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We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

We Can’t Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

In recent years, I’ve commemorated Advent, the four-week season that leads up to Christmas. It’s been a great time of reflecting on the story of the birth of Christ and the celebration of the coming of the Messiah to rescue humanity.We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

The interesting thing about Jesus, and something that Advent so powerfully recognizes, is that the rescue He provided is progressive. In Advent, we celebrate the rescue that came, the rescue we live in now, and the rescue that is still to come…the ultimate rescue we long for. We look back on His work on the cross, we contemplate the salvation He is working in us now, and we anticipate His return to restore a broken earth still suffering from the impact of sin.

And in the middle of this season, I can’t help connecting all that Advent represents with the state of America right now. As the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., have sparked anger, outrage, protests, and debate, we are seeing a groaning rising from the earth. There are plenty of things that can distress our hearts. There are plenty of things in this fallen world that cause us to long for Jesus’ return. Some of those things are obvious to all believers, and some of those things are obvious to all mankind (such as human trafficking, terrorism, etc.). But the events of Ferguson and Staten Island haven’t caused a universal distress.

I can’t breathe.

I won’t lay out all the background of why the black community (and those who sympathize with it) see police officers escaping indictment for lethal force as such an injustice. But understand that there is an inbred distrust of law enforcement that goes back generations. It comes from the experiences of our grandfathers, our fathers, ourselves, and our children.

I can’t breathe.

We have seen too much injustice. We have seen law enforcement officers receive grace for their mistakes while the mistakes of our brethren are fatal. We have seen a justice system we are told to trust disappoint us time after time. So we groan:

I can’t breathe.

Our struggle is like that of Advent. Our rescue has come. We have seen the dismantling of institutional racism in this nation. We have made progress. We have a twice-elected black president. We have increasing opportunity and influence. We are experiencing rescue. But we realize we are still broken. Still disproportionally in poverty. Still undereducated. Still looked upon with suspicion (whether we have a degree, own a home, and make more money than those profiling us). So we Advent. We yearn for a rescue. A rescue the president, justice system, nor any civil rights leader can provide. Writer and Pastor Winn Collier’s words on Advent ring so true:

“Advent first pierces the cold air as a desperate groan from those living at the jagged edges, from those who taste sorrow’s bitterness, those accustomed to the crush of disappointment, of fear. Advent comes first for those who have made a wreck of things, those who carry a legitimate complaint, for those whose existence teeters on the brink. If you do not know any pain, if you have no yearning for what is not yet true, if you have no pang of grief for your sorrow or the sorrow of another…if there is no raw, raspy voice somewhere in the hollows of your soul that every now and again whispers into the ravaging night, God, please…Please tear the heavens and come down… then some of what Advent offers will always stand remote for you.” – Groan, by Winn Collier

The groaning of the black community in America today is not an African-American groan, it’s the grown of mankind. It’s the groan of broken people who make mistakes, sin, and carry anger yet believe in grace and yearn for grace. It’s the groan of people who realize justice might be blind, but it isn’t always colorblind. It’s the longing for the just and righteous One who looked into the eyes of the adulterous woman and said “go, and sin no more,” instead of consenting to the lethal force of the authorities. Our world is broken. Our justice system is broken. We are broken. So we yearn. We Advent. Desperately, we Advent. Oh, Come Emmanuel.

We can’t breathe.

 

 

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When You're Not in the Mood

When You’re Not in the Mood

I read a tweet that said “Music is the heartbeat of life.” Most of us have a connection with music. It touches our souls, it helps us through the day at work, at the gym, on the commute, or wherever else you want to close out the When You're Not in the Moodworld and get lost in the rhythm.

Music is the soundtrack to our moods. We use it to soothe and sympathize with us. If a woman is listening to Adele all week, you know what’s going on (i.e., leave her alone fellas). But it also has a different effect on us.

My favorite artist is Amos Lee. His music is a hybrid of blues, folk, rock, and soul. I began listening to him with his second album, Supply and Demand, and I was hooked. But when I previewed his next album — Last Days at the Lodge— I wasn’t feeling it. I was rather disappointed. There were too many songs about relationships. I didn’t have time for that.

I’ve enjoyed his two subsequent albums. But when I went back and listened to tracks from that album I didn’t like, I was blown away. I think it’s his best work now. I’m not certain why I was averse to that album in the past, but I bet it had something to do with my emotional state. I likely just came out of a relationship or some type of relational disappointment (women, smh) that I really didn’t want to hear about Mr. Lee’s drama. So I judged the snippets of the album through the lens of my negative emotional state, missing out on some great music at the time.

Unfortunately, music isn’t the only thing we judge based on our emotionally tainted state. What if the people we’ve met whom we don’t like, those people we got a bad vibe from, and those we felt rubbed us the wrong way weren’t bad people or didn’t really piss us off? What if we just weren’t in the right mood or emotionally prepared to welcome a new friend, colleague or acquaintance? Sure there are some people we just won’t get along with, but what if, for the most part, you don’t get along with certain people not because of their personalities, but rather because of your temperament? What if the issue is with you, not them?

