Tuesday, November 29, 2016

These Three Words (And I'm Not Talking Stevie Wonder)

We all have it. Regardless of whether we want to admit to it or not, it's there. It's all around us. It's in every one of us. If it were a natural resource, we could inexhaustibly mine, drill, and cultivate it for decades. It won't damage the earth's ozone layer, nevertheless it causes its own version of "global warming".

It's called implicit bias.

For those who don't know, implicit bias is the idea that we hold attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding and subconsciously influence our thoughts, actions and behavior towards others. And as I said earlier, we all have it. This becomes problematic when those decisions, actions, and behaviors negatively impact a specific demographic. Some try to suggest or sell the idea that it does not exist or it is not that important of an issue, when it truly does and is. Especially when it come to issues related to justice, equal treatment under the law, and social acceptance.

Here's one example of implicit bias...thanks to Linkin Bridge, one of the runners-up on America's Got Talent 2016:

Here's another Linkin Bridge moment.

Want more proof? Here it is in three words.

I started this blog on a flight to Texas, and I'm quite sure that if someone on the plane saw me type these three words, implicit bias undoubtedly would've kicked in. (And it possibly would be the reason why I didn't get the second beverage I requested.) And it would've undoubtedly generated a hot take, passionate beef, or sharp retort...and we have all heard about 80% of them. I give that percentage precisely because every possible take, beef, or retort is a subsidiary of one of the following four categories:

-That's a racist statement because all lives matter.

-That's a loaded statement targeted unfairly, insensitively, and combatively towards law enforcement.

-That's a divisive statement due to the disruption and level of dissension caused by activists and supporters connected to the movement that espoused this concept.

-That's a true statement based on the historical and current narrative of Blacks in America and their lawful right and desire to be valued by all Americans.

Depending on what color ray of the American prism on which you tend to focus the most, we all have a response, spoken or silent...and many of them are viscerally stoked. Yet the percentage remains at 80% because there is one response that is rarely heard audibly (from a non-Black person or Black person largely unaffected by the typical perils of the African-American experience), but speaks with each negative act that intentionally or unintentionally impedes the positive progress and livelihood of Blacks and clearly influenced by implicit bias:

No they don't. Or hardly as much as all the other ones.

Implicit bias training is now being encouraged in certain work environments. Problem is all of us will not get the training. Many of us unfortunately will not be offered the course. And some of us will "phone it in", take home the certificate of completion only for it to collect dust on our trophy shelf, and press the mental "factory reset" button...knowing good and well there is a software (or in some cases, hardware) update available.

I know this far too well. I have been employed in both the public and private sector. Some press the button as soon as they leave the training room...and the results are evident. So the training is usually only as good as the person willing to apply and implement it, for the benefit of all parties involved. If you're not that invested, you're not that motivated to be a part of the solution...and inherently content to remain part of the problem, since the problem doesn't affect your bottom line.

When it comes to Black lives, implicit bias is not a red herring. It is the centuries-old elephant in the room that others cannot or refuse to effort to see, and Black folk have seen grow up from a baby. Conversely, Black people in many ways are self-aware of their implicit bias. We root for other Black people who "keep it real", do "big things", and ultimately "remember where they came from". Historically, many Blacks have either heard or used labels to reveal their implicit and explicit bias: Uncle Tom/sell-out, Oreo/wannabe, thug/gangsta, church boy/girl, etc. Deserved or undeserved, those are the pejoratives. And those are just some of the ones that apply to other Black people. I'm not even going to delve into the ones for other demographic groups.

Blacks born into and borne out of the trials and tribulations of being Black in America can tend to innately smell the stench of implicit bias gone sour. Implicit bias is not necessarily evil in and of itself. If the "powers" were and are used for good, Blacks would and may possibly be seen in a much more positive light and given the benefit of the doubt. Not as "dangerous" and "threatening" due to the presence of higher melanin content...for starters. But we are quite afar off from that happening.

