Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian – A Review
by Brian Bantum

Bloodlines is a curious book. In it John Piper, a prominent white pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, steps out to speak about the problem of race in the American church. Where many prominent white clergy have remained silent, Piper turns his attention to one of the silent tragedies of American Christianity, the perpetual racial and ethnic division of its congregational life.
In so doing, Piper seems to be saying what many who are concerned with racial and ethnic division within the church have been hoping white Christians could say in these conversations. Piper first admits his own history of racism and bigotry (ch. 1), attending not only to the question of personal responsibility but also to the structural aspects of racism in the United States. Then, after highlighting Christ’s own groundbreaking life—the ways in which his ministry continually broke through the racial and ethnic boundaries of his own time (ch. 7 and 8)—Piper concludes by calling Christians to mutual sacrifice at the cross of Christ, to never quit in our response to Christ’s love and power, and to always seek harmony (ch. 16 and “Conclusion”).

But Bloodlines is a curious book because lodged within these important contributions are approaches that seem to undercut the very aims Piper strives to articulate. For instance, Piper draws upon the work of such African American intellectuals as Michael Eric Dyson and Henry Louis Gates Jr. to highlight the realities of structural racism, but he compresses these conversations into three brief pages, whereas his discussion of racism and personal responsibility, leaning upon the work of such conservative African American intellectuals as Juan Williams, Shelby Steele, and Dinesh D’Souza, is much longer, is given more sympathetic treatment, and is drawn upon in various ways throughout the rest of the book. Piper claims to not take sides (85), and yet he leaves behind the insights of Dyson and Gates when it gets to the work of describing what “Christ-exalting” diversity looks like.

The way in which Piper navigates these various interlocutors suggests that within the vision of diversity that Piper imagines, the fundamental concerns of those contrary voices have only been faintly heard. Although he highlights Steele’s exhortation that “What black and white Americans fear are the sacrifices and risks that true harmony demands” (233), Piper seems somewhat unwilling to allow conversation partners such as Dyson much say in his own vision of the world.

As Piper moves from a consideration of the social context of race to a consideration of how a Christian should understand these issues, he embarks upon an extended exegesis of Scripture, highlighting the ways in which Christ’s life and work on the cross overcame ethnic division and provided a definitive answer to any notion of racial superiority. Piper’s Christology, which is drawn from a neo-Reformed view, is aimed at showing that “not only did our ethnic distinctives contribute nothing to our election, and nothing to our ransom on the cross, but our ethnic distinctives also contributed nothing to the rise of our faith and the emergence of our repentance. We are all equally dependent on irresistible grace to be called and to believe and to be saved” (167).

Although few would argue that a Christocentric view isn’t crucial to the church’s wrestling with the question of race, Piper’s emphasis on Christ’s work and reconciliation transcends race and ethnicity in such a way that tends to erase Christ’s personhood as a Jew. He undercuts his message of reconciliation and racial harmony by excising ethnic particularity from both our condition of unfaithfulness and our communion with God in heaven. Piper writes, “The seriousness of our sin is determined not mainly by the nature of our deed but the nature of the one we dishonor. A sin against an infinitely worthy God is an infinite sin. Color and ethnicity will count for nothing in the court of heaven. One thing will count: the perfection of Jesus Christ” (68). If this is the case, what is racial and ethnic difference at all? Is Christ no longer a Jew, and what does this mean for the lineage—or in Piper’s words, the “bloodline”—of Israel? By making such claims, Piper strips away the significance of Christ’s particular ethnic life and of our own racial, ethnic, and national lives. At best this fundamentally ignores Christ’s participation in the liturgical and cultural life of Israel; at worst, it leans toward Gnosticism; and either way, by obscuring the particular characteristics of people, this kind of racial blindness runs counter to Piper’s overarching goal of racial harmony.
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Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Facebook, Twitter, and the Death of Body Language
By Anthony B. Pinn
I am more than willing to admit that from the moment I was taught to text message I have been hooked, and I now send with lightening speed hundreds of text messages each month. I use text messaging to handle quick questions, to give quick updates, and basically to have ‘conversations’ in time frames I control without the demands of face-to-face exchanges.

On the level of quick connection this new technology is wonderful, but I can’t help but believe something is missing. We may be exchanging information, but are we really communicating?

This question is not to suggest a longing for a return to ‘old’ ways of “getting things across.” I am not lamenting technological advances. I’m not trading in my TREO, and I’m not canceling the media package on my phone or reducing the number of messages I sent through that magical device. I am not calling for a technology purge.

