Weight, Don’t Tell Me! Jesus Died for Fat People Too?!

7 04 2012

*** I’ve been putting off a post like this for years, but I guess it’s time for the conversations to start flowing! ***

Sometimes what the Bible says seems crystal clear at first until that thing called contradiction forces its way in forcing you to question not God’s clarity, but your understanding.

Today was one of those days for me. Walking across campus to get my lunch, I passed by a swing-like seating area directly parallel to the dining hall. Filled with people enjoying the good weather and each other’s company I ran into a slight biblical dilemma.

Scripture says that Jesus considered the child among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He even says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18, NRSV) And this is my dilemma.

I know the text is speaking to purity of heart and ability to see Jesus as one who can be trusted, who you can give all of your love to, the one who cannot fail you. You come to Jesus exactly as you are and completely release yourself to Him. I get that. Total trust. Check.

What I do not get are the finer details of these pre-pubescent spiritual teachers. They are mean, or rather, they are honest which in turn becomes identified as mean (by sensitive adults like myself! Haha!).

Walking to and coming back from getting lunch, I heard a young girl whisper to the five or so kids around her, “Wow, look at how fat she is!” and “There is that girl again, so fat!”

I get it. I am fat. And no matter how nice people want to be, they can’t say, “No, you’re not fat!” because it is untrue. And I am an advocate of truth. I will say that I am working on getting to a healthier weight, but until then, I guess I will have to continue to hear kids whisper (or quietly exclaim) the truth.

And I will be honest, this truth hurt! I wanted to call her ugly or tell her how rude she was but this would not work out for three reasons: 1) She could not have been more than 6 years old and many times what comes off of a six-year-old tongue is not filtered too carefully; 2) My response would have been inappropriate and juvenile itself (plus there were adults around watching the kids, i.e. saying anything to a stranger-child would have caused suspicion and trouble); and 3) She was right!

I am fat. But what she failed to consider was why I am fat. Sure there is the technical aspect of eating too much in general, consuming too many sweets (my biggest weakness), not exercising enough (apparently walking to class will not cut it), etc. But then there are other aspects that she would not be able to process and consider.

In that moment, the child sees that I am fat but she does not consider why I am fat. She saw the “that-I-am” instead of the “why-I-am”.

The funny thing is that this girl was not entirely wrong. Her “that-I-am” observation skills were true. She saw the facts and she stated them.

But there was no way she could see everything.

She acted as a child would: she did not know it all, only some of it. But she was humble, completely honest, truthful, and engrossed in the aesthetic reality of my appearance.

It is interesting that this is what Jesus wants from humanity. He wants us to see Him and state the facts. He is kind. He is gentle. And there is something about Him that is extremely trustworthy, so we go to Him and believe what He says and follow His commands and know that somehow they are for our good. We become engrossed in pure faith.

There is nothing wrong with this, but it does show our shortcoming, our humanness. The best we can do is engage in blind faith, because we cannot see everything. We see only what our human vision tells us. The best we can do is humbly say, Lord, this is what I think I see and what I think I see is literally all I have to go by. This invites vulnerability, but also room for much error.

This is the downside of childlikeness, immaturity. The young girl saw the “that-I-am” and never thought to engage the “why-I-am.” Like this young girl the Pharisees see the “that-I-am” of many persons including the lame man (Mark 2), the bleeding woman (Matthew 9), and the man born blind (John 9) but fail to see the “why-I-am.” But the Pharisees prove even one step worse; they proceed to ignore the people around them. At least this girl allowed my condition to shock her!

The Pharisees know of these peoples’ conditions but can do nothing for them; therefore, over time, they do not see them. The “that-I-am’s” of these people do not phase them anymore. It has been filed away in the realm of forgetfulness along with these persons societal value, worth and importance. Like the young girl, the Pharisees let the “that-I-am’s” of people become their only definition and thus worth. But unlike, the young girl, in that moment the Pharisees have no reason to care about them anymore.

They are their condition, and this affects their spiritual and social participation.

This is terrible and sad and speaks to something very sinful in our human nature. People are forgotten or not cared for because they do not exist within a narrow norm. They are either forgotten or secretly despised.

I do not want this to be my fate. I do not want my appearance to be (secretly) disgusting to you. (I would have to devote an entire blog post alone to the secret and many times not so secret aesthetic musings we hold about each other within the body of Christ!)

