Why Should We Give?

Why Should We Give?

Is your relationship with God a transaction?  I would be lying if I didn’t say that I find myself praying more when my wallet becomes conspicuously light. Altogether, this reliance on God for support is a positive experience. This level of intimacy with our creator entails a great deal of faith. Since we are only human, the ability to rely on the creator of the universe for support and favor in times of need is a blessing and vital in progressing with your walk with God. However, this intimacy can be a double-edged sword. What is supposed to be a relationship focused on exploring God’s love in its entirety can sometimes become consumed by a desire for more and more favor, status, wealth, and so on. Prayer becomes a routine, tithe and offering become an obligation and not a willful donation, even reading the Bible can seem pointless when one is doing it solely to curry favor with God and not for personal fulfillment. In a sense, when our relationship with God is consumed by a need for greater and greater status, trying to live as an example of Christ’s love becomes hard because we are not operating from a place of love. We are operating from a place of ego. Our relationship with God has stopped progressing because, in essence, when you approach God with the desire for your own self-aggrandizement then the person receiving recognition and acclaim is you, not God.  

An area in my own life where I often find myself commodifying is the area of charity and sacrifice. I find myself giving both time and financial support to charitable causes with stipulations, clauses, and addendums to God about what I want out of this act of service. If I could tithe enough then maybe God will open this door or If I go to church every Sunday and stay for both services then maybe God will give me a new car. I find myself striking little bargains like this anytime I feel pushed to give more than what’s convenient. It took me a long time to realize that the reason that it was so hard for me to sacrifice was because I was looking at sacrifice entirely incorrectly.

Sacrifice is not a transaction, it is an exercise. Like all exercises, it has a purpose. Prayer, Bible study, worship, these are experiences that illuminate our personal relationship with Christ. Sacrifice, however, differs simply because it extends that relationship into the physical world. Sacrifice is meant to be used to stretch our trust in God as a provider while also providing an example to the world of the complete love found in Christ. In this sense, sacrifice and charity become necessary mediums through which we can deepen our relationship to God. Trying to consistently live charitably might seem like a huge leap of faith, but the secret is that you have already taken it. In Matthew 6: 25-30 KJV Jesus says the following during his famous Sermon on the Mount: 

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

As Christians, everything that is given to us is a blessing from God. The pool from which you draw your charity is filled by Him to begin with. Everything from the fruits of your labor to your next breath comes due to God’s grace and favor. If this is true, is charity not just returning to God what was already his to begin with? Furthermore, this means that once we sacrifice, God is still providing. Does this mean that you should give everything you have to charity and join the nearest monastery? No, of course not. However, it does mean that each person should seekGod to determine what sacrifice means to them. A perfect example of what biblical charity looks like also comes once again from Jesus in Luke 21:1-4. In chapter 21, Jesus sits examining the happenings of the Temple grounds when he notices a beggar woman place two little copper coins into the offering box. He gets up, walks over to the lady and tells her that she has given the most out of anyone at the temple. Despite the wealthy patrons filling the offering box with large gold coins, the reason that she had given the most was because she gave from a place of love, not obligation. Jesus specifically notes that she has given all that she had to live on. While this is commendable, the true value of her sacrifice comes from the personal impact of it, not necessarily the amount of money. Another example is the near sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham. What is being sacrificed in this story is not necessarily Isaac, but Abrahams allegiance and reliance on the physical world . By sacrificing his son, Abraham sent a message to God acknowledging both his complete trust in the Lord and his acceptance of the fact that everything in his life came through the grace of God. 

Sacrifice is misunderstood and often neglected due to its immediate and obvious inconvenience. However, it may just be one of the most important commands we are given as Christians even as just an exercise of trust. Sacrifice is much more than simple charity, it allows us to practice certain aspects of our faith that routinely go unexplored. In order to be exposed fully to the character of God, sacrifice is necessary. In order to more fully embody Christ, we must give. On top of that, it is something you can do now. It is never too late to give to someone and spread some of Christ’s love here on Earth.

