Why Black People Tend to Dance: An Apology for Cam Newton

 

12240038_10208400423587504_2136578022119085585_nMuch of the criticism not just of this angry mother, but of those less offended by his behavior, but wishing he conducted himself differently, has centered around the opinion that Cam’s behavior, amongst other things, was lacking in class. I hear this criticism of him and other athletes, typically black athletes (not because they are black and the critic dislikes black people, but because usually black athletes are the ones celebrating by dancing and other demonstrative behavior) all the time. They would prefer, he would just hug and high five his teammates quickly, in an understated fashion, and then unassumingly jog off the field to the sidelines.

Allow me to offer this critique of the “it lacked class” criticism. This criticism often highlights the cultural differences between black and white Americans. I can hear the retort now, “Yet again! Why do you have to make it about race?” Well if you bear with me I will explain to you why it is about race but not in a “anyone who criticizes Cam is a racist” explanation. This explanation doesn’t require or ask white people to apologize for the past or recognize their “privilege”. It simply asks that people who are criticizing him for a touchdown dance, whether they be white and hearing this reasoning for the first time or black and have forgotten to consider without hearing it as an attack.

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans. Culture is simply what we make of the world, both in a literal sense of making (building and creating) things, and in how we make sense of the world around us. And for black Americans dancing and celebrating is an integral part of our culture. Dancing is how we sought to make sense of the world around us. What did our ancestors make of slavery? Singing, shouting, and dancing. You need look no further than predominantly black churches the world round to see all three of those things remain embedded in our culture. We wouldn’t have survived the horrors of slavery and injustice without dancing. It’s in our blood to dance, when we’re suffering and when we celebrate, to the point that now we the sons and daughters of those people who cultivated that kind of life do it sometimes instinctively without thinking about it, or remembering why we have an urge to respond that way. Dancing and singing and shouting kept many of our ancestors from losing hope that things could get better. And praise God things have gotten better. And still we don’t or at least try not to forget where we come from, even as we try to accommodate the majority culture, thus we keep on dancing.

The late Ralph Wiley, an author, journalist and writer who was a Sports Illustrated staff writer for nine years, described this culture and reasoning better than I in his book Why Black People Tend to Shout (all this discussion about Cam inspired me to go dig the book up).

First of all, black people are too happy just being able to shout not to take advantage of the luxury. When you have to read that bits were put in some of your ancestors’ mouths, you tend to shout. When a sweet grandmotherly sort has to tell you how black people once were chained in iron make in the canebrake, to keep them from eating the cane while they harvested it, and that these masks were like little ovens that cooked the skin off their faces–when you hear that grandmotherly voice and realize she once was a girl who might have been your girl, and someone caused this pain on her lips and nobody did anything about it but keep living–this gives you a tendency to shout,

Black American culture is a byproduct of the great grandchildren of the tribal African culture. A culture that danced to celebrate life, danced boys into manhood, danced the betrothed into matrimony, and danced the fallen into the afterlife.
So now when someone like Cam gets criticized and told “show a little class”, it’s like being told to assimilate. When someone like Cam is told they find his dancing in that moment offensive (all the while half naked cheerleaders are shaking what they mama gave em) it’s like being told, “we find your culture offensive”. And we find it slightly ironic that so much of our shouting singing and dancing, in the form of folk, blues, rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap music, has been copied had a white face slapped on it and sold to the masses for a profit, but it’s somehow offensive when we do it.

When someone like Cam is told to “grow up” in response to him pointing after a first down, it’s like being told to forget where you came from, or to get over it. If you’ve heard a word of what I’ve just said then you’ll know, maybe for the first time, that dancing is how we got over.

When we hear someone say “I miss the old days when guys just played the game the right way without all the theatrics”, we hear you want things to be the way they were before the color barrier, or more accurately put the unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” policy, in sports being broken and required a subdued and suppressed black man to break it. Jackie Robinson is an American hero and is the most courageous man that ever competed in modern sports, but he was chosen over the likes of Josh Gibson and Satchel Page because Branch Rickey believed Jackie he could subdue his need to dance and shout. Muhammad Ali is considered the greatest athlete ever by most Black Americans because he dared to dance shout and rap inspiring Black Americans who had despite their assimilating efforts been kept separate and unequal to start dancing again.

When someone like Cam is told “act like you’ve been here before” we know he is doing it because we have been there.

