Having lived my life on two sides of the same [Christian] track I have seen a lot of different things, especially when it comes to views of this country. Growing up in a historic African American context I heard much about the United States but not much around National holidays and an unintentional differentiation between. Now that I am in a mostly Caucasian context in the Midwest there is a major ramping up towards National holidays and an unintended conflation of church and state. A great example of this comes around every 4th of July. I have to admit I become uncomfortable in both context for the lack of balance and [right] understanding of the day. My wife and I have had these discussions for years and they basically come to the conclusion that the differences in our culture backgrounds let us view it differently. I have wondered for years how to balance this tension and recently I read an article that helped me better understand my own inner angst. In an article written by Trevin Wax 4 reasons “Why Younger Evangelicals May Feel Uneasy In A Patriotic Church Service” and offers many ways forward. Here are his reasons (which resonate so much with me):
1. Extreme Experiences in the Past
Part of the unease may come from experiencing a sloppy melding of “church” and “nation” in the past…
2. Decreasing Patriotism among Millennials
Part of the unease may be rooted in a decrease in patriotism…
3. Shifting Cultural Currents
Younger Evangelicals have a different approach to political engagement, and speaking within the context of generational shifts.
“Older Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Israel. Younger Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Babylon.”
4. Failure to Fully Appreciate Time and Place
Some younger evangelicals see any patriotic expression as a compromise with worldly power. Their approach is to take the flag out of the sanctuary, never sing a patriotic song, and never mention a patriotic holiday.
I know that I am not alone on this (or maybe I am) but I would love to know your thoughts on the church and patriotism. Does Trevin get this wrong? Is there something else we can do? How do we balance this out?
Over the last few years of my life, around this time of year, I have been placed in a conundrum in my life. Every January the celebration of Martin Luther King’s (MLK) Birthday and the Sanctity of Life Sunday seem to fall on the same Sunday. Growing up in Kansas City I went to a traditional Black church every Mid-January we spoke of Dr. King and his Christian impact on the nation in the civil rights movement. Now that I’m a part of a majority Caucasian church Mid-January’s bring reflections the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision. If you didn’t know Sunday (1/19) was “Sanctity of Life Sunday” is followed by Martin Luther King Jr Monday (1/20), which is followed by Roe V. Wade’s 41st anniversary on Wednesday (1/22). There is a chilling contrast between the January 20th celebration of the life of MLK and the advancement of civil rights his legacy leaves; while simultaneously mourning the January 22nd anniversary of legalized abortion and the millions of innocent dead babies its legacy leaves. Depending on the context, it seems that focusing on one issue or the other we are missing the boat on one of the most incredibly important subjects that affect our church today.
“…it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
How much have things changed? This is the largest chasm that is extant in the body of Christ in the US. Our continued segregation preaches something to our surrounding culture, and it is not positive about the Kingdom of God. We must find a way to intentionally seek racial reconciliation while addressing such a grievous sin of our nation, which happens to affect African Americans disproportionately. The problem is both [majority] Black and Caucasian churches miss the issues that have not historically effected our communities, by doing this we miss the larger issue that severs the Kingdom of God and is simultaneously is destroying lives.
So what’s the solution? Maybe churches should make this a period of intense focus both on the protection of life and racial reconciliation. I do not think that this is a mistake by God but orchestrated in His plan for us to take advantage two subjects that seem so different yet speak to similar injustices in our nation and in the Kingdom of God.
“The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Linguist Geneva Smitherman, says the communication process of call-and-response – the spontaneous verbal and nonverbal interactions between speakers and audiences – is a fundamental organizing principle of African-American (AA) culture. In plain English Call and response enables black people to achieve the unified or spiritual harmony that is basic to the traditional African worldview. Honestly this was all lost on me as a child as I heard the shouts and moans of the crowd as they responded to the preacher and quickly surmised that it was all for show. Unfortunately, on some levels I am right but at a deeper level there is a sense of cohesiveness that comes through call and response.
