of black culture? Is it a sermon or a confession? Or Maybe it is both?

The Narrative is Sho Baraka’s long awaited follow up to the groundbreaking “Talented Tenth” (2013) album which was a turning point for him as an artist and a milestone for fans of hip hop that explore spiritual and social themes. sho-baraka-talented-xth-1500The unique artistic direction that inspired The Talented Tenth contributed to his decision to depart from the wildly successful Reach Records empire (led by multi Grammy™ Award winning artist Lecrae), and cost Sho many of his fans who were uncomfortable with the racial and historical critiques the project addressed. Ironically though, after it’s release, the controversial police shootings of Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and others, along with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement brought these themes to the forefront of relevance. Now, many who rejected the socially conscious lyrics of The Talented Tenth eagerly yearn for the insights that The Narrative offers. Sho’s social justice advocacy (see The And Campaign) and unashamed declaration of his faith is a path increasing numbers of millennials seek to travel upon. And what better guide than one who led the way years before it became cool to talk about justice?

The Narrative tells the story of the metaphorical character James Portier who symbolically represents the plight of the African Americans in the American experience. It’s a journey that involves spiritual insights, social commentary and personal reflections. To help place the narrative in its historical context, a specific year is included in the song titles which reveals a milestone in Mr. Portier’s life.

The journey starts with the “Foreword, 1619”. The year is significant because in 1619 Africans were first bought and sold by European settlers in North America – so it’s natural starting point for James Portier, and the listener.

Sho manages to tackle serious topics such as systemic economic racism in My Hood, USA, 1937 (the year when the Federal Housing Authority established redlining – a practice that legalized housing discrimination and the lost of untold amounts of black wealth) while still maintaining his characteristic, playful wordplay. At one point chiding copycat emcees:

“How you sound outdated when you copying The Future?”

So while this project is deeply committed to addressing social issues, Sho doesn’t take himself too seriously. The catchy, dance jam 30 & Up, 1986 (30 years ago) features Grammy™ award winning artist Courtney Orlando (formerly known as JR), a live band and reveals that Sho Baraka can still be the life of the party! The video reflects Sho’s fun-loving, romantic and comical streak. 

Sho creates a narrative that seeks to make room for a faith and culture integration that embraces complexity. In Maybe Both, 1865, Sho seeks to add nuance to the overly simplistic view of American history that sees the founders solely as inspirational revolutionaries while ignoring their slaveholding legacy and role in enshrining discrimination in our system of governance (such as the 3/5th Compromise in The Constitution). He also questions the popular dichotomy of viewing Jesus Christ as either an exclusively otherworldly Savior or merely a radical social activist.  Maybe America is a great nation of opportunity, yet also greatly flawed due to its historic failure to live up to its own vision. Additionally, maybe Jesus is a spiritual Savior and the iconic model for righteous resistance against injustice. Sho challenges us “Maybe it is both”.

The spiritual undertones of the album pushes back against the anti-supernatural bias in a post-Christian and secular age. That bias reveals itself in how people discredit Christianity because of the atrocities that (so-called) followers have done in its name. Sho reminds the listener that though those with an atheistic worldview have also been responsible for evils and racism in the world yet their worldview is not rejected because of it. He asks:

“Is God to blame for our intentions?/Like scientists didn’t bless the world with eugenics.”

Conversely, Sho highlights the contributions of activists inspired by the Bible’s appeal for social justice. Names like Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Mahalia Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others are woven into The Narrative to give honor to these faith-inspired activists and challenge us to walk in their footsteps. In the tradition of C.S. Lewis, Sho employs a defense of the Christian faith by arguing, among other things, that the very concept of truth and morality insists on a transcendent Truth Giver. At the same time Sho warns the faithful of the perils of ignoring God’s mandate to do justice: it leads to hypocrisy, suffering and a lack of effective Gospel witness in the world.

The Narrative doesn’t just take aim at major historical and theological themes, either. In what has become his signature, Sho is brutally honest in sharing his own struggles to live out his convictions and vision. He unflinchingly reveals his personal battles with the allure of fame, the frustration with his financial struggles, and – perhaps most vulnerably in Words, 2006 – the challenges of caring for his autistic son. Sho turns a sound booth into a confessional and bears his soul. Vulnerability like this is a rarity. Hardly a track goes by without some reflection of a personal shortcoming. This helps prevent The Narrative from being preachy but more of a memoir not only of James Portier, but also of Sho Baraka. And it’s difficult not to be impacted and inspired by such self-disclosure.