I’m simply noting that technology comes with a price, and this price has something of a postmodern twist. By this I mean that tweeting and other high-tech modalities of exchange send information about happenings, attitudes, feelings, and events—but in a way that disconnects life moments from bodies.

We, through our dependency on quick pieces of information, are dispersed and outside our bodies. Life developments become confined to the written word (often in shorthand), and the non-written modes of expression are lost or at least rendered obsolete. No more body language, no more knowing through voice inflection, and no more reading facial expressions.

Bodies become an unnecessary element of our information exchange. We become flexible identities, molded around bits of life events with limited ways to interpret them. The experiences we share and chronicle on these handheld devices speak about the ways in which our bodies occupy time and space, but this is done in ways that allow us to live and share ourselves with countless others without any real awareness of the bodies we carry through the world.

Bodies Tell Stories

Exchanging moments of our day with (faceless) others is meant to fix us in time and space in certain ways: information is more plentiful and quickly digested, but those sharing and those consuming this information are ghosts—phantoms.

Numerous scholars have argued, and I think rightfully so, that the body is a ‘text’. It is both material and metaphor; both a physical marker of our place in human experience and also a ‘sign’ or ‘symbol’ read in ways that define our place in social organization. In short, bodies tell stories; but these stories require something of a physical presence. Our bodies carry something of our historical and cultural memory, and only so much of that memory can be communicated through body-less exchange. Text-messaging, tweeting, and so on provide opportunities for the sharing of large amounts of data, but perhaps without the type of quality control one would anticipate when face-to-face, or when shared in any way that brings the physical body into play. There’s an ability to hide oneself through technology that reduces vulnerability and reserve.

What to do about this? I’m not giving up my messaging, and I’m not suggesting anyone should. Tweet if you must. Update your Facebook profile. There’s no turning back from this technology, the increased speed and ease with which we share information.

However, this ability calls for greater personal control; a new sense of decorum. (Accountability takes on a new meaning, and authenticity in this case demands new modes of measurement.) While using this technology it seems wise to maintain a certain level of discomfort, recognizing that there is something about ourselves that is missing from those exchanges.

It is important to be mindful that we are hiding pieces of our selves, and what we write and what it says about ourselves is really limited and somewhat deceptive. Sharing moment-by-moment bits of information is not the same as nurturing relationships.
Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Putting the 'Public' in 'Public Intellectual'
By Imani Perry

I entered graduate school in the mid-1990s, a period marked by the rise of the black public intellectual: Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cornel West, and a host of other prominent scholars who became household names. Suddenly newspapers, popular magazines, and even television shows featured black intellectuals. The reaction was bifurcated. Some celebrated this development as an opportunity to elevate the discourse on social policy, especially on issues of race. But there were also complaints that this new crop of intellectuals talked too much and did too little. And some felt that by talking so much to the public, the black intellectuals risked diminishing their scholarly legitimacy.

At the time, the conversations among black students at elite graduate programs were framed around whether to become public intellectuals. But did we have the charisma or conversational skills to do this kind of work? Such a question was rarely raised. Instead we debated what kind of intellectual we wanted to be: one who sat in the ivory tower? Or one who talked to the people? There was a general skepticism that both roles could be successfully played simultaneously.

Becoming a public intellectual appealed to many of us because it seemed to provide a way of making one's scholarship more meaningful. Our ideas would be available to people in our home communities who might not ever set foot inside a university. Such a prospect was affirming. In a career where labor and education often don't lead to economic gains, it is easy to feel diminished by society. Being seen on television could cut against that nagging sense of devaluation.

Although there was a slight ebb in the amount of attention paid to black public intellectuals in the early years of this century, the limelight shines once again: The democratizing power of new digital forms of communication and 24-hour cable television news networks has renewed the role of the black public intellectual. Additionally, President Obama's election drew particular attention to the community of formally educated and politically engaged African-Americans to which he and Michelle Obama belong, a community that includes many scholars. It is at this moment of renewal that we need to rethink what it means to be a public intellectual.

I recently spent an afternoon with girls at an urban high school in Philadelphia that serves a largely black, poor, and working-class community. I am frequently invited to speak to young people, usually girls. I talk to them about academic success and offer some words of motivation. This group of girls had a stunning combination of brilliance and need. I spoke about my personal history and we discussed their interests, and our mutual inspirations. It was a different kind of public-intellectual experience. Around the same time, I gave interviews that were quoted in newspapers in the United States and Britain. Guess which "public intellectual" work felt more meaningful? I'm not suggesting that everyone would take teenagers over The New York Times, but if I had to choose, I certainly would.