I think that’s the case most of the time, at least in my life. Some people are difficult to deal with, but I can be difficult to deal with as well. We all need others to be patient with us, and in turn, we need to be patient with others. We need to give people a chance. Someone who completely turned you off could potentially be a close friend. (One of my best friends today was someone I couldn’t stand when we first met.)

When I listen back on that Amos Lee album, the funny thing is most of the songs aren’t about relationships. My judgment was clouded then. Whatever preoccupies our thoughts becomes the filter through which we see, hear, and encounter people and things. Whether it’s a breakup, money concerns, low self-esteem, or family issues, our circumstances often spill into other areas of life.

The Bible talks about being sober-minded, which means using good judgment, being sensible, and not being excessive. Regardless of what we’re going through, we must dwell in peace so we can judge wisely. Don’t let a bad day, stress, or your emotions affect your interaction with people. You could miss out on something beautiful. Or, in my case, some great music.

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Is Instagram ruing your life

Is Instagram Ruining Your Life?

On the way home from work the other day, I was walking to my car and overheard two teenagers talking. It was a guy and a girl, and as they parted ways the guy said, “I’ll see you on Instagram.”Is Instagram ruing your life

I thought that was the funniest and, at the same time, dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Because, you know, you actually don’t see anyone on Instagram. I mean you see their image and the food porn they post, but that’s just the virtual them. Are we at the point in our social evolution where Instagram counts as personal interaction? Like, could I ever tell my mom, “Hey, I know I haven’t stopped by to see you in a while, but just get on Instagram because it’s just as good as me being there.”

I’m not going to bash social media because I use it regularly — it’s probably the reason why you got to this page — and it is a great way to stay in touch with people, stay in the know, and stalk others. And you’ve probably already read an article or 20 about how social networks are killing the art of face-to-face conversation. We get it. We need to put our phones down. I agree.

Yet, let’s be honest, the tide has turned. This is the new social norm. You primarily interact through social media. And teenagers? Forget it. That’s all they know. So my dilemma is finding balance. I’m not shutting down my Facebook or Twitter accounts. That’s equivalent to living in a cave.

So how do we keep up with the latest social technology and at the same time not surrender the richness and purity of old school interaction? There are no hard and fast rules, but this is what I intend to do:

PERSONALLY (NOT VIRTUALLY) INTERACT WITH A FRIEND EACH WEEK

This means either a phone (not text) or face-to-face conversation with a friend each week. It’s easy just to drop a line or personal message on a social network, but taking the effort to call or sit down with someone shows him/her is worth your time and attention, and they’re not just part of your social network.

DON’T OPEN A SINGLE APP WHEN IN SOMEONE’S PRESENCE

How many times have you been with friends or family and everyone’s face is buried in the blue screen of his/her phone while having conversation? I know, all the time. My goal is to be present. If I’m with people, they should have my attention, not Kevin Hart’s Twitter feed.

NO FACEBOOK BIRTHDAY WISHES, A PHONE CALL/TEXT IS REQUIRED

If I have your number, that means we’re more than Facebook friends. You deserve more than a wall post on your born day. 

DON’T SURF SOCIAL MEDIA WHILE WAITING ON LINE

OK, this is a hard one because we are so freaking impatient. If we’re in line at a store, and the line’s not moving swiftly, we reach for our phones immediately. Surely Twitter can make this agonizing experience go faster. No, it doesn’t. And honestly, you look stupid. Just stand there and wait. Talk with a fellow waiting customer. Just don’t go to the phone. This can be as hard as holding your pee after drinking a quart of water, but damn it, it’s for the best.

These are just a few things I’ll try this year. Hopefully it will bring balance to my addiction, keeping me from getting totally swept away in the culture’s new form of communication. I challenge you to give them a try too, or your own variation. Whatever helps you unplug and interact as a human. If it doesn’t work, no big deal. I’ll just see you on Instagram.

 

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starbucks selfish

How Starbucks Taught Me I’m Selfish

By Kevin Howell

starbucks selfish
photo by visualpanic via creative commons

I’m selfish.

I have the tendency to be self-absorbed.

I focus on solving my own problems, knocking items off my daily to-do list, and sticking to my schedule. When things get in the way of that, I see it as an attack on my way of life, an attempt to sabotage my day, a conspiracy against Kevin, as if the world must kowtow to my comfort.

I’m not always like this, but I can regress into that state. It’s easy to be patient, loving, and sacrificial Sunday afternoon after church, or when you’re around close friends, but in the middle of the week a chatty co-worker or a long line at Starbucks sets off my selfishness.

Speaking of Starbucks, I was waiting on line the other day, and the couple in front of me was ordering the entire freaking menu. They had a list of drink orders for the Brady Bunch or something. It didn’t help that there were only two baristas working either. The couple was already testing my patience, then the guy has the audacity to eye the bakery section and ask for one of everything.

