55th Annual Grammy Awards - Press Room

Lil’ Wayne, Lecrae, and Redemption

Two men.  Both Black. Both Grammy award-winning hip-hop artists.  Two completely different messages.  Within one week both Lil’ Wayne and Lecrae made headlines for their music, but for very different reasons.

Last week, Christian hip-hop artist, Lecrae, won a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.  The prestige of music’s highest honor is noteworthy enough, but Lecrae’s achievement as a vocally Christian rapper is rare.

Lil’ Wayne’s Lyrics

In contrast, Lil’ Wayne, one of music’s most popular secular rappers, made news for lyrics that proved too controversial even for him.  Lil’ Wayne makes a featured appearance on the song “Karate Chop” by fellow hip-hop artist, Future.  The offending lyrics show up in the “remix” edition which was leaked a short time ago.  In the song Lil’ Wayne lyric refers to “rough sex and used an obscenity. He indicated he wanted to do as much damage as had been done to Till.

The part of the line that has caused so much controversy is the reference to Emmett Till.  In 1955, Till, just 14 years old, was brutally murdered in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a White woman.  The tragedy sent ripples across the nation as graphic images of the boy’s mutilated face (his mother had insisted on an open casket to display the brutality) were splashed across newspapers and magazines.  The two White men charged in the crime were both acquitted by an all-White jury.

Wayne’s lyric serves as painful reminder of the importance of Black History month.  Many will miss the offense of Wayne’s reference if they fail to understand the identity and significance of Emmet Till.  The maiming of Till’s memory, however, is just the start.

Read more at Urban Faith where this post originally appeared.

Lecrae Anomaly Cover Art

Faith-Filled Hip Hop Artist, Lecrae, Catches Jimmy Fallon’s Attention

I had taken a hiatus from Christian Hip Hop. I appreciated that guys were trying to use the genre in a positive way, but I just couldn’t get into it. The glitz of high production quality, ingenious (if depraved) lyrics, and the massive popularity of secular artists was too strong. I didn’t think that hip hop with a Christian message could compete in those areas. Then someone told me about Lecrae.

Early Career

The most important moment of Lecrae Moore’s life came at the age of 19 when he became a Christian. He immediately began spreading the good news about Jesus to friends and even detention center inmates. Already interested in hip hop music, he began using rhymes to tell about his Redeemer.

At the age of 25 he founded Reach Records and began producing solo albums as well as signing other artists. His first solo album was called “Real Talk” which was well received in Christian circles. He followed up that album with several more such as “After the Music Stops”, “Rebel”, “Rehab”, and “Rehab the Overdose”.

Moving to the Mainstream

Up until this time Lecrae had mostly been known in Christian circles, but he made a shift to the mainstream music scene in 2012. That year he released his first mixtape, “Church Clothes”, hosted by Don Cannon. His lyrics, while still faith-filled and positive, were less overtly Christian prompting criticism by some. But the mixtape proved immensely popular and was downloaded over 100,000 times in less than 48 hours. He followed up with the album “Gravity” and reached even higher levels of mainstream notoriety. With this album, Lecrae climbed to the pinnacle of success for any music artist. He garnered a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album”.

Yet Lecrae continues to break the laws of Christian music physics. He released his latest album, “Anomaly” on September 9, 2014. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, another first for Lecrae. While he is not a household name, the 34 year old lyricist sits in rare air as an accomplished music artist who has been outspoken about his Christianity while producing excellence in his craft.

“The Tonight Show” Starring Jimmy Fallon

As one sign of this recognition the popular late night host, Jimmy Fallon, will have Lecrae appear as a guest on The Tonight Show. Tune in on Thursday (9/18/2014) at 11:35/10:35pm CST to watch the interview and performances. But before you do that, listen to some of Lecrae’s music and see for yourself what it sounds like to be a hip hop artist who is making inroads into secular outlets while being unashamed about his Christian faith.

Single: “Nuthin'” on Soundcloud

Album: “Anomaly” on iTunes

Update: Here’s a segment from The Tonight Show on how Lecrae wrote the song “Nuthin”

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Sometimes Comedians Say It Better

Jon Stewart’s, The Daily Show, has 2.69 million followers on Twitter. After his segment about the situation in Ferguson, MO it’s easy to see why. I’m not a regular watcher of his show, and I certainly don’t agree with all that he has to say. But when he took on conservative news coverage and opinions about the situation in Ferguson his bold, humorous and perceptive insights had me hooked.

