Amid COVID and Racial Unrest, Black Churches Put Faith in Mental Health Care

Amid COVID and Racial Unrest, Black Churches Put Faith in Mental Health Care

Video Courtesy of FOX 2 St. Louis


This article originally appeared on KHN.org

Wilma Mayfield used to visit a senior center in Durham, North Carolina, four days a week and attend Lincoln Memorial Baptist Church on Sundays, a ritual she’s maintained for nearly half a century. But over the past 10 months, she’s seen only the inside of her home, the grocery store and the pharmacy. Most of her days are spent worrying about COVID-19 and watching TV.

It’s isolating, but she doesn’t talk about it much.

When Mayfield’s church invited a psychologist to give a virtual presentation on mental health during the pandemic, she decided to tune in.

The hourlong discussion covered COVID’s disproportionate toll on communities of color, rising rates of depression and anxiety, and the trauma caused by police killings of Black Americans. What stuck with Mayfield were the tools to improve her own mental health.

“They said to get up and get out,” she said. “So I did.”

The next morning, Mayfield, 67, got into her car and drove around town, listening to 103.9 gospel radio and noting new businesses that had opened and old ones that had closed. She felt so energized that she bought chicken, squash and greens, and began her Thanksgiving cooking early.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “The stuff that lady talked about [in the presentation], it opened up doors for me.”

As Black people face an onslaught of grief, stress and isolation triggered by a devastating pandemic and repeated instances of racial injustice, churches play a crucial role in addressing the mental health of their members and the greater community. Religious institutions have long been havens for emotional support. But faith leaders say the challenges of this year have catapulted mental health efforts to the forefront of their mission.

Some are preaching about mental health from the pulpit for the first time. Others are inviting mental health professionals to speak to their congregations, undergoing mental health training themselves or adding more therapists to the church staff.

“COVID undoubtedly has escalated this conversation in great ways,” said Keon Gerow, senior pastor at Catalyst Church in West Philadelphia. “It has forced Black churches — some of which have been older, traditional and did not want to have this conversation — to actually now have this conversation in a very real way.”

At Lincoln Memorial Baptist, leaders who organized the virtual presentation with the psychologist knew that people like Mayfield were struggling but might be reluctant to seek help. They thought members might be more open to sensitive discussions if they took place in a safe, comfortable setting like church.

It’s a trend that psychologist Alfiee Breland-Noble, who gave the presentation, has noticed for years.

Through her nonprofit organization, the AAKOMA Project, Breland-Noble and her colleagues often speak to church groups about depression, recognizing it as one of the best ways to reach a diverse segment of the Black community and raise mental health awareness.

This year, the AAKOMA Project has received clergy requests that are increasingly urgent, asking to focus on coping skills and tools people can use immediately, Breland-Noble said.

“After George Floyd’s death, it became: ‘Please talk to us about exposure to racial trauma and how we can help congregations deal with this,’” she said. “‘Because this is a lot.’”

Across the country, mental health needs are soaring. And Black Americans are experiencing significant strain: A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer found 15% of non-Hispanic Black adults had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days and 18% had started or increased their use of substances to cope with pandemic-related stress.

Yet national data shows Blacks are less likely to receive mental health treatment than the overall population. A memo released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration this spring lists engaging faith leaders as one way to close this gap.

The Potter’s House in Dallas has been trying to do that for years. A megachurch with more than 30,000 members, it runs a counseling center with eight licensed clinicians, open to congregants and the local community to receive counseling at no cost, though donations are accepted.

Since the pandemic began, the center has seen a 30% increase in monthly appointments compared with previous years, said center director Natasha Stewart. During the summer, when protests over race and policing were at their height, more Black men came to therapy for the first time, she said.

Recently, there’s been a surge in families seeking services. Staying home together has brought up conflicts previously ignored, Stewart said.

“Before, people had ways to escape,” she said, referring to work or school. “With some of those escapes not available anymore, counseling has become a more viable option.”

To meet the growing demand, Stewart is adding a new counselor position for the first time in eight years.

At smaller churches, where funding a counseling center is unrealistic, clergy are instead turning to members of the congregation to address growing mental health needs.

