On President Obama’s second inauguration, noted pastoral iconoclast Mark Driscoll tweeted the following, to a reception of thousands of retweets: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church (Photo courtesy of MarsHill.com)
It may seem like a bit of an exaggeration to refer to Driscoll as an iconoclast, but I can’t think of a better descriptor for his brand of cultural engagement, particularly when aimed at those he sees as liberal.
See, the literal definition of iconoclast is, according to Professor Google, “a destroyer of images used in worship.” Which seems like an odd pastime for a pastor, really. When I ponder this definition, my mind conjures up a performance artist in the middle of church, swinging a sledgehammer at a bowl of communion grapes. Like the evangelical equivalent of Gallagher at a farmer’s market, he gleefully causes a tremendous spectacle, and seems to enjoy the mess he’s making in the process.
So when you think of someone who seems to derive enjoyment from tweaking the tenets of leftist Christian socially-acceptable orthodoxy, is there anyone else who comes to mind more than Mark Driscoll? Probably not.
After all, this is the same guy who used his bully pulpit to mock effeminate male worship leaders and decry the eviloccult influence in Avatar and the Twilight films. And despite the respect I have for Driscoll for the latter, I can’t get over my palpable sense of disgust over the former. Being a worship leader by heart and by trade, I take special offense at the idea that being sensitive is the same thing as being effeminate. Hasn’t this guy read the Psalms?
Given his well-documented misdeeds on social media, perhaps “iconoclast” is no longer the best term to describe Mark Driscoll and his brash, in-your-face style. Maybe we should just call him what we would call anyone else on the internet who intentionally does this – a troll.
See, trolls are internet citizens who intentionally say outlandish things to provoke arguments because it delights them to see so many people upset by the things they say. I’m not in Driscoll’s head and I truly don’t know what motivates him to say the things he does, but with this latest tweet, Driscoll seems to be joining the ranks of political trolls like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. And that distresses me greatly.
I’m distressed because it’s clear Driscoll didn’t consider the unintended consequences of the tweet before he sent it out. It’s possible that this was his misguided attempt at trying to hold the President accountable for the theological implications of some of his policy decisions. If so, Driscoll would probably be shocked to realize just how ignorant and racist his words appeared, and that by so openly casting doubt on the authenticity of our president’s Christianity, he unwittingly allied himself with birth certificate conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers, and the sign-waving congregants of Westboro Baptist. Part of the cost of restricting your argument to 140 characters is the way it can be open to interpretation. Even in the best light, that one didn’t do him any favors.
Even more so, actually, I’m distressed because of the partial truths therein. There are legitimate reasons to question President Obama’s theological beliefs. After all, none of his advanced degrees are in divinity. He’s the Commander-In-Chief, not the Theologian-In-Chief. He could be wrong about some things. His stances on abortion and/or gay marriage can be considered by some as antithetical to some of the Bible’s more relevant passages on those subjects.
But even if that’s true, it was still a bad idea to be so cavalier about it. By tweeting in such a blatantly antagonistic manner, Mark Driscoll unintentionally justified the prevalent atheist and agnostic liberal contempt with all things related to God and the church, because most liberals were taught by experience that being a Christian is synonymous with being a harsh, unloving, hypocritical blowhard. That lie, obviously false to anyone who’s had a life-altering salvation experience with Jesus in the context of authentic Christian community, receives another veneer of legitimacy with every time something like that is said.
And the thing is, Mark Driscoll should know that. He probably does know that, actually, and probably just let his emotions get the best of him. It happens to the best of us.
But what distresses me the most about all of this is that his tweet was retweeted over three thousand times, probably by people who feel the same way. How many of those people have non-Christians among their Twitter followers? How much damage was done to the credibility of the local church because of one celebrity pastor’s flippant judgment?
Such tweets tend to be less about engaging others who feel differently than they are about rallying people to your side who already agree. In politics, as in sport, few things are more effective at firing up your support base than thumbing your nose at the competition.
But the end result is a mess of unintended consequences. The people who need to see us at our best, end up seeing us at our worst. Our unsaved neighbors – or even worse, our brothers and sisters in Christ — become our enemies. This is how churches become beholden more political objectives than gospel objectives. This is how culture wars are waged.
So people, use more care when tweeting your political dissent. It’s important to take a stand on the issues that matter to you and your church, but bear in mind that recklessly upsetting people off is a poor way to transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the ecumenical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water, then bashing that baby against a rock.
I’m sorry, was that too strong a metaphor? I was just looking for a psalm reference that Mark Driscoll wouldn’t think was effeminate.
UrbanFaith.com earned honors in three categories at the 2012 Evangelical Press Association Convention in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The convention was hosted at the Focus on the Family campus, May 9-11.