Love Hasn’t Won Anything (And It Has Nothing To Do With Marriage)

I don’t believe, despite yesterday’s SCOTUS’s decision yesterday, that love won yesterday. Not because of my views of marriage, but because of my views of love and intimacy. Love is not exclusively found in one person, in one intimate relationship with another person where everything from house, resources, finances and bodies are shared. Love is found in the greater context of community; which includes family, clan, tribe, and nation. Love is best exemplified to orphans, widows, and aliens or stragers. Intimacy is not exclusive to sexual relations, but is found in any relationship where we know the best and worst of one another and can still be safe and secure with one another. True intimacy doesn’t know a difference that is irreconcilable, and allows differences to destroy relationships.

Since SCOTUS’s landmark decision I’ve seen more of the same; truth bombs being hurled over the line in the sand. Whether it’s a truth bomb wrapped in Bible, God’s word, or wrapped in the sacred documents of America, the word of our nation’s forefathers, it’s still a bomb (In Jesus’ day they called them stones). Since SCOTUS’s decision I’ve seen more of the same; gloating and moaning. The only thing which seems to have changed is which side is doing which.

Love wins when single people aren’t viewed as incomplete by a society obsessed with romance. Love wins when the elderly, the widow, or sick aren’t forgotten. Love wins when those whose marriages aren’t viewed as failures themselves and pushed to the margins. Love wins when we love our enemies to the point we have no enemies left. Love wins when we love our neighbor no strings attached, no caveats, and no clauses. Love wins when loving strangers, loving the marginalized, loving the oppressed, loving the rich is the stand we take over and above our stand on an institution whether man made or God ordained. Love wins when taking a stand is unnecessary because love is known in the midst of sharp disagreement. Love wins when disagreement doesn’t lead to discord. Christ is love and love is Christ and Christ died for the ungodly who at one point and time was all of us. Love wins when those who have been covered by the righteousness of Christ can recognize that loving all image bearers of God is infinitely more important than the laws of the land reflecting the righteousness of God.

Love won when Christ died for all of us (me too!) sinners, the unrighteous, those born enemies of God, and rose from the dead alive.

Removing the Flag Is Good But Does Little to Create Real Community

“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community” Georges Erasmus

 

I first heard the above quote during a presentation done by Mark Charles at Q Conference in Boston this past April. Mark was making the case that Americans will continue to have racial tension as long as we all continue to operate from a different a memory and different pasts. It’s really sad to think that it required 9 people being murdered by a racist white supremacist for us to finally reach a point where are beginning to take the steps necessary to have a common memory of our history as Americans, black, white, and everything in between.

 

While I fully support the removal of the Confederate/Rebel Flag from the grounds of state capitals, I fear this will cause us to prematurely think our work is done. Those flags will be removed from our public places, but our real problem is not that flag although the debate surrounding it is indicative of our true problem. One symbol stirs feelings of pride from a shared heritage for one group of people stirs feelings of trauma from a shared suffrage for another.

 

We do not have a common memory and we do not share in the same past. For White Americans their collective memory and past is one of conquest, colonization, freedom, and “God’s blessing”. For ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, collective memory and past is one filled with trauma from the struggle to be recognized as human and treated with dignity and equality. Our collective memory is filled with dehumanization, enslavement, mass genocide, demonization and marginalization. For white peoples in this country it has truly been a dream. For black and brown peoples in this country that dream has almost always been a nightmare over the 400 plus years since the early colonies. “Manifest Destiny” destined those deemed savages and beasts to destruction and to the margins of our country.

 

 

As difficult as it might be, white people need to start listening to the memories and the past of the ethnic minorities in America. It won’t be easy. It will be hard to believe for no other reason than so much of it is omitted from the majority of our history books. History has always been written by and representative of those who are one of the majority and elite. If we want real healing then the parallel narrative of the marginalized must be heard. It must be written. It must be taught. It will expose the blind-spots you didn’t know were there in our past as a nation. Black people, Hispanics, and Native-Americans need to remember that white people are hearing these stories, memories and past for the first time. They are being asked to look at parts of our history through our eyes, and if they really see it it will strike at their heart. Hearing about it for the first time will be traumatic for them and we need to extend them grace. We need to assure them of our sincerity in informing them is not to guilt or shame them, not to demand an apology, not to seek reparations. We need to show them the compassion we’ve so desperately needed to heal. In this way we can all heal together, and truly have community without losing ethnic and cultural identities.