How to Fight Racism: An Interview with Jemar Tisby

How to Fight Racism: An Interview with Jemar Tisby

Jemar Tisby generated a lot of necessary conversation about the intersection of race, social justice, and the global church in 2019 with his best-selling book, The Color of Compromise. With that book, he laid the historical foundation of racism in the church. In the last chapter of the book, Tisby shares practical tips for fighting racism. In his new book, How to Fight Racism, Tisby continues the conversation, but this time around he provides an actual framework that churches and Christian groups can use toward racial reconciliation.

“In a lot of ways, they [the books] pair together really well. Now, they can be read independently of each other. So, I don’t want folks to get scared if they didn’t read the first one. You can dive into the second. From my perspective, the second book is what I wanted to be the first book. I was really passionate about getting in there, getting involved in doing something about racism. But in conversations with publishers and advisors and things like that, it became apparent that we really needed to lay the groundwork for the problem of racism and white supremacy in this country. Especially as it relates to the church. And basically, diagnose the problem before we jumped to solutions,” said Tisby.

Tisby’s solution is built around a model he created called the ARC of Racial Justice. ARC is an acronym for awareness, relationships, and commitment. From Trayvon Martin through the Black Lives Matter Movement and even the tumultuous racial conflicts during the Trump presidency, many people have become more acutely aware of our country’s problems centered around race. But committing to developing relationships with people who may not have the same views as you do or are coming from a different cultural perspective and, in doing so, breaking down racist structures takes more of a plan for change.

“What I’m hoping for is that this sparks ideas for people to gather a group of folks around them and say, ‘Hey, let’s do something.’ And I am really looking forward to stories trickling in over the next year and two years or whatever, so that when we do the updated and revised version of How to Fight Racism, I can include stories from the field, so to speak,” Tisby said.

So, what about Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a way to combat racism? CRT argues that diversity training and changes in the laws are needed to combat structural obstacles created by white people that make for an unequal playing field in our society when it comes to people of color. Some people believe that CRT is a huge threat to the church. Tisby doesn’t see it that way. He says people who are dismissing it are using an old tactic — from tactics during the Civil War, when pro-slavery people used terms like “carpetbaggers” and “scallywags,” to the Jim Crow segregationists’ labels of “outside agitators,” to modern usages of Red Scare smears of “communists” and “Marxists.” Now, the label is “Critical Race Theory” proponents and is being used by people whom Tisby says want to defend a racist status quo.

“All of these things are about controlling the narrative. And what happens is, if I can use a label like Critical Race Theory, I can paint it as bad, slap you with it. Then I can put you in a box, put you on the shelf, and I don’t have to actually listen to what you’re saying about racism and white supremacy,” Tisby said. “What we have to do is not get distracted from the main issue, which is Christian nationalism. It has infected so many parts of the church in the U.S. and even beyond.”

Many white Christians don’t experience racism the same way as Black people and other people of color because the Christian nationalists are in their families, in their churches, and some cases, they’ve acclimated to that way of thinking. Tisby says it’s hard for them to see it as an urgent existential problem that the marginalized and oppressed people do. That said, he has noticed that the social justice marches and movements have had an impact. White women in particular, from a 30-something who teaches Bible study at a nursing home to 70-year-old women, have reached out to him via social media and seem catalyzed to start taking action.

“It might’ve had to do with the past year or two and what they saw, especially politically. White Christians are starting to realize, ‘Oh my, like these differences are real. They’re salient. They’re in my church. They’re in my family,’” Tisby said.

It’s no easy task to be as explicit as Tisby directs white Christians about calling out Christian nationalism and white supremacy in their ranks. We know how it’s infected historically and theologically what they do. He often praises Fannie Lou Hamer’s efforts, who became a nationally known civil rights activist after seeing a presentation about voting rights at her church. Tisby admires how she always connected her activism to her faith. With that in mind, what should Black Christian activists be doing now?

