He’s an award-winning speaker, emcee, writer, and musician, moonlighting as half of the hip-hop duo The Iccsters (pronounced ‘icksters’) and director of worship at Irvington Covenant Church.
December 8th, 2008
I have emerged, healthy and generally in my right mind, from what has affectionately come to be known as “J.R.’s Hostage Weekend.” That term, admittedly melodramatic, is actually a pretty fitting description of what I’ve just endured (and for the second time, no less).
The “J.R.” in question is J.R. Cifani, one of the head honchos at the Monster Worldwide subsidiary Making It Count. And I just spent three days certifying on two – not one, but, count ‘em, TWO – presentation scripts at the training weekend in for the MIC spring season of 2009.
If those details mean nothing to you, they’re just more evidence that I have the privilege of stringing together seven of the coolest words in the English language:
I am a Making It Count speaker.
For the uninitiated, Making It Count is a company that convinces large companies to help underwrite the cost of sending speakers into high schools and colleges, then trains and deploys those speakers to do the presentations, educating the students and giving the partner companies positive branding opportunities in the process.
While it doesn’t necessarily pay that well, it’s quite addicting work. There’s nothing quite like the high you get from corralling a bunch of students, establishing a connection with them, and then imparting to them information that could impact their trajectory for the better.
Of course, in order to experience that high, you must first be certified by MIC to present the material. So that’s what I was doing this weekend, going through the grueling process of learning the content and refining my technique, and collaborating with others doing the same.
One of the coolest things for me about attending a Making It Count training weekend is that I get to spend three intense days with a bunch of people who are a lot like me. It’s a great change of pace from the everyday grind, and a great opportunity to make and develop relationships. And not just in the networking sense, but you know, actually making friends. It’s a blast hanging out with people with whom I have so much in common.
And I mean that on several levels. Not only is the whole conference populated with a whole crop of dynamic, engaging personalities, but a significant portion of the speakers – a sizable majority actually — are people of color. So both hotels were besieged by African-American, Hispanic/Latino, and biracial folks from all across the country. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’m not used to seeing so many passionate, intelligent, good-looking Black people at any event that’s not a concert or a church service. So gettin’ to chop it up like that in a corporate training environment is always a special thing for me. We worked hard, but we had fun.
And speaking of church, that’s the other thing that many of us had in common. I met so many people who were in some form of Christian ministry in their “other” lives. Pastors, youth pastors, even a few music ministers. During my first training in August, I thought it was just a big coincidence.
Now, I can see why.
Most people in some kind of vocational ministry need some form of supplemental income. Working for Making It Count means we can get a little extra cash by giving people a message of hope and empowerment, which is what we would normally be doing anyway. The chance to travel, do some networking, and still maintain the flexibility we need to continue in ministry, practically makes it a lock.
Now I’m not gonna lie… even though I really enjoy this work, I wasn’t particularly excited about coming to this training. The holiday season is always busy, especially for a church music director. I had a lot of stuff going on, and I didn’t get to engage in the weekend as fully as I wanted to because I was still spending some of my downtime taking care of tasks related to church.
On top of that, just getting there was a challenge. The first leg of my trip was delayed about 8 hours, which means instead of taking a noon flight to Houston and getting into Columbus that evening, I didn’t even LEAVE Portland until almost 11pm. Instead of spending the day flying and the night in a hotel room, I spent the day at the airport and the night in cramped airline seats that I couldn’t sleep in. It threw off my body clock something fierce, and the next morning I ended up oversleeping by two hours and nearly missing my opportunity to certify.
But still… it was all so worth it. I’m not kidding. Flight delays and bitter cold and hustling from concourse to concourse for almost 24 hours straight, if it means I get to spend a weekend with likeminded (read: insane) people, all reaching toward the same goal of strengthening our ability to reach people, then I’m down.
If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would.
I’d just make sure to get a loooooooooong nap first.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.
June 24th, 2008
Okay, fine. He’s not a columnist, he’s a blogger. But he should be a columnist, because he is very insightful.
And now I can see part of the reason why I’ve been drawn to his writing. Because he thinks like I do… as a budding young minister of the gospel.
