Food for the Soul

Food for the Soul

“…herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the [Twenty-First] Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, gentle reader; for the problem of the [Twenty-First] Century is the problem of the color line.”  

W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

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Thanksgiving has arrived and that can only mean one thing. African Americans across the nation are about to enjoy some delectable soul food. A colleague from seminary asked me a seemingly simple question one day: What is the soul? To really understand my struggle with this query you have to appreciate my background. While attending a majority white seminary, it’s safe to say that I had a bit more melanin than some others. My flesh tone was a hue that resembled many from our historical past who were considered African Americans or Negroes.

He asked a question that evoked thoughts of pride as I pondered my godly heritage. Soul (at least from my perspective) was inextricably interwoven in my DNA. Soul music from the Harlem Renaissance resounded within as I began to recount the great jazz artists of the time (ranging from Cab Calloway to Duke Ellington). I thought of the great James Brown, who is deemed the “Godfather of Soul.” If anybody knew soul, it was my people. And soul in the African American community wasn’t just limited to melodic harmony and sound. Soul had a significant role in food preparation. Soul food, as we know it in this country, originated in the African American community. This delectable culinary genre included a wide range of items including, but not limited to, collard greens, ham hocks, pig’s feet, pork neck bone, fat back, and chitterlings a.k.a. pig intestines. (If that last sentence didn’t make you hungry, please check your pulse.)

During an oppressive era beginning in the late 17th century, slaves were afforded the “opportunity” to have the leftover pig parts from their masters’ tables. This normally included the parts the slave masters felt were unfit for human consumption. The slaves took them, carefully cleaned them, salted them up to make them flavorful, and served them to their families. As a result, soul food became a staple in the African American slave community.

So an inquiry about my soul transposed the generally perceived idea of soul in society (and the Christian community generally). It involved retained customs and traditions that accompanied thousands on an infamous Trans-Atlantic journey hundreds of years ago. When my colleague asked that question about my soul, many images, tastes, and sounds came to mind.

“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” —W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

Despite those elicited proud images of soul defined in my own experience, I can appreciate DuBois’ “twoness.” I live it out every day. There is a soul dualism that perpetuates itself. I am both an American and a Negro. For many, this is a comfortable idea. However, in reality this duality presents two warring ideals that have a profound impact on the way I live my life. Even in a seminary, where a majority of the books read were by white, middle-aged men, this duality impacted my experience. I’m quite sure this twoness had some role in issues presented in the “Jena Six” and Trayvon Martin stories. Both painted portraits of cities that still have some “color line” issues. When a group of black boys respond violently to a “noose” incident in a schoolyard, how could one not surmise that color line issues are still prevalent in society? When distrust of a local Central Florida Police Department mobilizes thousands of African American, how could we question the existence of the color line?

As I sat on the seminary campus and reflected, I realized that it was this twoness that led me there. I figured out that it wasn’t enough to say that I casually associate with people outside of my own ethnic group. Instead, I wanted to be able to experience community, fellowship, and dialogue with people who did not share my ethnic background. As I walked from class one week, I stopped to have a conversation with one of my classmates. We spoke about diversity and its real meaning for our seminary (and the Church generally). We both explained frustrations with tossing around diversity labels without authenticity. During our conversation, I had to apologize for assuming that he understood what I was talking about when I mentioned the acronym HBCU (Historically Black College and University) or when I spoke freely about tendencies in black church leadership.

Ultimately our conversation reassured me that there are others who wrestle with duality of the soul (whether a white Christian trying to genuinely understand other cultures or a minority Christian doing the same). I have learned that some people want to be able to function in that “twoness” to better understand others outside of their culture. Isn’t the body of Christ called to this kind of unity and understanding? Will we stand by idly as the color line widens? If the Church isn’t called to unite how can we expect it from a fallen world?

So as I lay into some Soul Food this holiday season, I remain grateful. I am grateful for the African American story. I am appreciative that my life is being grafted into a story of struggle and triumph. But the soul “twoness” is ever present. Reminding me that our story as a people is tied into God’s greater story of redemption. And for that I am thankful. Now pass me those collard greens.