In the meantime, it would be recommended and advisable for a good number of us to sign up for some classes. Maybe this one is available: Introduction to Black Lives Matter.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Church That "The Church" Produced

The Republican Party is finding out how difficult it is to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

I was reflecting on the course taken by the Republicans that enabled Donald Trump to run for President. In the process of enabling him, it was not apparent to them just how caustic the outcome would be. In effect, they took the genie out of the bottle and were unable to put him back in. Or more vividly, they opened Pandora's box and the fallout from their curiosity is the country's dilemma...and maybe its demise.

Republicans have made it a point to play with fire and allow the seeds of hatred to germinate. For decades, they have tapped into fears and prejudices for political gain. They have galvanized a particular spirit, one that Trump rode to the nomination. Unfortunately, what has taken place with the Republicans making poor bedfellows with Trump has brought about - to borrow from the landmark documentary on the Nation of Islam - "the hate that hate produced".

The Republican Party was not the first group of people to have a "toothpaste and tube" issue.  The Nation of Islam walked that road previously...

But this is not a post about American politics. This is a post about the Lord's church.

What I'm doing here is drawing a parallel with the Grand Ole Party of 2016. But it requires grasping a concept that unfortunately can be seen by the casual observer of the current state of churches of Christ, particularly the predominantly African-American demographic. And I'm afraid that the concept would be too much to unpack in one post.

You see, the Republican Party, with its longstanding principles, protocol, and policies, has been rocked to the core by an unsuspecting (at least to them) spirit that has wrought havoc upon their base and sent a tragic ripple effect throughout the country. The church, likewise, has been entrenched in methodology, protocol, policies, sacred cows, and other quasi-Biblical or quasi-ecclesiastical "pillars" that have culminated in a current climate where the old church reality gave birth to a new church reality. And this reality is markedly unfamiliar with the church that Jesus established in AD 33 (or AD 30, depending on which calendar you use). What we are experiencing is this:

The church that "the church" produced.

This is the church in which older preachers who begat other preachers and mentored them for upwards of decades now see this reality in their protégées: either the mentees have been molded or molded themselves into clones of their preaching mentors or heroes; or, upon immersing themselves in a higher scholasticism, have decided to depart from their mentoring track and create a new track that doesn't resemble the church context in which they were raised.

This is the church in which the following will help you to be recognized or seen as credible among brotherhood circles. Put another way, you have "arrived" if or when you hit these benchmarks:
-a baccalaureate degree (read: doctorate), or at worst an undergraduate degree from one of the schools on the approved university/college list;
-an eye-catching resume with personal references including a "pioneer preacher" and/or one of inimitable renown;
-successful exposure on a national or semi-national level (what I'd like to call having one's "Heisman" moment on the "chitlin circuit");
-and the congregational statistics (membership numbers) and pedigree (congregational or ministerial affiliations) to buttress all of the above.

Having only one of the above gets you a passing glance but possibly not an invite to the clique. I guess membership has its advantages.

Relax, TD.  You're off the hook...for now...
Same goes for you too, Joel...

This is the church in which supposed prestigious awards are created and bestowed upon a select few to receive. Some awards are handed out prematurely on the strength of potential alone (such as a "Future Pioneer Preacher" award) or affiliation with the self-styled "ballers and shot-callers" from the national to the local levels. Certain brothers are repeat winners, receiving more than their fair share of flowers. The also-rans either grow weary, indifferent, disgusted, or indignant of the choices made by the "Academy".

This is the church where if you speak out in protest against the status quo, those in leadership holding feigned and contrived prestige, rub the "movers and shakers" the wrong way, or upset the apple cart of the perceived "pecking order", you run the risk of getting maligned or marginalized...or even worse, the dreaded "letter of withdrawal".

Speaking of which, this is the church in which certain church leaders or members become recipients of the dreaded "letter", whether Biblically-justifiable or not. The letter (not a "scarlet" one, but works the same way) gets circulated from coast to coast and is accompanied by the Almighty Telephone and "church grapevine".

Yet when the brother makes amends and does due diligence to remedy his "error", the burden of proof is on him to sway biased minds and offset suspicions that he is actually back in fellowship. The letter is un-retractable in all practicality mainly because the same zeal with which the letter was distributed is not summoned to clear the brother's name. A "letter of restoration" hardly gets circulated through that same "grapevine"...or, in some cases, even approaches "rough draft" mode.