UF won fourth place in the General Article (medium length) category in the Higher Goals Contest for the submission “Is LeBron the NBA’s Samson?” by Jelani Greenidge. We also won a fourth-place award in the Devotional category for the article “Forgiving Kim Jong-Il” by Helen Lee.
Finally, UrbanFaith earned the top honor in the Awards of Excellence for General Digital Media. This is the EPA’s highest award for general websites. Here’s what the judge had to say about us: “This site simply stands out. Its story selection, writing, and focus on being current gives it the edge over all the other entries.”
The Evangelical Press Association is a professional organization of some 300 Christian magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and content-rich websites in North America. The annual convention in May brings together evangelical journalists, writers, and other media-related professionals for a time of training, networking and encouragement. Each year at the convention awards are given out in various categories.
UrbanFaith is grateful to the EPA for these honors, and we look forward to faithfully pursuing another year of journalistic excellence.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO KEY AND PEELE: Beyond being funny, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele's irreverent comedy shines a light of truth on African American life.
In Part 1, we examined the connection between Comedy Central’s Key & Peele and the tension that Black men feel between being accepted by society and being true to one’s self.
Here in Part 2, we’re going to take a look at several Key & Peele sketches, get at some of the underlying issues behind the comedy, and see what biblical truths can be applied to them, particularly as they relate to the lives of young men like Trayvon Martin.
(Before I go any further, a DISCLAIMER: Key & Peele is rated TV-14, and while there are very few sexual references, there is a fair amount of profanity, albeit mostly bleeped out. As always, use discretion when viewing clips. You don’t want your 5-year-old repeating this stuff — or your 45-year-old boss, for that matter.)
(Also, let me say this for the record — despite the adult content, I think each of these sketches is absolutely hilarious. No, they’re not for children. But they’re funny nonetheless. In the following paragraphs I do a lot of cultural exegesis, breaking down the principles behind the humor. But never let it be said I don’t think it’s funny.)
“Yo Mama Has Health Problems,” is a depiction of a doctor with an Indian accent, trying to give a consultation to a younger Black guy with his posse standing behind. Every time the doctor tries to engage the guy in conversation about his mother’s failing health, dude has some juvenile comeback with which to delight his friends. Riffing on the classic pastime of playing the dozens, this sketch demonstrates the communication breakdown that happens to people with misplaced expectations and different cultural traditions.
The brilliance of the sketch is in its metaphysics — that it’s one long joke about people joking with another. The twist at the end is when the doctor figures out how to play along, and does so — with shockingly inappropriate results.
This sketch makes you laugh and cringe — often at the same time — because few things are more destructive to a relationship than a failed attempt at humor. This is not to say that we shouldn’t joke around with one another, but rather, we should understand how and when to do it. Gilbert Arenas had to learn this the hard way — there are times when jokes are not an appropriate way to make a point. After all, there’s a reason why, in Proverbs 26:18-19, careless jokesters are compared to arsonists.
What’s especially poignant is, a few minutes in when Jordan Peele’s wisecracking character lets down his guard, his acknowledgement rings true. Many people, Black White or otherwise, use humor as a coping mechanism. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is in context. When others around us take their cues from our sketchy behavior, that creates misunderstandings of epic proportions. If those misunderstandings are propagated long enough, you end up with people resorting to smartphone apps to see if they’re allowed to say the n-word.
If we as Black folks want to help edify and build up others outside of our culture, it’s going to require, at times, that we rein in our sense of humor. Not mortally cripple it, just put some good boundaries around it. Otherwise we’ll continue to have tragic episodes of miscommunication, and the net result will be fewer people willing to take the risk of a potential offense for the sake of gaining greater clarity and perspective from someone outside their cultural context.
Given our nation’s overall racial divide, it’s clear that we as Christians need to share as much perspective and gain as much clarity as possible. It’s just one way to help our nation avoid more Trayvon-like incidents.
In the book of Acts, there is a profound story regarding Peter, a leader in the early church, and a vision he has regarding a blanket of food that the Lord told him was no longer considered to be unclean. Space constraints don’t permit me to fully break this down, but that vision leads Peter down a path of greater love and acceptance for outsiders.
This sketch reminds me of that story, except that the cultural model is inverted. Instead of ethnic-specific foods being outlawed, they’re actually preferred. And rather than exclude each other, we see Jordan and Keegan trying to outdo one another, proving their in-group status by ordering more and more “authentic” soul food, which comically regresses into more bizarre and less-edible fare.
There are many underlying truths in this sketch. The obvious one is that men are often hypercompetitive, and African American men are no exception. Another is that soul food, while an important component of African American culture, sometimes lacks in nutritional value.
This makes sense if you factor in the role slavery had in restricting the culinary habits of Black people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Blacks rarely had access to choice cuts of meat, so had to adapt by eating the parts of animals that their White masters found undesirable.
