Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cry Me A Bronx River

Sour grapes don't please the palate very well, especially when you're the New York Yankees.

What will arguably turn out to be one of the most ballyhooed deals in Major League Baseball,'s 2016 offseason, Boston Red Sox traded four minor league prospects - including two who are among the top prospects in the country, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech - for the Chicago White Sox's ace and possibly the best pitcher in the American League, Chris Sale. Yankees' GM, Brian Cashman, had this verbal reaction to the trade:

“That was a big one, that’s a blockbuster, that’s a wow. Obviously they got a lot and gave up a lot. Boston is like the Golden State Warriors now of baseball. They got their [Kevin] Durant, their [Draymond] Green, [Klay] Thompson and [Steph] Curry. It was a big one.’’

Permit me to say that I could come off as totally biased and emotionally react to Cashman's words because I am a lifelong Warriors' fan. However, Cashman in this one quote offers so much to the context of this deal to where anyone with an objective mind can logically challenge and tear down his take with ease.  There are various reasons why his analogous reach can be summarily picked apart:


Cashman is the GM of the New York Yankees. For him to take issue with this trade - not to mention the Red Sox's free-agent moves of the past three years - smacks of hypocrisy. For decades under the Steinbrenner regime, the New York Yankees have pillaged and plundered financially-strapped teams and outbid similar financially-laced ones for the players they wanted because they had the deep pockets, the prestige of the Yankee legacy, and the prime regional stage to do so. They have even undercut the Red Sox to obtain players that they knew would give the Red Sox a seismic advantage in the American League East. Here's proof. The Yankees have made a living on the pick of MLB's litter, and this is especially true of Cashman's tenure. For him to complain in a back-door manner about the Red Sox's bold move is equivalent to the pot taking pot-shots at the kettle.

Cashman is the GM of the New York Yankees. Which means that, being the Red Sox's oldest, fiercest, and most detestable rival, he can take issue with anything the Sox does (or attempts to do) that takes shine off of the Yankees. A good year for the Yankees would be to reach the playoffs and for the Red Sox to finish anywhere from second to last in their division. A great year for the Yanks would be to win the World Series and for the Red Sox to lose to them somewhere along the way in humiliating fashion in the postseason. A loss to the Red Sox is always a win for the Yanks. Conversely, a win by the Red Sox at the winter owners' meetings is a reason for the Yanks to shed crocodile tears. Much ado about nothing.

Cashman is looking at the wrong team. If his analogy was even accurate, it would not even apply to the Red Sox. A more appropriate team on which to focus his comparison is the Chicago Cubs. They are loaded from the top to the bottom, starting with their GM, Theo Epstein, who ironically was the Sox's GM once upon a time. The Cubs have the stellar starting rotation, reliable bullpen, far-from-depleted farm system, and young talent up and down the lineup locked up for the next several years. They are the envy of the other 31 clubs...and even more so now with a world championship under their belt.

Free agency has not always been Boston's friend. Every recent free agent signing or trade by the Red Sox did not result or has not resulted in the King Midas effect. (For reference, see "Sandoval, Pablo".) Ultimately, the burden of proof is on the Red Sox to show in 2017 that their offseason moves were successful ones. Success for them can only be defined as late-October baseball. So the starting rotation of David Price (former Cy Young winner), Rick Porcello (the reigning Cy Young winner), and Sale (perennial Cy Young runner-up) - now have the pressure on them to make Sox GM Dave Dombrowski look like David Blaine come next fall.

This doesn't look like Oracle Arena to me...
Missed opportunities by Cashman. One of the players involved in the Sale trade, Moncada, had caught more than Cashman's eye during spring training in 2015, until he decided that the expatriate Cuban's price was too rich for the Yankees blood or there was a fly in the ointment someplace. The Red Sox then signed him for $63 million, which means Boston took a page out of Boss Steinbrenner's playbook...a page that Cashman might not realize is missing. After making the Warriors analogy, Cashman was asked about whether he regrets the Red Sox involving Moncada being dealt for Sale: "We put our best foot forward and that was it. That was a decision that involved a lot of personnel and what our comfort level was, and you have no regrets. At the end of the day, their bid was higher." Sounds a lot like what other teams would say when the Yanks were acting like and stomping with the big dogs. Which brings me to the next reason...