For me, it's a matter of tradition. From the late-19th until the mid-20th century, it was a matter of course that African-American intellectuals engaged in public life in a multitude of ways. They developed school curriculums, worked in and for civil-rights organizations like the NAACP, and participated in civic organizations, churches, and professional societies. James Weldon Johnson, for example, author of the poem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which was later set to music and became known as the Negro national anthem, was a principal, lawyer, ambassador, secretary of the NAACP, and one of the founders of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers—which helped establish modern copyright law.

Anna Julia Cooper, one of the first African-American women to earn a doctorate, and author of the most important early black feminist text, A Voice From the South (1892), was a teacher and principal of the M Street High School in Washington, and also wrote on pedagogical questions alongside her contemporaries W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Her role as an educator and intellectual complemented her activist work against Jim Crow and gender inequality. Although the exigencies of that time created many renaissance men and women among the black intelligentsia, we can, even in these less oppressive times, be inspired by their desire to contribute in diverse ways.
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Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Good Hair, Good God! The Divine Politics of African-American Hair
By Anthea Butler

Hair is a religion, especially if you’re a black woman. Yes, I know you purists won’t believe me, but when you are a black woman you can conceivably, depending on how much you worship hair, spend half your life in the beauty salon—and the rest in church.

My favorite philosopher of the comedy circuit, Chris Rock, has created a gem of a documentary called Good Hair, exploring the intricate ways in which black hair effects individuals, families, economics, social location, sexuality, and yes, even religion. Rarely have I seen a documentary that has made me laugh hysterically, want to cry, or become an activist—all at the same time.

The film scrutinizes black hair care: from the beauty salon to the hair show, and from chemical relaxers to the Indian hair that fuels the hair weave industry. Deftly using his daughters as a focus, Rock puts together a cogent argument for the ways in which hair has become just another type of slavery for black women. And I should know this, in ways that pain me to this day.

In order to write my book, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World, I had to wear my hair bone-straight in order for many of the women in the denomination to accept me. Had I come with the 1970s retro hairstyle I rock today, I doubt seriously if the book would have been finished. Hair acted as a marker in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) from the very beginnings of the denomination: their holiness and purity codes in the early 20th century forbade the processing or pressing of hair (like Madam C.J. Walker’s revolutionary hair-straightening process.)

As the denomination grew in cities during the 1940s, straight hair became the currency of charismatic authority and power for the church mothers and pastors’ wives. Lighter skin, straighter hair, and European features became a precious commodity within a closed religious system; darker-skinned, kinky-haired women could look forward to becoming the head of the usher board, but never a vaunted evangelist or pastor’s wife. Although I would have loved to talk about this within the confines of my book, the pictures of bishops, their wives, and other pastoral couples left me both vexed and afraid. I didn’t want to risk offending people who had not figured out the politics of hair, even if they had deployed it almost as surely as sanctification had been used to cut the wheat from the chaff. Watching Good Hair brought up all of those memories, and more, from the research of my book.

The Marriage of Hinduism and Black Hair Care

Apart from being a good film, Good Hair has a religious subtext that is important to look at within the context of the study of religion. You see, most of the “weave hair” (if you don’t know what a weave is, hit the link—you’ll understand) comes from the practice of tonsure, or ritual haircutting, in Hinduism. The sacrifice of hair to the gods is the source of much of the human hair business in the United States. In fact, Rock’s documentary informs us that the hair cut for temple sacrifices is now the number-one export out of India. The fact that tonsure, a religious act, has turned into a profiteering scheme is remarkable. But there also exist unscrupulous people who are stealing women’s hair, either while they sleep or in movie theaters where their braids or hair hang over the seats; while a woman is enjoying the latest from Bollywood, someone is cutting her hair and exporting it to be sold in Los Angeles.
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Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
(Traditional) Fathers Don’t Always Know Best
By Kai Wright

The notion that kids can’t develop properly without a biological father was a lie when Dan Quayle asserted it in 1992, and it’s a lie when Barack Obama says it now.
Who’s your daddy? Barack Obama, that’s who. We haven’t seen black family role modeling like this since the Huxtables. Actually, Cliff and Clair couldn’t touch the Obamas—they didn’t have Bo. Still, the president’s not content with his own nuclear family bliss. He really, really wants you to have a great dad, too.