Good Tree, Bad Tree: Tips on Evaluating Relationships

Good Tree, Bad Tree: Tips on Evaluating Relationships

Tree imagery appears throughout Scripture when describing human beings. When Jesus began to heal the blind man in Mark’s Gospel, He asked him if he saw anything. The man responded and stated: “I see men like trees, walking” (see Mark 8:24, NKJV). Jesus Himself used this imagery to describe the interconnectedness of human beings. One of the most profound statements that He made was connected to something we try to figure out all the time in this life—relationships: “…for a tree is known by its fruit” (from Matthew 12:33, NKJV).

The “Job Interview”

One of the most frustrating things I notice in unhealthy or failed relationships is the lack of accounting when it comes to examining another person’s fruit. Sadly we mistake the honeymoon phase of dating relationships as the true nature of another individual. Anyone can go on a job interview dressed up and ready to answer questions impressively. This is precisely what dating tends to look like. The one thing the job interviewee knows? Putting one’s best foot forward increases his or her chances at getting hired.

I’m willing to bet you that a man will not reveal on the first date that he’s possessive, jealous, and insecure, and has expectations that you treat him like his mother treated him. I’m also pretty confident that a woman probably will not reveal that she is looking for someone to treat her like her last boyfriend or someone who knows exactly what she’s thinking without her saying it. Nor will she reveal any other emotional baggage she may carry. Let me give you a simple secret to help you see through that “impressive resume” on the first couple of dates: Time!

Taking Some Time

I know. I know. It sounds elementary and simple. I am pretty sure the heavens didn’t open up after that revelation. Sadly, this truth is avoided like the plague when it comes to entering relationships and causes more frustration than most people would like to admit. In addition to a tree being known by its fruit, Jesus also revealed that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18, NKJV).

Let me put it this way. Entering a new relationship is like planting a seed. When you begin to water that relationship seed, it will begin to break through any dirt (i.e., any unrevealed vices) that either one of you have and reveal one another’s true nature. Of course, that watering occurs by means of the “living water” (see John 7:38). Afterward, things will begin to bud in the relationship and eventually trees will emerge with accompanying fruit. Here’s the key. Whether or not the other person’s tree bears good fruit depends on their response to your watering.

Please hear my heart on this. Developing a healthy relationship requires an effort on behalf of both parties. If you begin to feel like you are the only one attempting to develop your relationship, then you will begin to feel unattended to and lacking nourishment.

The Fruit Test

Once you’ve overcome the time obstacle, you can begin to properly evaluate a relationship and look for fruit. The good thing about this process is that everyone produces fruit of some kind. The only difference is the marketability of that fruit. Would you go into a grocery store and buy rotten apples or oranges? Why would you do the same thing as it pertains to a relationship? Here are some things to look for when evaluating relationships: “Now the [fruit] of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery… murders…” (from Galatians 5:19–21, NKJV).

Ask yourself: Is this person adulterous? I know what you’re asking. Isn’t this supposed to be an article on dating? What does adultery have to do with dating relationships? I’m glad you asked. Jesus says that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matthew 5:28). Do you find them looking at other people when you two are together? This is an indication that they are adulterous, at least as far as their heart is concerned. This bad fruit can help you when you examine the relationship.

You might also want to ask yourself: Is this person a murderer? I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not talking about people who may be imprisoned for taking the life of another person. I am talking about people who are locked up in a different way. Scripture is very clear when it says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (from 1 John 3:15, NKJV). Does your significant other have disdain for other ethnic groups? Does he or she make disparaging remarks about others that are hurtful? God saw fit that this issue was serious enough to warrant mentioning and should lead each of us to examine the people in our leaves for this potential bad fruit. Those are just two items on a long list of what Paul deems to be bad fruit. Check out the others on the list in Galatians 5 and determine whether your significant other shows signs of bad fruit.