This is the church in which church protocol and personal habits of religiosity rule the day. Everyone seems to know what to do or say when the moment hits because of discipling programming via second-hand modeling. Here are just a few examples:
-Come on and say it with me: "Brothers and sisters, I have sinned. I have repented of my sins. And I ask the church to pray for me so that I may grow stronger." Enough said. Literally...in more ways than one.
-Getting to worship just in time to take communion and/or making sure not to sleep too hard during the sermon in order to leave during "intermission" (when the invitation song is being sung).
-Referring to leaders as "Bishop", "Evangelist", "Elder", "Minister", etc. - and watch yourself before you fix your mouth to call them by their first name - because they have reached an "anointed" position and should receive the "honor" and "respect" due to them. [Not saying that they are not worthy of it (1Tim 5.17). Just not more than they are entitled to per Scripture.]

This is the church where the bully pulpit is still in vogue after 50 years or more at the various lectureships packing the annual calendar, competing for the same brotherhood dollars, and still offering us such old-time favorites as "Hand-clapping Is/Is Not A Sin". The "hot seat" is the popular platform, a microcosm of the same ol', alleged "sound doctrine" movement...when in fact some issues have nothing to do with healthy teaching and everything to do with church imperialism, abuse of "power", mismanagement of funds, and ecclesiastical gang-bangin'. Seriously, what is the church if we don't have someone inside of it to fight with or against (Galatians 5.15)?

What's missing from this picture? A bully.

If these issues and associated fights were TV reruns in syndication, the royalties would insure that our colleges will never come close to witnessing insolvency, and youth nationwide would have all expenses paid to attend the National Youth Conference throughout their teenage years.

(I already know that some who are reading this could not get past the "hand-clapping" remark...when this post is not about that. But it won't stop some from making it an issue, because trigger words and phrases are an invitation for many to change the narrative to suit pet peeves, running beefs, and personal projects. This is the church we are a part of.)

This is the church where congregations will turn their annual budget on end and break the bank to invite the evangelist or singing group du jour to hopefully draw a massive crowd, because the evangelist and singing group has a non-negotiable "fee" that might even include a per diem. And, when it's all said and done, virtually no one has been converted, hardly anyone has been spiritually transformed in a lasting manner, and the surrounding community is the biggest loser. Or maybe it's the church. You make the call.

This is the church in which song leaders with mad vocals oozing out of their pores are the new celebrities and worship leaders are the chosen ones. And that, unsurprisingly in some circles, is no longer gender-specific.

What has this become for the church...MTV? C-Span? BET?

This is the church in which who you know matters more than Who you know. The Lord is relegated to third-row passenger status because room needs to be made for any church dignitaries that we hope will show up. In some minds, it's all good as long as He is in the car. However, the Who we should know neither co-signed nor orchestrated any of this. We have no one to blame but us. No alibi, excuse, or explanation will suffice. All fingers point back in our direction. We did this to ourselves. This is the church that "the church" produced.

And the sad part is that I'm only scratching the surface. Someone pass me the Crest and a small funnel...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Here Lies Hip-Hop (And The Church As We Used To Know It)

I asked myself a question the other day that seemed easy enough to answer at first, but really caused me to plunge deeper into thought. The question was related to the state of hip-hop. I concluded that the state of hip-hop is the same as the state of our society…which is the same as the state of the Lord’s church…which is the state of every ‘evolving’ life un-regenerated by the Holy Spirit: progressive regression masked as progressive enlightenment.
You see, evolutionary theory (specifically, the concept of natural selection...more importantly, the related concept of fitness) tries to tell us, among other things, that living beings adapt and survive at the expense of lesser beings. Before you read any further, what I'm about to say is not an endorsement of Darwinism. Far from it. What I'm referring to rises supremely far above this unproven, inconsistent, unsupportable, and overwhelmingly shaky treatise. What I'm setting forth is in reality a glaring exposition of the righteousness of God, showing that sin has a way of making man more carnal, cannibalistic, and ambitiously egocentric (or egocentrically ambitious) with every step that is intrinsically false-positive. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle Paul, issued the caveats in Galatians 5.15 and 5.26. This, no matter how you slice it, is not progress.

