Why I Dropped Everything And Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album

Brian Mooney

When Kendrick Lamar released his sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), I was in the middle of teaching a unit on Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). My freshmen students were grappling with some big ideas and some really complex language. Framing the unit as an “Anti-Oppression” study, we took special efforts to define and explore the kinds of institutional and internalized racism that manifest in the lives of Morrison’s African-American characters, particularly the 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove and her mother, Pauline. We posed questions about oppression and the media – and after looking at the Dick & Jane primers that serve as precursors to each chapter, considered the influence of a “master narrative” that always privileges whiteness.

Set in the 1940s, the Breedlove family lives in poverty. Their only escape is the silver screen, a place where they idolize the glamorous stars of the film industry. Given the historical context…

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Storm Potential

As I sit here listening to the thunder rumbling through my open window, I am reminded of the story of Jesus and the disciples out on the water during a storm. Jesus decided that he wanted to cross over to the other side of the Jordan, and so he and the disciples piled into a boat and went. About halfway across, a storm came out of nowhere. Jesus just happened to be sleep in the cabin below. The disciples, as they often did, panicked and woke Jesus up from his nap. Jesus, perturbed that they had disturbed his rest, made short order of the storm, speaking directly to it and quieted the howling wind and torrential waves that threatened to overturn the boat. Once that was done, he chewed out the disciples for their lack of faith, which had disturbed his moments of rest. I always find this story rather humorous, because I would have been mad as a wet hen if they had interrupted my nap for something like that, knowing good and well that I would not have let anything happen to them, whether I was asleep or not. I’m curious as to what words might have been said that are not recorded in the account given, not that it would have made a major impact on the bottom line of the story. But I digress…

How often in life do we do the same thing? Jesus may not be taking a nap in the cabin below, but he promised to be with us all along the way in the form of the Holy Spirit. And yet, when a storm rises, we panic and shake everything we have at God, asking Him to deliver us from whatever situation or circumstance we might find ourselves in at the time. There are things that we miss when we ask God for a “get out of storm free” card, and don’t look for the lessons to be learned in the midst of the storm. You see, as much as we don’t like storms in life, they are going to happen. And, sometimes, when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, we get discouraged. I know I did. Last year (2014), I felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. My car was trying to go out on me. My family went from having four cars and everyone having their own freedom, to having two cars and having to carpool. My mother had surgery that was supposed to help with her health challenges, but didn’t seem to make a bit of difference. Within the span of two weeks, my brother was in a major car accident that put him in the hospital for 10 days and my paternal grandfather died. It’s amazing the way death magnifies familial dysfunction. The remainder of the year would include two more deaths in our family circle, along with more familial drama and dysfunction. A dead tree fell on a neighbor’s car in the front yard, and my car was surely on her way out. All the while, I tried with all my might to hold on to God in the midst of the storm, but there were Sundays when all I had the strength to do in church was sit and cry. I was so overwhelmed with all the things going on around me. In my heart, I knew He hadn’t left me. But there were days when I couldn’t convince my head. I was in the thick of the storm, praying for no more bad news, and wondering if God could hear what I wasn’t saying. In essence, I was the one trying to wake Jesus up from His nap to get me out of the storm I was in.

There were two things I forgot. First of all, the primary purpose of the storm is to build character. Building character is no easy process, and it is often painful. Paul put it this way:

[Rom 5:3-5 ESV] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

 

It sounds crazy to “rejoice in our sufferings”, but there is a process that happens when you go through a storm. I personally understand that the rejoicing may not come until after you have survived the storm, and you take inventory of what you have learned and how you have grown. I will be the first one to tell you that no storm is easy to go through, but every single storm has a purpose in your life. I came out of all the things that happened last year with a better understanding of myself and of my relationship with God. One of my favorite poems in life has always been “Footprints in the Sand.” I identify with the man in the story because I think that we have all felt like God has left us or felt really lonely in our life journey, without realizing that those were the times when we often are unable to carry ourselves and He picks up the slack. It can be so easy to blame God when we are going through the hardest of times, and yet those are the times when we must try harder to press into His presence. There is a saying that goes, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” The picture that it paints is one of endurance and perseverance, the very characteristics that are sharpened in the depths of a storm. And you can only develop them in the storm experience.