I think it is unspoken in some churches and over-spoken in others (wrapped up in the language of “healthy spirit, healthy body” etc.) that the place of the overweight believer is a problem (and unfortunately I think it has less to do with their health and longevity as it does appearance and how a church “looks” not only spiritually, but also aesthetically).

Fat does not fit. It does not fit into the style of clothes that “this church wears.” It does not fit into the beauty and youth and energy a church is trying to convey. It does not fit into proper church clothes (i.e., it doesn’t look good in certain patterns of dress deemed appropriate). One’s “that-I-am” reality does not fit into a crucial aspect of the church, appearance. It does not fit into the constructed image of a pure, true Christian.

I press this issue of weight in the church because Jesus does not. For at least two decades I have wondered whether Jesus would be happy to or appalled to die for fat bodies: bodies that show “no concern for their health,” “don’t care how they look,” etc. Would Jesus want to die for bodies that apparently speak of that person’s negative life traits and attributes, their failures? I often wondered, would Jesus be okay with resurrecting a body that many assume shows a disconnect with “proper” spiritual and physical values?

Honestly, I am still trying to get myself to stop wondering, but unfortunately I have not stopped yet. From the stories in Mark 2, Matthew 9 and John 9, I want to see and believe in the other side of what the Pharisees failed to see. The Pharisees try to trap Jesus in wrongdoing and wrong-saying, but what I want to see in these narratives is Jesus in right-doing. Jesus does not heal for Himself alone, (He certainly gets the glory which is crucial!) but He also heals so that the once-handicapped (or dead) person might believe in Him AND that others witnessing these events might believe in Him too.

Jesus never says anything about what these bodies look like. He never says, “Stand up, and go eat a salad!” or “Take heart, you need to take care of your body better!” or “Go! Join a gym!”

Mark 2 is especially touching. Jesus first says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (vs. 5) Jesus first saw the “why-I-am” in this situation. He never got hung up on the fact that this man did not look normal or healthy or whatever. He saw that this man’s heart and soul had something that plagued him far worse than his physical condition.

Jesus saw the “why-I-am” in this man and decided that he was not only worthy of being forgiven, but that he was also worth dying for. I would even say that Jesus saw the bigger “why-I-am.” He saw and experienced within His own life how sin was an evil, powerful force that could alter people’s beings and lives. Jesus knew this and thus decided that judging people based only on their “that-I-am” condition was futile. He attacked the root of the problem, and conquered it through His life-death work.

Jesus saw us as important enough to give up His life. I think this is what I want to know the church for. Growing up in church there were times that I wish I belonged “better” but I wish I had known that I was worthy enough. I wish I was not indoctrinated and poisoned by what the proper way of being a Christian was (spiritually, aesthetically, and ontologically).

I wish I knew that we are all worth dying for. We are all worth the same thing, Jesus’ death. I am definitely glad that I know now, and even if it will take me the rest of my life to truly know what this means, I am glad that I have latched onto the journey of finding out what this means.

Our looks, our appearance, our aesthetics have nothing to do with God’s grace. Jesus does not formulate truth by looking at humanity’s outward appearance, nor does Jesus assume that it is an individual act of recklessness that got us to the sinful state that we are in. Jesus looks at the totality of our lives and how sin has entered into everyone’s lives and says, “This is worth dying for.”

I am still working out my thoughts on the aesthetics of theology and ecclesial life, but there is something there, something troubling, that I hope to continue to discuss and expose until it can only cower under the light of Jesus’ truth.

The notion that if my body does not look like yours, there is something inherently wrong with it and me is a false one. This mentality and type of Christian practice is isolating and perpetuates sin, for no one looks the way they do (entirely) because of their own doing. There is always more to the story. There is always something in or on the soul that people literally cannot see. This mentality signals a childlikeness that we must move past.

We must trust in Jesus completely, yes, but we must also trust that what Jesus did, die for the entire world, means something greater that outward appearance. It means that no matter what we look like, Jesus saw it as valuable enough to die for. Jesus loved us that much. What I hope to ask until this evil is destroyed is, “Why don’t we try harder to get past our childish vision and live into God’s vision of love and acceptance?”