At Catalyst Church, a member with a background in crisis management has begun leading monthly COVID conversations online. A deacon has been sharing his own experience getting therapy to encourage others to do the same. And Gerow, the senior pastor, talks openly about mental health.

Recognizing his power as a pastor, Gerow hopes his words on Sunday morning and in one-on-one conversations will help congregants seek the help they need. Doing so could reduce substance use and gun violence in the community, he said. Perhaps it would even lower the number of mental health crises that lead to police involvement, like the October death of Walter Wallace Jr., whose family said he was struggling with mental health issues when Philadelphia police shot him.

“If folks had the proper tools, they’d be able to deal with their grief and stress in different ways,” Gerow said. “Prayer alone is not always enough.”

Laverne Williams recognized that back in the ’90s. She believed prayer was powerful, but as an employee of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, she knew there was a need for treatment too.

When she heard pastors tell people they could pray away mental illness or use blessed oil to cure what seemed like symptoms of schizophrenia, she worried. And she knew many people of color were not seeing professionals, often due to barriers of cost, transportation, stigma and distrust of the medical system.

To address this disconnect, Williams created a video and PowerPoint presentation and tried to educate faith leaders.

At first, many clergy turned her away. People thought seeking mental health treatment meant your faith wasn’t strong enough, Williams said.

But over time, some members of the clergy have come to realize the two can coexist, said Williams, adding that being a deacon herself has helped her gain their trust. This year alone, she’s trained 20 faith leaders in mental health topics.

A program run by the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis is taking a similar approach. The Bridges to Care and Recovery program trains faith leaders in “mental health first aid,” suicide prevention, substance use and more, through a 20-hour course.

The training builds on the work faith leaders are already doing to support their communities, said senior program manager Rose Jackson-Beavers. In addition to the tools of faith and prayer, clergy can now offer resources, education and awareness, and refer people to professional therapists in the network.

Since 2015, the program has trained 261 people from 78 churches, Jackson-Beavers said.

Among them is Carl Lucas, pastor of God First Church in northern St. Louis County who graduated this July — just in time, by his account.

Since the start of the pandemic, he has encountered two congregants who expressed suicidal thoughts. In one case, church leaders referred the person to counseling and followed up to ensure they attended therapy sessions. In the other, the root concern was isolation, so the person was paired with church members who could touch base regularly, Lucas said.

“The pandemic has definitely put us in a place where we’re looking for answers and looking for other avenues to help our members,” he said. “It has opened our eyes to the reality of mental health needs.”

Keep Calm and Carry On – But How?

Keep Calm and Carry On – But How?

Video Courtesy of Bridgeway Community Church


Well-meaning advice for people freaking out about current events often includes encouragement to be patient, stay calm and keep the faith… but how on Earth are you supposed to do that amid the insanity of 2020?

As a practicing clinical psychologist and professor who studies how to manage anxiety and tolerate uncertainty, I offer 10 suggestions to make it through this highly stressful election period.

1. Put the phone down!

While it is tempting to stay glued to your devices during this time, the never-ending doomscrolling and screen-refreshing becomes overwhelming and keeps you in a state of tension and constant vigilance. The excessive consumption of news and social media predicts poorer long-term mental health during times of crisis.

Plan some breaks where you can engage in other activities that take your mind off politics and the uncertainties we face, and allow things to feel a little more normal for a while.

2. Uncertainty doesn’t equal catastrophe

It’s hard not to know things – outcomes of elections, for instance. But not knowing shouldn’t mean that you assume the worst-case scenario has occurred. When you’re anxious (as many in the U.S. are right now), you tend to assign threatening meanings to ambiguous situations, but this tendency is neither accurate nor helpful. Jumping to catastrophic conclusions is like setting off a series of false alarms that keep you on edge and exaggerate your sense of threat.

3. Don’t retreat into bed

The feeling of deep disappointment about election results you don’t like, or apprehension about upcoming results, can trigger a desire to withdraw and hole up. While that response is natural, it tends to be counterproductive. Staying engaged in activities that give you a sense of accomplishment, pleasure or meaning can make managing this time far less painful.