So there is no surprise that commercial hip-hop has becomes every whit of a microcosm for the overall state of (hu)mankind. And that state has directly underscored how the church is sadly influenced by societal "winds of doctrine" in the worst way...winds that blow open the front door, pass through the foyer into the sanctuary, and obfuscate the pulpit.

I’m first-generation hip-hop. I remember in the late seventies the cries from the pulpit when Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Big Bank Hank rocked the mic and shot up the charts with “Rapper’s Delight”. To paraphrase the cries, we need to stop our youth in the church from listening, seeing that it’s a shame that they know all the lyrics to this song yet cannot quote any book, chapter, and verse. Even at my young age, I found it odd that this same medium was not wisely leveraged by the preachers of that day to reach adolescents with the time-proven Gospel.

Not to suggest that ministers needed to develop MC skills. This was anathema circa 1979...as opposed to our day and time when evangelists stand on pulpits and hip-hop platforms alike proclaiming God's truth. I’m just saying that church leaders might possibly have discovered a way to harness and cultivate that energy and passion, nurturing it so my cohort would not have been "rap-shamed" out of listening to and ministering using this seminal music genre…which was nowhere near as insidious, pernicious, and seductively destructive to the soul as what is being offered by its contemporary secular offspring.

The legendary Grandmaster Flash on the wheels of steel...

You might argue that suggesting that evangelists 30 years ago leverage the raw essence of a grass-roots cultural movement can be seen as progressive...or even "ultra-progressive". I'll give you that. However, that does not minimize the overarching point that I'm trying to drive home: just like real, authentic hip-hop is functionally dead in the commercial/social stratosphere, the hey-days gone by of the church are similarly dead. Trying to relive or resuscitate old forms and methods in a post-Christian society is the equivalent of trying to show '60s-era Hanna-Barbera cartoons to millennials and expecting them to yield a Nielsen rating of 19.5 in prime-time.

We live in a new era where "progressive" is now one of the new buzzwords (either verbal or implicit) for a growing segment of the church populace...and anyone else not moving at warp-5 speed with them is probably not worth slowing down to drag along. It's just too much luggage, no matter what technology you employ. "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother" has given way to "Brothers Gonna Work It Out", which has now transmogrified into "Why You Always Hatin'"...

For me, I perceive the danger is not so much the idea of a church context being ultra-progressive (in ministry, worship style, evangelism, preaching, etc.) as it is the way the ultra-progressive mindset treats congregations not like them. Of course, I believe that there is an inherent risk theologically and spiritually in congregations that subscribe to "revisionist hermeneutics" to suit their means to an end. (More about that in another post.) However, I feel it is even more serious when churches of this ilk (especially those "individuals" who mount the pulpit) display a conceited, sucking-teeth, "you-poor-thing" pity move towards the less honorable, “uncomely” parts of the Body...as though the axiomatic red-headed stepchild actually has a better shot than these humble congregations at being loved by their own with the love Jesus directed in John 13.35.

Don't even ask...I have no idea...
In addition, those who have a snobbish attitude towards the "least" of us invariably seem equally enthralled with the "greatest" of us...or "others". (I may need to unpack that point in a separate post.) So the self-styled ecclesiastical "big ballers and shot-callers" (maybe in their own minds...likely in a great number of others) hob-nob with each other so the rich can get presumptuously richer, while those who do not fit in with their clique get the same treatment as Large Professor while he was "looking out the front door".

How much are those of us who operate like this - in the name of or under the guise of Christian, Spirit-led, or just plain church authenticity - willing to sacrifice for the sake of maintaining an ultra-progressive agenda? Is it really worth it? It would make sense for those who are supposedly enlightened in some nouveau, lightweight-Gnostic thought process to skip the pity-serving and share the wealth so the entire Kingdom can be blessed. Instead, hoarding resources, denying authentic relationship-building, "big-timin'" (I think you know what I mean), and, dare I say, reaching down "to help those less fortunate" is not high on the ultra-progressives' radar...because their view of the Kingdom at times fails to be inclusive of all their brothers and sisters, unless their "backwoods" siblings are willing to play by their "rules"...and get the same toys...and (I'm just going to say it) accept them no matter the consequences, collateral Kingdom/fellowship damage, absence of spiritual character and propriety, degree of departure from healthy/responsible teaching, or growing number of affronts to the righteousness of God. And because of all this, the term "unity" now becomes part of the "revisionist hermeneutics" narrative.