Indeed, it seems as though ingenuity as a survival instinct has become a defining characteristic for African Americans; the history of hip-hop, for example, is full of people who took undesirable, marginal or forgotten elements of music and turned them into something original and innovative (graffiti, turntable scratching, sampling, etc.).
The downside, though, is that just because something is culturally authentic doesn’t make it good. It’s no wonder that a people who were subjugated and dehumanized for centuries might internalize behavioral ways of coping that are less than truly healthy. This dynamic is what is satirized by K&P by the pursuit of food that sounds less than edible.
My favorite moment of the “Soul Food” sketch is at the end, where Keegan says, in response to the server’s offer of gravy: “What’s a cellar door without gravy? It’s not food.”
Isaiah 55:1-2 calls out to people in this situation, who find themselves grabbing plate after plate of stuff that isn’t really food. Isaiah proclaims the compassion of the Lord, who wants His people to be satisfied with goodness and settle for nothing less.
Rather than chasing only what is culturally authentic, as Christians we should chase after what is anointed and Godly. Rather than competing for cultural acceptance, we should be spurring each other on toward love and good behavior, worrying less of what others think than of what the Lord thinks. That’s true for Black men, yes, but it’s true for everybody.
* * *
So now, in two of these K&P sketches, we’ve seen several aspects of Black masculinity on display, and identified a few solutions that can help our young Black men continue to develop and make the world a better place for all the other Trayvons out there.
But what about our relationships with women? There seems to be issues at play that affect our interactions with each other and with the opposite sex. Whether male or female, this is something worth paying attention to.
So make sure to check out Part 3 of this series, where we delve into the final sketch of our sample.
A DISTINGUISHED BREAKTHROUGH?: Will this man, Lamar Hurd, become the first Black "Bachelor" on ABC's popular reality show?
When I stumbled upon the news that Lamar Hurd launched a campaign to become the first Black man cast on ABC’s The Bachelor, I sighed and shook my head.
Let me say this up front: I hold no ill will toward Lamar Hurd. A late-20s sportscaster based out of my hometown of Portland, Hurd is the type of guy I should have no problem finding likeable. He was a standout ballplayer at Oregon State, and went on to play pro ball overseas for a year before returning to build a career in broadcasting.
So what I want for him is the same thing I want for me, my loved ones, and really for all people in general — to have lives of significance, spent in the pursuit of our God-given purposes, developing meaningful relationships along the way. According to a recent interview, his faith is an important part of his life, so I think that he probably wants the same thing for himself.
Which is why I hope he changes his mind and stops trying to get on that show.
Because 20 years from now, I don’t think being the first Black guy on The Bachelor is something he’ll look back on with much pride or accomplishment. Even if we ignore the lawsuit that two other African American applicants filed decrying The Bachelor’s lack of diversity, the political or cultural implications of achieving diversity goals via class action litigation in general, and how it might negatively impact Hurd if he’s cast as a result of public pressure to fulfill a quota … even if we ignore all of that … it’s still a bad idea.
Not that I don’t understand the allure, though.
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I understand the whole First Black Guy thing. My dad was the First Black Guy in his region to take a full-time staff role at a particular faith-based nonprofit. I was among the first few Black guys to graduate my elite private high school. There is a certain element of privilege at being able to break through a perceived color barrier, which is part of the reason why President Obama will always occupy a special place in history, regardless of the efficacy of his political legacy.
But we’re not talking about politics, or academics, or even sports. No, Lamar, we’re talking about reality television.
(Can I call you “Lamar?”)
This is the genre that made household names out of Kato Kaelin, Omarosa, and Jon Gosselin. Is this really the venue where you want to establish your reputation, a show where the male protagonist is encouraged to sample ladies like hors d’oeuvres at the supermarket? It’s not exactly consistent with the kind of sterling character and integrity that you spotlight in your campaign video below.
C’mon, Lamar. Not only does this have the potential to make you look bad, but seriously … do you really want to select a wife from a pool of women who are incentivized to actively compete for your attention? When the woman in Proverbs 31 is mentioned as being shrewd in the marketplace, she’s supposed to be the seller, not the product on display.
Plus, even if we assume that you and your prospective wife both succeed in participating in the show without degrading yourselves — a long shot, to be sure — it’s still no way to prepare for a long, committed, prosperous marriage. Because anytime she disappoints you by not living up to your expectations, you’ll be tempted to compare her to one of the other dozen ladies who caught your eye before, and think, “Shoot, I should have picked her instead.”
If you’re really serious about your faith, then put more of it in God than in a reality TV show. You may be surprised by how well He can meet your deepest needs and desires, even those you’re not aware of.