 

 

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Ambitious Young Adults and All Things Pimped

8 11 2010

My generation knows foolishness. But back when we were adolescents and teenagers, we called it cool. Or we called you a fool for not thinking it was cool.

Well actually some of us still do. Or is it many of us?

I remember MTV very well in the 1990s and early 2000s when they actually showed music videos broadcast on awesome shows such as Total Request Live counting down the top ten videos of the week. It was a staple to sit at the feet of the televised idol and have our faith renewed in the coolest music, artists, clothes, houses and cars out there.

Yes, to pre-pubescent and post-pubescent beings, material things were the future. Being grown up entailed having things magically appear, remain in good condition, and look good in our lives without those pesky things called bills, mortgages or car notes.

Yes, the kids of the 1990s and early 2000s saw and coveted the best of the best simply because those our eyes saw on TV living the life, walked in them, flashed them, lived in them, and rode in them.

The first sign of our being on our way to stardom, fame, fortune and an easy life was in our cars, our rides. If we had an old, beat-up, run-down car, we would be the butt of many jokes, but if our parents or our savings worked with us, we’d have a start-up accessory to our glamorous, ambitious lifestyle.

I was one of those kids with a run-down car. The second child to receive the Ford Escort, it was losing the battle with teenage driving. The inside was breaking apart, the paint was starting to chip a little, as I saw my classmates getting cars made in the 2000s, I became more embarrassed of “Ford,” that’s right; I was so embarrassed of my car that I did not name it like practically all of my classmates did for their cars.  

I was embarrassed of my car and soon became obsessed with a show that I knew would solve all of my teenage problems: Pimp My Ride.

Launched in 2004, “Pimp My Ride” was a car-revitalization show hosted by well-known rapper, Xzibit. He would surprise unsuspecting young adults who were working hard but not realizing their dream of unmitigated wealth yet. Many lived at home with their parents, or rented – in other words they didn’t own a home, but were working their way up. They had ordinary jobs and looked ordinary except for their horrendous vehicles. They would demonstrate just how bad their cars were as they would enter through the passenger side or window since their driver side door wouldn’t open, their ignitions needed forks and other contraptions to work, the interior fabric of their cars were worn so thin that the metal framework at the bottom or side of the car would be dangerously visible, wires would be exposed, mirrors were missing, windshields were taped; you name it, these poor young ambitions Californians suffered from it.

Their car needed severe work, but they could not afford it. Their salaries wouldn’t allow them to. So they sent into a video tape (yeah, not a DVD, we weren’t there yet) of their car’s condition and Xzibit would show up to their houses with the surprise of their life: their car would be improved lavishly. It would be pimped!

I didn’t realize what was going on until recently, flashbacks of the show randomly rushed through my mind. Wait a minute, I thought, was this show really called Pimp My Ride? We all know what “pimp” implies. Are we really using it towards cars now instead of women? There was something wrong the show’s title as disrespecting of the terrible notion, practice and industry of pimping. It is simply linguistically irresponsible.

Since I’m no English major, I went to my trusty friends at dictionary.com to look up the definition of “pimp”.

  Pimp

–noun

1. a person, esp. a man, who solicits customers for a prostitute or a brothel, usually in return for a share of the earnings; pander; procurer.

2. a despicable person.

To pimp:

–verb (used with object)

5. to act as a pimp for.

6. to exploit

Pimping although in the show’s context, used as synonymous with “drastically improved” ultimately has a root in a type of exploitation. It’s despicable action. This seemingly good thing being done for these young adults is actually birthing a confusing message of material wealth. It is drastically approving the appearance of something, although the “owner” isn’t improved at all. It’s all about appearances. I don’t know much about sex-trafficking, which I believe pimping and prostitution is, but the property of the pimp, the lady, would dress up an extravagant sexually suggestive ways and thus draw attention to herself. Her appearance and “work” would ultimately profit the pimp financially but his social, sexual and machismo issues remain untouched. He uses his “property” to appear wealthy and well off.  In pimping, appearance is industry.

In “Pimp My Ride” hard-working young souls with cars on their last leg are given the cars of their dreams, but what if their dreams are dreams of appearances? What if the car improvements are saying something false? The car-pimping gives the owner what they thought they would enjoy or like but don’t need. They are transformed from ordinary people with dying cars to ordinary people with excessive cars and subsequently pseudo-embellished lifestyles. Now they have to keep up appearances with their car. They are sucked into and trapped into a system of aesthetic embellishment.