The function of call-and-response is to establish and maintain spiritual harmony, to maintain a sense of group solidarity, and cultural values. However, the actual call-and-response patterns in AA culture and the typical affirmations utilized to encourage/ ensure active participation need to be examined. The most popular technique occurs between the speaker, singer, or the audience of listeners. Entire phrases or verses are sung or spoken by the leader and repeated verbatim or altered somewhat by the audience or chorus. An example of this “leader and chorus” structure is illustrated in a most Kirk Franklin songs. My wife and I have joked about these cultural differences but this is normative. As with many black spirituals, a leader sings an entire verse, and then the others join with the leader to sing the chorus.
In black religious services, worshipers engage in more than simply acknowledging the sermon with an “amen” or like responses, they actually preach back. The only observer in a AA worship service the only observer is God himself. Having been apart of many different cultural expressions of church in America I have seen this first hand. Additionally, the preacher makes statements that are frequently responded to before he completes his statement or thought. This “overlapping” and at its height the speaker and audience roles often shift with the audience doing most of the calling and the speaker doing most of the responding. This is also reflected in African music, as well as in AA music says African scholar John Miller Chernoff, all of the musicians are playing “forward toward the beat” and “pushing the beat” to make it more dynamic. This is what occurs in AA religious services when the preacher adapts and employs every verbal response from the audience in a direct search for spiritual harmony. The vitality and rhythm of life is in the unified and collective response of the audience to the speaker. In the end this seems like foolishness, or so I thought. As I looked on to the spectacle of call and response I quickly came to the decision that this type of exuberance and loud proclamation was purely for show and not worship, yet as I have grown older I have come to understand the rich history and unifying aspects of this part of my cultural background.
It is Black History Month, and every year I try to celebrate by writing a series of articles that particularly pertain with my culture and her expression through Christ. I must admit this relationship has not always been the most healthy for me, but over the years I have come to the conclusion of loving the heritage and culture I have been given. Additionally, I wanted to start off by talking about some things I love about this culture. Notice I am saying culture, this is not a racial thing because there are only two races: those who are saved and those who are not. I just want to clarify this as I will intersperse those words throughout my writing moving forward.
The poet Leopold Sedar Senghor, first president of the republic of Senegal, stated that rhythm is the “organizing force” that makes the black style. Both Africans and African Americans use rhythm (not exclusively but uniquely) to articulate their moral, theological, and philosophical beliefs. Rhythm, the essential and central element in black music, philosophically communicates “religious” experience in African and African-American culture and helps its ritual participants reach “communitas.”
Rhythm is particularly significant for rap because it gives rap its unique movement and momentum. Tricia Rose sucessfully demonstrated through her research that the lowest or fattest beats in a rap song are likely the ones that the most philosophically significant or emotionally charged. Whereas Western music finds its uniqueness in melodic and harmonic structures, African American music finds its uniqueness in rhythmic and percussive structure.
I love the sounds inspired by the black community, whether those sounds come from gospel choirs, blues, Jazz, R & B, Soul, Neo-Soul, rap, or hip-hop. Allow me to list three ways in which I am grateful.
- Gospel choirs: I grew up in a church that did them well. The emotion, swaying, passion, heart are all things I sometimes miss on a Sunday morning. Additionally, the spirituals, these are something that as I have grown older have grown closer to my soul. The pure angst behind every word is still very evident to this day.
- Christian rap/Hip hop: One of the most creative and faithful forms of worship to have arisen in recent years is Christian rap, with rappers like Shai Linne, Trip Lee, and Lecrae unleashing some of the most powerful and profound lyrics available in contemporary Christian Music today. I have to be honest this music saved me as I first became a Christian because most of CCM is acoustic guitar driven “soft rock” or ballets and I could not stand it. May their tribe increase (I wish I were part of the tribe but it is not my calling).
- Mainstream Rap/Hip-hop: While there is so much with which I disagree in mainstream rap and hip hop, those art forms within themselves have served as powerful venues to entire communities to express their beliefs, feelings, and values (both social and political. Rap itself is an acronym for Rhythm and Poetry and gains its roots in pre-slavery African and serves a basis for most forms of “American”music that we know today. Even when these artists’ music are consciously and profoundly non-Christian, the Christian community is well served to pay attention to these art forms as a way of loving and understanding a community that is usually so misunderstood yet rich with insight.