But the problem with Obama’s effort to turn Father’s Day into an annual conversation about the tragedy of failed fathers is that it’s rooted in one of the greatest—and most consequential—lies the Christian right has sold the country: That “traditional” family structures are best equipped to produce healthy kids. The notion that biological fathers are essential to childhood development wasn’t true when Dan Quayle asserted it in 1992, and it won’t become true no matter how eloquently Barack Obama restates it.

“The hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill,” Obama wrote in a beautifully crafted Parade magazine essay last week. “We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference.”

This is a terribly moving refrain that echoes through all of the president’s rhetoric on fathers—and it’s entirely beside the point. Nobody sane would argue that government can give a child love. That truism, however, does not mean only a gendered dyad of parents are adequately equipped to do so.
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Posted on: 06/20/09:

Eric Lewis (ELEW) on NPR

Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
While I was driving yesterday, I was listening to NRP's All Things Considered. I could not get out of the car upon reaching my destination until I finished listening to Eric Lewis on keys. He is indescribably talented. I needed to actually see what I was listening to because it was unreal. If there's a modern pianist that can do what seems to be humanly impossible, it is Lewis. Treat yourself and watch the video on NPR's website and the YouTube video below.

From All Things Considered:
Jazz pianist Eric Lewis has been wowing audiences since he was barely able to walk.

He grew up in a household full of pianos and music teachers — both his mother and grandmother taught the entire neighborhood to play. Tinkling keys were the soundtrack of his childhood.

Lewis later won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition and went on to play with jazz luminaries such as Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis. He was a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

But in recent years, he decided to step out on his own and pursue his vision of what he calls "rock-jazz."

"The idea is that, you know, I'm taking a piece from the pop culture much the same way that Louis Armstrong played 'Hello, Dolly' with Barbra Streisand," Lewis says. "You know, just interfacing in a certain kind of way that allows me to express my ingenuity, versatility, virtuosity without hijacking the sound of the genre and at the same time, preserving the elements of jazz, which are central and beloved."

During a recent performance in NPR's Studio 4A, Lewis spoke with host Michele Norris. Now 36, he's still the same dynamic performer, channeling the intensity of his music with energetic physicality. But as he's embraced popular music, he's also created a new musical identity: ELEW.

"People are used to seeing kids jump around," Lewis says. "You know, the target audience, the audience that's spending money on music, like rock and hip-hop — they're used to seeing people get really physically involved in their music.

"And so my notion is that in order for me to make a living — in order for me to enjoy myself, for that matter — I've got to get more athletically involved," he says. "I've got to show everyone how I feel."

As ELEW, Lewis may be abandoning the traditional jazz repertoire. But he doesn't say that he's abandoning jazz. For example, he pointed out the ragtime underpinnings of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, comparing Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" with "Sweet Home Alabama."

"Of course, the way the rock [band] does it, it's less emphasized in that overt kind of way," he says. "But the vocabulary on the surface level is very similar."

Lewis ended the interview with his version of "The Diary of Jane," by the alt-rock band Breaking Benjamin.

Lewis's rendition of Evanescence's "Going Under":

Category: Culture
Posted by: AWilkes

Beloved, with great lament, I must say that far too many black churches—and a certain enterprising preacher from EX Ministries—are casting stones on yet another gifted prophet and artist. Personal Jesus: A Reflection on Tonex is an ode to Tonex’s classic urban anthem. As Kanye West says, folk need to get the roses while they can still smell them. In this case, I am extending an honorary ring pop to Tonex. I will offer musings—some theological, some not—on every song from Pronounced Toe-nay.

Finally, beloved, I want to say one more thing. There is a certain gospel artist who “denounced” Tonex at his live DVD recording. Understood. You are entitled to your own theological opinion. But, and I am sure you probably know this already, your career would not be possible without Tonex. What you said hurt him (I imagine), and pierced my soul with a Psalms-like lament. I do not know if you have apologized to Tonex, but if you have not my brother, you really should. Jesus would.

So glad I know you, and don't know of you
‘Cause you a friend of mine,
I talk to you all the time
So glad I know you, and don’t know of you
You’ve always been by my side
And you’re my personal, personal, Jesus
- Tonex

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Posted on: 03/25/09:

Technology: Friend or Foe?