Car-pimping highlights a false dichotomy. This exploiting prostitutes the image of the hard-working young adult to their fantasy image. This is my problem with “pimping”: it is not only damaging to the one being pimped, but it advocates for a certain lifestyle that is unhealthy and often unattainable. It is a demonic fantasmal agent. It perpetuates fanaticism and anthro-centric purpose with no satiability. The owner can never be satisfied.

Furthermore, it furthers the “power of pimping” to encapsulate and thus convert the car’s owner. The car owner is now prostitute; they appear a certain way and attract attention for their own end and ultimately another’s end. The young-adult turned prostitute is now being pimped too. They are now exploited to look like something they are not in order for the body shop, MTV or whoever to receive the overall good ratings and benefits. The pimping doesn’t stop with the car but latches onto the hard-working ambitious young adult herself and exploits her being, her life, her ambitions with a over-zealous car-concealment. Like make-up (you can disagree with me here if you want to), the car is concealed in something to look better but the real issue at hand, safe transportion, isn’t simply treated; it is made to look like something else and thus its purpose has been highjacked by the appearance of appearance.

All this material and aesthetic prostitution is the pseudo reality of a televised-created-world and often ecclesially-created world.

Pimping has become commonplace in society. People who engage in excessive plastic surgery pimp their appearance. People who unnecessarily spend money and time on weaves, make-up etc are pimping their God-given appearance. People who spend money they don’t have to wear clothes that speak false divinations over their lives are pimping their state of existence. And all this pimping is towards a goal of a certain appearance, not a reality.

This pimping is unfortunately also readily and happily adopted into church dogmatics. What is the church doing with this obsession with appearance and materialism as their young adults (and older adults) are being pimped into an industry and reality that remains out of reach and necessity? Little. What is the church doing when wealth and the appearance of wealth begins the pimp its own members, leadership, pastors?! Encouraging the message of false hope, happiness, and false faith.

Unfortunately in my experiences with black churches, they accept the pimping in their material life and gladly take on a prostitution role. Oftentimes, the black church worships the prospect of the material instead of God’s wisdom, but attribute the pimping of their bank accounts, cars, house, clothing, jewelry, pools, vacations etc. to God’s blessing hand.

But the black church may disagree with me. One might argue that God is blessing this ordinary person with extraordinary things. An incredible God deserves incredible praise. He made a way out of no way. He is giving a “Job blessing” to those who have suffered without a Benz, three-story house, TIVO, 5 TVs in their house, the latest 4G cell phone, the BEST church suits and church hats, the finest silk lapkins! (lapkins = lap napkins women whose skirts are too short in the pulpit wear in order not to overexpose herself and subsequently tempt the men of the church causing the men to fall and stumble…but it’s for HER own good, really! *sarcasm*)

I respectfully disagree.

Our God, is a good God, a King over all the earth, the Ruler of all, in complete control, but our God is not irresponsible. I personally don’t believe that God would bless someone solely aesthetically so that they would fall into being used to purport a certain unattainable message of wealth.

Now, of course there isn’t a follow-up show to see how the young adults on “Pimp My Ride” are doing with their new-found aesthetic. Perhaps the pimped out car with the play station in the back, speakers, rims, interior TV’s, refrigerators etc. impacted this young Californian’s life so much so that they got a high-paying job, bought a house, got married (and lived happily until they), had kids. But I doubt it. The only thing I could foresee with this “blessing” would be the lottery-affect: friends, families and foes appear out of nowhere wanting what you have and secretly hating you for it while the profit has already been made. The car-owner took the deal, umm, I mean, the blessing and now their souls cannot rest as trouble, jealousy, greed, coveting, pride enter their lives and remain with them as long as that car does. They are soul-tied to it.

I don’t know if God would bless someone to simply live in hardship and not experience positive change or growth in any other area of their life. The car doesn’t give someone a higher paying job. A higher paying job would allow the car-owner to afford an operative car –  it may not be a BMW, but it will serve its basic purpose.  

I think aesthetic blessings are the work of the church’s imagination and deception of what it means to be a Christian on earth – being Christian is hard, long, painful work of self-transformation, not stuff-transformation. Many churches are promoting a work where appearances replace true positive change.