“We are going to have to protect our peace. We are living in perilous times right now. And I find myself even just scrolling through Twitter or social media and whatnot, that I’ve got to take breaks because the flood of negative news, the flood of anti-Blackness, all of that stuff is too much to handle all at once. So, we will have to cultivate communities that affirm our dignity, that affirm our being made in the image of God. You got to go out and seek it and find it.”

RESPECT: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

RESPECT: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

RESPECT is the film adaptation of the life story of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin is known by many as the one of the greatest singers  and artists who ever lived. Her career spanned decades, crossed and dominated multiple genres, and garnered the most prestigious awards and honors. Her personal life was deeply complex, but her ability to articulate the depth of human experiences through music could not be clearer.  RESPECT tells the story of Aretha Franklin’s journey of faith and finding her voice. UrbanFaith sat down with Jennifer Hudson, the star of the film who portrays Ms. Franklin to discuss the themes of faith, Gospel, and how to find our voices from the film. Full audio interview is linked above, the text of the interview below has been edited for clarity.

Allen
My first question for you after seeing the movie is about faith. Of course, it has so much faith in it. And a lot of the movie is about Aretha’s faith. What role did you see faith playing in that movie, and in your work with it?

Jennifer
Oh, it was mandatory. So that was the main thing, I was determined to make sure this was present. If my executive producer credit counts for anything, if I could add one thing, it was the Gospel. and I was like, we got to have a Gospel, you gotta have a thing. You gotta have faith. I don’t care what she’s singing or what’s happened in her life, THAT has always got to be present. It’s the same for me as well. For Aretha as well as for me.

 

Allen

And it seemed like it was really well presented as a story of redemption, you know? And why do you think that’s important for people to see, especially in a time like this, where there’s so much chaos, to hear these stories of hope out of that?

Jennifer

I think it’s even more impactful and powerful when it comes from someone like a legend and icon. But people don’t think that they go through real life things. And I look at it almost as if this is kind of like her testimony in a way; to see her struggle, go through life, be human, and still prevail. That’s a testimony. You know what I mean? And it inspired me. Yeah. And I think it would inspire so many others, because it’s to me misleading to let people think you just get what you want, or nothing’s going to happen, you’re not going to face anything. So when you get to see the life, the human, the person, you know, it kind of puts it in perspective, you know, and I don’t know how anyone would not find that inspiring.

(ctr) Marlon Wayans stars as Ted White and Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert

Allen

Yeah, I really appreciated how complex all the characters were. I mean, you did a phenomenal job bringing Aretha and all her complexity out. But I thought that was the case across the board for the cast, how did you prepare to try to embody all that complexity over years? 

Jennifer

That was another challenge, because it’s kind of overwhelming. When you think of Aretha, like she has decades and decades of a career. And it’s like, just trying to condense the music alone, eight albums before a hit. Okay? That’s one thing. Then you think of the life. Then you think of the people that were in her life. Then you think about what was going on in her life. What part of the story do you tell? But I think that was more of a challenge for Tracy, and the writer, I’m like, how are they gonna be able to… I don’t want to say condense…but get it all in? Because it’s such a powerful story in every capacity. 

 

Allen

And it did tell this story that ended with Gospel that began with Gospel and her relationship with the church. What is some good news that you feel like the world needs from this film? 

Jennifer

Um, I would say… my God, there are so many things. If I had to narrow it down to one, what would it be? I was gonna go to the base of her trusting her voice, and finding your own [voice], because it wasn’t until she owned hers, that we got our Queen of Soul. You know, to me, if we all took the time to do that within ourselves; what’s in there? [What’s] here to share with the world as our gifts? You know what I mean? So it makes you kind of want to relook at yourself. At least for me, it did. And encouraged me to want to…trust my own voice, path, experiences, and it shows things  will prepare you for [what’s] next. But I kind of see things differently from everyone else. But I do think there’s something in [the movie] for whoever the viewer is, it’s just a matter of what you need, what you’re looking for. 