This is much of a challenge for the ultra-progressive as it is for the traditional/conservative, or even "ultra-conservative", congregations - some of which remain antithetical or resistant to palpable, necessary change that makes the Word of God relevant in their respective corners of the world. Those who are not seeking to adopt a real paradigm shift that stirs them to disconnect the life-support plug with both hands, and forcefully pull themselves off of the "bed of affliction" to be reinvigorated, and engage a postmodern generation with thought, purpose, and a fresh infusion of the "old paths" (not old methodology), will likely remain puzzled at why the ultra-progressive "plants" have yet to be "plucked up".

All in all, we have a critical responsibility to those who will undoubtedly get blindsided by this ecclesiological and ecclesiastical tug o' war, and find themselves unwittingly on one end of the rope or the other...fully unaware of the tensions in play. What we cannot afford to do is recreate and experience our own church-flavored version of the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud of the mid-'90s...rollin' with one faction, believing the hype/spin that accompanies it, and gearing up to proselytize, "worship-shame", marginalize, or even "divide and conquer".

What this responsibility should do is point us back to the righteousness of God and a holistic understanding of its underpinnings. If Since what Solomon said is true about this principle being the bellwether of the rise and fall of a nation, we must find our way back to it...reaching up over our heads for it, striving to model it for all to see...including the "saved and the blest". If we don't, or if we tell ourselves that we have reached that plateau and others not pulling for our "side" are falling way short of it, then we all - or most of us, save a remnant - will be caught up in "set-trippin'"...or end up far worse: like Rover.

At least when we bring the righteousness of God into the arena, we can view things as they are from God's perspective (as the standard that it is and should be). Not from our own construct or subjective viewpoint...like an old-school/new school dynamic, say like a choice between Melle Mel/Rakim/KRS-ONE/Big Daddy Kane/LL Cool J and Jay-Z/Kanye/Drake/Lil Wayne/Future as the best rap "artist" alive or ever...but more like a Moses/Korah et al. construct/viewpoint (Numbers 16.1ff).

In essence, where DO we stand in light of God's righteousness? Will we passively point and watch while the accuser runs like a parasite through the Kingdom, or do we become transformed and teach? Will we be satisfied with only minding our own territory in the Kingdom, or see things as larger than our perceived intra-/inter-congregational agenda? And how much of the responsibility (and accountability) are we willing to own and bear for the Kingdom's sake?

Which reminds me of one hip-hop classic in which the lyrics penned by one of the best ever, the late Keith Elam - better known by his rap moniker, Guru - of the legendary Gang Starr, are ostensibly apropos:

So digest as I suggest we take a good look
At who's who while I'm readin' from my good book
And let's dig into every nook and every cranny
Set your mind free as I slam these thoughts...
You can't be sleepin' 'cuz things are gettin' crazy/You better stop bein' lazy
There's many people frontin' and many brothers droppin'
All because of dumb things/Let me tell you somethin'
I've been through so much that I'm such/A maniac, but I still act out of faith...
Just imagine if each one is teaching one/We'll come together so that we become
A strong force, then we can stay on course...
And for my people out there, I got a question
Can we be the soul controllers of our fate?/Now who's gonna take the weight?
The weight of the world is heavy on my mind/So as my feelings unwind I find
That some try to be down because it's trendy/Others fall victim to envy...
Spirituality supports reality/We gotta fight with the right mentality
So we can gain what is rightfully ours...
So let me ask you...is it too late?/Ayo, who's gonna take the weight?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Donald the "Christ"?