This post is not an endorsement of the swear words Mr. Stewart uses, nor do I intend to affirm any of his opinions or stances that he may espouse outside of this segment. I just felt like someone on television, a white male no less, actually articulated the feelings of some African Americans quite well. He blended humor, history, and cultural awareness to skewer conservative pundits and their interpretation of the death of unarmed African American teenager, Mike Brown, at the hands of white police officer, Darren Wilson.

Jon Stewart dives into the topic by asking this question…

Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?

And while many would respond to opinions opposite of their own with anger or convoluted arguments, Jon Stewart cuts to the heart of the response with humor.

Commentator: You know who talks about race? Racists.
Jon Stewart: Did you just “He-who-smelt-it-dealt-it” racism?!

And probably the most poignant line in the entire clip is this…

Here’s the problem with everything that’s going on in this conversation. This isn’t all about just one man killed in one town. It’s about how people of color, no matter their socioeconomic standing, face obstacles in this country with surprising grace.

But Jon Stewart summarizes his point well in this statement…

Race is there. And you’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how ____ exhausting it is to live it.

Although I’ve read dozens of posts (and written a few myself) about Ferguson and the resulting racial dialogue, at the end of the Jon Stewart’s segment, I was left thinking, “Sometimes comedians say it better.”

What do you think of Mr. Stewart’s segment on Ferguson?

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A Special Live Podcast on Ferguson

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri has consumed my attention for more than a week now, and I must confess I am weary. Emotional fatigue weighs on me, and I’ve even been physically affected by loss of sleep and the resulting sluggishness. In my role with the Reformed African American Network (RAAN), the African American Leadership Initiative (AALI), and as a Pastoral and Church Planting Apprentice at a multi-ethnic church I address topics of race and culture daily. While I am encouraged by the progress I’ve seen, the death of Mike Brown and the ensuing disruptions make me moan from my soul, “How long, O Lord?”

But today, for the first time since these events have unfolded I have felt a degree of hope. Pass the Mic, the official podcast of the RAANetwork, recorded a special, live broadcast on the topic of Mike Brown, Ferguson, and the Christian response. Finally, I was part of taking action, even if the action is as simple as having a conversation.

“Just more talk. Get up. Do something!”, some will say. I agree completely. Yet I do not underestimate the power of communication. In our age of social media and a constant news cycle we have a lot of talking but very little communication. Getting on the line with Tyler Burns and Michelle Higgins, two young African American Christians in the Reformed tradition was healing for me. Getting around others who understand the importance of the situation and could offer intelligent, biblical reflections helped me process the situation better. A conversation may only be a first step, but it is a step.

I encourage everyone to take the step of having meaningful conversations about Ferguson with other Christians. Gather your church small group, gather your classmates, gather your family and have a conversation. The goal isn’t to resolve the matter–it is far too complex for simplistic solutions. But many will find a greater measure of peace having voiced their frustration, confusion, and hopes about these circumstances. Gathering as the people of God to help each other understand how He is working in the world will lead us to deeper intimacy with our Creator and our neighbor.

Ultimately, this conversation was cathartic for me. Speaking with others has helped me solidify and balance my thoughts. It has given me a productive avenue to direct my feelings. And, most of all, it has led me to rely more on God to work all things for His purposes and for our good.

Some Memorable Quotes from the Discussion: 

Tyler: “My stance and my passion for this has never been predicated on Mike Brown’s total innocence. That’s never been the foundation for human dignity. He has dignity because he’s a human being.” 

Michelle: “Righteous anger actually covers every culture, every race, and all of time…If I am angry about injustice it doesn’t matter what color I am.” 

Tyler: [On the Christian response] “I’m always more encouraged than discouraged, and that’s a choice…It’s important that we extend a lot of grace to each other.”

Michelle: “The church response has been overwhelming with African Americans. With my white brothers and sisters, I have actually been quite impressed. Have I been impressed by full congregational mobilization? That’s a ‘no’.”

Video

Catch the video here. By the way, we had some slight connection issues that may be a bit annoying. We’ll clean it up and make the audio available later this week.

What actions or conversations have you had around Mike Brown, Ferguson, and the Christian response? Share your comments below!

Robin Williams

Robin Williams, Suicide, and Grace

Robin Williams’ abrupt death leaves a massive hole where a giant of an entertainer once stood. And even more poignantly, it reminds us that we aren’t as strong as we like to make people think. All suicides reveal the brokenness that seethes beneath each of our smiles threatening to gush forth in revealing and damaging ways. So why do some succumb and the rest of us keep surviving?

