On Love and Hate: A Continuation of “Still Black, Still in the South, and Still a Woman”, A Review of “The Help” film

1 09 2011

The night I watched “The Help”, I wrote these intial thoughts, but definitely have more thoughts to flesh out.

In the movie portrayal of Katheryn Stockett’s “The Help”, one thing puzzled me that I did not have the tongue to articulate until now. The love/hate relationship with Africa.

The main antagonist, Hilly, a white upper-middle class staunch advocate for segregation, articulates in her being this troubling dynamic.

She advocates for missionary funds to be donated to “Africa”, but refuses to let her African-American maid, a descendant of Africa, use her toilet or loan money to her next African-American employee because she did not want to set a precedent of merely giving people what they could and should earn themselves (ironically contrary to her charity towards Africa).

This made me question, why create the opposing dynamics of demonstrating charity towards Africa and hostility towards African-Americans? This dual-mindset does not mesh. At least on the surface it does not. So I thought deeper.

Two factors that I have been mulling over in my mind can help me begin to think through and address this dilemma: 1) Mission-work/The church and 2) American values. Both missionary work/the church and American values play a factor with how the African and African-American are seen or not seen (in the case of Africa).

I’ll explore “Mission-work/The church” in this blog post.

Mission-work/The Church

The church seems to be the connecting factor between Africa and White Middle-Class
America. The church seems to be the connection between African-Americans and White Middle-Class America.

Hilly’s character is so important because she subtly and overtly gives commentary on the poor state of the White church in 1960s America. Hilly’s character gives us a glimpse inside the ecclesial reality (alongside the familial reality, which I argue is an ecclesial reality as well) that has shaped her view and understanding of darker bodies.

In other words, Hilly is not “just a racist”, but Hilly is primarily a Christian.

This is an important point that her character advertises throughout the entire film. Hilly is not inherently evil because her belief in Jim Crow, but she appears evil precisely (to borrow the emphatic word of Dr. Willie Jennings and Dr. J. Kameron Carter) because she is trying to be pure, to be a good Christian.

Her church, her ecclesial history, background and reality have shaped her social outlook as well, not only her spiritual life. Her faith has broken from the boundaries of being a personal journey that includes others, into a public demonstration that includes (i.e., excludes) others.

Hilly’s faith is being proclaimed in her toilet initiative. Hilly’s faith is being proclaimed in her mistreatment of her two housemaids. Her strange demeanor fluctuating with mean, sweet and sweetly-mean (or “condescendingly-helpful”) reflect the attitude of the white church towards the un-white.

This is most evident in her treatment with her maids and Aibileen, the maid who “is not hers” (oh, the language of possession). It is not seen but it is seen in her relationship with Africa.

Few people may have noticed, but Africa is absent totally from the film except when Hilly “speaks it into existence”. Africa created on the tongue of Hilly (perhaps alluding to a new understanding of “speaking in tongues” … perhaps 🙂 )

Outside of African-Americans, the only portrayal the viewer receives of Africans comes from the mind and mouth of a middle-class white woman hell-bent on saving it. But from what?

The viewer does not know what Africa is being saved from. Except itself. And maybe, albeit with great subtlety, that is what Hilly wants society to understand since this is how she has been taught Africa. Maybe that is how Hilly “knows” Africa and wants everyone else to know Africa. Since no one truly knows Africa, Hilly and co. have to create an Africa worth knowing, an Africa that is poor, destitute, dirty, in need of money and white help. Hilly creates in her tongue and actions, an Africa that needs saving. And she has no problem with herself and her society being the savior. She has no problem saving from a distance.

Hilly’s faith has everything to do with maintenance, maintaining her social and moral status among her peers. She maintains the status quo all-the-while helping the poor. She maintains the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping save a life. From a distance.

Oddly enough, Hilly serves a god of distance and discrimination, not disturbance and
disruption (of the social norms).

Hilly loves the idea of Africa her faith has helped create. Hilly loves the idea of helping African-Americans by employing them as long as they remain in her place (i.e., as long as they do not threaten her place as a Southern Christian socialite).

But Hilly also hates. She faithfully hates disturbing what church tradition has taught her social consciousness. She hates it when African-Americans step out of their place. She hates her authority and expertise in naming the other being questioned, or even worse, proved wrong. Hilly loves and at the same time, hates, Africa.

More thoughts to come on American values!

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The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:9-10)

17 12 2010

Proverbs 3:9-10

9Honor the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

These verses remind me of the prime texts some preachers would use to preach a Prosperity Gospel that doesn’t really honor God. Their sermon or lesson begins off as something legitimate but then quickly turns into something that exerts “God has to fix your credit”, “God will give you a check in the mail”, “God shall eliminate your debt” and the list goes on and on. These things aren’t entirely bad and I’m sure they are the wish of every single person who has some sort of school loan or mortgage to pay (I have gone through periods where I literally prayed that God would send me a check in the mail to cover this or that. But over time I realized that this type of testimony is most likely the exception more than the rule which says something awesome about our God that God doesn’t do the same thing for everyone). Trusting God to be present and active, working out our problems is not a bad thing at all, but the misrepresentation of God and the misunderstanding of our purpose through our misunderstanding of God is a bad thing, a moral mistake.

If our hearts are so consumed with stuff like debt, aesthetics, or buying the best Christmas gifts so we can get praise and feel good about ourselves for five minutes, then we’ve succeeded at honoring ourselves but we haven’t done a good job in honoring the Lord. Sure, we can argue that our concern and love for our appearance and the material well-being of others is not about us, but it’s about making others happy. But at best this is a weak argument avoiding the deeper layers of true motive and honest intention.