The Good News

People can exhibit things you should be looking for in a significant other. The Apostle Paul calls this good fruit. Some examples of good fruit? Love, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (see Galatians 5:22–23).

Take time out now to examine past relationships in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Have you seen any of the fruit mentioned above at work in those relationships? More importantly, can you take lessons learned from those situations and move forward with a new conviction? The important thing about the blind man seeing “men like trees” in Mark’s Gospel was that his healing was incomplete. He needed a further touch from Jesus. With that touch he was restored and saw everyone clearly (see Mark 8:25b). Although examining the fruit of others to evaluate our relationships is important, there is still a need to rely on and allow Christ to place His hand on those relationships for full clarity and direction. If you keep these things in mind, your relationship will truly become like a tree planted by the rivers of water (see Psalm 1:3) and flourish in Christ.

Ray Rice: Domestic Abuse, Weed, and the NFL “Standard”

Fantasy football is in full swing, but one infelicitous hit will dominate the NFL’s opening weekend. The NFL suspended Ray Rice, a Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowler, after TMZ released a disturbing video of him punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in a New Jersey casino earlier this year. The video showed Rice, a 220-pound, rock-solid NFL running back, punching his fiancée in the face, knocking her unconscious.

Minutes after the video released, “Black Twitter” exploded. I was confused. Then I tried to remember if I saw “Black Twitter” explode when the first video was released in February. You know, the video of him dragging Palmer’s unconscious body out of an elevator in that New Jersey casino. After the incident, Rice was arrested, charged, and released on a simple assault charge back in February. We all knew what happened in that elevator. Did we really need to see it on TMZ to confirm the horrifying details?

Fantasy vs. Reality

Ray Rice is not on my fantasy team. I placed him on my “Do Not Draft” list after I saw the video of him dragging Palmer out of that elevator. I couldn’t justify having a guy on my team who would do something like that to a woman. But this is bigger than fantasy. It’s bigger than the number of points he can put up for a team. Or is it?

Fantasy value normally reflects a player’s real value. Ray Rice got paid because of his ability to put up numbers. He was a franchise player for the Baltimore Ravens, the tenth richest team in the NFL and a franchise worth about $1.5 billion dollars. He was set to make $4 million this season and $3 million in each of the next two seasons. He was suspended for two games for that February incident. His team stood behind the two-game suspension, citing that he had made a mistake. Coach John Harbaugh called him “a heck of a guy.”

Today the Baltimore Ravens cut him and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the release of the TMZ video. I never thought I’d live in a world where TMZ would become a champion of social justice–although it is arguable as to whether that was on purpose or just by accident. The first video was worth a two-game suspension—laughable, I know. The second video finally forced the hands of both the Ravens organization and NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell.

Ray Rice was no longer a heck of a guy. He was no longer the franchise guy. He was a PR nightmare that they needed to “get ahead of” to save the franchise and the league. How’d the franchise and league go from supporting to ostracizing Rice after the release of a video that only confirmed what they already knew? They knew about the Ubiquitous Black Athlete.

The Ubiquitous Black Athlete

Ray Rice became an ubiquitous black athlete some time after a successful three-year career at Rutgers. The Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the second round of the NFL draft. A year later, he started 15 games and was elected to his first Pro Bowl. The Ravens had found their guy.

William C. Rhoden, author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, might argue that they’d found their “guy.” Here’s the crux of his argument in the book:

Integration in sports—as opposed to integration at the ballot box or in public conveyances—was a winning proposition for the whites who controlled the sports-industrial complex. They could move to exploit black muscle and talent, thus sucking the life out of black institutions, while at the same time giving themselves credit for being humanitarians.

It would appear, to some, that the credit for being humanitarians in Rice’s case wasn’t enough to overcome the public relationship’s tidal wave headed toward Baltimore and the NFL as organizations. So they both decided to act—a day late and a dollar short in my book.

