Rihanna and Chris Brown’s Toxic Attraction

Rihanna and Chris Brown’s Toxic Attraction

GOOD GIRL GONE BAD BOY: Rihanna and Chris Brown perform during a 2008 concert. In 2009 Brown brutally assaulted Rihanna, his then girlfriend, on the eve of the Grammy Awards. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Newscom).

As a woman who is closer to 40 than to 30, I’m a bit annoyed at myself that I’m writing about R&B and pop sensations Chris Breezy, aka Chris Brown, and his kinda former girlfriend RiRi, aka Rihanna, who just celebrated her 24th birthday.

But as a woman who has loved wrong more than once and has lived to tell about it, I feel I ought to offer my thoughts in the frenzied Internet discourse that has erupted following the recent musical collaborations of the abuser and the victim of his abuse. In case you are not an Internet fiend as I am or don’t have the music of Chris Brown and Rihanna on your iPod playlist, let me update you.

On Monday, Rihanna’s birthday, she, without the official backing of her music label, released via Twitter a remix to her sadomasochistic song “Birthday Cake” which features Chris Brown on the vocals. On the very same day, Chris Brown tweeted his remix to his song “Turn Up the Music,” featuring Rihanna without the official backing of his label. This would be oh-so twenty-something cute if Chris Brown would have not have assaulted Rihanna right around this time of the year three years ago on the eve of the Grammy Awards. And if their music reunion is not enough, it has been reported that the two are seeing secretly seeing each other again and have been for some time.

But for Chris Brown and Rihanna fans, their reunion, whether in public or private or both, is probably not a complete surprise. Although a restraining order was filed against Brown following the assault, last year the restraining order was reduced per her request, and the two began following each other on Twitter as well. And in her 2010 collaboration with rapper Eminem in “Love the Way You Lie” Rihanna co-signs on the dichotomy of pleasure and pain in an abusive relationship.

So what does a woman hopefully old enough to know better make of all us? The sometimes repentant celebrity gossipmonger in me is like, “That’s so juicy!” And to get people talking (and buying) may be their ultimate goal in these collaborations. But I don’t think that is all there is to it.

The woman who knows what is it like to choose someone who is not good for you is dismayed to see a young girl go through this life lesson so very publicly. To be clear, lest my parents read this somehow, no man has never, evah, evah laid his hands on me. But I have dated men that I knew were not the best choices — in spite of what others may have thought.

I’m not a star and so I’m not obligated to spill all of the details of my missteps, but I will reveal this: until the pain is greater than the pleasure of dating the bad boy, there is very little that can be done. I just hope that those who love Rihanna will pray that she be released from the seemingly magnetic force that is attracting her to Chris Brown before he shows his bad side again.

And it is not the first time that Rihanna reunited with Chris Brown. In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Rihanna revealed why she went back to him AFTER the incident in February 2009. “It’s completely normal to go back. It’s not right. I learned the hard way, but again, this is what I want people to know,” she said. “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn’t be held responsible for going back.”

And it’s not that I think Chris Brown is the devil or anything, but he was wrong and more plainly horrifically abusive. And while three years have gone by since the altercation, I’m not sufficiently convinced that Brown is truly repentant for his actions or even fully aware of the gravity of those actions. In spite of the incident, I wanted to root for Chris Brown because he’s cute, can sing, and can dance like Michael Jackson. But his meltdown on Good Morning America, where he reportedly broke a window at the television studio, ripped off his shirt and walked the streets of New York like some escaped animal after being asked a question about the Rihanna incident did not convey maturity or anger management. (He was ordered to take anger management classes following the incident.)

The truth of the matter is sometimes it takes a few bumps on the head — literally and figuratively — and counseling before you finally and truly understand that love does not inflict harm. A thorough examination of 1 Corinthians 13 wouldn’t hurt either. Hopefully, Rihanna and other women — both young and old — will learn this lesson soon enough to celebrate more birthdays.

We Remember ‘Soul Train’

We Remember ‘Soul Train’

SOUL CONDUCTOR: Don Cornelius, dead at 75, transformed American culture with 'Soul Train.'