My favorite tracks:

The Road to Humble, 1979 not only is melodic and poetic, but is a insightful journey into Sho’s development from birth (1979) to the present as an artist on Humble Beast. It is one part testimony of a sinner who was saved, one part reflection of his growth as an artist, and one part declaration of his new direction as an artist, Christian and a man.

Piano Break, 33 A.D. concludes the album with a live piano and a urgent testimony that takes us to church. It responds to Jay-Z’s No Church In the Wild, confesses personal struggles, and critiques moral relativism. The thesis of the track “He’s been good to me” appeals to the hope of Jesus Christ as the solution to resolve all of the brokenness in the world and within Sho as well.(33 A.D. is when Jesus is believed to have resurrected)

The Narrative is a musical journal entry, not only of the fictional James Portier who embodies the black experience, but also of Sho, a very well read, creative and daring artist who refuses to allow the current music industry narratives – Christian or secular – define him or what his art should be. This is a narrative that relates and connects with not only Mr. Portier or Sho but with all of us who seek to break free from the expectations and limitations people attempt to put on us. It’s genre-bending content and musicality makes it an important contribution to music and to those who seek to live with a divine sense of purpose in these complex times. That’s a story worth telling and sharing.

Review: 5 stars out of 5.

 

Tracklist:

  1. Forward, 1619 (feat. Adan Bean & C. Lacy)
  2. Soul, 1971 (feat. Jamie Portier)
  3. Kanye, 2009 (feat. Jackie Hill Perry)
  4. Love, 1959
  5. Here, 2016 (feat. Lecrae)
  6. 30 & Up, 1986 (feat. Courtney Orlando)
  7. Profhet, 1968 (feat. Jamie Portier)
  8. Maybe Both, 1865 (feat. Jamie Portier)
  9. Excellent, 2017
  10. Road to Humble, 1979
  11. My Hood, U.S.A., 1937 (feat. Vanessa Hill)
  12. Words, 2006
  13. Fathers, 2004
  14. Piano Break, 33 A.D.
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It’s Complicated ~ Album Review: Rapper Gets Defensive About Faith

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How does a hip hop artist confront the major objections that secular, Western culture levels against Christianity? Well, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. answers that question with the statement “It’s complicated” with his latest studio album. He once mused on on a previous album: “This isn’t the music you drink to/This is the music you think to”. That statement rings true in this project dealing with doubts and disputes about the Christian faith.

How ambitious is this album? Well, it addresses the problem of God and suffering, religious pluralism, judgment in the church, the accusation that Jesus was plagiarized from Egypt, Heaven and Hell. Heavy stuff, but necessary given the ubiquitous and relentless attacks against the Christian faith that have caused many to be confused and reject their faith.

Tackling all these topics is complicated by itself. But engaging youthful fans of hip hop presents an even greater challenge. This era of hip hop is not one in which ideology is explicitly taught like in the 80’s and 90’s. Trap music and bragging about “broads in Atlanta” captivates and sells millions.

To help get his point across, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. invites one of the world’s foremost defenders of the Christian faith, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, along for the journey. Dr. Zacharias, author of over 60 books, shows up in interludes offering thoughtful insights about the topics addressed throughout the project. His contributions are intellectual, and yet, because of his Indian-born, British accent, strangely musical as well. The two released a video of their interaction on Youtube.

da truth ravi

Any hip hop album tackling such weighty subject matter in the current musical climate faces an uphill climb in finding significant reception, but this project is important precisely for that reason.

At times, the weight of the content bogs down the musicality of the album, but there are epic moments where this project ascends to heavenly heights of inspiring, thought provoking defenses of faith along with compellingly good hip-hop all at once.

Here’re a few of can’t miss tracks:

  • Why So Serious? Featuring Reach Records artist, KB, this is one of the tracks that you will enjoy to listen to and think to. The title is borrowed from the famous line in the film The Dark Knight, when The Joker sarcastically posed the question “Why so serious?” before going on a murderous rampage. The Joker ultimately appealed to a rejection of absolute truth and morality as a justification of the mayhem he created. The analogy drawn in this track is compelling and troubling. Though many today dismiss the emphasis people of faith place on absolute truth and morality, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. agues that the tragic mass shootings so prevalent today offer clear examples about why it’s essential for us to clarify and discuss the reality of good and evil. The song reflects on the mass shooter, James Holmes, who dyed his hair to emulate the Joker, injured 59 people and killed 12 others in a Colorado showing of The Dark Knight Rises. From a Christian worldview, the evil and brokenness in our world can’t be separated from the rejection of a pursuit of goodness, truth and ultimately of God. Why so serious? Because if it is true that the Earth is a battleground between Good and Evil than being on the sidelines is impossible and being on the right side is really serious.