 

Allen

Finding Her voice was something that really stood out to me as she had to deal with so many people trying to control her voice. And I want to know,  what advice would you give to a young person young woman or a young adult about how to find their voice?

 

Jennifer

Wow. One, not to give it away. Because that can happen. And I think we take our voice for granted. And what I mean by that, is you may have a voice, but are you using it?

You know? And to me, that’s the trickiest part. Because yes, I have a voice. But is it telling my story? It should tell your story. It’s should speak of your experiences. We all have a story to tell. And we can only tell that story through our voice. So that’s what I mean by don’t give it away. Because it can happen unconsciously. It’s like, when I speak what am I speaking for myself? Am I speaking from my truth? Am I speaking from my experiences? Or am I going through the motions of what someone else would have me to do? And you could get confused by that by using your… the sound of your voice. But are you speaking for yourself?  That’s when it gets tricky.

Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin and Forest Whitaker as her father C.L. Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert

Allen

It does. One of the things that I appreciate, though, is that she had to figure out that people were for her. I want to know, how is it that the community has helped shape you, as you’ve taken this on?

 Jennifer

Oh, my God…wow, that’s a good question. It’s been a… it’s been what is needed to be when it’s needed to be that. You know what I mean? When I need a push it’s there, like right now [there’s] so much love. So much support even when I don’t see things the way…it appears? That encouragement is there. That support is there, that I love is there, which is needed right now.  Or when times are down. There are people are like, come on, keep going, keep pushing. So it varies depending on the situation. But [there are things that are there ] to teach you tough lessons, too. So again, it varies.

 

Allen

Absolutely. And so again, a last word for any young adult, especially young adult faith, trying to figure out how can they get to success. You’ve accomplished so much. What is the advice that you would give trying to figure out how to be successful? 

Jennifer

Well, one, no one knows your potential the way you do. And if people don’t see your dream and your vision, it’s only because they don’t dream as big as you do. And nothing is JUST that. [People say] “oh, that’s just this, this just that.” Well, honey, just singing the tribute got me right here today. You know what I’m saying? So I’m trusting that. And if you keep at something, it has no choice but to give. And NEVER…this is what I told myself after Idol  before Dreamgirls.  After I was eliminated from American Idol…and I really want to share this with this community. When I started out, I was like “I’m gonna win.” And people were like, “Well, what if you don’t? What if you don’t win?” So I started believing them.

And that’s when I started to say, “I’m gonna do it for the experience.”  And I let them talk me out of my faith. I let them interrupt that faith. So when Dreamgirls comes around and someone wants to say something that wasn’t in my train of thought I said, “No, I will not interrupt my faith. This is mine and I’m sticking with it.” And I learned that lesson. That’s what I mean by nothing is “just.” So even when it’s an experience that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to [turn out]…it can still prepare you for the next thing. Because by the time the Dreamgirls opportunity rolled around, I learned from that experience. Allowing people to interrupt my faith? No, no. That’s what went wrong the last time! [Instead I said] I’m ready God, I believe it, I accept it. I’m not concerned with what [anyone else] got to say and [they] will not interrupt my faith. Don’t allow someone to interrupt your faith. I want to leave it with that. 

Allen

Thank you so much!

Jennifer

Thank you for having me!

The Kermit Gosnell Case: America on Trial

The Kermit Gosnell Case: America on Trial

Dr. Kermit Gosnell (pictured above) is on trial for the deaths of four infants and a woman who came to his clinic shortly after her arrival in the United States. This week, the jury began its deliberations on the case. (Photo credit: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News).

Each society and culture has its own barometer for measuring its psychological health, sense of priority, and collective wellbeing. The Maasai tribe of Kenya, for instance, use the traditional greeting, “How are the children?” when acknowledging one another. The expected response between tribesmen is, “All the children are well.” This exchange signifies that because the children are being protected, taken care of, and provided for, all else in their world is as it should be: peace prevails, and society is fulfilling its obligation by ensuring posterity and future survival. What of our country? Are all of our children well?