Really? One of EVERYTHING? This ain’t Dunkin Donuts. People don’t do this at Starbucks.

Fed up, I was on the verge of saying something, then the guy turns to me and says, “Sorry, we’re at a funeral and getting orders for our family.”

Oh …

Yeah, felt like an ass. Hadn’t noticed they were dressed in all black. Waiting to order that latte didn’t seem to matter in light of their loss.

It was a humble reminder that my feelings aren’t the only ones that matter. That my agenda can endure some delays. That my schedule can be adjusted. That every day, I need to look outside of myself.

This was an extreme case, but one that slapped me out of selfish stupidity. It’s easy to get caught up in my daily grind and ignore everyone and everything around me, but God’s been putting little reminders in my path lately to slow down and pay attention.

Taking the subway home from work the other night, a lady stopped me asking if I could help carry her suitcase down the steps. My first thought was, ‘I can’t miss my train,’ but I stopped myself and thought: ‘Screw the train, I gotta to help.’

We’re called to serve. The opposite of service is selfishness. Selfishness is evil. There’s no other way to put it. It’s a carnal inclination linked to our sin nature. And unfortunately, life tries to push us to the lower nature.

Work, school, projects, errands, smartphones and social media are part of the daily routine that keeps us focused on ourselves and distracted from the concerns of others. No doubt, we are busy. And there are plenty of problems in on our lives to focus on. But we’re commanded to give others priority over ourselves. It’s an insane concept, but since God said it, I figure it makes sense (He’s smarter than us after all).

It’s the way Jesus lived. Whether He was on His way to heal someone (Matt. 9:18-22), or grieving a personal loss (Matt. 14:10-14), He was always interrupted by someone in need. He never hesitated to break from His routine and put what He was doing on hold in order to serve. Sure, that’s a high standard. But if we pay attention to others and prepare ourselves to put aside our plans if needed, we can meet that standard more often than not.

Our lattes can wait.

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Jesus and Jay-Z

Why I Love Jesus and Jay-Z

By Kevin Howell

Jesus and Jay-Z
Associated Press

I used to be a big fan of Jay-Z. I’m talking the Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime vols. 1-3, Streets is Watching era — i.e. his early stuff. I stopped listening to secular music for a while in the early 2000s, so I can’t speak much of his discography during that time — though attending a historically black university where hip-hop was the soundtrack of the campus, I heard plenty of his music then.

Jay has gotten some backlash from the Christian community in recent years, particularly because lyrics to his hit Empire State of Mind. There’s a subtle line in the song, that really, if you aren’t a Christian you probably didn’t even notice it. But it ruffled some feathers when he rapped:

Hail Mary to the city, you’re a virgin
And Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church ends

It didn’t help that he later released a song with Kanye West called No Church in the Wild. I remember seeing Christians ranting on blogs and social media about Jay’s blasphemous lyrics, his supposed connection to the Illuminati, and how he’s the anti-Christ. Seriously?

Jay’s been taking subtle jabs at religion for years — calling himself Jay-hova, and even making the song Izzo (H.O.V.A.), which is sacrilegious, but catchy as hell.

For some reason, I was interested in hearing his latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. His Samsung commercial for the album, despite being 10 minutes long, was intriguing because as big as a mogul Jay has become, you don’t hear him speak much. The commercial, and subsequent clips discussing the meaning of particular songs, gave us a peek into his mind. This clip for the song Heaven was particularly interesting.

As much bravado and swag Jay-Z boasts, as much as he’s worshiped by a generation, and as much as he angers some Christians for his lyrics, he’s simply human. Being so, he has the same questions, internal conflicts, and paradoxes we all experience.

He doesn’t come off anti-Christ in the commercial or the song, but rather agnostic. He’s someone who questions how “a just God could make you burn for eternity for free will that He gave you.” Or how can we not accept others’ ideas of God if none of us has ever been to Heaven. His thoughts are not much different from our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, family members, friends, and at some point, ourselves.

We’ve all had to face the tough questions of our faith.

How can a loving God send people to Hell? 

Jay-Z with Kevin Durant and Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church NYC
Jay-Z with Kevin Durant and Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church NYC

How is the Bible relevant with scientific discoveries?

Is there really just one true way to God? 

Even if you’ve found peace in the faith with these questions, we live in a secular, pluralistic society with many beliefs. People around you have these questions.

I love living in a diverse society. I love the fact most people are just seeking truth. And even if people aren’t convinced there’s a Heaven, they still want to go there.

Jay-Z is one of those people. I believe God loves him. I was one of those people. With baggage, with flaws, with unbelief, with questions. God loved me then. Before I knew Him. Before I recognized Him. Before I had faith in Him. The truth of His love and grace convinced me and changed me.

I’m hoping it does the same for Jay.

 

Kevin is a writer, editor and lover of old school hip-hop. He wasn’t impressed with “Magna Carta,” so he’ll go back listening to his old Tribe Called Quest, Outkast and Public Enemy CDs cassettes.

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