Or, if you prefer, think about this like a basketball player. Do some scouting. Research the last ten guys cast as The Bachelor. Find out how many of those guys are still dating or married to the woman they selected. Then ask yourself if this show will get you the best, highest-percentage shot at a successful marriage.
And if none of that works … just hit me up, bro. I know a few ladies who could be a good fit for you. I don’t know if they share any of your likes or dislikes, but I know they have more sense than to audition for The Bachelor.
DOUBLE DOSE: Comedy Central stars Michael Key and Jordan Peele bring racial stereotypes into focus by addressing them head on.
Fans of racially themed sketch comedy had been relegated to watching reruns of Chappelle’s Show and In Living Color until last February when Comedy Central unveiled their latest breakout hit,Key & Peele.
Featuring biracial comedians (and Mad TV alumni) Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Key & Peele‘s thematic M.O. is to dive deep into the racial ambiguity and complexity of modern pop culture, mine for nuggets of truth, and then exaggerate them into overdrive. The result is a peculiar kind of inspired silliness that is not quite as crass as Chappelle’s Show or as mean spirited as The Boondocks, but that still works as effective satire.
The show maintains a broad enough appeal to hit on other topics (like this bit on reality chef competitions), but the core of the show is still in racial issues. Because their biracial identities form the basis of the comedy, many of the vignette premises involve the convergence of Black and White stereotypes and cultural mannerisms (like this short bit with mic checks). And the funniest and most effective sketches are those where Keegan and Jordan find themselves temporarily ditching their mainstream, respectable personas in order to demonstrate how authentically Black they are — which usually means subtly, gradually, and outrageously outdoing each other. Whether they’re in a dramatic stage production, in a restaurant ordering soul food, or even just walking down the street, the results are usually hilarious.
What sketches like these tend to illustrate, though, is the dichotomous tension that a lot of African American men tend to feel, one that’s heightened for those of mixed-race heritage like Key and Peele. People use different words to express it, but it’s essentially still the same struggle — the meek, acceptable, responsible Black man versus the militant, flamboyant, outspoken Black man. Sellout versus Soldier. Punk versus Player.
(Back in the day, it might have been Martin vs. Malcolm, but now it’s just as much Barack versus Luther, the presidential anger translator. Apparently K&P nailed this dynamic so well that even President Obama himself thinks it good.)
But whether spoken or unspoken, as Black men we tend to feel trapped between those two extremes. We want to handle our business and rise to the highest echelons of success, but we don’t want to forget where we came from. We want to have nice things and inhabit nice spaces, but we don’t want to abandon our cultural identity, one that has roots in turmoil and struggle.
And this tension is a major component of the outrage over the Trayvon Martin case. After all, Trayvon died in an upscale neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. And he died wearing a hoodie. Obviously, the hoodie is nowhere near an exclusively Black piece of apparel. These days, everyone wears them, from high school students to upscale retirees. You can buy suit jackets with hoodies, for crying out loud. So the underlying question that the Trayvon Martin case brings up (after the obvious one of “why did it take so long to arrest Zimmerman?”) is why is an African American teenager in a hoodie automatically considered a threat?
BENEATH THE HOOD: Trayvon Martin's hoodie spoke to the tension between repression and authenticity embodied by many Black men, and also satirized in Key and Peele's comedy.
Out of this tumble a Pandora’s Box of troubling questions that Black parents have been wrestling with for decades, all connected to young Black men and the presumption of class based on public appearance. There are the philosophical/theoretical questions like, is it best to be as conservative as possible or should we keep it as “real” as possible?Were Geraldo Rivera’s comments those of an out-of-touch bigot, or a compassionate pragmatist? And then there are the more practical, nuts-and-bolts types of questions. How can we tell what gang members are dressing like nowadays? Should we watch The Wire? Which trends are just stylish and which are thuggish? Does it matter which way a cap is tilted? What about certain colors or team logos? Does jewelry matter? Baggy pants, or saggy pants? What about skinny jeans that sag?
You’ll notice that the above question mainly ignored the obvious answer to the question of why Trayvon was considered a threat — centuries worth of institutionalized and internalized racism. This answer, while obvious, does little to help address the practical struggles of being — or raising — a young Black male today, to the lament of Black mothers everywhere.
As believers in Christ, some of the questions that should matter most are, “what does the Word say about this issue?” and “how can I apply it to my cultural context?” These are often hard questions to answer, and even harder to have healthy dialogue over, because of the seriousness and tension surrounding these issues. Sometimes, you just need to laugh a little bit before you can really engage.
Enter Key and Peele.
These two talented comedians have provided an ample supply of case studies into postmodern African American male culture. So let’s laugh, and let’s learn. Let’s look at the issues, and see what the Bible may have to say about it.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we look in-depth at several hilarious Key and Peele sketches, examine the underlying cultural issues at play, and then apply some biblical understanding.