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many...At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. Matt 24.5, 22-24, NIV

It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is sufficient evidence to support that statement, with all of the despots and tyrants who have ruled in antiquity. The Unites States, in contrast, has been immune from such influences due to the unique democratic process and governmental infrastructure we possess. So it's no wonder that a good number of Americans would be caught off-guard by someone, possibly under the same spirit of influence, who possibly could fall into that category. Enter Donald J. Trump.

This well-known businessman came onto the political scene, as he puts it, as a result of being a former insider who now sits on the outside, saw what was happening with our country, and was compelled to make a difference. It sounds very innocuous, but what we have seen are some disturbing patterns, declarations, and missteps...not to mention his historical exploits attempting to catch up with him.

One of the most disturbing and eyebrow-raising instances during his campaign occurred as he was accepting the Republican nomination for President. After running a laundry list of unresolved issues and national problems, he made this declaration:

I alone can fix it.

I. Alone. Can fix it.

The idea that he would say something that megalomaniacal is only mildly shocking. (For reference, see, "No one respects women more than I do.") But for throngs of people to actually cosign that statement is more telling. The belief factor in one who holds no experience or requisite skill in collaborating with lawmakers, former heads of state, world leaders, and military personnel would not typically be this elevated were it not for his experience and/or requisite skill in real estate, entertainment, and finance.

I wish I had a tally counter handy to track all of the times he has said, virtually as a passing qualifier, "Believe me". Despite offering a vacuum of credible evidence and resource documentation, he still affirms that he is credible and trustworthy to be the POTUS simply on the strength of his statements alone. It is as though his words will never fall to the ground. The only circumstantial shroud of proof submitted by him on which individuals could possibly build their hope is his successful business track record. No matter how many spots and speckles his track record may have, it is...in large part...using "natural" standards (1Cor 2.14)...successful. That is the concerning part, simply because of his assertion that he alone can fix America. And we are being encouraged by him, his surrogates, and supporters to believe that he can.

The trouble with anyone saying that the solution for America's ills rests within one man is this: it's not a one-man job. 43 Presidents have come and gone. The current President will soon be "retired". If this were a one-man job, the assumption would be that each prior President was arguably the best choice we could make as a country at that time to handle that task. Sadly, this was and is not the case. And past Presidents did not have a country operating at the level of difficulty in which it exists now.

So the suggestion by Trump that he has it all sewed up is very challenging to believe. But there is a deeper issue raised by The Donald's assertion. Is this a situation in which he is positioning himself as America's only and last hope, hence America's savior? Is Trump the new Messianic figure, his political entourage and followers the disciples, and Wikileaks the new "infallible" Scriptures?
Unless a person came from an autocratically-governed country, the average American born and raised here is not used to experiencing a person of power who is coming off as a potential demagogue. He/She wouldn't know how to insulate himself/herself against such a personality because our governmental system thrives on "checks and balances" to guard against that threat. But it doesn't mean that a person with this mental makeup could not gain a following that can create even more upheaval by operating within the holes of the zone defense. And this could be the case if Trump wins or loses the election.

Yes, America is not perfect and not without its faults. For example, the criminal justice/judicial system has been in need of a desperate makeover. Obama's commuting sentences of non-violent drug offenders - mostly African-Americans caught up in the "drug wars" - shone a spotlight on just how incongruent justice can be. But for one to assume that he has the magic touch is a dangerous road to traverse. It is the same thinking as what the rap group known as The LOX once stated: "Money, power, and respect...it's the key to life". And these things make the person in possession of a full tank of each of them to believe he is above the law and can consistently operate above the fray...no matter who challenges him.

So Jesus' warning rings loudly. Beware. If someone states that he has the answers to all of the societal tribulations in America, and clearly does not abide in the righteousness that God sets forth, beware that you may be the "elect" who is now being carried away by the deception of "another" Christ. If a person says to believe him when nothing has been shown to breed permanent fidelity in him, beware. Because a human being just like you and me can only offer a limited supply of trustworthiness...regardless of the successful track record. And depositing all of your faith, hope, and allegiance in any person - even a US President, or one that hopes to be, regardless of the political party - is never a wise move when your overall welfare, not to mention your very soul, is at stake (Psalm 118.8-9).

Just remember that you can't say that you haven't been told...by the real Christ.