And it’s terrible work. Expensive work. Excessive work. It will cause extraordinary expenses that one will not be prepared to pay for.

(And let me be clear, this is not only a problem with black churches, it’s simply where I’ve seen this done the most. I would argue the same thing is happening with white wealthy churches who hoard their wealth. They want to appear a certain way instead of live with their basic functions and distributing the rest elsewhere. It’s hard to do that because wealth and the appearance of wealth has a firm grip on so many of us in the church, black or white.)

So maybe we should be content with our Ford Escorts or Toyota Corollas as long as they serve their purpose and get us where we need to go so in our hard work we can learn responsibility, careful spending, realistic goal-setting and that wealth and the appearance of wealth may not always be God’s urging but our own. Maybe we can live into Godly responsibility and consider our neighbors higher than ourselves instead of treating ourselves to the appearance of wealth but the reality of multiplied hardships.

To be honest, shows like “Pimp My Ride” and “Trick My Truck” are also doing something else that I alluded to earlier. The term and process, “pimp” used to describe ownership of sexually engaged women are now applied to objects, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me. In pimping, in sex-trafficking, women ARE objects. They are made-up and sent out, changed forever – and not for the best. I think the church should speak out against the concepts behind these shows instead of engaging in the “cleaner or lesser” form of prostitution wrapped up in language of blessing and God giving you a “nice” car to demonstrate how God is King and as God’s children, we should be rich like the King too. What we don’t realize is that God has so that we can have. God doesn’t hoard, but God freely gives to us, God’s children. God is rich because God created everything; we can’t do that. God is rich because God is powerful enough to enter into flesh and be perfect. We can’t do that. So let’s take what God gives us and give thanks instead of demanding things we don’t need. It is ONLY by God’s grace that we have anything. Let’s retire from the pimping industry and begin to force its retirement elsewhere. Pimping is often preached from the pulpit. Prostitutes influencing people to prostitute themselves towards a materialist end-goal are proof-texted with scripture. Pimping has become a spiritual practice: it’s all over the prosperity Gospel. Let’s eliminate prospertiy as our salvation and simply cling to the Gospel.

Even though, our God owns land, vineyards and houses, God owns them only so that we can take part in them. God wants us all to live within our means so that we can all live. Material accumulation isn’t living well. It’s living aesthetically. If for nothing else, think about what your wealth or pursuit of wealth is about. If it’s not about honoring God by turning right back around and giving it to someone else, then it’s not for you. You haven’t gotten the memo yet that we are in God’s image and that images are copies. God has so that God can give. Are we doing the same? God gives so we must give. God doesn’t appear any way; God is. And as God is, so we must be.





Jesus Did Miracles, Why Can’t Dr. Miracle?

13 09 2010

The Commercials

Take a look at this commercial: http://www.youtube.com/user/drmiracles#p/a/u/1/-AyHvYWpINM

Now this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7V4G_87iOE

And now this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oblcI5uqck

What do you see?

The Message

In twenty seconds or less, each of these advertisements narrate something profoundly common and yet distinctly disturbing: kinkiness, nappyness, unkemptness in black hair is unacceptable. In twenty-seconds or less, a frightening pattern of a white aesthetic is pitched and fed to a black woman by, get this, a black man, or rather a black-man-arm. A black arm (and deep voice) miraculous emerges from a mirror (or from behind a plant) with the solution, the miraculous product that will perform the magic of straightening out her hair which in turn will straighten out her life. It is a miracle that will eliminate the hair problem and pronounce beauty on the former victim now turned victor. What’s worse is that this white aesthetic is additionally affirmed by black men and black women alike. Both parties agree that the black woman’s hair needs to be and look a certain way for it to be acceptable and beautiful; and both agree that this product from Dr. Miracle will get this poor, lost woman to her aesthetic destination.

What these commercials don’t narrate is the well-known and unknown message being sold: straight hair is a miracle and Dr. Miracle the said miracle-worker. Dr. Miracle’s products pronounce a continuation and perpetuation of performance by black women, egged on by this mysterious man; this is the aesthetic norm that many black women are captive to, a norm that relegates her hair, her look, her natural aesthetic encouraging her to buy into a different aesthetic.

Even if this is the first time you’re seeing these commercials, I can tell you where to find a steady stream of them. If you’ve ever watched the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network long enough, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into one of these Dr. Miracle Hair and Skin Care commercials. Curious about the origin behind this product I went to the website and could not find a picture or any information about the founder, president or CEO…nothing.