[Kermit Gosnell] regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy—and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.  (Report of the Grand Jury used to indict Kermit Gosnell)

Something is happening in our midst right now that is almost certain to become a watershed moment in our history. Kermit Gosnell, a man who took a professional oath to keep his patients from harm, who is part of what we call “the healing arts”, and in whose hands women placed their medical wellbeing, is on trial in Philadelphia for murdering four live babies after failed late-term abortions and killing one female patient. Remarkably, many people still are unaware of this trial or the history of the Women’s Medical Society abortion clinic run by Gosnell for almost 40 years. This stunning lack of awareness is due primarily to the deliberate and intentional absence of national mainstream, and initially, even Christian, media coverage of the Gosnell proceedings. If CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and their colleagues don’t want people to know what’s going on, and if even Christian media is reluctant to address the trial, we have to ask ourselves, “Why?”. Could it be that they all perceive the effect that honest, unbiased exposure of Gosnell’s reprehensible and illegal acts would have on the abortion debate? In the end, their reasons don’t change the fact that we cannot let media disregard of this story force us to miss what’s really at stake—the sensitivity and responsiveness of our individual consciences and the preservation of our country as a civil society.

Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it “ensuring fetal demise.” The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that “snipping.(Report of the Grand Jury)

Sometimes it takes a jolt to the senses to snap us out of complacency and moral largesse. In 1963, during a critical juncture for the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and local leaders in Birmingham, Alabama decided to include children in a major planned protest, later dubbed the “Children’s Crusade” by Newsweek magazine. Ed Gilbreath, founding editor of UrbanFaith and author of the forthcoming book, Birmingham Revolution, describes how published media images of children being sprayed with fire hoses, and attacked by trained police dogs, brought added pressure both nationally and locally: “The campaign was faltering.  As the nation began to see the images…the true spotlight was shone on Birmingham when the kids got out there. [President] Kennedy had been trying to placate Dixiecrats but he did have concern for civil rights. The images of the kids forced his hand [and] also put economic pressure on Birmingham merchants. Kennedy began to recognize the hypocrisy of us presenting ourselves as being against communism, but right here in our own nation we had this cruel apartheid, [contrary to and] against the virtues we preached.” A teacher resource covering the Birmingham civil rights campaign adds, “Shocking photographs that accompanied the nightly television footage helped stir the nation’s conscience and provoked critical comment around the world.” Will we allow our consciences to be similarly stirred on behalf of the children whose lives were snuffed out by Gosnell? Can we use this moment as a turning point of common allegiance and opposition against such brutality and indifference to human life?

Baby Boy A…was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” …Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times before. (Report of the Grand Jury)

Women of all faiths, political affiliations, and ideological positions should be appalled that another woman’s children were degraded and discarded in this fashion. This is a time to recover our communal lament over the condition of our nation as reflected in its sanctioning the brutal practice of abortion. The words of Jeremiah 9 ring true in this regard: Consider all this, and call for the mourners. Send for the women who mourn at funerals. Quick! Begin your weeping! Let the tears flow from your eyes. … For death has crept in through our windows and has entered our mansions. 

Christians can’t allow media silence to silence us. Will we cooperate with the media’s attempt to harden our hearts and chill our souls as evil is ignored, justified, or blacked out? These were defenseless children, whom Scripture summons us to protect.

And what about Karnamaya Mongar, the refugee woman who was left to die after post-abortion neglect?

Karnamaya Mongar… received repeated unmonitored, unrecorded intravenous injections of Demerol, a sedative seldom used in recent years because of its dangers. … After several hours, Mrs. Mongar simply stopped breathing. When employees finally noticed, Gosnell was called in and briefly attempted to give CPR. He couldn’t use the defibrillator (it was broken); nor did he administer emergency medications that might have restarted her heart. … Doctors at the hospital managed to keep her heart beating, but…by that point, there was no way to restore any neurological activity. Life support was removed the next day. [She] was pronounced dead. (Report of the Grand Jury).