 

The debate raging on social media over the Confederate/Rebel Flag and its possible removal caused one of my white friends to do some research into the history of the flag.  She described having a traumatic experience. She grew up in the south with that flag being flown everywhere, and was told the same as so many others of it being a symbol of their heritage as southerners. What she found was a gapping blind spot into the history of how that flag quickly became a symbol of white supremacy and hate as its re-designer William T Thompson intended. Her words to me over the phone illustrate what so many are experiencing, “I have been grieved to my heart since finding out the history around that flag.” If I had responded with a flippant “well duh, where have you been” attitude it wouldn’t have been helpful. No more or less helpful than when I’ve shared more stories and memories of what it’s like to be black in America and it is met with accusations of playing the race card, or attempts to explain it away.

 

The flag should be removed from the grounds of state capitals, and states who integrated it into their state flag need to get it out.  However, if that is all we do then we will fall desperately short of what is necessary for real community to happen that transcends race and ethnicity. We need to teach both narratives in our history books in our schools and places of higher learning. The history of our nation needs to be taught through the eyes of both the elite and the marginalized. I am not suggesting that we throw out one narrative and replace it with the other. Rather they should be part of one comprehensive telling of our history, of our past, and shape a shared memory, so we can move forward into the future not separate but together.

We Can No Longer Be Apathetic Towards Racism

I find it ironic and not at all surprising that many media outlets are pointing to drug reform (which isn’t a bad idea) in the wake of yet another mass shooting murderer who was on some sort of prescription drugs (as well as possibly some illegal ones) in a subtle attempt to make drugs some sort of scapegoat by pointing away from the indoctrinated hate that filled his heart and mind. Ironic and not surprising that when Trayvon Martin’s toxicology report turned up marijuana it wasn’t to weave a narrative of the need for drug reform, it was to prove he was a bad apple and a danger to civilized law abiding citizens. Ironic and not surprising that in less than 24 hours of his death pictures of Mike Brown playing cards, holding a wad of cash, gun on the table, and smoking marijuana wasn’t to weave a narrative of the need for drug reform. It was to prove he was bad apple and a danger to civilized law abiding citizens. Oh yeah, and it wasn’t even him in the picture it was someone else. When given the same circumstances or worse with white criminals of the most hate filled crimes (see Aurora and Newton) we find a way to somehow paint a picture of them being the victims of mental illness and poor FDA regulations.

You can accuse me of playing the race card. You can tell me you’re tired of all the talk about race its about people (to which I’d tell you to tell Dylann Roof that. Tell his friends who thought all his racial slurs and comments were merely jokes and hyperbole). You can tell me I’m just creating more division (which makes no logical sense because you don’t cause division by pointing to it, you just make people who are comfortable with it uncomfortable). You can tell me that now is the time to mourn for the 9 slain in Charleston, SC. I tell you this is part of the mourning. I mourn that our society and culture continues to weave a racist lite propaganda demonizing black people in the most subtle of ways and then is shocked and surprised when someone actually buys it and walks into a church and before unleashing Hell on earth tells nine people, among them a state Senator four reverends, a barber, a grandmother, “I have to do it. You rape our women and are taking over OUR country. You have to go.”

We, you and me (that’s right me too) are complicit in keeping racism alive and well as long as we continue to bury our heads in the sand about the evil and decay of even our subtle forms of racism in this country simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We are not uncomfortable enough and our mourning achieves little if we refuse to act.

Talking to Children and Teens About Transgender Topic

Make no mistake this topic like homosexuality and gay marriage before it is a minefield publicly, particular for evangelical Christians. Let me be perfectly clear… I have no interest in condemning Caitlyn Jenner or making a declaration in regards to the morality of Bruce’s decision to become Caitlyn. Regardless of how any individual identifies them self we as Christians are called to see everyone first and foremost as image Bearers of the God we declare as the creator and ruler of this world and everything in it.

Caitlyn Jenner has me realizing I’m going to have to go back and update my Talk to parents and students on sex as a youth pastor. I feel like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Pt III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Kidding aside who saw this coming. I can’t imagine what it has been like for you all as parents watching all this transpire over the last few months from Bruce’s last interview the end of April, and the reveal as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair last week (along with the announcement that she will be receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs). The question is, how do you all as parents talk to and engage this topic with your children?