Consider a recent post, where, amidst the trade talk surrounding talented young Blazers players Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster, and Channing Frye, he gives a great analogy about the role of a young minister having to trust God and make decisions regarding his future:
I am not slighting the players’ loyalty here, nor their love for, passion for, or commitment to their team. But the reality is their perspective is different–and has to be different–than ours. To us the Blazers equal basketball. Our loyalty, love, and tunnel vision will last as long as we and the team occupy the same planet. The time scale is different for the players. Their experience of basketball at this level lasts ten, maybe fifteen years at most. They don’t have the luxury of thinking in terms of a lifetime commitment. They were not in the same relationship with the Blazers before they came here. They will not be after they leave either. For them, basketball goes beyond just Portland. They can play for the Blazers, love the Blazers, and give their all for the Blazers, but the Blazers are still part of their professional career arc. It’s their job to be prepared to play for, love, and give their all to another team if that ends up being their path. In the context of their brief careers they have to do what’s best for their success when they have the chance–even if that’s playing for another team–just as the organization will do what’s best for it’s success…including trading them if advantageous.
I am not an NBA player by any means, but I think I understand a little bit of this from my own non-blogging profession. As a pastor I end up being a prominent, visible, integral part of a community-based organization which has a long history, with which people identify strongly, and about which people are very passionate. At the same time I come from outside that organization. I have not grown up in the area. I have not spent multiple decades in the organization itself. My church experience is not localized in the same way theirs is. In many ways I am more deeply immersed than even the most seasoned community member, just as a player is more involved in the team than even the longest-term fan. In other ways I belong the least of anybody, as I will never have the same roots or all-encompassing relationship with the organization that the community does.
What this ends up looking like is me throwing my entire heart and soul into the community for as long as I am there. In this way I am very much like the community members. On the other hand when it’s time for me to go then I can rightfully, and with a clear conscience, move along to do the same in another community. This doesn’t mean I love the first less or that I am disloyal. Rather it means I am being called elsewhere in order to do other good things. The measure of my success and integrity isn’t really staying in one place my whole life, it’s how much and how fully I give in each place to which I am called.
And then he goes on to describe his impending free agency (if you can call it that). Very insightful.
For his sake, I hope God gives him the wisdom and revelation to go where he is called, and that wherever that is he’ll have enough flexibility to continue blogging like this. What a witness to believer and non-believers alike. Propers to Blazer Dave.
February 19th, 2008
“Word to your moms, I’m here to drop bombs, I got more rhymes than the Bible’s got psalms.”
– Everlast, of the House of Pain, “Jump Around.”
So I’m noticing a disturbing trend.
(No, Kris Kross is not making a comeback. It’s not that disturbing.)
It’s become clear to me that in this media-saturated society in which we live, the fastest, easiest way to get attention (ratings, page-views, ad-clicks, sponsorships, whatever) is to go the route of the iconoclast, which is to attack the sacred cows of the establishment as often, loud, and outrageously as possible.
I call this phenomenon lobbin’ bombs.
Lobbin’ bombs is when you have something to say that contradicts some piece of conventional wisdom that other people hold dear. And rather than being tentative and hoping people take the right way, you just throw it on out there and see what happens. Which is usually an explosion of controversy. It doesn’t matter the issue you’re talking about. When you brashly throw out an opinion that you KNOW people will disagree with, and not only do you NOT care whether or they agree, but actually look forward to their hysterical reaction just for the fun of pissing people off… that’s lobbin’ bombs.
And I would be lying if I said I didn’t do it from time to time. In the right context, it’s loads of fun. But it must be done with care, because like any form of demolition, it’s dangerous if you’re not careful about it. if you have something to say that people aren’t looking forward to hearing, it’s possible to do it in a way that minimizes the carnage. But if you choose not to, then you bear some of the responsibility for whatever mass destruction ensues.
Case in point:
Out of Ur, the Leadership blog of Christianity Today, posted a review (and a follow-up post) of a book called Pagan Christianity. The controversy surrounding this book stems from an offshoot of its central thesis, that there are far too many facets of today’s organized-religion version of Christianity that have been appropriated from pagan rituals and practices… including the idea of having one person as the primary hub of teaching and spirituality being paid full-time as professional practitioner of ministry, a.k.a. “the pastor.”
Obviously as a PK I’m biased here, but that is a bomb if I’ve ever seen one. This cat is basically calling for the end of the pastorate as we know it. And the fact that he’s got the endorsement of (and shares co-author billing with) George Barna, one of the top names in religious market research, up til now a trusted name in evangelical circles… one would think they would’ve had the foresight to know this might make a few people upset.