 

  • Heaven: Heaven is a stirring anthem boosted by the strong, soulful vocals of Christon Gray. This track beautifully blends uplifting lyrics and powerful production. It seeks to dispel the age-old misrepresentation of Heaven as a boring, bland and drab existence. Da’ T.R.U.T.H. celebrates Heaven as the ultimate Utopia where we reunite with loved ones and no longer experience sickness and death. He challenges us to anticipate vibrant city life, where culture and art find their ultimate expression of beauty and purpose. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place where there is peaceful race relations, eradication of poverty, and enjoying the presence of God face-to-face?  “Everything upgraded … the end of all of our desires”. Heaven’s inspiring vision of the after life provides hope that good triumphs over evil and that God gets the last word. That’s a win for all of us.

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  • Religion: Da T.R.U.T.H. tackles another tough topic in the song simply called “Religion.” In the United States, we live in an increasingly pluralistic society where we have interactions with adherents from various religious backgrounds. Many have argued that religions are essentially the same, but Dr. Ravi Zacharias responds with a provocative statement: “All religions are superficially similar but fundamentally different.”

But how does a person of faith respond when the reports of religion in the media seem to be so negative? We see the frequent turbulence of the Jewish vs. Muslim conflict in the Middle East. We are frustrated by the frequent attacks executed by extremist, Islamic terrorist groups and the abuse of innocent Muslims from people of other religious groups. Scandals involving sexual abuse or financial corruption are just as commonplace in the church.  As a result of hearing of all these tragedies many just reject religious claims altogether. Da’ T.R.U.T.H. notes: “They say Abrahamic religions are the cause of hate and divisions”.  Without ignoring the problematic and often ugly history of the Church, Zacharias makes a thought provoking observation: “Christianity is not the same as who Christ is.” Instead of evaluating the truth of Christianity based on the actions of people that Jesus himself would condemn, Zacharias and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. urge us to examine what the claims of the faith actually are based on the person who founded the movement: namely Jesus Christ himself. In our time, this is an important song to discuss. Much of what Zacharias stated can be summed up like this:

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Two other tracks that seamlessly stitch together weighty subject matter with amazing musicality is the Color Purple and The Vow. These tracks explore very personal aspects of Da’T.R.U.T.H.’s faith – which is why they work so well. Color Purple exposes the tensions within camps of the Christian faith that look upon each other with suspicion. Similar to the acrimonious political divides of the “Left vs Right” the conflicts between “Charismatic vs. Conservative” can be wrought with distrust, and disdain. The vision of not being a “red state” or “blue state” but the “Color Purple” is especially meaningful given the current political climate and election year. As the Christian worldview is increasingly marginalized in our secularized society, what unites us is becoming increasingly more important than what divides us. Having said that, it would have been nice to hear more about what ideological shifts Da’ T.R.U.T.H. made, if any, to reconcile the sometimes extremely different systems of theology the various camps have. Regardless, though, this track is very authentic, thought provoking and transparent.

The Vow, the last track on the album, is melodic, with a techno feel that is dominant in pop music in 2016. Having dealt with the major intellectual challenges and reservations against the Christian faith, The Vow deals with the heart and the biblical concept of covenantal love expressed in marriage. While initially feeling out of place, The Vow appropriately casts a vision in which the covenant of marriage is held in the high esteem of a Christian worldview. That concept is radically different than the disposable marriages we see so frequently today. Once again, ideas have consequences and the idea that the vow “til death do us part” should actually mean more than ceremony and tradition is powerful.

It’s Complicated reflects Da’ T.R.U.T.H.’s obvious burden to help young Christians fortify their faith as they go to college classrooms and consume popular culture which seems to undermine that faith at every turn. Because of that reality, this is an important project.

It’s Complicated sometimes gets a little too complicated for the average listener. For example, though many millennials have been influenced by Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion), far fewer actually know who the atheist apologist is, so when he’s referenced on the the album I’m not sure who will catch it. But this project does what very few have attempted: present a defense of the Christian faith featuring a seasoned hip-hop artist and a world class apologist (Dr. Ravi Zacharias) in the medium of hip-hop.

And it isn’t complicated to say it deserves a listen for that alone.

 

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Black & Blue

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*Artwork courtesy of Alex Medina

Black and Blue

Another one shot dead
leaving my soul black and blue
Heart is hurt from the grief
wandering what am i to do

Why did they take his life?
“He wasn’t even threatening you!”
It’s like just being a black man
is probable cause to shoot

The hashtags are blows to the body
leaving me bruised black and blue
Consoling my wife and my daughter
“Daddy, why did they have to shoot?”