However, the path towards truth and likewise recognizing what is at stake is so widely misunderstood by both those who celebrate Bruce following his heart and undergoing the transformation to become Caitlyn and those who are confused or condemn it. There is so much noise out there from both camps its understandable that one would rather bury their head in the sand, but that response just won’t do. Allow me to share a few thoughts and a few resources that have helped shape how to address it for me. Ironically enough I was already signed up to attend a seminar on Sexuality and Identity at the Q Conference in Boston the morning after Bruce’s 20/20 interview. I met the speaker Dale Kuehne in the elevator beforehand, who was thrilled a Middle School Pastor was attending his seminar because, “This is going to effect middle schoolers and anyone who works with them the most. You’re on the frontlines brother.”

What is Really at Stake?

Sunday morning I simply asked one of the boys to stand up and posed the question, “If he had spent all of his life in complete isolation from any other human being could he know what it means to be human or be male or female?” It didn’t take them long to nail it, “No because I wouldn’t have anything aside from myself to reference.” A definition of gender and what it means to be male and female is only part of the issue. What really is at stake is what it means to be human. We are slowly losing what it means to be human. The greatest fallacy in the transgender discussion is not so much about playing God, but the premise that says, “I can know who and what I am with no outside reference point. I can know who and what I am purely through introspection.” That is why we so desperately need community. I have often heard it said and affirm, “in order to love others you must first love yourself.” Likewise I have come to realize you can’t learn to truly love your self until you’ve been loved by another.

It Won’t Stop At Gender

The younger generation is not limiting the categories of how they identify themselves to the gender classifications of male and female. Dale told a story of a young teen in his church informing him that she is a horse. No she wasn’t kidding, and no she wasn’t crazy at least not in the needing to be committed sense of the word. She calmly explained to him that horses are the creature she most identifies with, even more so than humans so she must be a horse. Others in the audience who work as counselors shared they and their colleagues have encountered similar stories. Societally we are really not that far away from going beyond the assertion that our gender has been assigned to us before birth to making the same assertions and conclusions about our species.

The Two Huge Lies

There are two values near and dear to the fabric of America that are largely responsible for cultivating a landscape where adults can conclude they are a man trapped in a woman’s body and vice versa, and where children can conclude they are a horse trapped in a human body. One is the “Pursuit of Happiness” or better put that you are entitled to happiness. Second is “You can be and do anything you want to be or do (just a little hard work and determination…).” Both are lies that we continue to find narratives and personal stories to affirm and say see “You can find happiness too if you just (blank)” or see “You can defy all the odds and become an NBA Superstar just like Steph Curry if you just (blank).”  Of course both of these values/lies are securely gift-wrapped and safeguarded by the belief truth is relative in our post-modern, post enlightenment age.

Check it Out!

I could say more but then there would be no point in providing you with links to the content and resources I’m recommending. Ultimately remember we have no need to fear for Christ has overcome the world and will indeed make all things new!

The Gender Tipping Point (Article)

Human Purpose and Identity (18 min Video)

Sexual Economics (18 min Video)

What Makes For A Good Confession?

I would wager that if you surveyed evangelical Christians on what are the most difficult disciplines to incorporate into daily life confession would be high up on the list. Not because it isn’t widely practiced, but because there is little instruction on how to do it. Confession is so widely practiced we often take it for granted that people could do with some tips on how to do it well. I believe confession is difficult at times for a combination of three reasons. Maybe some of these will resonate with you.

We become overwhelmed with feelings of shame and guilt. While we should feel a certain amount of shame and acknowledge guilt (as opposed to shifting blame) we shouldn’t stay there. Romans 5.5 tells us that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 10.11 reiterates, “everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Confession is meant to move us past shame and guilt, not intensify it.

We often struggle with feelings of “here we go again” when dealing with recurring sin. We become frustrated with our inability to truly turn away from a certain behavior or, as Proverbs 26.11 so eloquently puts it, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” We wrestle with whether or not our confession is sincere and our desire to repent is serious if when certain sins become habits.

Last but not least, I think confession is often disconnected from God’s love. It is often the fear of God’s wrath and disappointment that leads to confession. The manner in which many of us practice confession seems to have more to do with clearing our conscience than it does with clearing obstacles to experiencing and knowing God’s steadfast love.