“Peace, Love, and Soul.”

That’s how he used to bid us adieu at the close of every show, that bespectacled man with the velvety voice and cool disposition. The apparent suicide death of Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius caught us all off guard, while immediately transporting us back to those more soulful days of yesteryear — pre-MTV days, when the music wasn’t just an afterthought but the main event.

We tuned into Soul Train each week to see our favorite soul and R&B stars, sometimes for the very first time. (The four sisters of Sister Sledge looked as cute as they sounded, and imagine my shock as a 6-year-old to discover that Elton John was white!) But we mostly showed up for the array of colorful dancers — to check out their moves, to see what they were wearing, and to imagine ourselves right there with them. We knew that if we didn’t see any other black images on TV all week, we could at least see ourselves on Soul Train every weekend. Don Cornelius, the radio-deejay-turned-television-impresario, gave that to us — a refuge for African American pride and empowerment disguised as a TV dance show.

In honor of Mr. Cornelius, we asked our UrbanFaith columnists and regular contributors to share their favorite memories of Soul Train. Check out their reflections below the video, and then share yours in the comments section. — Edward Gilbreath, editor

MEMORIES OF ‘SOUL TRAIN’

It was soon proven otherwise, but Don Cornelius through Soul Train, told me I was a good dancer. Every Saturday morning after cartoons went off, feeling like a grownup, I’d tune in to move to the music any kind of way just like the Soul Train dancers. Going down the Soul Train line, some of them looked so crazy. But at home, bounding through an imaginary line of people, so did I. Don Cornelius made it cool to love music enough to dance no matter what. By the time I came along, his ’fro wasn’t as big, but the cool he carried was bigger than life. And I felt just as hip rhythmlessly dancing with my own portion of soul. — DeVona Alleyne, staff editor and contributing writer

I am very saddened by the death of Don Cornelius, a black legend! Back in the ’70s and ’80s before the dominance MTV or BET, there were very few outlets to see my favorite R&B acts like Michael Jackson, New Edition, or DeBarge perform on television. Since my parents were pretty conservative at the time, I wasn’t allowed to watch Soul Train but as a lifelong R&B and pop culture aficionado, I found ways to watch this great show without “technically” breaking the rules. I wasn’t allowed to go inside of childhood friends’ homes either unless my parents knew their parents. I remember I had one friend who allowed me to literally sit on the pavement outside of her apartment. We would speak to each other through the open window, and if she happened to have Soul Train on the television behind her, who was I to say what she could watch inside her home? I remember that one light-skinned woman with extra long black hair that whipped around her body (pre-Willow Smith) as she danced on what seemed like nearly every episode for years! I couldn’t wait until I got a perm so I could whip my hair around like that! A towel wrapped around my head sufficed until I finally got a perm. I remember all of the fresh dance moves that would not be duplicated on American Bandstand, even though I was a fan of that show too. Simply put, there was nothing else like that show at that time, an oasis of black grooves and moves in a desert of white programming. RIP Don Cornelius …  Jacqueline J. Holness, contributing writer

I’ll never forget Soul Train, from the chugging train at the intro to the various incarnations of the Soul Train dancers.  Don Cornelius made this show an institution that definitely shaped the culture and gave us memorable performances on the stage and dance floor.
— Dr. Vincent Bacote, contributing editor

Being in a military family, every so often we’d get stuck in the boonies with no television we could relate to. When my dad got orders to a big urban city, we kids were ecstatic. It was my job to watch my younger siblings on Saturdays while my parents worked, and at the time when I announced SOUUULLL TRAINNNN is on, my brothers and sisters would run from outside like they’d lost their minds. Oh, and then the party was on. We bumped, spanked, wormed, or whatever the latest dance craze was, along with the hippest kids in America. If there had been just two or three more of us, we could have formed a Soul Train line right there in the living room. It grieves me to know that Don Cornelius couldn’t find another way; which serves to remind us that we must get the word out about the only One who can bring us out of our troubles, the only One Who can bring us out of the lies that Satan tells us when we see no way out. There is a world of hurting people who don’t really know Him. Someone needs to tell them. We need to tell them.
— Wanda Thomas Littles, contributing writer