I had to do some Google-digging and came across some interesting stuff. According to the New York Times, Dr. Miracle was founded by Brian K. Marks; this is what he looks like.

He’s white.

The Structure of Mediation

This complicates the aesthetic picture just a bit, or perhaps allows the Dr. Miracle narrative to fit into the natural mold of the white-male mediated beauty aesthetic. Beauty is mediated by the figure behind the product. The Caucasian male determines what beauty is through shaping the aesthetics of Caucasian women and deeming that the norm. This norm is inherited by the African-American male. He may prefer lighter skin, smaller hips, longer and straighter hair on his female companion. What choice does the African-American woman have but to cater, to adjust, to deviate from her norm in a rash attempt to look pleasant, beautiful, a bit more white?

Without hesitation, even with a sense of severe urgency, she takes the product from the black arm and black voice with no face. In that exchange is a contract co-signing her ugliness. In that exchange she confirms that her body is an emergency that needs some serious help. She accepts the solution from a faceless figure seeming to have all the answers. What she does not account for is the body of the arm. The arm and voice may be black, but the body of this “Doctor” is a white male’s body. And this body purports this extension of white aesthetic. What she doesn’t see is that her being is a market; she ingests the message that there is plenty on and about her body that “needs” to be fixed, changed, shaped, re-sculpted. What she doesn’t realize is that her “look” is being handed down to her from a Caucasian puppeteer (perhaps a subtle re-emergence of black face) capitalizing off of her insecurity and pressure to appear beautifully white.

The “doctor” character on the product packaging is a black man signaling this hierarchical mediation from white male to black male and ultimately down to the black female. The product  packaging is only a means to ensure safe delivery. Certain concepts of normalcy infiltrate the black female consciousness about her own body using her own kind.

Strangely enough her insecurities are solidified by other black women who have also conformed to the same norms and now deem her as ugly if her hair is not relaxed or straightened like their hair is. They have both bought into the product that advertises against their natural look and advocates another look. The solidarity is somewhat awkward and misplaced, with traces of self-rejection, self-importance, competition and unity under a contradictory cause. The black women in these commercials do not affirm beauty outside of straightened hair, but the solidarity rests in the assimilation to straight hair. They both fall into a space of beauty that only whiteness can truly inhabit so they powder it on their face, and rub it in their hair in a desperate attempt to be as white as possible until the next time they need it. They fight off everything black about them until they need the product one more time. They change what they can. In solidarity tied to rejection, labeling as ugly (or reverting to their natural hair texture), and desiring to be sexually acceptable to the black male, these black women nervously (and even confidently) adopt self-hate and subtly spew it on one another.  

The black woman is introduced into the aesthetic that a Caucasian man has set, pressured to look unlike her natural self and perform into a white female aesthetic endorsed by the black male, and peer-pressured into maintenance of this aesthetic from similarly conforming black females.  

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Oh yeah, Jesus

This entire Dr. Miracle campaign is showing us that we’ve moved dangerously far away from what Jesus wanted us to value. The black woman falls into their downward spiral where she doesn’t know that she’s accepting a message that her transformation into a white aesthetic is a miracle that only a white man disguised as, then through a black man can work. She falls into a religious trap that prompts her to worship in order to receive her miracle. Thus the white man becomes her miracle worker, a savior of sorts, a god.

Jesus wouldn’t approve of this savior guy. As Dr. Amy Laura Hall would say, “that job’s been taken.”

I’m no expert, but I don’t recall Jesus performing any miracles on hair, or nails, or make-up. He never invited a prostitute to the table to eat and fellowship with Him in order to extend an ambiguous hand to her and in His best Barry White voice, explain how this product will work wonders on her hair.

Jesus certainly performed bodily miracles like healing (my favorite parable is in John 9), but the purpose extended a bit deeper than looking or even feeling good. He gave people back their lives and introduced them to a new life centered on believing in Him. He never wanted the focus to be the miracle itself, but the provider of the miracle. He wanted the people He encountered and loved to focus on Him.

He did not advocate focusing on one’s “problems” or “shortcomings” in order to fix them for three weeks at a time or one $800 sew-in at a time. Jesus never miracled a relaxer or a hair weave.

