Get Out is a taut horror thriller from Jordan Peele, famous as half of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy duo Key & Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes his debut behind the camera, directing fresh-faced Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror, Sicario) and Allison Williams (The Mindy Project) with his original script. But rather than comparing it to horror classics, I found it instructive to compare Get Out to another story with a relationship at its center – 2015’s film adaption of the hit musical The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. They’re both masterful in the way they use characters to hone a sense of perspective. And Lord knows, when it comes to racial issues, evangelicals could use a healthy dose of the black perspective.
So one of the problems I see in our political discourse, is that we often use the same words but mean different things.
And nowhere is that problem more vexing than in our discussions about race. It’s been a problem for a long time, of course, but ever since the election of Donald Trump, there have been a fresh round of arguments springing up on cable-news pundit panels, message boards and social media feeds. And the typical argument goes something like this:
Progressive: [Insert recent news story] is a clear example of racism! That [incident, action, statement or idea] is racist!
Conservative: No, it isn’t! Why do you make everything about race? That had nothing to do with race. [Insert person at the center of story] is not a racist!
Progressive: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your denial of racism is racist!
Conservative: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your accusation of racism makes you the real racist!
Rinse and repeat.
They say that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.
And there’s a less well-known but corollary idea, that people who create realistic fictional content end up pulling their ideas from recent events.
But every once in a while, both ideas converge: a piece of speculative fiction, drawn from elements of real-life, ends up over time looking like a retroactive prediction of real-life events.
Remember how Back to the Future II predicted this year’s Cubs World Series win? I recently stumbled onto a similar phenomenon, with even bigger consequences.
Last night, I posted the following status update to my Facebook account:
Wait, there’s been reports of racial harassment to people of color from Trump supporters? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised.
I mean, when white Republicans send candidates to the White House, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending a candidate with supporters that have lots of problems. They’re bringing crime, and they’re racists, and some of them, I assume, are good people.
It was my tongue-in-cheek way of trying to get conservative Republicans who feel defensive about accusations of racism to see how it feels to be targeted rhetorically, and then to remind them that guess what? Your choice for president said this, and much more.
But satire is always a risky proposition when it comes to making a point, and most of the time it ends up serving as a way to signal congratulations from people who already agree with you. Last night’s post was no exception. A bunch of my Facebook friends who knew what I meant, laughed. (One friend said she laughed so hard, she ran out of capital letters. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahaha,” That cracked me up.)
On the other hand, a few of them responded somberly, aghast at the ideological divide that this election has revealed. They wanted to stick up for people they know who voted for Trump who they feel are good people who agonized over a difficult choice and just made it differently than I did.
I get that.
I still think they’re wrong for choosing Trump, but I get it.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ― C.S. Lewis,
For a variety of reasons, I voted for Hillary Clinton for president.
Like many, many others, I did not get what I wanted.
But I did get something valuable.
I received the gift of pain.
As gifts go, pain is not usually high on anyone’s most-wanted list. It’s the reason why, when people want to exclaim strongly about how much they dislike something, they usually offer up a painful alternative that they would rather choose. I’d rather light myself on fire. I’d rather snuggle with razor blades and bathe in lemon juice. I’d rather have a root canal.
Actually, that last one seems rather apt, because the potential for pain from a root canal stems from the exposure of nerves in our teeth. We hurt because we are getting unfiltered, unadulterated, no-holds-barred pain signals from our bodies’ specialized pain sensors. When you need a root canal, your teeth hurt to remind you that hey, something is REALLY WRONG.
That’s right. Pain is a messenger.
So, I grew up a music nerd.
Specifically, I grew up as a Christian music nerd, and while I know the term “Christian music” can be problematic, let the record reflect that in the beginning of this sentence, the word “Christian” is modifying “nerd,” not “music,” which means that really what I’m saying is I was a music nerd who was also a Christian.
(Lest anyone doubt my nerd credentials, I present as Exhibit A: that previous sentence.)
I listened to a lot of contemporary gospel, and to what people later in the 90s referred as “CCM” (contemporary Christian music) which means that because my parents were harbingers of diversity — or, more accurately because they were New York transplants in the Pacific Northwest and needed to retain elements of blackness in order to retain their sanity — they exposed me to the best Christian music from both white and black artists. My love for the music of Andrae Crouch is well documented, but there was plenty of Russ Taff and The Imperials, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Winans, Reba Rambo & Dony McGuire, Commissioned, Michael W. Smith, Sandy Patti, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Rev. Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir… on and on.
Editor’s Note: This is the written draft of a sermon that I delivered at Kaleo Covenant Church. The alternate title I considered using was: “‘Who'” & ‘What’: When To Use Which, How & Why.” To set the mood, I walked out to one of my favorite songs, which I reference later in my introduction. Hope you enjoy it.