Despite being a child of the late 70s and 80s, I didn’t have many actual experiences of watching Soul Train. Most of my memories regarding Soul Train were at various school dances and wedding receptions growing up, when folks would start up “the soul train line” and line up to cut a step. Most of the influence of Soul Train I witnessed were in derivative television shows (like Solid Gold), subtle homages (like when Theo and Cockroach fought over who was getting into Dance Mania) or actual parodies (like In Living Color‘s “Old Train” sketch). Still, I got a little misty when I got the news of Don Cornelius’ passing. No one will ever really replace him and what he meant to the black community. — Jelani Greenidge, columnist

As a girl growing up in small-town New Jersey in the 1970s, my primary exposure to black culture was Soul Train, and oh how I loved Soul Train! It was sandwiched between Saturday-morning cartoons and Saturday-afternoon roller derby on our television station. It never occurred to me that by introducing me to some of that era’s best music and most accomplished musicians, Don Cornelius was drawing me into a richly textured world that was not available to me then. I just knew I loved hearing his smoky voice and dancing to the sounds of soul. It saddens me deeply to learn that, like my son, this gifted man apparently died by suicide. I’m reminded that depression and despair don’t only visit the downtrodden, but even the most accomplished among us. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. — Christine A. Scheller, news & religion editor

I remember the Jackson 5 barely had enough room to dance on that stage. Fans could literally touch Marvin Gaye as he sang (and they did). You could feel the sweat dripping off of Barry White’s collar. This was Soul Train, Black America’s debutante ball. As a child it always felt RAW, like a grown-folks party that I could only watch from the stairs. It seemed fun enough, but in reality Soul Train was about rebellion: finding a way to create in the midst of the chaos of injustice. Black people were thrown into America’s basement, and Don Cornelius found a way to host a house party there every Saturday. It remains our challenge to find hope in the midst of great darkness; to dance when the forces of life threaten to steal all rhythm. And when I look at black music today — videos that portray the worst potentialities for our young men and women, dancing that has turned into “Sex Lite,” and artists that lack intimacy and authenticity — we need not ever forget Soul Train. The truth is, we need it back. Thank you Don Cornelius, from the little boy who watched your party from the stairs. — Julian DeShazier, contributing writer

Sitting in my parents’ living room, the back of my legs sticking to the plastic covering mom’s gold velvet couch, the funky music from the Jacksons, the Sylvers, and Joe Tex would blare from the black-and-white screen. I would fix my eyes on the Afro puffs, braids, wide brim hats and bellbottoms, imagining their psychedelic colors (mom and pops did eventually get a color TV) as they danced the funky chicken or the  robot. As Jermaine sang, they would be “movin, she’s groovin. Dancin’ until the music stops now, yeah” down the Soul Train line. My older sister and brothers would bust all the moves, blocking my view of the TV along the way. But back then, when you were the baby brother, you just kept quiet and thankful that they let you hang out with them on Saturday morning. We were raised in a 12th floor apartment in The Tilden Houses (The Projects) in Brownsville, Brooklyn (NY). Watching Soul Train was more than a temporary escape from what was immediately outside the door, down an elevator that often stuck, or the stairwell that was owned by depressed brothers and sisters high on dope. Soul Train was a weekly, encouraging dose of positive black life, of people who were happy, talented, and free. And they looked like me. Mr. Cornelius, you did a great thing, sir. I pray that your soul has found the peace that you wished for us all. Wil LaVeist, columnist

The Missing X Factor

The Missing X Factor

“That’s alright now, take your time …”

Those time-honored words have emanated from the pews of black churches in America for decades. They are often uttered by the congregation in response to what is being presented from the pulpit or the altar. Depending on the deliverer, the inflection of his voice, and the temperament and maturity of the one for whom the words are meant, the phrase can take on a couple of different definitions.