The other thing I forgot was that is, no matter how high the waves or how blustery the winds that blow, Jesus is always with us in the storm. And He has authority over the storms in our lives. God is not the author of confusion or the creator of the storms we face in life, but He does possess the power to speak to the storm and the strength to get us through the storm. The disciples had lost sight of the fact that, even in the throes of the storm, Jesus had not abandoned them, sleep or not. He was still present and accounted for while the storm continued to rage around them. And he was sleep! What person do you know sleeps through a storm that threatens to toss the boat that you are in?? Only one, the One who commands the winds and the waves. You see, nothing in this life happens without being filtered through God’s love and grace in our faith journey. He knows what lessons He wants to teach us, and what storms will teach us said lessons. And He promised that he would always be with us, even to the end of the age (see Matthew 28:20). When you belong to your Creator, nothing gets past Him. Nothing in your life experiences are hidden from Him; He sees you where you are and He sees what storm you are in. The truth and promise that you hold on to when you are going through a storm is that (1) He will never leave you and (2) there is absolutely nothing that can separate you from His everlasting, unconditional love. Sometimes that love is tough, and sometimes it is tender. In either case, it will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8a). So, when the storms of life get rough, and you find yourself getting weary, trust and believe that God is right there with you, walking beside you, and carrying you when you get to the end of yourself and your strength. Keep your head up…. The storm doesn’t last forever. I know this for sure.

It’s time to be REAL…

 “…I have — found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it would shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets who have dared to express the unique in themselves.” (Carl Rogers)

Music has always been a big part of my life. As the daughter of a pastor and wife who were both musically inclined, our house was always filled with all kinds of music. Jazz, Motown, classical, Gospel, CCM (Christian Contemporary), and many other genres filled the house on any given day. I grew up listening to anything from Stevie Wonder to Take 6 to DC Talk and everything in between. Everyone understands that music is an incredible medium of communication. It is indeed a universal language that touches everyone in a unique and personal way. But why is that? It’s because of the authenticity that good music exudes. Music, much like any other art form, is birthed out of the raw material of the human experience. Songwriters use this method of expression to share their deepest emotions and work through their pain and struggles. Some use it as a platform to expose the dysfunction of the society in which we live. That’s how hip hop was born. Still others use music to express the deepest of human emotions – love, heartache, and heartbreak. In short, music is often the most accurate reflection of the human condition. For artists who have been around for a while, you can follow their journey of self-discovery through the music they make. You can figure out what they are most passionate about, what is of utmost importance to them, and even what is the greatest source of their pain. Good music draws you in; great music makes you think and feel and relive the most vivid parts of your life journey, good, bad, and ugly. For me, music was a way to escape all the phonies that surrounded me and connect to the most human part of me that was often denied or dismissed by the people who were supposed to protect it – the church.

The Christian community could learn a lot from the art community about authenticity. Granted, both circles have their flaws, that’s for sure. But the earnest endeavor by a select group in the music community to share a piece that is authentic and relatable is something that we as believers could learn more about. Often the case is that we are so focused on being religious, that we forget that we are also very much human. And denying your humanity only makes your relationship with your Creator that much harder. It is because you are human that you need to remain connected to your Creator.  No one is walking this earth is perfect, nor will they attain perfection on this side of eternity. And yet there are people in religious circles who carry themselves in such a way that they believe, or want others to believe, that they are perfect and without sin. If that was the case, we have no need for salvation or Jesus. The current downfall of the church at large today is a fundamental lack of transparency and authenticity within the community of faith and beyond. This is the challenge of reaching the next generation — reclaiming the sense of community and working to be more honest and transparent. What many miss in an effort to protect your ego and your image is that people will have more respect for you as outsiders looking in if you are honest and open about your humanity. People cannot connect or relate to a perfect being. And that’s part of the reason God sent Jesus in human form, so that he would be able to identify the struggle of being human and living on this side of eternity. If God can make the extra effort to understand and share in our experiences, we should not be running from our humanity. We, instead, ought to embrace our humanity and, with God’s help and guidance, work through the weak places in our humanity. And, by doing that and sharing our experiences and growing lessons with one another, we can help each other move forward.

What I appreciate most about the music artists that I listen to and follow on a regular basis is that I learn something and draw strength from identifying with their struggles and how they made it through. They embrace their humanity, pain and all, and they share openly and honestly, through music notes and lyrics, where they are and how they are working through that place in life. They share the lessons they have learned and how they have grown, and then they encourage others to keeping moving forward. This is something that is not missing altogether from the Christian community, but it is certainly hard to find. My challenge to my dear brothers and sisters in the faith is to embrace your humanity. You are not perfect, and you are not going to be right all the time. The people you have been sent to minister to and reach with the Gospel of Jesus will be more apt to listen to what you have to share if you make the effort to connect with them by being honest and transparent about where you are in your faith journey, and what obstacles you have faced along the way. It’s time we decided to be REAL.

[Col 3:12-17 ESV] Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Mainstay of Hope

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. … and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

[Rom 5:2, 4-5 ESV]

Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable.