4. Remember it’s happened before

While in many ways it is true that 2020 is unique and unprecedented, it’s also the case that human beings tend to be remarkably resilient, even in the face of tremendous stress and trauma. This difficult time will not last forever. Things won’t magically all get better, but time will move forward, this situation will change and you will keep putting one foot in front of the other.

5. Don’t go through this time alone

While the pandemic means you need to remain physically distant from others, this should not mean staying socially or emotionally distant. When people experience acute stress, they cope much better if they have social support.

So reach out and stay connected – whether that means texting about the latest vote count with a friend or purposefully taking a break from ruminating on current events (it’s a great chance to deeply discuss how you each feel about the new season of “The Mandalorian”).

6. Stay regular

No, I am not referring to your bowels – maintain a regular and healthy eating, sleep and exercise pattern. While recommendations for self-care may seem unimportant, attending to those basic bodily needs can go a long way toward keeping your resources sufficiently replenished so you can meet the high demands of this time. There is increasing evidence that poor sleep is closely connected to many mental and emotional health difficulties.

So stop refreshing your feed in the wee hours and try to sleep.

7. Help others

This may feel like an odd time to be asked to support others when you feel so depleted yourself, but helping others is linked to benefits in your own mental health.

Moreover, it provides a sense of control. There’s so much during this time that you cannot control – there is no magic wand that speeds up vote counting in those critical contested races or makes senate run-offs in January come sooner. But taking action to improve things now for the people around you both helps others and reminds you that you can make a difference in meaningful ways.

So, bake cookies to drop off on the doorstep of the friend who is quarantined. Offer to take an item off a work colleague’s overwhelming to-do list. If you’re in a position to help, make a donation to a cause you care about. It’s a win-win.

8. Take a breath

Each person is different in what helps them to relax or feel more centered. Focusing on and slowing down your breathing, for instance, can help keep you grounded in the present moment and reduce the spiral of upsetting thoughts about what might come next.

For many people, online mindfulness exercises or relaxation recordings can make a big difference. Check out online mental health programs that have been reviewed by experts and pick the resource that’s right for you.

9. Offer compassion to yourself

The combination of “COVID-19 brain” plus “election brain” (along with the pain and losses of the last eight months) means few of us will be at our best right now.

There’s a lot of room between performing at 100% of your usual capacity and climbing into bed and hiding under the covers for days on end. Personally, I’m trying to average 80%. People managing greater homeschooling, economic, health, discrimination and other challenges at this time than I am may shoot for a lower percentage.

No one is making it through this time unscathed, so kindness to ourselves and others is desperately needed.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

10. Reach out if you need additional help

If recommendations 1-9 aren’t cutting it, there are lots of resources to help people through this difficult period:

Be patient, stay calm and keep the faith is a tall order. I’ll be happy if I can get most of the way there.The Conversation

Bethany Teachman, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rhymes Of Their Times: Young Poets Riff On Type 2

Rhymes Of Their Times: Young Poets Riff On Type 2

Video Courtesy of Youth Speaks


A dozen doughnut holes. Growing up, that was a typical breakfast for Tassiana Willis, a 24-year-old African-American poet. In her family, moments of joy centered around sweets. Her grandfather, a man of few words, showed affection through weekend trips to McDonald’s.

learned to find i love you in white paper bags

instead of his lips

see, I loved food out of ritual

Willis, who grew up in San Francisco, has harnessed the power of poetry to raise awareness about Type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease caused largely by poor dietary habits and lack of exercise. It once affected mostly adults but now is spreading at alarming rates among young people, especially minorities and youth from low-income households.

“Raise your voice and change the conversation,” urges the tagline on four new videos produced for an arts and public health campaign called The Bigger Picture. The videos, including one by Willis called “The Longest Mile,” show young poets telling deeply personal stories about the life circumstances that promote diabetes.

The videos challenge viewers to look at “the bigger picture” behind the startling rise of diabetes. Instead of highlighting poor individual choices, they expose the social and economic factors — everything from food pricing and marketing to unequal access to parks and playgrounds — that conspire to push young people of color into an unhealthy lifestyle.