Jesus advocated love outside of the normal understanding of aesthetic. He lived a new aesthetic where things like love and charity, mercy and grace were the trends people were in awe about and in need of. He painted pictures that had no picture except through human action and genuineness.

Dr. Miracle does miracles, and Jesus does miracles. I guess the difference between them is that Jesus jumped over the hoops instead of jumping through them (or perhaps Jesus destroyed the hoops that have been re-constructed by the greedy platform of the black hair market). Plus He didn’t have money to gain. Plus He loved us so much, black women and white women, black men and white men alike that He only cared what our souls looked like and not our hair.





The White Tennis Aesthetic

10 09 2010

                        

 As an avid tennis fan, I’ve learned that everything in life relates to tennis.

As a fan of theology inherited from such greats as Dr. Willie Jennings and Dr. J. Kameron Carter, I’ve learned that there are tons of things that speak theology that we simply have to train our ears to hear.

Everything relates to tennis, everything relates to theology.

Even tennis outfits.

At first my reaction to Venus William’s dress was one of embarrassment (see left-hand picture above). I asked aloud: what is she wearing? What is she trying to prove?

But as the matched wore on and the majority of the comments issued were that her dress  made her miss that volley or affected that backhand, I noticed something. The commentators were being unfair and in her outfit alone, making excuses to criticize and take cheap shots at her game (she won the match by the way). Outside of the matches where she wore two similar outfits which received passing comments of its shortness came courtesy of the Huffington Post, it’s flair from Lifestyle, its unconventionality from CBS News, all culminating with the slide show of Venus’ most controversial and interesting outfits from Bleacher report – all attempts to draw negative attention to her outfit, which somehow either directly “paralleled her talent” or “spoke of her flimsy judgment”.  

After processing her outfit, I came to a realization: I was being just as unfair as the commentators were for doing what many black people automatically turn to out of fear of judgment: secretly hope that her outfit was not received by Caucasians as misrepresenting the entire black race. I didn’t want people in the “classy” sport of tennis to have a bad perception of black people based on this one outfit.

I’ve repented since then.

I repented because I realized that her outfit had nothing to do with me, with us, with the black race, but it has everything to do with her and what we – commentators, true fans, enemies, and fans simply because she’s a black tennis player – place on her as prerequisites to be a black tennis player: a tight mold that only gives her the freedom and space to act and dress like a typical tennis player, a white (European) woman. I re-placed her into a mold she’s probably been trying to break out of, escape and deal with since she came stood out in the professional tennis scene in 1997.

I realized that her fashion was not about shame falling on an entire race, but it is about the fact that shameful fear can cause me to turn on someone who is advocating through her body and how she presents her body that different is okay. She doesn’t have to cater to a certain way of being and looking on a European surface; this exposes the expectations wrapped up in and bound to white women’s bodies that, I was afraid to point out, Venus (and Serena) cannot fit!  The mold is too small, too white, too one-dimensional.

I do have to give credit where credit is due. Some have begun to see that something about tennis fashion speaks to tennis culture. The only commentators who had something fairly concrete and positive to say about Venus Williams (Serena Williams) and tennis fashion came from two men. Commentators, Chris Muther (a white gentleman) and Bomani Jones (a black gentlemen) on ESPN commentary somehow got it! They, in an innovative and honest way, gave truthful (not judgmental) commentary about Venus’ other controversial outfit from the 2010 French Open. Muther said that she was willing to express herself, she was willing to be herself and “take a racquet to” the normal white way of dress.

Venus and Serena Williams are doing and saying something with their unique outfits and disregard for the backlash that we, especially theologians would do well to pay attention to. They are being themselves. They are showing people that molds are made to be broken, especially when they do not cater to your body and being.

As Dr. Jennings would say, they have entered into something only to break it open from the inside. They have a mission to destroy the norm and live out something radical and more holy, more honest, more honorable to themselves and to who God made them to be. Dr. Carter would include that their outfits and bodies push against the norms of whiteness and white performance in a game that they have been present in for a decade, but are only currently being noticed (through negative press).

Venus and Serena Williams are portraits of a God who is diverse and an artistic Creator. They are arguable the face of tennis because they are unique living into, not just with, their bodies, the color of their skin, the color of their flesh toned spanks, the fit of their tennis outfits, the curves of their arms and the texture of their hair. They are talked about so much because the tennis world has not quite figured out what to do with them. After winning numerous titles, comments must come from somewhere and unfortunately it’s centered around the way they dress their bodies.