~Samuel Johnson

Hope is something that many seek and few seem to genuinely find. But hope is something that seems to be essential to the human journey and existence. Hope can have a profound influence of the outcome of so many things. The dictionary defines hope as “the longing or desire for something accompanied by the belief in the possibility of its occurrence.” In the context of faith, hope is defined as “the desire and search for a future good, difficult but not impossible to attain with God’s help.” In short, hope is the fuel that propels the human soul to continue on the journey of life. There is a sense of something to look forward to, something to reach for, something tangible to look forward to in the future. Humanity has an innate desire to have something or someone to live for. Surveys and studies have been done about the increased productivity of the married man who kisses his wife every morning before going to work. Observations have been made about the seriously and critically ill who have loved ones motivating them to reclaim wellness health. It has even been said that the dying hold on to life until that last loved one gets a chance to say goodbye, and then they cross over. When we pray, it is full of hope in the fact that God hears and will answer, even though sometimes the response isn’t the one we were anticipating. For believers of the Gospel of Jesus, it is the hope of eternal life in heaven, one free of all the pains and trials of life on earth that gives us the motivation to keep pressing through this side of life’s journey. There are so many things in life that can rob us of our hope, and yet, God has given us so many incredible things to live for, as well as the ability to reignite hope for those who have lost hope. So, my question for you today is what have you done for someone else to inspire or reignite hope for someone whose hope is waning or has dissipated?

The most important thing you can do for another human being is give them hope. And it’s not hard. Stepping into their situation, letting them know that they are not alone, giving them something to look forward to, those are the simple things that we can do for one another that will help us keep going. For some, it’s that one person who says that they love us every day. For others, it’s the offspring that you have brought into this world that give you hope to keep going and keep trying. Still others have friendship to hold on to, people who give your life substance and value because they feel you have something to offer to them and to the world. In any case, these are all human relationships that God has given us to give us the strength and the hope to make it through each day, no matter how challenging the road may be. If you are looking for something to hold on to, hold on to Jesus. He promised that He would never leave or forsake you. He gave His very life so that we would be able to reconnect to our Creator and to one another. And then look to the people in your life that mean the most to you. If you don’t have someone close by, I am more than happy to make new friends and new connections. We are all human beings on a journey through life, and we ought to support one another through that journey. I am here for you, waiting for you, praying for you, hoping for you to find a renewed sense of purpose and potential. I am here with you and for you, not because it sounds good or because I feel obligated by my faith center to be so, but because we all need someone at some point in our lives to simply say, “I see you and I am here for you.” Be encouraged, dear one. We really are all in this together (please pardon the grossly unintentional reference to High School Musical. Yeah, I know you were thinking it.).

 

Hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of shattered dreams. ~S.A. Sachs

Hope Restored

Easter always provokes such incredible reflection and contemplation from me. For many believers in the Christian faith, it represents the cornerstone of our faith journey, the culmination of Jesus’ mission and ministry on earth. It is the pinnacle of everything that we hope for and the major event that anchors our faith. And, with all that it holds for each and every believer around the globe, it carries one more touch of sentimental value to my faith journey. This is the time and season when I, as a young child, felt the tug and touch of the Holy Spirit on my heart, and surrendered my life to Christ. The moment when you encounter Jesus in such a tangible way that it moves you to surrender is one you will never forget, no matter how young or how old you are when it happens.

I was all of seven years old, and I was at school assembly during Holy Week. The Word was being preached, and the invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior was extended. I don’t remember who was around me, or who was even sharing the message. But I remember feeling this sense that I wanted Jesus, and so I asked Him to take up residence in my heart and life. Now, I am the daughter of a pastor, who is in a lineage of pastors and ministers of the Gospel. Jesus was no foreign entity to me. I sat under my father’s preaching from infancy, and went to a school where the Bible was taught. But it had to be a personal decision for me. My parents dedicated me to the Lord when I was a baby, promising to do all they could to teach me the ways of the Lord. At the same time, salvation is free and something that you freely accept as a choice. So, I made a choice, one that I admit now, I barely understood what it meant beyond wanting to behave in a way that would make Jesus happy. After all, how deep can a seven year old be about the mystical nature of faith?

Anyway, I remember when I made the proclamation in service the following Easter Sunday. The congregation erupted into praise and celebration, and now I understand that the celebration that went on in Heaven was a thousand times greater than the overwhelming celebration that I witnessed as I stated, in my black and white polka dot outfit (hats, gloves, and all), that I accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior. From that moment till now, I can say with conviction that that was the greatest decision I have ever made. So much has happened in the years following that confession of faith, but God has remained faithful and true. He has called me to ministry, I have preached an initial sermon, and participated in a variety of ministries as His Spirit has led me. Writing this blog is one of those outlets for me. But, even with all that, He has steadily been walking beside me.

There is a well-known poem called “Footprints” that has been the greatest illustration, to me, of the journey of faith that all of us are on. When things get tough, and you feel like God has left you alone to fend for yourself, it is often in those moments that He sees that you have gotten too weary and He picks you up in His arms and carries you until you have regained the strength to continue walking. I could tell you of times when, as I looked back over them, I know for certain that He was carrying me.