The Yankees can't hang. Their farm system simply does not have the prized prospects,     obtained through the draft or via salary dumps trades, to compete with the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs. Their prospects usually are traded to get what the Red Sox just got: top-line talent stockpiled, locked, and loaded to compete for successive division titles and playoff runs. But when the cupboard is bare, you have to go to Plan B...or C...or D, which is not the Yankee way under the Steinbrenner dynastic ownership. Plan A is supposed to work. And speaking of drafts...

The Golden State analogy simply does not work. Any substantive parallel drawn between the Red Sox and the present-day Warriors will not pass muster in large part due to the Warriors' draft-day success. Before the Durant signing, the last free-agent deal or trade of any marked significance was the Andre Iguodala deal before the 2013 season...3 years before KD. Everyone else Cashman references who is still on the team was passed over by no less than 6 teams in the draft: Curry (#7 in 2009), Thompson (#11 in 2011), and Green (#35 in 2012). This is no slight to Shaun Livingston, but very few teams paid him any mind when the Warriors signed him in free agency in 2014 after having a remarkable season with the Brooklyn Nets, statistically and otherwise.

The Red Sox did call up significant prospects in the past three years, but had more than their fair share of blockbuster trades and free agent signings during that same period. The Dubs' literal once-in-a-generation big splash of KD does not equate to the multiple splashes of Porcello, Sale, Hanley Ramirez, Craig Kimbrel, and Yoenis Cespedes to add to a nucleus of Big Papi, Dustin Pedroia, John Lackey, and Jon Lester during that same 3-year period. Golden State could very well be viewed as the Boston Red Sox of basketball. But one can deftly argue that some current (Spurs, Clippers, Cavs) and past teams (Kobe/Shaq Lakers, Garnett/Pierce/Allen Celtics, Olajuwon/Drexler/Barkley Rockets) can and could have beat them to that title.

So here's a question: If the Red Sox are the Warriors, who are the Yankees supposed to be?

“We are in the pack of contenders looking to take Golden State down,’’ Cashman said.

Cool story, Brian.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lecrae, A Ministry Worker, And A Preacher Walk Into A Theater...

Most young adults in the "Christian" diaspora know who Lecrae is. For those of you who don't, you probably should get out more. I think this article should educate you a little about him. But the article caused me to take a critical look at the content. I focus specifically on this quote: 

"Artists and musicians and pop stars often seem to exist in their own elevated sphere, totally separate from regular people. This is because they have a lot of power to influence others with their ideas; as Lecrae put it, ‘I need to be a great steward of what comes out of my mouth.’ But if you accept the premise of Christianity, the difference between famous rappers and their fans seems flatter—no matter what you do to make money, the way you live in the world is necessarily an expression of your beliefs. This is true for crunk rappers, Christian rockers, and call-center clerks alike: Regular life doesn't necessarily have to be an act of proselytization, whether for Chandon or Christ; it will always be an act of expression. As Lecrae put it, "In the same way that Jesus was a carpenter, I don’t know if he put his message into all the things he built with his hands—I think he wanted to make good quality craftsmanship."

Here is my take: Christians are criticized, dismissed, vilified, ignored, or ridiculed for proselytizing when our society and culture in fact constantly proselytizes to Christians (and others) to conform (read: regress) to the loosely tectonic foundation of societal mores and ethics. It’s ironic and hypocritical to render a Christian persona non grata if he/she decides to win someone to Christ because he believes this is a better life than the one society sells.

Even the term "proselytize" is a prima facie misnomer of sorts because everyone proselytizes. It doesn’t require a religious overtone or thrust. Marketing agencies proselytize using commercials advertising products designed for a better life; politicians proselytize using campaign speeches that make promises of a better life; and, yes, entertainers proselytize consciously and subliminally to sell the idea that life is better when people live like them…at least that is what they would have us think. And trying to obtain a lifestyle like them is usually not for better and in most cases for worse. Even the random individual often seeks to try to get someone "on their team" to support a personal cause. So why are Christians raked over the coals for doing what the masses consciously or subconsciously do every day?

It’s because of the “R” word: religion. And people who prefer to avoid accountability for their souls, or deny that they have souls, or refuse to believe the hype, or are satisfied with their own self-prescribed life philosophy (e.g., YOLO) would rather run from and discredit religion instead of open their minds to looking at it without impllicit bias. Changing up their lifestyle to sacrifice half of their weekend (at worst) for little to no carnal payoff is too much to give up. And to have to listen to someone preach to them is enough to drive most of them to take Monday off from work or school to make up for the time they lost in getting the "preaching" they really want to receive. 