Category: Culture
Posted by: LBobo

Then God said,
“Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness. And let them have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
heavens and over the livestock and over all
the earth and over every creeping thing that
creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to
them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the
earth and subdue it and have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
heavens and over every living thing that
moves on the earth.”

– GENESIS 1:26-28

Packed in Genesis 1:26-28 is affirmation of our uniqueness as human beings made in the image of God. As this affirmation is made, our human task is given. The task is referred to in theological terms as the cultural mandate. This mandate escapes the notice of many Christians, yet it is a crucial truth that helps make sense of our lives. The mandate tells us that the Lord has given us a purpose to develop the earth further. Albert M. Wolters sums the cultural mandate, writing, “the human race will fill the earth with its own kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature.”(1) In other words, God has mandated that humankind develop the earth so that it is a civilized place in which to live, play, raise a family, engage in commerce, work, and the list could go on.

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Category: Culture
Posted by: IDurham
Lauryn Hill - Miseducation

“You might win some/But you just lost one . . . :(1) ” Unmasking the Miseducated


On August 25, 1998, a girl from South Orange, New Jersey released a groundbreaking solo debut album that many consider the album of a generation. Lauryn Hill confronted personal, social and political issues in the critically-acclaimed album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. However, through the transformation that occurs while listening to this album, a deep and rich history follows Hill through to the end of her exegesis on being educated. In this profound history, one sees the evolution of a young girl of Haitian heritage becoming a multi-faceted, multi-layered ingénue. Likewise, one also sees the completed product of a rarely spoken, subtly observed and blatantly emoted struggle to find a niche, a place where she makes up her mind to define her own destiny.(2) Her public persona reverts all the way back to a parade of boos on a Harlem stage to roles in television and film to production, collaboration and musical affiliation with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel. These experiences came to a standstill, a boiling point, as she embarked on creating a lyrical, theoretical, and sonic world where the listener was introduced to a little girl with skinny legs and a pressing curl, whose mother always thought she’d be a star.(3) Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon in this journey with Lauryn Hill is the role her spirituality and/or religion play in the total makeup of her character. She seems to maintain an unfailing faith in something greater than herself but through her music and sometimes erratic behavior, she has a public identity struggle where she attempts to recognize who she is and whose she is. Hill cites numerous spiritual and iconic figures of different religions, as well as ideologies, in her music which suggest a kind of polytheism; she believes that all these things amalgamate to form the essential Lauryn Hill. However, through the invocation of these supernatural forces, is Hill outwardly conveying a self-created form of religion or is she pulling from all facets of her geographic life—the Caribbean, Africa, and America, specifically New Jersey—to exhibit a kind of worldliness that validates her blackness or Africanism?

Lauryn Hill single-handedly transformed how society viewed rap and hip-hop with her solo project garnering five Grammys. But consequently, her work with the Fugees catapulted her into commercial and industry success. She became the voice for a generation of youth and young adults that sought to be “fly” and true to self while living out a constructed standard of what they should be. A case-by-case analysis of her lyrics exposes her obvious acumen in various and sundry intellectual and religious modes of thought. However, three religions or at least religious ideological structures seem to permeate throughout her music so much so that, in my opinion, Lauryn Hill becomes this hybridized spiritual iconoclast who attempts to prove that she can be every woman and an individual at the same time; she takes on the role of the most learned uneducated professor in the field of life.

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Posted on: 01/13/09:

Happy Birthday! Motown Turns 50

Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Happy Birthday! Motown Turns 50
By Mark Anthony Neal

In the months leading up to the presidential election, much was made about the size of the crowds and the energy level at Obama rallies. For clues, some looked to the Obama playlist—the songs that served as the soundtrack for those frenzied events. True to his overall political strategy, Obama’s playlist cut across various popular genres—country music stalwarts Brooks and Dunn were as likely to be heard as much as the McFadden and Whitehead disco-era classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

But the common denominator at so many of those rallies was the sound of Motown, the once fledgling and once black-owned record label founded in Detroit 50 years ago today. The campaign’s embrace of the Motown Sound was likely not happenstance nor simply inspired by the president-elect’s fondness for soul music from the 1960s. More probably, it is the result of the campaign’s legendary attention to minute details and the understanding that the Motown catalogue was uniquely suited to bring together a nation of disparate opinions, concerns and beliefs. As Suzanne Smith writes in Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, “Motown’s music symbolized the possibility of amicable racial integration through popular culture. But as a company Motown represented the possibilities of black economic independence.”
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