Posts tagged gospel

This is has been an emotional few days for many of us. There is much to unpack, to understand, to invite in and keep out as conversations about the no-indictment swirl around us. While there are many myths, fallacies, and misunderstanding occurring within these dialogues (or lack thereof) there is one that has me all riled up. 

What bothers me the most is the response, "Mike Brown deserved to die because...sin." It bothers me not because you ignore the pain that this has caused a number of people, not the least of which is Mike Browns family. It bothers me not because it ignores the systemic inequities in policing black bodies, of which Mike Brown is but one. Rather it bother me because if you this, you believe it only for black bodies. 

Consider what you are really saying. Are you truly prepared to justify the death of Mike Brown in the street without trial because he sinned? Are you prepared to justify that for yourself? Should someone with a gun be allowed to pull the trigger when you lie? Or when you are disobedient? When you drink excessively? When you are gluttonous? 

is this an okay standard to set for your own children? When they steal? When they commit a crime? When they disobey a teacher, an officer, a pastor, or you? Is immediate and violent death an acceptable result? 

If this is not acceptable for your family, but is acceptable for Mike Brown, you are making an incredible assertion. Making this claim that Mike Brown "brought this on himself and therefore we cant cry out against it" suggests that there is something especially heinous, especially evil, especially criminal about blackness and all that can be expected is death- immediate, swift, violent and without repercussion. Stripping blackness of all dignity, of all humanity- sin is reason enough to be gunned down? 

If if this is true, why did we not gun down the perpetrator of movie theater shooting? Why was there not a cry in the streets for his swift execution or the many others who didn't just steal property but stole lives? What is so especially wrong about Mike Brown that his actions warranted what these others did not. And though this assertion, this double standard has been employed to justify the death of Mike, even this doesn't compare to why I really wrote this post tonight. 

I do not recognize this version of Christianity. I only know the Christ who died for the sins of all. I don't know this Jesus who forgives your sins, who offers you grace, who grants you mercy, but has none for black bodies. I don't know this Jesus who hung on the cross for you so that you would have life everlasting but must cannot offer the same to black bodies. I do not know this Jesus who only died for my white brothers and sisters, but whose arms could not stretch wide enough for black bodies, and therefore Mike Brown had to die because his sin was just too much for Christ to bare. No. I don't who this is. I don't know this God of a two tiered gospel. 

I only know the Jesus who died that we all might live. I only know the Jesus who wants us to have life and more abundantly. I only know the Jesus who is takes away the sins of the world. I only know the Jesus who offers grace, mercy, peace, love. I only know the Jesus who reconciles all things unto Himself.

I serve a God who loves Mike Brown.

I serve a God who created black bodies in the Imago Dei. 

I serve a God who died for all. 

You can keep your cheap religion. You can keep this religion who exacts from black bodies but has mercy on white bodies. You can keep this religion that believes there is something innately wrong with blackness that requires our death. You can keep this religion that demands our perfection while your family daily receives forgiveness from sin. You can keep this religion. I don't want it. But you have to call it something else. And when this religion asks you to pay for sin or the sins of your son with a death in the street on a sunny afternoon, I'll be sure to ask if my God might grant you peace. 

And to those who read these assertions and feel the weight of the words, the judgement, the condemnation, the carelessness. To you I speak love. 

You are loved by God the Almighty who created heaven, earth and you. You are loved immensely by a God who is fully present. You are loved by a God who knows this is a season of lament and promises not to leave you lonely. You are loved by God who see you, who knows you. You are loved by a God who has not made you inferior, has not made you lower, has not made you more worse. You are loved by a God who is intimately familiar with you. You are loved by a God who first loved you, who died for you, who is coming back for you. 

This first day of Advent, you may lament. You may cry out. You may mourn. There is much injustice, much darkness. But what we will not do is believe that we are too far for God to reach us, to bad for God to save us. Resist. #blacklivesmatter



Dwelt Among Us

Ask me for the most compelling Bible verse that sets my heart a flutter for issues of social justice and the answer may surprise you. There are a number of verses in the Bible which promote giving to the poor. caring for the orphan, setting the captive free. There is no shortage of verses about crossing cultures, welcoming strangers, and honoring the humanity of our enemies. While I commit myself to studying and living out these important instances of loving others, there is one passage of Scripture that really lights my flame for its beauty and revelation: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was nothing made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:1-4,14

Can we first pause at the beauty of this passage? "In the beginning was the Word" … "and the darkness did not comprehend it" … "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" … "full of grace and truth." Ah… I could revel in the beauty all day.