The key here is being able to realize that the power of the Gospel is seen in a transformed life who returns to his/her community to live amongst his/her circles of influence in hopes of exposing some to the reality of the Kingdom...whether it be vocally or through curiosity sparked by influence (read: letting his/her light shine).

I believe there is a time to serve and a time to preach; a time to wait tables and a time to save souls; a time to be on the offensive (life-based ministry from the heart) and a time to be on the defensive (Logos-based ministry guarding the heart). It would be inconsistent with Scripture to say that preaching does not have its place in our contemporary world. The Kingdom will always require a herald (Matthew 3.1). But I also believe that we can no longer afford to be top-heavy with preaching when we are feather-light on eupraxis.

I opine this is what Lecrae is aspiring to do. I'm not calling him some new revelation for the "Christian" world since he is a hip hop artist...because, quite frankly, he isn't. All he is doing is what he believes God has called him to do, which is to reach people for Jesus without giving them the message first...and be unashamed while doing it. He is about doing him, expressing it through his creative musical process, and letting the chips of the "Gospel" fall where they may. 

But to focus on one aspect of Christianity (Matthew 5.16) is not to vilify the other (Mark 16.15). They are not mutually exclusive. The church still must proselytize (read: evangelize). Preaching is necessary (Romans 10.1ff). Salvation is real, faith is indispensable, and baptism is the undeniable portal to covenant relationship with God per Holy Writ. But you gotta get to the people first.

(Whispering behind the door): "Is he gone yet??

The megaphone is no longer a viable medium to reach them. Canvassing via door-knocking is marginally effective, especially in certain communities with houses protected by an iron-rod fence and either a Rottweiler or pit bull (or both...or several of each). So this requires a new-yet-old way of reaching untapped, unapproachable, neglected segments of our society without using a "church"-styled, "scorched earth" methodology.

Jesus in His pre-ministry life was a carpenter, but He left physical carpentry behind when the Spirit descended upon Him after His baptism to begin spiritual carpentry (Matt 16.18; 1Peter 2.5ff). While still a youth, Jesus followed in his earthly father's vocational footsteps yet still having favor with God and mankind. But around age 30, He decided to follow His heavenly Father's redemptive footsteps to bring mankind back in favor with God. So His message was not directly linked to His trade, even though His trade reflected the ethical, moral, and spiritual characteristics of His message and ministry.

In essence, it is not easy to divorce message from expression and evangelism. One is not more important than the other two. All must be actively engaged for the person not exposed to any of them to walk past the theater and make it into the sanctuary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The "F" Word: The "Roof" Is Not On Fire

Someone once said that not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. When it comes to Dylann Roof, I imagine that some individuals would hire a HAZMAT team to assist them in handling an even more toxic cocktail.

Roof is the white supremacist responsible for the mass shooting of nine church members at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC in June 2015.  Included in this is the assassination of Clementa Pinckney, a state Senator and the senior pastor of the church.

This whole tragedy is rich is nuance, so I'll focus on one particular development. During Roof's bond hearing, several family members of the victims had an opportunity to speak directly to him. Some of them made the decision to offer him forgiveness and told him that they were praying for his soul. Of course, in a tragedy such as this, one cannot expect everyone to be ready to forgive...even if it has been over a year since it happened. Recently, Reverend Sharon Risher, daughter of one of the Emanuel 9, said these words recently in an interview:

Risher: My sister...was the first person voice (sic) you heard on the tape with forgiveness. There was a lot of anger in me not understanding where that came from, knowing my sister. And then I realized it was not her. It was God using her to set the tone of what needed to be done at that time. I've been very vocal about not being able to forgive Dylann Roof. As a pastor, I understand that forgiveness is a journey and some people get there faster than others...I still can't be authentic and say I'm going to forgive him. Eventually that will happen, but for now I'm going to be my authentic self and voice what I feel. There is no forgiveness from me at this time. I can't. I just can't do it. I'm trying real hard, but I can't.
Interviewer: And what do you say to those folks who would say that..."well, as a reverend, thats what you're supposed to do..."
Risher: And I know that. We will be truthful and authentic no matter what title we wear. Sometimes being your authentic self means that you have to be alone. But I'm ready to take that on and I've been doing it, and I'm going to say your faith and your walk is what you need to do for you. For Reverend Risher, this is the walk God has given me at this time and I have no choice but to go there.