The first part — “That’s alright now” — can either be considered a show of affirmation (a sort of verbal cosign), or it can come as an encouraging, nonjudgmental admonishment.

The second part — “take your time” — can either be a plea for one to slow down so that the congregation can savor what is being offered or it could be a gentle nudge coaxing one to slow down and take corrective measures as they may indeed be heading in the wrong direction.

One part of the church service where these words are often heard is the music ministry. From the first note belted by their beloved black church soloist, parishioners can be heard heralding choruses of “that’s alright, nows” and “take your times,” reveling in the sweet spirit that the note is invoking. The phrase can also be heard when the children come forth to make a joyful noise that is sometimes as equally proportioned with noise as it is with joy. When a young soloist or instrumentalist comes to present their weekly or quarterly musical offering, their presentations are usually far from flawless. To these young pieces of artistic clay, the choruses of “that’s alright nows” and “take your times” are welcome words of encouragement.

The youngster is usually keenly aware that their offering isn’t the most polished or pristine, but after hearing those words they are encouraged to not only continue but to persevere and strive to get better. These youngsters and their accompanying church families aren’t the only ones who have benefited from these words as it relates to the ministry of music.

The Crisis in American Music

Historically, the music charts have reaped the rewards of musicians who have cut their artistic teeth in the black church. Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and countless others got their start singing and playing before a black congregation. As a matter of fact, a significant number of black musicians have received part if not most of their early music training in the church. The black church has traditionally been both a training and proving ground for musicians. I would go so far as to say that all American music can trace its roots to the Negro Spiritual, and as such all American music and musicians in essence owe an artistic debt to the black church.

Let’s be honest, the majority of artists that occupy the top of the R&B and hip-hop charts today are not musicians at all. Most can’t play an instrument, and in the unusual case that they can, it’s often mediocre at best. A computer program, not a human being, is producing most of the music that we hear today. Why is this?

One of the main reasons is a lack of training. I believe that the lack of music training and the resulting lack of trained musicians in the black community today can be traced back to the failures of two institutions: public schools and the black church. We are painfully aware of what has transpired in American public schools. Dwindling resources, lack of funding, and shifting priorities have all but removed music and instrumental training from many public schools, especially those located in under-resourced urban communities.

And what does the black church have to do with the lack of trained musicians in the black community today?

Aside from the obvious benefits of exposing young people to a variety of different musical styles in worship, the church also can provide young musicians with the opportunity to hone their craft on a weekly basis in a nonjudgmental environment that offers unconditional encouragement. But sadly, today’s churches are offering fewer opportunities for young people to develop their musical skills.

Look around your average black church today and count how many “musicians” are actually playing on Sunday morning? Of those musicians, how many are under the age of 18? How many are playing traditional acoustic instruments where the musician himself is instrumental in making the sound? In fact, how many of today’s churches even have an acoustic piano?

Are you getting the picture? Now contrast that to a picture of the black church of yesteryear that spawned Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.

Technology, the changing landscape of popular music, and the scarcity of qualified musicians coupled with supply and demand are responsible as well.  With the advent of digital music technology record companies and churches alike have found it economically advantageous to pare down the size and scope of “the band.” In the digital realm, one person can now do what used to take a team of people. Churches are now able to get the same sound from fewer musicians or no musicians at all through the use of digital instrumentation or digital tracks. This pervasive digital sound that permeates the R&B, hip-hop, and now the gospel music scenes can place a tremendous amount of pressure on churches to acquiesce to this standard in an attempt to stay relevant and meet budget.

Adherence to this new standard is not necessarily conducive to the development of a high level of musicianship and has resulted in fewer qualified musicians with the chops necessary to be effective in a dynamic church-music environment, which is why many of these coveted few musicians are being constantly shuffled from church to church, usually to the highest bidder.

The Church’s Responsibility

Now, let’s make it personal. Does your church provide opportunities for young soloists to share their gifts during the service at events other than the annual Christmas program?