It’s Not “Just Weed”

The NFL and the Ravens organization betrayed the trust of every victim of domestic violence back in July when they “handed down” Rice’s two-game suspension. It was horrible to anyone who has experienced abuse at the hand of a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or significant other. Josh Gordon was suspended an entire year for abusing his own body (he failed a marijuana test); Ray Rice was suspended two games for abusing another person’s body. In Gordon’s case, the NFL said, “It’s not just weed, bro. It’s deeper than that.” In Rice’s case, the NFL effectively said, “It was just an unconscious black female. It could have been worse.” I’m being a bit facetious, but if billion-dollar organizations gloss over domestic violence issues like this, then who is going to stand up to declare their wrongness?

I sure will. It was wrong in February when we didn’t see the actual punch. It’s wrong today. It’s wrong forever. No man should ever hit a woman. We didn’t need a video to tell us this. We certainly didn’t need TMZ to do it either. But if God can use an ass to speak in Scripture, I’m sure he can use TMZ to speak when his people are silent. Let’s continue to pray for all victims of domestic violence—trending or not—because it’s a reality that many unheard voices face every day.

Sex, God, and The Single Life: Book Review

Sex, God, SingleThere are certain topics that scream single Christian. Sex and singleness is one of those topics. How does one life a fulfilling single, Christian life in a culture inundated with sexual imagery? Author Hafeez Baoku has entered the fray with his new project, Sex, God, and the Single Life: An Honest Journey to Satisfying Intimacy. But his work isn’t the usual “save yourself for marriage because the Bible says so” reflection on sex and the single life. It’s real. It’s transparent. It’s compelling.

A Healthy Sexuality

In the book, Hafeez speaks candidly about his own pursuit of a healthy sexuality. He recounts stories of friends giving him a distorted view of sexuality. As most of us can remember, sex education at school was a joke. Because others failed to help him develop a healthy sex ethic, Baoku admits to receiving his early sex education from Hollywood films. Who couldn’t relate to that?

The Grand Design

Hafeez then introduces the reader to God’s grand design for sex. Sex is good! God created it that way. Hafeez notes that, “Sex is the greatest physical representation of real intimacy between a man a woman” (43). Baoku also notes sin’s ability to fracture that good thing. In analyzing the cultural practices of selfish sexuality, he addresses many taboo issues, including 2-D sex (yeah, 2-D…better known as porn), friends with benefits, and no strings attached forms of expression. Offering advice to fellow singles on what it takes to become a great lover, the book dispels the myth that sex or relationships will bring us fulfillment. The single person needs to know that its “God, not sex, in whom our hearts desperately desire to be fully satisfied” (79).

Avoiding the Waiting Room

But Baoku isn’t just throwing out Christian cliches. He provides practical ways Christians can experience a joy-filled existence apart from sex. Singleness, according to Baoku, isn’t just a waiting room—hoping to get a shot of  joy with the needle labeled marriage. Rather, singles can benefit from joy-filled, intimate friendships with (even opposite-gender relationships)—something he details in Chapter 8 (which happens to be my favorite chapter in the book).

Closing Thoughts

Though I’m married, much of what Baoku writes in this book would have resonated with my single self when I was trying to determine ways to live a joyous, single life. I especially appreciated his practical steps for purity (which he also gives a fresh perspective on—it’s not your abstinence ring ceremony type common with young people).

I applaud Baoku’s recognition of his own limitations as a single male. He offers a great Q&A in the epilogue with an older, godly married couple and a young, single woman. It shows his thoughtful approach in making sure he captured information he might not be aware of as a single male. I would commend this book to singles who are thinking through issues of sexuality and intimacy. There are ways you can express your sexuality as a single that leads to God-honoring, intimate relationships. And you don’t have to be frustrated doing it. In Sex, God, and the Single Life, Baoku outlines ways to avoid that frustration.

The book releases today, July 5th, and is available for purchase on Amazon.