Nevertheless, the tone of the book from the few excerpts that I’ve seen (and the Q&A from Viola’s website) lead me to believe that Viola is more concerned with deconstructing the established religious hierarchy and less with maintaining unity of the believers. Which is sad, to me, because it doesn’t have to be this way. If he had taken more of a conciliatory tone in an attempt to win over bloggers, emerging pastors and other cogent members of the Christian intelligentsia, then maybe his ideas would be received in a better light.
Of course, Viola’s defenders might say that this would be an ethical compromise tantamount to ideological treason, so maybe there’s some truth to that. I mean, bombs are bombs.
But obviously there are ways to lob bombs that are more destructive than others.
(I’m talking to you, Aaron McGruder.)
For those unfamiliar with his work, I’m thinking specifically of the first episode of The Boondocks’ animated series, where the lead character, Black nationalist ten-year-old Huey Freeman, walks into the middle of a nice, quiet garden luncheon and drops a few rhetorical bombs of his own. Intending to shock the people out of their bourgeois stupor, he says this:
“Excuse me. Everyone, I have a brief announcement to make. Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9-11. Thank you for your time and good night.”
The ironic thing about his episode (MILD SPOILER ALERT) is that Huey dreams up this very scenario in the beginning of the episode, and it ends in a riot bordering on anarchy. But when he actually gets the chance to try it out at the Wuncler’s garden party, it has the opposite effect. People just politely clap, quietly amused at such an articulate young boy.
This is actually a brilliant piece of writing, because not only does it show young Huey’s frustration about not being taken seriously, but it also shows the power of context. McGruder has proven with this show that it’s easier to digest the profanity and pointed leftist satire that The Boondocks is known for when it’s coming in the form of animation. By being drawn, it looks less real, even though the subject matter and dialogue is as real as anything this side of The Wire.
Now as I said before, bombs are bombs. They’re going to blow some stuff up. And to an extent, they’re going to hurt — regardless.
But sometimes there are nicer ways to do it.
I’m thinking now of one of the most popular web-based sportswriters of our time, Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy.
In a recent column, he pleads for people to come back to New Orleans, the site of the 2008 NBA All-Star festivities. It’s a great column, and according to Cosellout, one of Simmons finest moments as a writer. New Orleans is desperate for tourism to return, which is why it was such a great gesture for NBA commissioner David Stern to hold his flagship league event there, three years after Hurricane Katrina. And Simmons’ essential point is that people don’t want to return there because they don’t want their vacations interrupted with the emotional baggage of the worst national disaster in our history, but they should because the city needs our tourism dollars in order to continue the rebuilding process.
From there, Simmons launches into a discussion of the NBA’s perceived image problem:
As one NBA higher-up whispered to me last weekend, “People still think we have an image problem, I just don’t get it. Do they even watch us? Do they see the caliber of the guys we have now?”
That’s the issue gnawing at everyone working for the league right now. The NFL has considerably more thugs, Major League Baseball has a steroids scandal that basically has tainted the past 15 years of games, yet somehow the NBA is still perceived as the league with an image problem? For god’s sake, if the NBA can’t put that tag to rest this year, of all years, then it’s never happening, and we’ll have to accept there are deeper issues at work here.
(Well, one deeper issue. And you know what it is.)
If you’ve been paying attention to the NBA and to society in general, then you know exactly what he’s talking about: subconscious, institutionalized racism.
I can expand this discussion in a later post, because this is a huge issue that two or three sentences cannot adequately address. But many in the large cottage industry of sports related commentary punditry have been banging on the NBA for its “image problem” (a euphemism for being too Black, or too hip-hop) despite the fact that there have been way more documented instances of serious criminal behavior and drug abuse in the NFL and MLB, respectively.
Can something so understated still be called a bomb? When it comes to racism, I say yes. Racism is the third rail of polite discussion, something to be avoided at all costs. And many purveyors of ESPN content don’t want the reality of race relations injected into the fantasy and escapism involved with following professional sports. And so Bill Simmons has wisely found a way to bring race into the conversation, ever-so-briefly, yet without equivocation.
Nicely done, Sports Guy.
So all you folks railing against the man, eager to unleash your down-with-the-system soliloquies into the blogosphere… take note. There’s more than one way to drop a bomb.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.