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

13 09 2010

The Commercials

Take a look at this commercial:

Now this one:

And now this one:

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.

Addendum to “exceptions not rules” post

15 07 2010

You’ve been forwarned, I didn’t edit this. They are my thoughts and my heart. They may seem together or scattered. Good.

I’ve realized that the entitled “I hate to say it but I think we preach exceptions and not rules” was not fair to the other side of miracles.

I still believe that miracles are preached as common and not rare. And I definitely believe that we abuse that part of our faith. Jesus is only real to us in miracles when He certainly didn’t want us to seek Him because of His “stuff” even if His “stuff” could ultimately heal us, provide us with some security etc.

But I’m having not a change of heart, but an expansion of the heart. I can’t deny it. Miracles do happen. And they happen more rarely than often, but they do happen.

And I don’t want to dishonor because real miracles happen to real people. And things become supernaturally explained when there is not human explanation.

I do believe this.

I also believe in knowing Jesus because something deeper needs to happen in us that isn’t solely relief from physical suffering. I don’t know why, but I do. I guess because I believe we all have lived with physical, emotional or psychological suffering and many of us have gotten to a place of complete surrender where we have nothing else to say but “Lord, Your will be done.” We’re too tired to keep asking for healing, a check, our house or car, peace in that relationship that we sincerely ask for something last that should have been on our hearts first, God’s will. And many times that place is ripe ground for a miracle. And they happen. But we’re at our wit’s end.

But sometimes they don’t happen. Or they don’t happen like they happened for other people. We need healing and we get improved test results, we need a full scholarship and get a partial scholarship, we need peace with a parent, but we get a good day instead. Sometimes we get a portion of the miracle we expected. But we get something.

Please hear me: miracles matter. But maybe not in the way we think they do. I know I’m still forming what I think about miracles. My opinion may change tomorrow, but I know what I think about God. He’s always present even if He isn’t always solving some large problem. Maybe the solution is His presence in the first place.

Please know that I am always believing God for a miracle. But I also know that He may not answer the majority of my requests. The real test is how I feel about God when I don’t get what I think I need, want or desire.

What is most telling, for me, is how I love God when the only thing He does is forgive me and sit with me. Nothing else. I’m still maturing into how I should feel. I should be eternally grateful and God’s presence should be enough.

I don’t know. Sometimes God’s presence isn’t enough though. And I want tangible events to counter the mess in front of me. But I don’t get it. But sometimes I will.

I guess what I’m saying is that miracles are messy, and that I hope that amidst my hoping for some and doubting other miracles, that when the smoke clears the thing that remains in-tact is my faith in Jesus. I don’t want to believe in Jesus just because He promised to bless me and told me to ask God for things. I want to know Jesus because He is God and I want to know God not as a giver but as my Father.

I want things in this life, but if I don’t get them, I want to know that my faith hinges not on results I get but because of who God is.

I have a feeling that this is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn in my life.

I hate to say it, but I think we preach exceptions, not rules.

12 07 2010

I hate to say it, but I think we preach exceptions, not rules.

Miracles seem common in the word-series called sermons because sermons are inspired from the words called the Bible. But I propose that they aren’t supposed to be. Miracles weren’t even that common when Jesus was doing them. They appear common because the Gospels follow Jesus. Or when Elijah or Elisha or Moses did them, even though they did a few as well, we call them the norm.

It may seem like they were, but they weren’t.

Sure, Jesus healed many people, but He didn’t physical heal thousands of people who came to Him. He healed a paralytic who came from the roof (Mark 2), a blind man from birth (John 9), a demoniac (Mark 5), a woman with extensive bleeding (Luke 8). He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11) but not others.

The greatness of His miracles enthrall us so much that we become encouraged and inspired to believe that miracles are easily accessible, that they are commonplace, that everyone gets one. But I don’t think we do.

Because miracles are what the Bible reports, we assume they are everyday occurrences.

But maybe the actual, physical miracle should not be the focus of the sermon. If we’re honest with ourselves, we hear one or two stories about someone who received a check in the mail, or were healed completely of cancer, or they got the full scholarship when they didn’t finish their application. Miracles do happen to thousands of people. But what about the billions of people who don’t see miracles?

I think it’s too easy for ministers who have hit the jackpot to claim that their life is common. It isn’t. It’s great for them but unlikely for others.

What do we do with that?

Entire ministries are built on this false concept of common miracles. Entire lives and faiths are built on this false concept of common miracles.

But people asked Jesus for miracles.

John 4:47-48 is hard to read. What is wrong with a man asking Jesus for healing for his son? Isn’t that what a believer in Christ should do? Aren’t we healed by His stripes?

Or are we misunderstanding this healing proclamation?

Jesus sounds exasperated at the fact that people need physical miracles and physical evidence to believe. Maybe there was a way to believe without a miracle. Maybe John 4 is showing that belief had a short-lifespan unless it was sustained by miracles.

Maybe John 4 is teaching Mark 2. The first thing when the paralytic is surprisingly lowered into Jesus’ presence is forgive him of his sins. Physical healing seems to be an afterthought. Or rather, it is to shut the scribes up who complain and question Jesus pardoning anyone’s sins.

Maybe our focus is too much on the physical and miracles.

Maybe miracles are not the first thing Jesus wants us to receive from Him, but forgiveness.  

Miracles are few and far between but they are not even primary but secondary to demonstrate Jesus’ power and divinity. But all we can see is what we don’t have, whether it’s good health, money, good kids, a job, perfect parents, or perfect grades. We pray harder for our final papers than for God’s forgiveness.

Maybe our priorities are wrong. Maybe the entire point is humility. And if we don’t get the healing we want or believe God has promised us, maybe we should re-evaluate what Jesus is really healing. And be content with that.

But it’s hard when we’re in pain.

But maybe Jesus is teaching the incredibly hard lesson that forgiveness from sin and embracing humility, even amidst pain and possibly physical death is greatest. I personally think that He’s still teaching me this. None of us has mastered this subject yet. We don’t mean to or want to, but we’re failing. It will probably take the rest of our lives to pass let alone completely and totally ace this.

When we shed all traces of humanity and finally cross-over into the presence of a God whose being begets perfect understanding, I think it’ll happen. And it will be commonplace.

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