They have infiltrated tennis with no warning and have changed the excitement around the game forever. And it was a violent infiltration, but an atypically violent one. Venus and Serena are not colonizers, they are settlers. They do not aim to force their aesthetic on others, but simply wish to have their own and it be respected and live in tennis harmony with the rest of their majority European surroundings.

Venus Williams, in commenting on her flesh-colored spanks under her 2010 French Open outfit said something so captivating that I’m still processing its exquisiteness. She said her outfit was expressive and that the flesh-color made it more beautiful.

The flesh color is beautiful. I think Jesus would agree. Refusing to submit to a certain aesthetic even in one’s undergarments is certainly making a statement about the appreciation of flesh and its skin tone.

Venus and Serena Williams (and even the style of play of Jamaican newcomer Dustin Brown who had the commentators at a loss for words with traces of condescension and disdain in the comments they did offer), I salute your mere presence and efforts to be you in the tennis world, no matter how controversial that is. Maybe we who are taken aback by unique fashion and clothing should be taken aback by our surprise. Maybe we should be surprised that we’ve been so calibrated to operate in a white tennis aesthetic that we cringe at any deviation from that norm.

Maybe we shouldn’t cringe at the black wave of candor and distinctiveness, but applaud it. Perhaps the idea of love and acceptance will take over and we’d worry less about who’s wearing what and come to grips with the notion that tennis culture is being pressured to step outside of a European standard and live atypically.

Tennis has been changed because of the Williams sisters; it looks like that trend will continue.





My-dentity Part I

9 09 2010

My-dentity Part I

It feels like a cross to bear, not quite fitting into one religious tradition or Christian denomination. And it’s not only a cross for those within the network of Christian labels and distinction by denominations. No, it’s for those who live intra-cultural existences. It’s for those who are not only stuck between denominations, nor between religions, but between cultures that express various opinions and traditions towards both.

I feel for intra-racial children. They never quite can feel and be African, nor can they quite be African-American in entirety. It’s a confusing label to live in and with, especially when you aren’t its creator.

I heard that the Christian faith was supposed to be uncomfortable. Point taken, I understand that the faith is a difficult and humble one to take part in, be transformed by and ultimately learn how to selflessly live out. But does ethnic difference have to further muddy the gray waters? Does rejection from one’s own people(s) have to be a part of that “Christian discomfort”? I hope not but I’m afraid so.





High School Poetry

8 07 2010

I wrote this poem my senior year of high school. It’s ironic. I think I turned this into a publication during college. These questions and feelings stuck with me then and are still with me now. The stuff I was struggling with then has never left me. Now I’m more aware of it. Now it’s gotten more complicated. Now I can read stuff like this, shake my head about how crazy it is that I was tune with myself, and journey on.

Blacker than I was in the Summer

T.O.O. 

As the sun penetrates the dark skin on me

I’m wandering what the light nation will see.

They probably see the sun indulging me

And my skin changing like the leaves on an autumn tree.

They see my skin getting darker, getting closer to the place

Where I’m as dark as my ancestors in skin and in face.

They see the black kid, who probably has bad parents,

The thug, the ignorant, materialistic; it’s apparent

That to them the darker I am, the more I don’t know

The deeper I’m not, the more I don’t flow

The fine places in the future, they know I won’t go.

The decent qualities in me, they know I won’t show.

 

The dark nation says they see all that other stuff,

To put it plainly, they see me as not being black enough.

They think I “live too good” like my past wasn’t rough.

They hear me speak, automatically I sound too white,

Just because I’m really focused, my future’s too “bright.”

They say, “You’re turning too white, look your skin’s getting light.”

 

Oh so that’s what it’s about,

My skin’s too light for you, so I need to go out.

Speak blacker, think blacker go soak up the sun.

You think if I go out in the real world that will really be done?

Do you truly think if I experience what you’ve been through

I’ll be blacker, not whiter, not myself, but like you?

 

As the sun penetrates the dark skin on me,

I’m wondering what the light nation would see.

And as the dark nation says what they want me to be,

I’m asking the whole nation, can I just be me?

 

 

 








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