Took a walk went to my barber
He don’t trust no one who wears blue.
Says whites are mostly the enemy.
He’s tired of being black and blue.
Despair leads to anger – he “like next we gonna shoot!”
Only future he sees is one that is black and blue.

I tell him, those cops will see jail time.
Can’t blame him when he says:
“It’s not true.”
Conspiracies sound less like theories
when they pass “Blue Lives Matter” too
Which says: “The cops don’t gotta say nothing”
30 days to shape what is true.
The law just beat down justice
Leaving her blind, black and blue.

I know not all of them are bad.
They texting me sympathies too.
I’ve seen the Spirit change hearts
And reveal the claims of injustice are true
But he don’t know those people.
All he sees is the blacks left blue.

I feel a surge of hope
But then the shooting is shared on YouTube
And the same folks who cried for a gorilla
are now suddenly silent too
and even the church seems to be muted
Now even Christ Body’s black and blue

Woke up to another slaying.
The police chief was black and wore blue.
Talked of snipers on the rooftop
Officers down. 5 dead.
more injured too.

The footage blew my mind.
Cops sprinting into the chaos
while instructing civilians to move
These officers so courageous.
Protecting those protesting you.
See casualties on the street
a madman was sniping so cruel.
Saluting their fallen comrades.
It’s true, they matter too.

And now a new debate stirs
and new accusations too
Yesterday they were silent
Now they blaming protestors who
Cried out for Alton and Philando
slain and their families blue.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ creates distrust!”
As if they have to give us that view
They’re not causing the bruising
They’re just reflecting our wounds.

Can police do their jobs?
Without leaving us black and blue?
How do we hold them accountable?
And tone down the tensions too?
Don’t know and that’s so frustrating.
Not sure what we need to do.

I just know I hope in a Savior.
Cuz he was left black and blue.
The Law beat him down like Rodney.
Taunted and stomped on him too.
He died saying “Father Forgive Them”.
His bleeding was healing us too.
Came on a mission to save us.
One that left him black and blue.
But now we can be fixed – us & the the system too.
He came to establish His Kingdom.
Justice for me and for you.
But we must do more than pray.
Cuz after Gethsemane came Calvary too.
We must be willing to sacrifice.
Yes, there’s a cross for us too.
And I’m not talking bout tweeting
we got much more to do!

“Lord help us to heal!”
We’re reeling so black and so blue.
I pray and I act. Lord “Show us what to do.”
And protect as we fight for the right.
Both for the black and the blue.

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Is Lecrae Still Unashamed? Book Review

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Yesterday, I picked up Lecrae’s new book Unashamed planning to read a chapter or two. A few hours later, I finished reading it in one sitting. I was unexpectedly riveted. As a fan of Lecrae’s work, and one quite familiar with his story, I didn’t think that his memoir could reveal much that I hadn’t already known. But imagine if the person you knew best was injected with truth serum and had to honestly answer any question you posed … you’d still have a very revealing conversation wouldn’t you? That’s what it felt like as I read Unashamed: a raw, real look into the soul of one of the unlikeliest hip-hop stars of our time.

Lecrae’s ascension to mainstream stardom as a hip hop artist in this cultural moment is shocking. This is an era when hip hop is dominated by sexually explicit videos, gaudy materialistic lyrics, and the ever present braggadocios artists claiming to occupy an imaginary hip-hop throne. And yet, Lecrae actually makes videos about his love for his wife, raps about sacrificing fashion to take his kids to Chuck. E. Cheese, and proclaims his need for God to save him! The contrast is so staggering it’s hard to really wrap our minds around.

38eef947e53ad17bb0ec48f3d72a4568       lecrae

He is an anomaly just like the title of his chart-topping, studio album. No one has ever charted #1 on Billboard and on the Gospel charts at the same time. No one has ever been nominated for a Grammy in hip-hop and gospel categories for the same album. His rise from the obscure ranks of a sub-genre of hip hop that gets almost NO radio play, promotion, or mainstream support is nothing short of miraculous. And yet, his memoir is not a self-congratulatory reflection on all of his achievements. Unashamed is an unflinchingly honest look at the man, his music and his march to freedom by integrating his faith with his identity. Along the way, he addresses the unique trials, tribulations and triumphs that have accompanied his journey.