“The way these stories are told … really calls for social change,” said Natasha Huey, who managed the campaign for Youth Speaks, one of four youth development organizations across California that partnered with the University of California-San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations to produce the poetry videos.

The Bigger Picture, which launched in 2011, has produced more than two dozen videos about diabetes, which together have been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube. They have also been presented at school assemblies for thousands of Bay Area students.

The rise in Type 2 diabetes among youth goes hand in hand with rising obesity rates.

Willis said she is obese now because of the way her financially strapped family ate when she was young. “There are powerful emotions behind why we eat what we eat,” she said in an interview.

In “The Longest Mile,” Willis recalls the humiliation of being unable to run a mile during PE class in middle school. “I wasn’t slow / I was just fat.” Obesity is fueling the spread of Type 2 diabetes, and Willis knows she’s at high risk for the disease.

by luck I escaped type 1

i feel like I’m always

1 soda away from type 2

that’s like dodging a bullet

and committing suicide with a gun

in my kitchen

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which is related to lifestyle choices and obesity, Type 1 diabetes typically develops in early childhood and is believed to be the result of genetic factors and environmental triggers, including viruses.

Over the past decade, rates of Type 2 diabetes have tripled among Native Americans, doubled among African-Americans and increased by as much as 50 percent in the Asian, Pacific Islander and Hispanic populations, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re at the tipping point in this disease,” said Dr. Dean Schillinger, a professor of medicine at UCSF and director of health communications at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, who co-created the Bigger Picture campaign. “The trajectory is very scary and the rate of increase, particularly in youth of color, is exponential.”

In a recent JAMA paper featuring the new videos, he stressed the importance of shifting the way diabetes is characterized in public health education.

“The overarching objective is to change the conversation about diabetes away from it being an individual ‘shame and blame’ message to approaching it as a societal problem,” Schillinger said.

Video Courtesy of Youth Speaks


In another video, “Empty Plate,” Anthony “Joker” Orosco, a 20-year old Chicano poet, depicts his farmworker relatives who can’t afford to buy the produce they pick.

Backs breaking bones aching Harvesting healthy fruits and veggies Acre by acre, The bounty of California’s breadbasket That almost never blessed the tables of farmero families,

Orosco, who grew up in Stockton, a city in California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley, said he was inspired to honor the hard work of immigrants who sacrificed for his generation.

Low-income people often struggle to buy fresh vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods, because those choices are more expensive than the sugary, fat-laden processed foods widely available in many poor neighborhoods. In a 2013 study, researchers at Harvard and Brown universities found that a healthful diet costs about $550 a year more per person than an unhealthy one.

Schillinger said that, based on his earlier experience with the AIDS epidemic and anti-tobacco campaigns, he believes there needs to be a “groundswell of grass-roots activism” if the course of Type 2 diabetes is to be reversed.

“A young person getting diabetes is an injustice, and so the campaign features young people who are targets of diabetes risk but are now becoming agents of change,” he said.

In “Monster,” Rose Bergmann, 17, and Liliana Perez, 16, talk about fathers who relied on sugar-packed energy drinks to work double shifts to support their families.

52 grams [of sugar] from the can keep his eyes open

Sugar creating their own hands around his throat

The industry that makes sweetened drinks has taken notice. “We do agree that people need to manage their sugar intake,” said Lauren Kane, senior director of communications for the American Beverage Association in Washington, D.C. She said beverage makers are “aggressively working to innovate to offer more products with less sugar … and to create interest in access to those beverages.”

McDonald’s has also recently announced new nutritional standards to reduce the number of calories in its Happy Meals, which are marketed to children.

Los Angeles poet Edgar Tumbokon, 19, said nutritious food did not play a big role in his childhood. “I grew up in a food desert surrounded by a culture and kids who loved to eat junk food,” he said. “Eating healthy was considered ‘a white thing.’”

Tumbokon, who weighed 13 pounds at birth, said his poem, “Big Boy,” was inspired by his immigrant Filipino mother, who developed gestational diabetes, which now afflicts 1 in 11 pregnant women. He grew up watching her test her blood sugar and inject herself with insulin.