When the black church gets back to its roots and recommits itself to sowing the seeds of training young musicians vocally and on traditional instruments, then I assure you that the church, the black community, and even the music industry will reap the benefits. No other institution can do a better job of providing children and teenagers with an opportunity to develop artistically, in an environment that gives them the foundation of encouragement needed to foster greatness.

We would all be closer to achieving greatness in whatever our particular pursuit in life may be if we had a regular opportunity to practice it and if we heard the words of folk who love us encouraging us when we mess up.

“That’s alright now, take your time!”

For the sake of today’s youth and the generations to follow, we should relish the privilege of sharing that advice every chance we get.

At Stellars, Trend Meets Tradition

At Stellars, Trend Meets Tradition

A REASON TO SMILE: (from left) Co-host Dorinda Clark-Cole, Kirk Franklin, and co-host Marvin Sapp rejoice and dance at the 2012 Stellar Awards. (Photo: Rick Diamond/Central City Productions & The FrontPage Firm)

Despite how battles often rage between the traditional music of hymns and choir-based anthems versus the upbeat, secular-sounding groove of contemporary worship songs, artists from all facets of gospel music declared it a truce last week as they gathered for the 27th Annual Stellar Awards.

Newcomer VaShawn Mitchell took home the most awards, including Artist, Male Vocalist, and Contemporary Male of the Year. His 2011 album, Triumphant, won for Praise and Worship CD of the Year.

“It’s a great feeling when you know it’s God who stamped his approval on your turn,” he said soon after the show’s taping. Mitchell, who has worked with several heavy hitters in the gospel industry prior to his more recent popularity, said he had come to previous Stellar Award shows as a seat filler, a person designated to sit in prominent seats that are temporarily empty. “It’s amazing to see the process from being the seat filler to winning six awards.” That’s not something a person can do by himself, Mitchell said. “Only God can do it.”

And only He gets the glory for what you accomplish, said another newcomer, Jessica Reedy. A season 2 finalist on BET’s Sunday Best, Reedy said the whole purpose of singing gospel music was God himself. “If you want self-gain and you think your talent is all that, you might not want to do this because God will humble you,” she said during the show. “And when He humbles you, it doesn’t feel good.”

In most cases, it was clear that most — though not all — of the artists exhibited humility despite their successes. Kirk Franklin, who has received 25 Stellars along with numerous other honors for his work, picked up four awards for CD of the Year, Contemporary CD of the Year, Producer of the Year, and Song of the Year. The latter award, though, he shared onstage with Darius Paulk, songwriter for the song that Mitchell made popular, “Nobody Greater.”

“Just at that moment, it just felt right because [“Nobody Greater”] had ministered to me so much,” Franklin said. “It was important to acknowledge just the great body of work that it is.”

Franklin said he was thankful to still be a part of the gospel music community and that his music, which won Song of the Year in 1993 for “Why We Sing,” has an impact today. “I’m just glad (the music is) still speaking to somebody dealing with something that somebody may be facing.”

GREAT HONOR: "Nobody Greater" singer VaShawn Mitchell receives the Artist of the Year trophy from CeCe Winans at the Stellar Awards. (Photo: Rick Diamond / Central City Productions & The FrontPage Firm)

Other winners included well-known pioneers of gospel music the Rance Allen Group, who received two Stellars for Traditional Group and Quartet of the Year. Traditional performances by Richard Smallwood and Issac Caree from Men of Standard, paying tribute to choirmaster John P. Kee, underscored the enduring popularity of choral gospel music. Smallwood, who later said he thought his gift for songwriting had dried up after his mother’s death in 2005, performed a song from his latest album, Promises.

Kee, who cried during renditions of his hit songs, including “Standing in the Need of Prayer” and “He’ll Welcome Me,” received the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award for his three decades of contributions to the gospel music industry. “When we really realize what this music is about, tonight meant a whole lot,” Kee said. “It not only showed what we’ve accomplished, but that there’s more to accomplish.”