Here is the subsequent response from the in-studio panel of political and social figures. The names have been removed to protect the "intelligent"...

Panelist 1: I appreciated (her) for being so forthcoming and honest about not falling on the forgiving train. Hopefully she can be an inspiration to her family members and people there to not be so passive in the midst of a massacre. But I'm also interested to see what's going to happen with this guy being his own attorney...he will be confronting the people that forgave him. It will be interesting to see if they're gonna continue with that forgiving perspective after having to deal with him in the court under those circumstances.
Panelist 2: I don't think he wants to get off...He wants to be a hero to white nationalists and white supremacists across the country. He wants to be a legend. And that's what this is about - building his own personal platform. And I would definitely agree with this forgiveness trope that only Black people are saddled with. To me, it's tied, quite frankly, with our very infusion of Christianity into us from the slave period, I believe...this belief that we have to wait until we die to get our rewards, but while we're here, we can be persecuted, we can be murdered, we can be violated in any and every way possible, yet we and we alone are expected to forgive in the moment. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Amazing how quickly some judge people on their motivation for forgiveness and label it as a trope. The truth is this: if someone chooses to forgive another, that is that person's business. That person decided to give their victimizer - dare I say, "oppressor" - a "get out of 'jail' free" card so that he/she can be unencumbered with anger and hostility toward someone who committed such a heinous act of hate. And no one has the right to criticize that person for rejecting the move to be imprisoned by his/her own blood-thirstiness to get some get-back . Forgiveness is not passive. It is always active. Because the person offering it is taking control of his/her own emotional self-awareness as well as defusing the victimizer's future attempts to push his/her buttons and turn him/her into something worse than their victimizer: his/her own god.

President Obama leading the assembly in "Amazing Grace".

The logic used to label someone's act of forgiveness as "passive", "ridiculous", and tied to a slave mindset conditioned by a warped and demented Christocentric worldview is just as faulty as the logic to accuse Risher of not being truthful to her "calling" in relation to this tragedy. I'm not saying that Risher's point of view is consistent with good theology; in fact, any titular figure is susceptible to scrutiny when situations like these arise. But to ham-handedly castigate those who wish to rise to a higher standard of humanity by forgiving a known white supremacist for atrocities committed is a low blow. It is their inalienable right to rise to that standard...especially when others desirous of the same standard consciously justify falling short of it.

I know this might sound like I'm judging the "Rev". But consider this: what if those who forgave Roof were being their authentic selves? What if they were being truthful to the faith and walk to which God called them? Maybe, just maybe this is the journey of forgiveness that they are committed to traveling and they are prepared to travel this road alone. Maybe someone should speak on their behalf to laud them for their forthcoming and honest stance in excusing themselves from partaking of the cup of poison passed in front of them.

It's rather convenient for some to judge the pardoners for being complicit in a legacy of shuffling and head-hanging without unbiased critical understanding of their plight. It would be one thing to do this and violate your conscience because you know the system is not going to give you a fair shake. In that way, I can understand how it can be attributed to the unfortunate slave psyche shaped by the "Christian" slave master. It's completely another thing to do this with a clear conscience knowing that the system is not going to give you a fair shake. This speaks to people who have decided to appeal to a higher authority - an authority, despite a humanistic argument, who ultimately controls said system and decides who does and doesn't fill the seats in said system.

Forgiveness is not a trope. It is not a tired, weak, insipid, played-out broken record designed to excuse bad, wicked, or insidious behavior. Forgiveness is a divine characteristic, a godly quality that stresses the pardoner's need to be liberated from anger as well as his/her relinquishing the temptation to exact his/her own brand of vengeance. Notice that I did not say justice. These terms are not synonymous.

The difference is simple. Vengeance jumps the fence and runs amok until it satisfies itself no matter how long it takes. Justice trusts the fence and accepts its rightness, yet makes sure every square inch inside the boundary measures up to it. Vengeance from a human bent is not and never will be fair. Justice - when correctly, impartially, and consistently applied - always is and will be fair. Famously stated, justice is blind...especially when righteousness is involved.