To know that my nativity wasn’t only

Stretch marks and sleepless nights

It was Coca-Cola cravings and chocolate sundaes

Kanye’s running for president — and his platform has a lot of God in it

Kanye’s running for president — and his platform has a lot of God in it

 

 

Kanye West answers questions from pastor Joel Osteen during a service at Lakewood Church, in Houston, on Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Kanye West is running for president, and he believes God told him to do it.

That’s according to a recent interview West conducted with Forbes magazine, in which he discussed his newly announced bid to win the White House as an independent candidate.

It may be the first time the multiple Grammy-winning rapper has run for office, but it’s hardly his first foray into presidential politics. West made headlines in 2005 when he criticized then-President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina by declaring that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” a moment Bush himself later categorized as a low point of his presidency. Although West performed at one of President Barack Obama’s inaugural balls, Obama was caught on a hot mic criticizing the performer and calling him a “jackass,” sparking low-grade tensions between the two. And more recently, West has garnered widespread attention for his persistent support of President Donald Trump.

West is also no stranger to matters of faith: In addition to releasing the religion-themed album “Jesus Is King” in October 2019, West staged several “Sunday Services” throughout the country last year that featured gospel hymns alongside rap music.

“I love Jesus Christ. I love Christianity,” West said last year.

But in his interview with Forbes, West — who said that he has never voted before, and has yet to take any formal steps to get his name on ballots come November — hinted that his fledgling presidential run may be his most overt fusion of faith and politics yet, with religion impacting everything from his decision to run to his views on vaccines.

Like many candidates before him, West believes God played a role in his decision to run for president.

Asked about his presidential run, West told Forbes that “God just gave me the clarity and said it’s time.”

Such a claim is not unusual among presidential candidates. In 2012, Republican presidential hopefuls Michele BachmannHerman Cain and Rick Perry all reportedly suggested God called on them to seek the highest office in the land.

West also said he believes God “appoints” the president, a view shared by many conservative Christian supporters of Trump, such as Paula White, the special adviser to the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative at the Office of Public Liaison.

“Let’s see if the appointing is at 2020 or if it’s 2024 — because God appoints the president,” West told Forbes. “If I win in 2020 then it was God’s appointment. If I win in 2024 then that was God’s appointment.”

Kanye West speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House with President Donald Trump, in Washington, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

West no longer supports Trump but said he approves of the president’s interactions with religion and is calling for “God in all schools.”

West has been a public supporter of Trump but told Forbes he no longer backs the president, saying, “It looks like one big mess to me.” West also called on both Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, to “bow out,” saying, “It’s God’s country, we are doing everything in service to God, nobody but God no more. I am in service of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and I put everything I get on the line to serve God.”

However, West did praise Trump’s faith affiliations when explaining why he supported the president in the first place: “Trump is the closest president we’ve had in years to allowing God to still be part of the conversation.”

West also reflected a view regarding prayer in schools that is popular among conservative Christians, insisting God be brought back into classrooms.

“Reinstate in God’s state, in God’s country, the fear and love of God in all schools and organizations and you chill the fear and love of everything else. So that was a plan by the Devil — to have our kids committing suicide at an all-time high by removing God, to have murders in Chicago at an all-time high because the human beings working for the Devil removed God and prayer from the schools. That means more drugs, more murders, more suicide.”

His running mate is a “biblical life coach.”

West’s running mate is reportedly Michelle Tidball, who describes herself as a “biblical life coach.” She lives in Cody, Wyoming — near where West owns a ranch — and runs Abundant Ministries, which features an online Bible study program. On her website’s biography page, she declares “I pursue God! … Being raised in the church I loved God, encountered Him, but wanted to know more.”

West believes prayer is needed to solve the coronavirus crisis, but he says vaccines may be connected to “the mark of the beast.”

When asked about a coronavirus cure during the Forbes interview, West responded by saying: “We pray. We pray for the freedom. It’s all about God. We need to stop doing things that make God mad.”

Regarding vaccines, West said he is “extremely cautious” about inoculations to protect against the novel coronavirus. He seemed to connect vaccines to “the mark of the beast,” a reference to one of two beasts in the biblical book of Revelation that many Christians believe are associated with the end times. He then referenced what appeared to be a debunked conspiracy theory that Bill Gates and others want to put microchips in people to track their movements.