A variety of artists said they were working on new projects and music-related ventures due out this year. Among them were Mitchell, Karen Clark-Sheard, Kurt Carr, and Artist of the Year nominee Earnest Pugh. Marvin Sapp, who co-hosted the show with Dorinda Clark Cole, is working on a book entitled, I Win.

As host, Sapp said the show turned out well and he encouraged people to tune in in their respective markets. “I was very pleased with the looks of the show. Tell everybody and their mama they should watch it.”

Beginning January 21, the award show will air in more than 130 markets through February 26. The GMC network will broadcast the awards nationally on February 11. Check TheStellarAwards.com for airdates in your area.

 

2012 Stellar Award Winners

Artist of the Year
VaShawn Mitchell

Song of the Year
“I Smile” | Kirk Franklin

Male Vocalist of the Year
VaShawn Mitchell

Albertina Walker Female Vocalist of the Year
Kim Burrell

Group/Duo of the Year
Mary Mary

New Artist of the Year
Y’Anna Crawley

CD of the Year
Kirk Franklin | Hello Fear

Choir of the Year
Mississippi Mass Choir

Producer of the Year
Kirk Franklin for Hello Fear

Contemporary Group/Duo of the Year
Mary Mary

Traditional Group/Duo of the Year
The Rance Allen Group

Contemporary Male of the Year
VaShawn Mitchell

Traditional Male of the Year
Smokie Norful

Contemporary Female of the Year
Kim Burrell

Traditional Female of the Year
Beverly Crawford

Contemporary CD of the Year
Kirk Franklin | Hello Fear

Traditional CD of the Year
Smokie Norful | How I Got Over: Songs that Carried Us

Urban Inspirational Single or Performance of the Year
VaShawn Mitchell | “Nobody Greater”

Music Video of the Year – Short Format
VaShawn Mitchell | “Nobody Greater” (VaShawn Mitchell)

Music Video of the Year – Long Format
Deitrick Haddon | Church on the Moon


Traditional Choir of the Year
Mississippi Mass Choir

Contemporary Choir of the Year
Shekinah Glory Ministry

Instrumental Gospel CD of the Year

Moses Tyson, Jr. | Music Remastered & Sacred Organ

Special Event CD of the Year

Bishop Paul Morton | Bishop Morton Celebrates 25 Years of Music

Rap, Hip Hop Gospel CD of the Year
Lecrae | Rehab: The Overdose

Children’s Project of the Year

Teen Pure N Heart | Pure N Heart Live

Quartet of the Year

The Rance Allen Group

Recorded Music Packaging of the Year
Martha Munizzi for Make It Loud (Martha Munizzi)

Praise and Worship CD of the Year
VaShawn Mitchell | Triumphant

Spoken Word CD of the Year
Selah | Look At You Loving Me


RADIO STATIONS OF THE YEAR

Major Market
KJLH 102.3 FM – Los Angeles

Medium Market
WLOU 1350 AM – Louisville, Ken.

Large Market
WHAL 95.7 FM/1460 AM – Memphis

Small Market
KOKA 980 AM – Shreveport, La.

Internet Gospel Radio Station of the Year
GospelSynergy.com1radio.com, Chicago, IL

Gospel Announcer of the Year
John Hannah – WGRB, Inspiration 1390, Chicago, IL

Stop Singing About God’s ‘Favor’

Stop Singing About God’s ‘Favor’

If I hear one more contemporary gospel song talk about God’s favor, I’m gonna lose it.

“Favor,” wails Karen Clark Sheard. “You will never want for anything.” “Nothing can stop the favor of The Lord,” proclaims Israel and New Breed. “It’s my time for God’s favor,” shouts Kurt Carr. “I ain’t waitin’ no more!”

Since these aren’t exactly new songs, let me offer instead an example from the world of holy hip-hop, a song called “Favor” by William “Duce” Branch, a.k.a The Ambassador (formerly of The Cross Movement), from his latest album entitled Stop the Funeral:

It wasn’t a fancy car, it wasn’t a diamond ring / it wasn’t friends or lovers at the end of the day / ‘cause we know this life’s hard, and it can bring trouble / in the midst of this trouble, no one can take it away / you need His favor, His favor, His favor, His favor

I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer here, because the truth is, I really like each of these songs. They’re good songs.  Musically and emotionally, they have been a blessing to me at various times.