Robin Williams

My friend and licensed therapist, Branden, puts it this way…

Spending some time alone and quiet this morning the dawn began to break. Light was shed on my grief, giving it form and helping me recognize its substance. In a sort of ‘A-Ha’ moment it made sense. The reason Mr. Williams suicide struck me so acutely was simply this, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

Branden probes even deeper…

Honestly, this scares the hell out of me. The real reality is that I am completely powerless in this life to change myself or those things around me, yet I’m completely responsible to do so. This dilemma then leads me to need a power outside of myself to do for me what I cannot do. As I understand this power to be God, I am now completely dependent on God to give me what I need, even when I don’t see my need for it, and if he doesn’t, well then…I’m toast. I need someone I don’t really trust to consistently take care of me, whether I want it or not. The craziest thing is that He does. I cannot comprehend this mystery.

We aren’t stronger than Robin Williams. We don’t have it more “together” than he did. The truth is that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Only God’s power, a power outside of ourselves and completely matchless, can keep us from the abyss of our own souls. And only God’s grace, His effusive love for His creation, compels Him to do so. Thanks be to God.

Read the rest of Branden’s post here.

What are your reactions to Robin Williams’ death?

 

AACPI

A Few Reflections from the African American Church Planting Initiative

This past week in Nashville, Tennessee a historic event took place. African American church planters from several denominations gathered to strategize about church planting in African American communities. The conference came about as a direct result of the extensive study on African American church planting conducted by LifeWay Research. While the study is dozens of pages long, the basic premise is that African American church planters and their congregations face particular challenges that have yet to be adequately addressed. This conference serves as one way to address those challenges.

AACPI

Here are a few of my reflections from the inaugural African American Church Planting Initiative conference (AACPI).

I Enjoyed the Interdenominational Flavor.
The most memorable aspect of the entire conference for me was its interdenominational character. People from several denominations gathered to plan it, and the event itself was hosted at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) of the United Methodist Church. I met a church planter from the Four Square denomination, a first for me. I also met Presbyterians and Methodists who were planting churches in various locations. And, in another first for me, I met women who were serving as church planters and pastors.

A Spirit of Cooperation Pervaded
Despite our theological differences, a spirit of cooperation pervaded the two-day conference. Everyone seemed genuinely glad to meet and interact with the other attendees and all the presenters were met with grace and acceptance no matter their denominational affiliation. Some friendly jibes were inserted here and there, but that only contributed to the amiability and joviality of the event. We were all there to talk about church planting, and we could cooperate on this subject.

We Had A Shared Cultural Language and Concern
It has often been my experience that whenever African Americans get around each other it feels almost like a family reunion. Although you may have never met each other or it has been years since your last interaction, we have such a shared historical and cultural experience that it feels like you’ve been good friends for years. Even though African Americans as a people group are not monolithic, we have enough in common as minorities with a particular background in this country to speak a shared heart language. At AACPI, we all had heavy hearts and high hopes to see reformation in African American communities through church planting. That concern for African American church planting comes from a shared cultural perspective and faith.

The Presentations Topics Were Well-Chosen and Informative 
The brief conference featured several plenary speakers and two workshop sessions. Dr. Carl F. Ellis, Jr. started us off with his session entitled, “The Role of Culture in Church Planting: An African American Perspective.” Afterwards, a panel consisting of seven or eight speakers was held on the general topic of African American church planting. Next, the boisterous Dr. Ed Stetzer gave an informative overview of the LifeWay study on African American church planting. Then Rev. Alex Shipman (PCA) closed out the evening with a sermon called, “Ministering to the Church Planter’s Heart”. The next day was comprised of two workshop sessions. I chose to attend Rev. Howard Brown’s (PCA) presentation on “Worship Music in African American Churches”. Lastly, I sat in Byron Johnson’s class on fundraising for African American church planters. The entire event was punctuated by musical worship that made it seem like a Sunday.

You Should Catch the Conference Next Year!
I have no doubt that all the conference attendees will want this event to be held next year. The planners did an excellent job organizing it. Even the food was well-done. Most importantly, the African American Church Planting Initiative conference has begun in earnest an urgent conversation that needs to keep going. How do we plant more African American churches? It is a complex question that cannot be answered by a single group or denomination, but AACPI is part of the solution.