West went on to suggest that such efforts could bar people from ascending to heaven.

“They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven,” West said. “I’m sorry when I say they, the humans that have the Devil inside them. And the sad thing is that, the saddest thing is that we all won’t make it to heaven, that there’ll be some of us that do not make it. Next question.”

Kanye West performs with Kid Cudi at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 20, 2019, in Indio, California. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

West says his faith informs his opposition to abortion and the death penalty.

When it comes to abortion rights and capital punishment, West takes a stance that would put him at odds with both major parties — but perfectly in line with his faith, he said.

On abortion, West says he is “pro-life because I’m following the word of the Bible.” It’s a common belief: While not universal, faith-based opposition to abortion is widespread, especially among conservative Christians who attend events such as the massive March for Life gathering that occurs in Washington, D.C., every year.

West also cited his faith when discussing capital punishment, saying: “Thou shalt not kill. I’m against the death penalty.”

That puts him in line with rising opposition to the death penalty, especially among Democrats. However, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, a majority of Republicans still support the death penalty. More than half (58%) opted for the death penalty rather than life in prison (38%), whereas Democrats overwhelmingly backed life sentences (79%) instead of the death penalty (19%).

West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, has repeatedly advocated on behalf of death row inmates, and she celebrated California’s decision to end the use of the death penalty in 2019. Kanye West has also put on religiously themed performances at jailhouses that were described as “part rap concert, part revival meeting.”

In addition, the sentiment echoes one of West’s most recent tracks — the faith-themed “Wash Us in the Blood,” released in late June. The song features an interlude from fellow rapper Travis Scott in which he declares “Execution, thirty states / Thirty states still execute / Thou shall not kill, I shall not spill, Nextels at the rendezvous.”

As for tax policies, West told Forbes he needed to do more research on the subject, but would speak with “the strongest experts that serve God and come back with the best solution.”

West suggested prayer and piety can help heal racial divisions.

When asked about racism and the recent demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, West reportedly broke into rhyme, saying, “Well, God has already started the healing/This conversation alone is healing and revealing/We all need to start praying and kneeling … ”

He added: “When a rhyme comes together I’m going to complete it, not inside the lines created by organizations that we know as our reality.”

Musician Kanye West headlined a “Sunday Service” performance on a specially made hilltop stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, in Indio, California. Video screenshot

‘I Am Restored’

‘I Am Restored’

Video Courtesy of Lecrae


Fighting through a dark season in your life where you find yourself depressed and at times filled with debilitating sadness is challenging enough for the average person. But it’s hard to imagine what that’s like for those in the public eye, living under social media scrutiny. In his latest book, I am Restored: How I Lost My Religion, but Found My Faith, Lecrae reveals a maturity in his faith after navigating through the uglier side of politics and Christianity, being a celebrity, a Black man, and a believer.

It’s part of a series of initiatives in 2020 focused on his personal restoration as well as serving as a catalyst for others in his faith, the music industry, and within popular culture. In May 2020, he released “Set me Free” featuring YK Osiris, the first track from his forthcoming ninth album, “Restoration.” A documentary about his life also will be coming out this summer.

Lecrae’s journey toward restoration began in his first book, Unashamed, where he didn’t hold back in talking about what he’s been through on his road to salvation—from drugs and abuse to rehab and even suicide.

I recently spoke to Lecrae about restoration issues of race, practical steps for dealing with depression and dark seasons, and how he’ll raise his kids in the faith.

Shari Noland: The full title of your book is I am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith. It’s a provocative title. Can you explain the distinction you’re making between religion and faith?

Lecrae: I would define religion as working to earn God’s love and God’s affirmation, and faith being operating out of already having God’s love and affirmation. So, for me, it was understanding the difference between my devotion to God and God’s devotion to me.

Shari Noland: You spent some time traveling to Biblical places and being rebaptized. How did your travel to those biblical places influence your perspective on your faith?