But I’m concerned that by continually singing songs like these, gospel musicians might be unintentionally sending a bad message.

The truth about favor

The problem with songs like these is not that they’re not true at all, but that they contain enough truth to be dangerous. (After all, the worst lies are mixed with the truth.) So for example, I do believe that as Christians, each of us do have divine favor. We love and serve a God that is for us, and not against us. And this favor isn’t because of what we’ve done for Him, but because of what He’s done for us — specifically that He made us alive in Christ, even when we were dead in our transgressions.

But this news isn’t complete if we are not articulating more clearly and accurately the basis of God’s favor on our lives. After all, most Christians believe that God loves everyone, but I don’t think the folks who sing these songs believe such favor is universally accessible to everyone regardless of faith background or life experience. We sing these songs with the mindset that God’s favor rests exclusively on those who are … well … Christians.

In other words, God’s favor may not cost money, but it costs something. However one defines the Christian life, that’s what it supposedly costs.

The view from the outside

Unfortunately, what we on the inside see as a joyful celebration of God’s favor can appear from the outside to nonbelievers as either selfish gloating (“Favor? Why you and not me?”) or indulgent self-delusion (“Favor? Who are they kidding?”). This misunderstanding often comes because of moralistic therapeutic deism, which says, among other things, that good people go to heaven because they do good things (like going to church). So if you’re not socially accepted within your church circle, too bad. No church, no heaven, no favor.

This is clearly NOT the gospel message, but we shouldn’t be surprised when people get it twisted up. Gospel music has become so appreciated and appropriated by mainstream culture that the very term “gospel” means and connotes Black church style more than it does a message of salvation through faith in Christ.

I suppose it’s fair to say that different songs are aimed for, marketed toward, and enjoyed by different segments of people, so that a song written by and for Christians shouldn’t be evaluated by non-Christians, because that would be like an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Except that I compare apples and oranges all the time. (I like oranges better.)

And it’s also fair to say that one song should not have to serve as an overall theological representation of a particular artist, church, or organization.

But what if one song is all that gets heard?

In the marketplace of competing ideas and ideologies, we Christians can’t afford to ignore our public perception. We need to be aware of what it might look like to our nonbelieving friends on Facebook if or when the dominant themes reflected in the gospel songs we share are about a divine favor that looks and feels alien and inaccessible to those not steeped in Black church culture.

Theology from below

The truth is, God’s favor truly is open to everyone. Anyone can receive the good news and become a follower of Jesus. You don’t have to know the lyrics to “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” to get in on it. An authentic Christian life does not need to be stamped with cultural markers for divine approval.

So part of what we need is to be able to view our theology “from below” — that is, with the needs of the marginalized in mind so that we can make sure that what we’re saying actually sounds like good news to those who need it.

The bitter irony in seeing The Ambassador record a song about favor is that he operates within a cultural persona that is, in the Black church, particularly unfavorable. First, he is a hip-hop emcee, so by cultural association he is seen as loud, audacious, and overly confrontational (or borderline demonic if you ask G. Craige Lewis). Second, he has recently rebounded from an infidelity scandal that could have torpedoed his marriage and career, though thankfully both have survived.

Either way, his artistic and pastoral voice represents a growing segment of Black men who no longer feel at home in the church. So in the context of all the other songs about God’s favor that fail to address many of the social ills that afflict Black people, Amba’s song “Favor” seems like another example of a popular Black artist drinking the prosperity Kool-Aid in order to gain broader acceptance within the church.

Having listened to the rest of Stop the Funeral, I don’t really think that’s true.

But that’s how it looks.

My plea is for Christians who make music for a living to pay closer attention to the words and ideas they use, and do the best they can to be as accessible as possible to listeners of different cultural backgrounds.

Because Ambassador is right — God’s favor is a wonderful thing.

I just hope his listeners get the rest of the message.