In Unashamed, Lecrae explores themes addressed in his previous albums but in greater detail and context. He exposes how his lingering father-wound caused a search for approval and acceptance (theme of his song, “I Just Wanna Be Like You” in Rehab). He reveals how the molestation he encountered as a child influenced his relationships with women (theme of “Good, Bad and Ugly” in Anomaly). He shares about the night he became a Christian in college (theme of “Believe” in Church Clothes 2) and how his self-righteousness and people-pleasing informed some of his early musical content (theme of “Praying for You” in After the Music Stops).

The idea woven in all of the songs, and chapters of the book was the thread of identity. Who was Lecrae going to be and what model was he going to use to shape himself. Would it be his uncles, gangstas, ministry leaders, other artists or something else?

One of the most powerful moments in Unashamed also revealed the source of the insights that formed his album Rehab. Even after his conversion, he found himself struggling with many vices that literally landed him in rehab. He wrote:

Since I thought I was supposed to be instantly sinless and my Christian friends did too, I lived a double life. I acted like a Christian around other Christians, but I let loose whenever I wasn’t.

Not the stuff you plan to hear revealed by someone at the top of his game and the hip-hop charts, is it? His stint in rehab began a journey of him accepting a deeper level of his identity that would eventually help him find his own voice and calling as an artist. His art and expressions would begin to reflect this starting with the Rehab album, which would also usher in harsh criticism and accusations.

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Early in his music career Lecrae made famous the word “unashamed” inspired from the Bible verse, Romans 1:16 which reads:

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes …

He became the iconic leader of the “116 Clique (pronounced one one six)” (from Romans 1:16). Unashamed and “116” became synonymous with boldly telling people about their faith in Jesus. But Lecrae began to develop a deeper understanding of himself, that verse and his calling (theme of his song “Non-Fiction”). He changed his approach to making music in the midst of his success. Ironically, now that he had reached heights that none of those”116″ fans could’ve dreamed of, many of them objected on message boards and social media feeds and accused Lecrae himself of no longer being unashamed. Their critique was that he watered down the Christian content in his music for the mainstream success. And honestly, even I wondered at times what was motivating his creative choices.

Lecrae’s deeper understanding of ‘unashamed’ meant more than just the courage to approach people and tell them about his faith in the risen Christ, although that was part of it. Lecrae now became unashamed of revealing his own scars – believing that the message of Jesus was best proclaimed by displaying his own inadequacies and weaknesses (especially important to him as he admits being prone to seeking people’s approval). For Lecrae the realization of his identity and calling meant being deliberate about reaching out to those outside the faith-oriented fan base he had built. It meant changing his language to relate to the many who are unfamiliar with the Bible and Christianity. It meant seeking out relationships with artists who did not share his faith. And living out that calling also meant enduring the anger and criticism of those who were suspicious about why he was changing. Lecrae writes:

I had to be unashamed in the midst of a fallen world. Now I needed to learn to be unashamed in the midst of a religious one.

Lecrae should have been more open and intentional about his shift instead of just doing it. Fans feel a certain type of stake in an artist that they supported from day one, and Lecrae admits underestimating that. That admission is another example of the refreshing vulnerability we see in Unashamed.

Lastly, the book highlights Lecrae’s perspective on the importance a “biblical worldview”. Lecrae quotes a Barna Group statistic that only 9% of Americans claiming to be Christians actually have a biblical worldview. This worldview is exemplified by the point of view that God is working to rescue and restore the world He created, but which has been corrupted by evil. This viewpoint also asserts that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the signature event in history that inaugurated redemption and models for us how to overcome the evil. Lecrae writes:

Because of Jesus, we don’t need to see culture as something to be avoided. It is something to be engaged … This has changed the way I do music. There is no such thing as Christian rap and secular rap. Only people can become Christians.

Lecrae credits several books with refining his thinking. Nancey Pearcey’s Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity  and Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling are two he refers to as pivotal in developing his own philosophy. Rejecting what he perceives as the false “sacred/secular” split transformed Lecrae’s thinking on what a biblical worldview is. The challenge is that he lives in a world that assumes such a split is real. As a result, the industries that produce the arts and the fans that consume it (both the ones labeled as sacred and secular) don’t know what to do with Lecrae. In a world that is increasingly broken, and yet frustrated by the apparent irrelevance of a Christian approach to our complex times, rediscovering a way to engage the culture seems to be critical for people of the faith. I believe Lecrae’s story and Unashamed  will help change people’s thinking about how to live in such times. Imagine what would happen if the image people had of “church clothes” were virtues such as humility, vulnerability and engagement of the culture. I know I have a lot of work to do to live up such an image. For those looking for an authentic inspiring look at an artist … flaws and all … let the church say “Amen”.

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