Lecrae: Yeah, it was pretty intense. I think it’s almost like when my wife was pregnant, I knew there was a child coming, but I hadn’t seen the child. So, there’s a belief—there’s even ultrasounds—which is like I’m reading the Bible. I can get an idea, but it was just different once I saw the actual child. Similarly, it was like I knew these places existed, I knew God was real, but then just being there and then you see the evidence and you see the places that are written about was really mind blowing and just reinvigorated my faith on a different level.

Shari Noland: Do you have any thoughts about Black Jesus vs. White Jesus?

Lecrae: I actually do. If I’m being completely honest, that’s what a large portion of what my book talks about. I ended up in a dark season because of a lot of issues with race in the church. I had to wrestle with how my faith and my Blackness work together. And it wasn’t until I went to Egypt and I realized that we in America have a very Western perspective on the Bible and on God, and that’s okay. I mean, we’re from the West, so we should. However, it’s not always accurate. And I think because in the West, we’ve seen so many depictions of angels as white of Jesus as white, of the disciples as white, sometimes when you see the issues with race in America, that can help create problems within your faith. So, because you’re seeing issues of race or issues with your white brothers and sisters that are frustrating to you, you now begin to wrestle with your faith because it’s like, “Well, God, is this how you are?”

The only other example I can give is that I didn’t grow up with my father in my life. Older men were very abusive, and so for me to consider God being a father was just strange to me. I just couldn’t reconcile it in my mind for a long time. And long story short, I had to understand that. Yes, Jesus came to this earth and He dwelt in a human body, but He does transcend race.

But at the end of the day, your race and your ethnicity matters. There’s beauty in our diversity, and we should embrace that and accept that. Obviously, Jesus is not a white man. He isn’t from Europe, He’s a Palestinian Jew. He’s not an African American. He’s not an African man, but he’s a Palestinian Jew. He’s a person of color. And if that makes a difference to you, awesome. But ultimately, what should make a difference is what He did for you on the cross and how He lived. And that’s what we should pledge allegiance to more than His ethnic identity.

Shari Noland: You’ve mentioned that your grandmother took you to church at an early age. Given what you’ve been through in your life, how will you raise your children in the faith?

Lecrae: My grandmother was very traditional—so there wasn’t quite the children’s ministry. I didn’t really participate in any kind of youth programs or anything like that. It was just sitting in there and hearing her and some of her congregation on the organ. That was my church experience.

A lot of my grandmother’s children walked away from the faith because there were just way too many rules. They weren’t allowed to wear pants or lipstick. There’s so many rules in order to earn God’s love, so to speak. And she’s since changed a lot.

But I think, for me, I want to make sure my kids understand that there’s nothing they can do to make God love them any more or any less and that you live in light of love instead of trying to earn love. I wouldn’t want them to try to earn my love. I’d want them to just understand that daddy loves you and you don’t have to earn it. But because daddy loves you, that may change some of the decisions you make and change some of the actions that you take in life. And I hope they treat God the same way.


Video Courtesy of Lecrae


Shari Noland: What are your conversations like with God when you’re going through the creative process?

Lecrae: A practical step that I think for me, in my time of prayer or meditation, is that I remind myself that He’s present. The Psalms say that He’s the shade at your right hand. So I’m reminded He’s as close to me as my right hand is from me. So, I can talk to Him like a father. I can talk to Him in a way that my kids would talk to me. I don’t have to come to Him with these verbose wordings. If my kids came up to me and said, “Oh, mighty father, may I please go outside?” I’d say, “Well, why are you talking to me like that?” So, I just talk with God, and I say, “Dad, I’m struggling, and I’m wrestling with some of these things. Can you help me with this or with that?” And that changes the dynamic. He becomes close and present, versus being far and unapproachable.

Shari Noland: With the book, album, and documentary, how are you hoping to impact people? What messages do you want them to take from your initiatives?

Lecrae: For me, it’s being very transparent, very vulnerable. So, I show a lot of my scars, and hopefully, by showing off my scars, other people can realize that their wounds can be healed. So, I go in depth, I talk about my marital struggles, my career struggles, personality struggles, identity, politics, race, all those things that feed into our regular lives. I think sometimes people just say, “I’ll just pray, and it’ll be okay.” And prayer’s definitely a part of it, but there’s some action steps and there’s some struggles that people just don’t want to talk about. I want folks to find freedom by seeing how I’ve struggled through those things.

