So it seems that a series of circumstances have all led me to reminisce, Pete-Rock-&-CL-Smooth-style, about my upbringing here in Portland Oregon, the undisputed whitest major city in America. Reconnecting with old friends from high school, being a little less homebound and a little more out-and-about in the city (which is a typical, if subconscious spring ritual), and responding to people emailing me about Mitchell S. Jackson’s March essay in Salon, about his experiences growing up here.
I’ve written about this issue before, but usually only tangentially. It’s not something I feel the need to discuss all that often, not because my experiences aren’t novel or interesting, but because there are so few genuine opportunities to talk frankly about racial issues without the issues being sidetracked or hijacked by local or national politics. I actually have several compelling interests that could incentivize my sharing what it’s like growing up here (at or near the top would be to promote my creative works). But in practice, it’s hard to do so without being burdened by the advancement of a particular agenda – as in, talking about diversity in the context of Why We Need To Do Such & Such About The Problem – or, more honestly, without bumming white people out.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
– Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV)
If you’re a fan of CBS hit show The Good Wife and haven’t watched episode 515, entitled “Dramatics, Your Honor,” READ NO FURTHER.
Some of you know that I occasionally dabble in stand-up comedy, and since I’ve started, I’ve been trying to find ways to make my jokes a bit more personal.
Stand up is, by its nature, a very confessional form of comedy. Since I’m kind of a cerebral guy, my jokes tend to be more observational, but I’ve decided to try to write more about the things that I care about, rather than the things that just pop into my head (after all, that’s what Facebook and Twitter are for). And there are few things that I care about more than multicultural church, and multicultural worship music in particular.
So in the last five to ten years, as hip-hop culture has continued the march from being simply popular from becoming a downright universal lingua franca — and if you think I’m overstating that at all, consider that right now, at this second, The Roots are now the house band on The Tonight Show — there have been so many terrible hip-hop parodies by Christians aimed at Christian audiences.
So, so many.
Most of them were content to simply ape a few hip-hop mannerisms and call it funny because of the obvious contextual and cultural disconnect – look, it’s that violent ghetto music being performed by non-stereotypical hip-hop people! Normal people, like us! It got to the point that even a bunch of guys rockin’ mics in an ode to Christian side hugs could get 100K views, just because the rest of the competition was so lame.
So for the past sixteen months or so, I’ve been serving as the interim worship director for a church plant just west of Portland, called Kaleo Covenant Church. How I ended up there is sort of a long story for another time, but it will suffice to say that it’s more than just a gig for me. The pastor there is Troy Hoppenrath, a man whom I enjoy serving alongside immensely, in no small measure because of his crazy stories, the manic energy that only a former youth pastor can bring to the pulpit, and what I perceive as a fearless willingness to take ministry risks (case in point: me).
So, in light of the Michael Dunn verdicts — several guilty counts of attempted murder, but a hung jury on the count of murder in the first degree — there is a resurgence of conversation on social media about the ways in which the criminal justice systems, particularly in the state of Florida, are heavily biased against young Black men.
In particular, I’ve seen scores of Black people lamenting this disparity, usually with some emotional combination of sadness, anger, or, most common, a detached bitter sense of resignation.
And in response, when discussing the particulars of the case, I’ve seen several White people say things like, “well I just don’t think it should be about race,” or “skin color has nothing to do with it,” or something along those lines. It’s not that they’re defending Michael Dunn’s (or before him, George Zimmerman’s) actions, but they’re saying “it’s just a tragic situation, period, and race shouldn’t factor into it.”
Imagine if your car was a clunker, (back in the day, we would’ve called it a “hooptie”) but it was the only car you’ve ever known. Both your parents drove that car, practically raised you in that car, before passing it onto you. You drive it all through high school and college, doing your best to keep it running. Gradually, you start making improvements, you rebuild the engine, you put in new upholstery, give it a paint job, etc. You work hard, in your spare time off of work, for four or five YEARS, getting that car into nice shape. Eventually, you take it to a few car shows, you even win 2nd place once. Your name is in the paper, it’s a pretty big deal. You feel pretty great about that car.
Then one day you get a letter from your car insurance company. They congratulate you for getting second place at the car show! Also, by the way, they need to double your insurance premiums. WAIT, WHAT?! Your car has become so valuable that you can no longer drive it.
If you’ve ever wondered why it is that Christian music sucks, I have a hypothesis.
But first, I just have to say — “The Sentient Song Fallacy” — doesn’t that sound like an episode of The Big Bang Theory? Get at me, Chuck Lorre! I’m a budding screenwriter, I do some stand-up, and I can even act a little bit. I promise I won’t go on any drunken tirades about tiger’s blood.
Anyway, here’s my definition:
The Sentient Song Fallacy is the erroneous idea that a song can be Christian.
Okay, so I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I spend a lot of time on Facebook.
And seemingly overnight, I've noticed a new craze sweeping through my newsfeed -- a BuzzFeed quizzicle* wherein users can find out what career they should be in, rather than the one they are in. I don't exactly know why, but this just pushed me over the edge.
Maybe it's because it was on the heels of other hard-hitting journalistic BuzzFeed quizzes like "Which City Should You Live In?" or "Which Punctuation Mark Are You?" or "Which Monopoly Token Would Make the Best Cover Photo For Your Memoir?")
People, we can do better. We must do better.