It’s September, a time for a new start. It’s back to school time, yes, but it’s also a time when our home lives and routines tend to engage again. Summer travel season is usually over by September. Football is on TV, it’s the start of a new financial quarter… et cetera.
September is my favorite time of year, in part because my birthday is in September, but also because I think it’s a time for optimism. I have a lot of great September memories of starting school, starting a new job, moving to a new place… I have such a history of hope that comes alive in September. Also, “September” by Earth Wind & Fire… that will always be my jam.
Part of the hope that I tend to carry when starting a new season is that it represents a new start. Especially if you’re starting up at a new school or a new job, you’re getting a chance to make a first impression all over again, which means that you’re no longer shackled to the baggage that you carried before. If, in your previous life, you were known as a jerk, or a screw-up, or a loner, or bossy, or any other persona that you would rather leave behind, September is a time when you can start anew, and become the person YOU want to be, instead of the person that others have known you to be.
If you follow the inner workings of internet journalism, you’ve probably heard about the recent shuttering of Gawker.com, the centerpiece website of the Gawker Media empire that includes several other popular websites (specifically: Jezebel, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, and Jalopnik). Those other websites will be consolidated into the Fusion Media Group, owned by Spanish-language conglomerate Univision Communication, Inc., but Gawker.com itself, as of early this week, ceased operations.
Univision chose to shut down Gawker after a successful ownership bid in a bankruptcy auction, which was the result of Gawker being sued by former wrestler Hulk Hogan for invasion of privacy after the website posted a video of him having sex without his consent. Industry observers claim the lawsuit was bankrolled by tech mogul and libertarian activist Peter Thiel, who made it his mission to destroy Gawker after they outed him as gay in 2007.
Because of the salacious nature of the lawsuit, most of the reactions from Christians in my social media have been muted, if any reaction at all – usually some combination of “meh” and “good riddance.”
But I think as Christians, we ought to be concerned about the implications of this series of events.
Editor’s Note: This is the text of a sermon for the good people of Kaleo Covenant Church on August 14th, 2016. I didn’t intend for it to be a blog post, but a few people on Facebook might be encouraged by it, so here we go.
We’re in the middle of August.
Labor Day is just two weeks away. The summer is flying by, and then comes September, where we’re gonna hit it hard. But even though we’re not in school YET, we can kind of see the signs. There are back to school commercials on TV, football training camp is starting up, the days are starting to get shorter and shorter. We’re in what are often called The Dog Days of Summer, where most of the cool summertime activities or trips have already been taken, but it’s not time for a full-on ramp up into the fall. We’re in an in-between space.
Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably sick of transitions. If you’re like me, you tend to greet any transition with the same sentiment — let’s get it on already, geez, this is taking forever!
Now, because I’m a large black guy who has been conditioned his whole life to be as non-threatening as possible, I tend not to lash out when I get frustrated (well, unless I’m behind the wheel, then all bets are off). No, when I get really sick and tired of waiting for something, my default response is not to lash out, but preoccupy myself with something entertaining to pass the time. I keep my phone in my hand, and as soon as something happens that I don’t like or as soon as I encounter something even mildly unpleasant, my first thought is, “what new games or apps have I downloaded recently? or what’s new to read on my favorite website?”
And unfortunately, this impatience with transition even extends to my spiritual life. When I’m in a time frame where I feel like I’m waiting to hear from God or I’m waiting to see God move in a particular area or I’m waiting for a specific answer to prayer, then I tend to ignore God. I tend to put him on the back burner. Not intentionally, but more like, “okay God, well I’ll check in with you as soon as I get the sign I’m looking for, and until then, I’ll be on my XBOX, mmmmkaythxbai, later gator.”
But one of the things I’m learning right now is that checking out during transitions is a mistake. Mindlessly preoccupying ourselves with trivialities while we wait in a hold pattern for God… that is a mistake.
I wasn’t going to blog about it, but seeing the White House recently host a live performance by the Hamilton cast, I decided this couldn’t wait any further. But I want to be clear about something from the outset. This is not a post to convince you of how great Hamilton is and why you need to see or hear it.
Don’t get me wrong. I certainly want more people to know about it, but if after reading this you decide to listen to the official cast recording, I claim no responsibility for the ensuing addiction that will follow.
On the contrary, this post is simply about what a profound effect Hamilton has had on me, and why. It’s about how Hamilton relates to what’s going on with me in my life (plenty of big changes!) and what’s going in America in general (also, plenty of big changes!). There are lessons to be learned that go way beyond the aesthetic pleasure of enjoying good music and watching a compelling stage performance. Indeed, I suspect that what makes Hamilton resonate so deeply inside me and so many others is its incredible sense of timeliness. It is, to crib a line from the Dark Knight trilogy, not the play that America deserves, but the play America needs, and needs greatly.
But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.