What does it say about us that there isn’t widespread alarm, shock, grief, and outrage over this trial and case? Have we finally been persuaded that protection of human life is secondary to a government-created “right”, and that killing innocent babies is ok?

Decency, regard for human life, dignity, and respect for the rule of law should be public values – even for those who do not claim Christianity. All of us together, believer and non-believer alike, must take stock of our tolerances because they foreshadow our societal trajectory: either upward toward grace, kindness, respect, restraint, and national honor; or downward toward violence, cruelty, rampant evil, and national reproach. Accepting the murder of live babies is just one point on a spectrum of debased behavior evident in other parts of our society—escalating violence against and among young people, sexual violation and humiliation of children and women, abuse, disregard, and neglect of the elderly, infirm, and disabled. We are becoming increasingly unmoved by even the most heinous and vile encroachments on human existence. We should be careful. Just because we might pretend not to see what’s going on doesn’t mean that God doesn’t see. And now we can’t say we didn’t know.

 

42: A Review

42: A Review

Chadwick Boseman portrays Jackie Robinson in Brian Hegeland’s new film about the baseball legend, 42. (Photo credit: ABCnews.com)

Athletics unifies Americans in a way that few activities do. With the exceptions of church attendance, shopping, and voting, it is perhaps the most visible thread of a shared culture within our country. At the same time, athletics is occasionally a forum that settles events whose origins arise elsewhere. Brian Helgeland’s 42 narrates the story of how Jackie and Rachel Robinson, Wendell Smith, and Branch Rickey – to name a few prominent characters in a larger story – confronted racism in the United States by addressing segregation within America’s favorite pastime, baseball. The biopic, which grossed $27.4 million during the weekend, opening in the number slot. Moreover, the cast delivers earnest performances: Chadwick Boseman portrays Jackie Robinson; Nicole Beharie, Rachel Robinson; and Harrison Ford, Branch Rickey. Given its emotional resonance and the intrinsic pull of its story, 42 delivers an adequate but underwhelming version of Robinson’s story.

The film’s primary territory extends from 1945 to 1947, covering Robinson’s stint with the Montreal Royals in 1946 and the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers season, which commenced with his Major League Baseball debut on April 15th, 1947. Of particular note, 42 highlights the story of Wendell Smith, the Pittsburgh Courier journalist who chronicles the pioneering Major League Baseball debut of Robinson. The film’s accent on the Robinson-Smith relationships highlights the fact that the emergence of Jackie Robinson is coterminous with the ascent of black sports journalists. The legend of Hank Aaron, for instance, is connected to the work of the black sports journalists. The movie, moreover, rightly implies that Robinson’s pioneering career cleared the pathway for future African-American players.

The film deserves credit for painting a relatively nuanced picture of racism in the 1940’s. The most effective scenes cover the polarities of racial anxiety and racial acceptance: one of the Robinson’s teammates refuses to continue his shower when Robinson enters the locker room; another teammate is initially afraid to be seen with Robinson, but eventually embraces the opportunity to play alongside him as a show of support for integration within baseball.

42 avoids exploring what Robinson’s legacy means for diversity within the MLB (particularly at the executive level) and the role of contemporary black athletes within our society. Additionally, by portraying wholly idealized versions of Robinson and Rickey, the film misses an opportunity to help audiences see how the aforementioned men are lauded for generally choosing virtue over vice – rather than being construed as transcendent racial heroes. Nevertheless, 42 is a feel good movie that performs the essential role of a biopic – its honors the life of its subject. It’s also family-friendly entertainment that displays an intact black marriage in a cinematic landscape that is largely devoid of those elements. Take your friends and loved ones to see the film and let us know what you think.