Easter is the happy ending to the greatest Love story ever written. The Man gives His life for His beloved, to redeem her and bring her back home. Who wouldn’t want to be rescued? Yes, that’s what Jesus did when He died on the cross and then rose back to life on Easter morning. His entire life was devoted to rescuing humanity from the death penalty we deserved for our sins. Love held him to the cross, when He could have called down legions of angels to deliver Him and leave us in our sin state. But a profound and overwhelming love for humanity kept him on the cross, and he carried out his mission to the end. It is because of that love, we have a new opportunity to have an intimate and thriving relationship with your Creator, direct access to Him at any time, in any place. This, as Kirk Franklin so aptly put it, is the reason why we sing. The Resurrection is the foundation for every hymn, every chorus. It is the hope that we cling to for life eternal in the heavens. It gives our life purpose and direction. It restores our sense of hope and a future. In reconnecting to the One who gave us purpose, we gain new life. I know what it means to me to be born again to new life and restored hope in Jesus. I invite you to try Jesus and see what a wonderful difference He can make in your life. I want you to know personally the incredible love of Jesus Christ in your life journey. He would love to reconnect with you today. Love and blessings on this Resurrection Sunday!!!

Good Friday: The Divine Business Meeting

Welcome to the Boardroom, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in attendance. Meet Jesus Christ, CEO and the one spearheading Project Restoration. We have a lot to do today, and the agenda is full. Please note that Jesus is deep in the trenches on earth during this meeting, in the process of carrying out His mission on the cross at Calvary. This means that there will be intermittent breaks for the humanity He has to bear in order for this mission to be carried out.

First, we must review the mission. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (see Luke 23:34) Remember that forgiveness is essential to the success of the project. Without the forgiveness of sins, humanity cannot be restored into right relationship with her Creator. Let us all keep this at the forefront of our minds as we go through this meeting today before the final run.

Next on the agenda: Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother must be accounted for. Jesus will be returning to Heaven once the project is complete, so we must make sure that we leave her in the care of someone capable and faithful. Jesus nominates John, one of the sons of Zebedee, and his best friend. The motion carries – “Woman, behold your son!” (See John 19:26-27).

Looks like the meeting has Jesus parched. Of course, this business is being conducted while Jesus is actively being crucified, and we must continue to be aware and sensitive to that, even if the ones for whom He is giving His life are not. Jesus states, “I thirst” (See John 19:28). The meeting takes a five minute recess to observe the soldiers mock Jesus’ cry for a drink by offering a sponge soaked with sour wine (see John 19:29).

As the meeting resumes, Jesus conducts some redemption business while the process is still active. Here we are introduced to a young man who, by all rights and reasons, has earned his place on a cross next to Jesus. His criminal cohort who hangs on the other side of Christ, has taken to mocking Jesus’ divinity. The young man corrects his ambivalent companion, then makes a bold request of the Savior as He hangs on the cross, actively fulfilling his request for salvation and redemption. Jesus, in acknowledgment of his statement of faith, honors his request: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (see Luke 23:43). This first act of redemption occurs concurrently with the ultimate Sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It is proof that redemption and restoration are our prime directive here, and nothing gets in the way of that.

At this point in the meeting, it appears that God the Father must leave the room, because the sins of the world, past, present, and future, are now being placed on Jesus’ shoulders. This is something that the Father cannot see, and it garners a deeply human response from Jesus: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (See Matthew 27:46). It must be beyond the comprehension of the human mind to consider what it feels like to be distance from a piece of your very being. The separation of a newborn child from its mother. The lost connection between a husband and wife. The disintegration of a longstanding friendship. Nothing could compare to the loneliness Jesus must be experiencing in this moment. The severing of this divine connection, although temporary, could only be classified as agonizing, amidst the hardest mission He would ever take on. In the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that, if it was possible, God would let “this cup pass” (see Matthew 26:36-46). He knew this mission would be tough, and this moment proves it.

Jesus somehow finds the strength to draw the meeting to a close. Business has been conducted, issues have been addressed, and needs have been met. Jesus announces, “It is finished” (see John 19:30). The temple responds to this statement of finality of the old law being abolished, and the curtain is torn in two, top to bottom, signifying the success of Project Restoration. Every blood washed soul will have full access to the Father with Jesus Christ sitting at His right hand, continuing to intercede on our behalf. In final act of surrender, and to adjourn the meeting, Jesus’ last statement is uttered: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!” And he breathes his last.

This concludes the business meeting that took place on Good Friday. On that day, Jesus did the necessary thing to make sure that we would never be separated from our Creator ever again. The debt is forever paid, and the restoration is available to anyone and everyone who seeks and accepts it, surrendering your life as Christ did, and embracing the divine inheritance that God offers to all.

It was, and will forever be, a GOOD FRIDAY.