But its also the revelation that keeps my fire for justice issues flaming.  The imagery of the Divine, of words stretching as they wrap themselves into the confining space of human flesh and squeezing through a physical labor of blood, sweat and other fluids, I'm sure. All to enter this world of humanity, of dirt, of messiness, of division, of heartbreak, of rejection. How must it have been for the Divine to look on the world not from a holy place above the fray, but eye to eye, quite literally with skin in the game, watching the ways we treat each other, divide ourselves up, create hierarchies, build towers of babel unto ourselves. How different it must have felt from home, from golden walkways and angelic beings, from hallelujah all the time.

But the Word didn't turn away. Didn't turn away from that ragtag group of disciples, passionate but often completely misunderstanding the mission. Didn't turn away from men or women. Didn't turn away from Jews or Gentiles, even those most unholy Samaritans or those oppressive Romans. Didn't turn away from the sick or the afflicted. Even the dead received an audience with the Divine. The Word crashed through social barriers, religious convention, and everyone's expectations.

Thats why I fight for justice issues. Because the Divine modeled for me far beyond words, even words that I love, that I can't turn away from the messiness. The Word chose to dwell among us, but far from building an impressive throne right here, the Word wept, and experienced a range of emotions, rejections, disappointments and awe known to the human condition. The Word made flesh full of grace and truth, right here in our midst, wrestling with the issues of that day. Thats why I must wrestle with the issues of today. If the Divine didn't turn away, how could I?   

God incarnate. God with us. God among us. What better reason could my heart desire?

Just Play More Gospel!

In my experience of working with white churches who are interested in attracting (or retaining) black congregation members, one common solution is to play more gospel music. It is sort of an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. And the logic makes sense. Gospel music is an incredibly important element of most black churches- whether its old school, contemporary, or a mix of both. So, its possible that playing more gospel music will have a significant chance of encouraging black visitors to become black members. 

I am absolutely supportive of churches making changes to worship services in order to make the service feel like home for those who traditionally have had to adapt and assimilate into the structure of white church. But I think there is a slight misunderstanding about the depth and meaning of these changes. If your church has committed to a formula for playing a certain number of Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and William McDowell songs by repeating them as best you can from sheet music, you've taken a great first step, but its time to take the second. 



The second step is to recognize the cultural nuances that make gospel music what it is.  Gospel has a lot less to do with mimicking an artist; in fact, that might be a clear giveaway that you're not really playing gospel music. Gospel music is about freedom. It's about allowing the music to move you, to course through you, to feel it from your head to your toes. It's about allowing the lyrics to wash over you, to repeat them as often as necessary, to highlight different verses or even specific lines spontaneously. It's about movement- waving arms, clapping hands, stomping feet. It is freedom of expression, expression without judgment. It is remixing in the moment. It is never playing a song the same way twice but possibly singing it three times. It is an imperfect but elating partnership between worship leader, musicians and choir. Gospel music is not a "what" it is a "how". 

Figure out the "how" and you might find that there is less of a need to meet a quota of gospel songs per month. The real question is, "Are people free here?"   Do people feel free to explore and express the cultural nuances of their own worship style, or is it suggested they should just be happy that their music is being played at all?  

I use gospel music as my primary example, because of my personal background, but if your church is interested in altering worship to represent the culture of Puerto Ricans, Koreans or First Nations, I believe the questions above still have merit.

1. Do you understand the nuances of cultural worship styles?

2. Do people feel free to worship without judgement?  

Answer, "yes" to both of those questions, and you will have created a clear path for your church to enter into multicultural worship!

Just one more piece of advice for churches who are trying to diversify worship: it helps to genuinely fall in love with the culture! I imagine it can be overwhelming for churches to take on new worship styles, songs, potentially new instruments and vocalists. One way to make the transition a little less intimidating is to sincerely enjoy engaging, learning, and exploring the culture. Love gospel music and it will show, even if you don't sing one "traditional" gospel song- the nuances of singing gospel will begin to leak and your congregation will notice. Fall in love and you might find it impossible not to insert another culture into your standard worship!    

Blessings on your music ministry!