Shari Noland: In Unashamed you wrote, “If you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” and you often have said that these are words by which you live. Why?

Lecrae: Because that’s something I struggle with. Sometimes we get caught in this mindset of living for the acceptance of other people, and that’ll carry you into your ideas about God, as well. You get so wrapped up in trying to be what other people want you to be instead of being who you were created to be. And for myself, I’ve done that for a large portion of my life and my career. Oftentimes, people build you up in order to tear you down. So if you’re just trying to earn everyone else’s approval, at some point in time when they don’t approve of you or when they don’t agree with you, then you’ll be devastated. I want to free people from that thought process.

Shari Noland: Yeah, it’s hard sometimes not to crave acceptance from people. And I see what you’re saying about being true to yourself. But, practically speaking, how can people keep strong and do that?

Lecrae: We live in a comparison culture, so it’s fighting the temptation to compare yourself to other people. We all have our own races to run, so run your race as best as you can. I believe that success isn’t what I do compared to other people, success is what I do compared to what I was created to do. If I’m constantly looking over my shoulder at how everyone else is running and their success or their form, their stride, then I will not pay attention to my own self and my own abilities. So, that’s what I want people to just try to do as much as possible. It’s going to be a lifelong battle. It won’t happen overnight.

Shari Noland: Can you share a few pieces of advice with us? Maybe give a little tidbit of what’s in your book?

Lecrae: I think one is being vulnerable and transparent as far as your mistakes are concerned, as far as your shortcomings are concerned, with a close circle of friends. That’s been one of my steps in terms of getting past things. In terms of wrestling through issues of race or politics, I understand that I don’t have to find a tribe. The tribe that I belong to is God. So, there’s going to be moments in your life where you’re not going to fit in or you’re not going to agree, and that’s okay. It’s accepting that it’s okay and learning how to disagree with people but love them in the process and being okay with other people not agreeing with you and your decisions. So, I think those are some practical pieces of advice or proverbial wisdom that I try to give people.

Shari Noland: You’ve talked about the bouts of depression you’ve had and how God restored you from them. What advice might you give people who are going through similar struggles?

Lecrae: I think one is helping people understand that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be in seasons of blue and seasons of darkness. The Bible says, “We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” So one, you’re walking through it, you’re not living in it. And then, it’s the valley of the shadow of death. So shadows are only cast when there’s light present. So, there’s always going to be light in the midst of the shadows.

I want people to know that it’s okay, to feel lesser than or feel strange or not feel like you’ve got to perk up. Embrace that moment. Sometimes we need to grieve.

And then, also there are some mental health or brain health components that are different. Some of what I experienced was different. It wasn’t just a sadness or a grief. It was a serious bout with depression. And when it comes to that, I’m a big advocate of medication, meditation, and mediation. Those three things shouldn’t be frowned upon. If you need medication, then take it. If you need mediation, which is a counselor, then take it. And meditation—spending time clearing your mind and spending time with being present and around Godly presence.

Shari Noland: What was the turning point that made you realize that you needed help beyond what you were doing on your own?

Lecrae: I mean, the basic analogy that I think people use all the time is the guy who’s praying. He’s drowning and he’s like, “God send me some help.” And a helicopter passes, and he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And a boat passes, he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And then, someone throws him a rope, he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And he ends up dying and he goes to heaven and he says, “God, where were you?” And God says, “Man, I sent you a boat, a plane, and a rope, you didn’t take it.”

Similarly, I think oftentimes we think, “Oh, I’m just going to pray it away, I’m going to pray it away,” and we don’t realize, “No, no, no, no, no. God is furnishing you with these options to give you the help that you need.” And so, that is a means of God’s grace and His goodness, and that’s what I felt about Him and how other people should feel. The goal is to be healthy. That’s it. That’s the goal. And if God is giving you a means to be healthy, then take it.


Photo on UrbanFaith.com home page courtesy of Alex Harper