Something tells me that the people who forgave Roof are deciding to wait on the ruling from a much more "supreme" court than the one in South Carolina...or even Washington, D.C.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

No Clue, Vol. 1

The congregation of which I am a member and serve as an one of the evangelists is located in the 'hood. And when anyone brings up the 'hood, certain images and anecdotes come to mind. One of those lingering occurrences is the number of vehicles tricked out with the usual 'hood-based, after-market additions. One of these accoutrements has been a staple for decades: the loudly-amplified car stereo system. Before you draw any conclusions, this post is not about what you think it's about. My take is not about whether a person should or shouldn't have an Alpine or Kenwood hooked up to a plywood box full of 12s and a subwoofer in the trunk. This runs far deeper. Walk with me for a minute...

Our congregation recently put on a community outreach effort at our worship facility (read: church building). Our location is next door to a 10-minute lube shop where many in the community come to get the oil changed in their cars. On this day, a young African-American male pulled up to the lube shop entrance and proceeded to wait in line inside his car with the window down. His sound system was on and the volume was turned up so loud and rattling the car so hard that I'm sure the trunk hatch hinges were ready to file a noise complaint just to get some relief. But my issue was not with volume, but content.

This cat was playing some "hot" trap music, complete with the vulgarities, misogyny, alcoholic preferences, and flaunting associated with it. It was bad enough by itself...but the fact that there wasn't even an attempt by him to turn down the music at a place of door to a church holding an outdoor event attended by adults and small greatly disturbing. 

I need to stay in my lane on this post because the issue is much larger than I'm making it. I can definitely go there and criticize with some valid righteous indignation the regression of contemporary music...and I'm not speaking only of hip hop...with all kinds of expletives, references to sexual and substance (ab)use, lavish living funded by criminal means, and harkenings to and advertising for a hedonistic culture that basically renders God to the back page of their propaganda. The Lord MIGHT gets His - if He is "lucky" - and not before and as much as they get theirs. And God "getting His" is basically like Lazarus at the rich man's table. Sort of like, "Just waking up in the morning/gotta thank God"...and, just like the song, that's as far as it goes.

My point is about how clueless many people are, who are just like this young Black male, of how this music culture affects young minds in terms of shaping ideas of morality, decency, and common sense. And what they are not aware of is that they have become a threat to even younger lives, planting seeds in their minds before they ever have a chance to understand the principle of guarding their hearts with all diligence. Little do these "adults" know is that they are basically blind, deaf, and ignorant peddlers of unrighteousness...caught up in a viscous, vicious-cycle game of "The Whatevers" (or something more life-threatening) when someone challenges them to change or at least consider the effects their peddling has on the next generation. But I'm pretty sure that these people might be the same ones that "cuss" in front of their own children, and, to make matters worse, "cuss" at them. The commercial musical atmosphere today in my humble opinion has contributed handily to this behavior that potentially sets back future generations, throwing them off the scent of holiness.

So what has to happen now is that we have to guard the children. Guard is not equivalent to shelter. We can't afford to shelter them because to do so would leave them susceptible to being blindsided by social change agents. Sheltering is a futile could only dream to have the proverbial shelf life of a Twinkie. So we must guard, educate, and model what they need to live a modicum of a successful life that has every opportunity to truly connect with God. We need to guard them against premature exposure to sin yet expose them to the necessary realities of life to help them to eventually guard themselves. Show them where the fence is, teach them to respect its boundaries, inform them of the dangers lurking on the other side of the fence, and learn how to effectively tune out the calls from the other side to "just try it one time."

I believe that cultural anthropology has its place terms of a healthy model of contemporary Christianity. It has been said that the truly wise preacher has the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. If that be the case, and the preacher is the herald, kerux, and mouthpiece for the church and its environs, then we would be well served to raise our children with that approach. It is clearly time for our children to be aware of how people in general respond and react to internal, external, and (most importantly) supernatural stimuli within and absent a Christocentric worldview. It would help to equip them to have a level of wisdom, discernment, and common sense/street-smarts that can easily translate from the Word to the world and vice versa. In other words, we are talking about actively and effectively incorporating Matthew 10.16 to our parenting, guardianship, and mentoring.

If Christ-like adults raising a new generation can do all of the above consistently or even on a periodic basis, brothas slappin' the likes of Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan in their whips, scrapers, buckets, or high-end vehicles around children would be one of the least of our concerns.