Legacy-Imago Dei

Reflections on the Legacy Conference

Few people know this but the Reformed African American Network almost had a different name. I don’t know what it would have become, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have had “RAAN” as a convenient acronym. Of the many conversations I had with various people about the name, one stands out. 

Legacy-Imago Dei

RAAN co-founder, Phillip Holmes, and I were on our first trip to the Legacy Conference in 2012. We were between sessions during a break, and we got into an hour long debate with several young men about whether the words “African American” should be in the title. Well, we know which side of the debate won that night. For better or worse, we’ve got the name, but the Legacy Conference continues to be a significant event in the life of the RAANetwork. 

This year marks the third year in a row that Phillip and I journeyed to Chicago for the annual urban discipleship conference. The theme of the conference was “The Imago Dei” or “image of God”. It basically addresses the questions of, “Who am I?” and, “Why am I here?” What was unique about this year’s conference is that we weren’t just attendees or exhibitors, we were workshop presenters. We were able to teach an entire track entitled “The Imago Dei and the Minority Experience”. We divided each of the four workshops among me, Phillip, Trillia Newbell, and Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. Each of us took one session as we followed the biblical narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. I’ll be unpacking my experience from Legacy for quite a while, but here are some initial reflections. 

1) I Am Humbled. 
I am humbled by the generosity of conference organizer, Brian Dye, and his team for allowing a relatively new ministry like RAAN to host an entire workshop track featuring four presentations of two hours each over the course of two days. This gave us the opportunity to introduce the ministry to countless conference attendees and dozens of people who actually attended the workshops. We’ve come a long way from  questions like, “RAAN? What is that?” to “RAAN! Oh yeah, I love the website. You guys keep doing what you’re doing.” I stand humbled at the way God chooses to use this small endeavor for His much larger purposes.

2) I See Diversity. 
Although the Legacy Conference doesn’t “wave the Reformed banner”, it is biblically faithful in content and features Reformed speakers like John Piper and HB Charles, Jr. for its plenary sessions. But this event is more racially and ethically diverse than any other Reformed conference I’ve attended. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but from visuals alone it seems like a majority of attendees are black or brown skinned. They are urban and they are young. I think this is largely due to the fact that the conference is in Chicago which is a diverse place in itself. Also, the fact that Christian Hip Hop and the arts feature prominently through spoken word cafes, freestyle rap competitions, and concerts by well known artists makes this a sure draw for America’s multi-hued “generation next”. For this reason, I recommend this conference for many high school youth groups, especially those that are struggling to find a more multi-ethnic and urban cultural setting.

3) It’s a Great Place to Meet People. 
What struck me about the Legacy Conference from the very first moment I attended is how much access the average attendee has to presenters. Whether workshop facilitators or speakers at the main session, you can easily run into someone who you’ve seen at the front of a room and engage them in conversation. I’ve had the pleasure to meet many of my favorite Christian Hip Hop artists including KB and Shai Linne there. I’ve shaken hands with Matt Chandler and had lunch with HB Charles, Jr. In addition, I’ve made many more connections with other workshop presenters who are doing amazing things on behalf of the Kingdom. I simply marvel at how approachable everyone seems, even the “biggest names” in these circles, and that approachability begins with proximity and access.

4) It is God-Centered.
Because conference attendees are sporting various shades of beige, black, and brown skin or wearing camos, or rocking fitted caps twisted backwards, many people on the street would be tempted to write them off as “trouble-makers” or worse. But if you listened in on the conversations taking place in breakout sessions, in hallways, and around the lunch tables you would hear copious references to God, fighting sin, discipleship, and other topics related to the Christian life. The main session speakers do an excellent job of giving God-centered, biblical expositions of the conference theme, and this sets the tone for the rest of the event. Anyone who is open to the Spirit’s leading and willing to learn can end these few days knowing more than when they arrived. The best aspect of Legacy is that it points you to God and gives you a bigger picture of His glory.

I Recommend It.
I suppose the highest praise I can give for any conference is to recommend it to others, especially those with whom I am close. I have done so with the Legacy Conference. I grew up not too far from Chicago so my family and old friends are still there. I have told them all about it, and I’ve recommended they attend as often as possible. I thank God for the way He has used Legacy to let folks know about RAAN. I thank Him for those who labor to organize it, and make it such a blessing to so many. And I thank God that He is still building His kingdom. Even through creation, fall, and redemption, we have the sure promise of consummation in which the image of God will be restored in every believer and we will be with Him forever. Come, Lord Jesus. And, in the meantime, keep blessing the Legacy Conference.