How Donald Sterling and TMZ Hijacked the NBA Playoffs

I love basketball—particularly NBA basketball. Though my personal on-the-court time is slowing down, I remain an avid fan of the game. Usually a foregone conclusion for the stronger seeded teams, the first round of the NBA playoffs have been the most entertaining and competitive series we’ve seen in a long time. The upstart Wizards has the city of Washington buzzing like it’s an election year. Vince Carter is cheating father time with his buzzer beating antics (much to my chagrin as a Spurs fan). Stephen Curry is further solidifying his place as one of the best shooters today—and some think of all-time. Then the bomb dropped.

I never thought I’d see an ESPN headline that read, “TMZ reports…” Wait, what? TMZ follows around celebrities and documents mundane moments in their lives. There’s no reason to believe they’d report anything SportsCenter-worthy. And I know SportsCenter. I’m the rerun SportsCenter guy. I’m that dude who watches the same SportsCenter highlights four times in a row, just in case I missed something. TMZ and SportsCenter are like oil and water.

Alas, TMZ obtained some audio of Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, making some pretty derogatory racist statements during a conversation with his girlfriend V. Stiviano. Those statements included a plea for her not to associate with black people, a reference to a photo taken with Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp, and a request to remove pictures showing she associates with black people. The authenticity of the audio is in question and the NBA has decided not to take action until it is authenticated.

Here’s my problem. This isn’t new news! Really, it isn’t. People who follow the NBA and know Donald Sterling always knew he was a racist. Bomani Jones was screaming this from the rooftops years ago. Nobody listened.

Let me just give you a few examples from Sterling’s concerning past—and none of these need audio authentication. A 2003, suit alleged that Sterling refused to rent to Latinos because they “smoke, drink, and just hang around buildings.” It also stated that he felt “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” That case was settled confidentially. In 2009, some of Sterling’s former tenants alleged property managers used racial slurs against them and refused to follow leasing terms. The case was settled for $2.765 million dollars, though Sterling never admitted liability. According to former GM, Elgin Baylor, who also filed a lawsuit against him, Sterling “would bring women into the locker room after games, while [Clippers] players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’” Today, all of these stories are resurfacing—and it’s killing the NBA playoffs.

Here’s my thing. Where was all of this years ago when we already knew about Sterling racism? While I thought the Clippers removing their warm ups and wearing their gear inside out was a nice gesture, Sterling still cuts their checks. They still play for a man who is a known racist—notwithstanding the TMZ tape’s authenticity. Now Chris Paul wants to address this “aggressively” and figure out if it was Sterling’s voice on the tape? Now De’Andre Jordan wants to post a black Instagram picture in silent protest?

Where was this when they were exploring their free agent options? Where was this conviction that they wouldn’t play for a racist owner then? As Jalen Rose says, I guess “gettin’ dem checks” was more important then. Now Al Sharpton is threatening a boycott if the NBA doesn’t suspend Sterling (of course Sharpton is, since it’s garnered national attention). Now players on Sterling’s team are staging silent protests. Now people are calling for Sterling’s job. And it’s destroying one of the greatest first rounds of playoff basketball we’ve seen in decades.

I’ve written this before and I still believe it’s true. Trending calls for justice always fade away. Just wait it out. The next social media trend will lead people to another topic. It’s those who endure in the call for justice who effect real change. Imagine if those black college students in the 60s stopped after one sit-in. Imagine if King and others only organized one bus boycott to highlight the injustices of the Jim Crow South. Dropping warm-ups at center court and wearing clothes inside out is great for the trending, social media culture, but it might not be a statement that produces real change. That takes time and real effort.

So can you guys do me a favor? Can you give me my playoffs back? I want to see the Splash Brothers do work. I want to see Tim Duncan’s potential last run. I want to see John Wall and Bradley Beal come of age. I don’t want to be inundated with coverage of a man who doesn’t deserve my time. That’s unfair to NBA fans who already know who Sterling is and what he’s done.

With that said, I do hope the league makes some kind of statement now that the issue has been raised again. Should something be done? Absolutely. Whether it’s a fine (though what’s a fine to a billionaire?) or a suspension, the NBA should act soon. Maybe that will bring the trend seeking media peace. And I can get back to watching the game I love without TMZ scrolling across my SportCenter ticker. It’s better that way.