So how do we practice the discipline of confession in such a way that we don’t get hung up on those roadblocks that threaten to steal our joy and experiencing life regeneration that the Holy Spirit wants to bring about? I think we can learn a lot from the instructions given to the Israelites for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16 & 23.26-44), their annual time of confessing individual and corporate sins, and making atonement for them.

  1. Preparation/No Distractions. The Israelites were to do no work and to fast leading up to the Day of Atonement. I’m not suggesting that any time we are going to confess our sins to God we take a day off from work and fast, but the purpose of Israel doing these things was to remove distractions. More times than I’d like to admit I’ve moved through many Christian disciplines quickly so I could get back to the things that were pressing for my attention. How much would we benefit from slowing down enough and refusing to let the urgency of the day impede on allowing us to have a good confession? Maybe the reason we don’t sense God’s presence in confession is because a part of us is somewhere else. Meditating on or memorizing Psalm 103 might serve as a way for us to focus our attention on the task at hand when it comes to confession and ushering us into God’s presence.
  2. Scapegoat/You Are Pardoned. An essential part to the Day of Atonement ritual as that of the scapegoat. There were two goats set before the Lord. One would be sacrificed for the sins of the people and the other was set free and sent away. It was a very visual reminder that one was sacrificed and the other was atoned for or pardoned. So often the practice of confession involves listing or naming what we’ve done but absent of an intentional reminder that we’ve been pardoned so that we can stay in the presence of the Lord. Moreover, the one who was sacrificed on our behalf is no longer dead but alive. Instead, much like the scapegoat, we go and wander back out into the wilderness away from God’s presence carrying our sins. We fail to realize that we’ve been pardoned in order to draw near to God. 1st Timothy 2.3-6 may serve as a good passage to meditate on and recite during our times of confession.
  3. Celebration. In Leviticus 23.33-44 the Israelites were instructed to celebrate the Feast of Booths five days after the Day of Atonement for seven days. The idea being that they would live in tents for seven days as a reminder of God delivering his people out of slavery in Egypt. As much as it’s never fun to deal with our junk how much healthier would it be if in the process of confession we ended on the positive note of our promised deliverance from sin and death? How much healthier would confession be if it included an intentionality of moving from solemnness to soberness to gratefulness to celebration? Celebration of what God has done and what Christ achieved not only on the cross, but also in leaving his tomb empty because he is alive?

In closing, a final thought, I would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge that evangelicals typically treat confession as something solely between them and God. We recognize James encouragement to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” but I’m not convinced we practice it. This is something we ought to do. It should be steeped in moving us towards acknowledging and embracing God’s steadfast love and not simply clearing our conscience.

Out of Body Experience: The Omnipresence of Mankind in the Digital Era

In the 1970s, Astral Projection and OBE (Out of Body Experience) became a big thing, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that it coincided with a lot of drug experimentation. This illustration to introduce the concept of God being omnipresent, fully present everywhere all the time, was lost on many of my middle school students. They couldn’t quite get past what would happen if your body needed to go to the bathroom while your spirit was floating around Antarctica watching the penguins march. I suggested that it would be advisable to only practice astral projection while sitting on the toilet just in case. While I don’t actually give much credence to OBE, you have to admit it resulted in some of the Beatles best work. Still, my students have a point. If your soul really could float away from your body for a brief jaunt it would be a very disconnected experience. Your body would sit there like a vegetable while your spirit is just floating around eavesdropping on the world, neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once.

In reality what I just described above is not all that different from our current cultural phenomenon of social media. Instead of Astral Projection we now have Digital Projection. Our bodies are walking, working, eating, and even interacting with others while our spirits are floating around the digital dimensions eavesdropping on the world. Neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once. I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions having a virtual out of body experience detached from what was happening right in front of me because the deepest parts of me were consumed with the digital dimensions I inhabit.

I’m not suggesting that we throw off social media and all the things that divert our attention from what is happening right in front of us. Social media is not evil and will not  be the catalyst to the decay and demise of human society. However, I do find it interesting that we live in the very same tension with one another that we as Christians often struggle to understand about God. “If God is fully present everywhere all at once then why doesn’t he step in more often?” It’s haunting how often that can be said of us. Never has there been a time in human history where more can be known about an individual without actually and very rarely experiencing their full relational presence. We, just like God, can be right there without others in the room sensing and experiencing our true presence. The question we must ask ourselves at any given moment is why we don’t step in more often?