Where Prosperity preaching goes wrong is the order in which they approach the text. They speak about God first. To be fair, it doesn’t always begin with money. In fact, it begins with exploring God within the text, but then what God does for us takes over and becomes the focal point of being God’s child, worship, church, tithing, etc. God doesn’t remain the focus but we place ourselves as the focal point of God’s word.

With this text even the Prosperity preacher would engage God first: “Tithing is a form of honoring God with our substance. We pay respect to, we worship the Lord fully through what we have. Giving to, supporting, and upholding the church should be your first priority if God is first in your life. And even if you’re new the faith or church hasn’t clicked all the way for you yet or if you’re still learning the word of God, tithe now and God will build up something in you in time. God will honor your sacrifice.”

And this is legitimate, but it is ultimately a set-up for our reward, what we receive as a result of honoring God. The rest of the sermon may entail exhortation that “Tithing opens up the floodgates for financial reward! You will be blessed with more than you can imagine! You will receive material and financial blessing that only God can give! God multiplies spiritually so that we reap those rewards when we honor God and give ten percent! God sees the little that you are willing to give and multiples it beyond what you can count. God will turn that seed you sow into the church into a plant that you can feed off later. Like the widow who gave her last in 1 Kings 17, God will not let your oil and flour run out!”

And this is true, but again, this is not the focus. When we praise God for what God is going to do more than we praise God for just being God, something is amiss. When we question that God has randomly provided $100 for our electricity bill rather than sending a check in the mail to pay our $15,000 credit card debt, something is wrong. We are not the focus. We need to remove ourselves from the center. We need to get off the throne and reposition ourselves at the foot of the throne. The text says that if we honor God with our substance, the stuff from us, what lies at the heart of our cherished things, and give God the best of it, then we will have plenty. If we give the best of our time, writing, art, singing, cooking, administrative skills, business savvy, warmth, smiles, hugs, prayer, love, and even stuff like clothing and money, then we will get enough to eat and drink, enough to live off of. We will get enough, we won’t always get it all, but we will get enough.

Perhaps we need to shed the “exception” mindset and preaching that we wish for and thus place within God’s word and embrace the “rule reality”. The reality is, God works amidst our working and 9 times out of 10 it won’t be with what we dreamed of.

God gives enough. If we ask for a 3 story house, God gives us a three-bedroom one story condo. If we ask for a Mercedes-Benz, God will give us a Honda we can name Mercedes. If we ask for $200,000 to pay off loans, God will give us a job that makes enough where we can begin to pay off those loans over the course of time. If we ask for a husband or wife, God will keep us single another 10 years to be sharpened and made wise, kind, loving, and ready for that person (if that is what God even intends for us…maybe we should ask God to show us what we are supposed to be doing and get busy doing that instead).

I think pastors who make hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year are an exception; they are like kings who owned tons of land and money and had influence were. Perhaps this pastor-king parallel provides a warning of us moving away from God towards governance by people (let’s learn from Israel).

I think that true prophets and prophetesses are exceptions; they do not claim their title with joy but remorse for their life is a continuous cycle of rejection because of the message they not only give but carry within themselves. Their office isn’t one that was designed to be exploited for conferences, but their office imprints on their lives loneliness and pursuit. As they pursue God, they are pursued. They are chased, hated, stoned, and killed. They aren’t accommodated, they are exiled. Modern day exhorters claiming to be prophets should consider this; the prophetic office is not one to be utilized for fame or feeling that you’re finally existing within a “purpose”. We have to be very careful about this…  

I think that checks can come in the mail, but that they will most likely come as a salary reimbursement God withheld from you until you needed it. I think that your debt can be paid, but that it can be done the old-fashioned way, with a job. I think that you can get a nice car or house if God gives you the wisdom to save and pay for it yourself. God holds, changes, draws from and utilizes things we first step out and do. God blesses our commitment to live faithfully, not lazily. God blesses the foot we put forward by giving us more stable ground to walk on. But we must walk, sometimes run, sometimes limp, but it is us making the decision and taking the action to move forward. I believe that God never lifts us up on a cloud to fly above and way from our problems; we’re not Elijah. And we don’t want to be. Elijah received this rare event after a life-time of fulfilling his difficult prophetic calling. Hard work is involved in the blessing, heck, work is involved in the blessing.

I know what I’m describing isn’t exciting blessing, but it is the blessing of “plenty and bursting”. God gives us plenty and this plenty bursts forth so that others may see what God has done and inquires about our God. And God is introduced as a faithful Father, a loving Provider, and a Keeper of our minds and bodies so that we may honor God with our beings. God is not the debt-eraser, but the sin-eliminator. God is not the house-giver, but the mercy-granter. God is not the love-doctor, but God is love.  

Don’t get me wrong, God owns everything. I’m sure God could give us money and a comfortable lifestyle, but I’m not sure God would want to. If getting what we want means that we look to God as Provider only, that we curse God to be Jehovah Jireh alone, we’ve moved away from the purpose God created us for, to worship God. Our purpose isn’t to exist comfortably, but to be God’s, not to belong to money or comfort. If getting what we want implodes a religious pluralism within our beings where the money-god and comfort-god take root alongside God, then it’s not worth it. God can’t be limited to financial healer or “blesser” alone. God is too God to be limited. So I ask that God not give me what I want, but only what I need. I ask that God give me “just plenty” so that I may burst forth with joy and gratitude that a loving God who already did it all in dying for me and my sins loves me enough to still give me anything at all.

I guess it’s about perspective. But I’m afraid that humanity is too fickle to promise not to worship what we get. Therefore I don’t want us to get it all, but just some of it. I want us to do what we are supposed to do anyway giving God our substance and produce: our time, family, and talents and anything else that means everything to us. I want us to give back to God what God has already blessed us tremendously with.

Maybe we would preach a Prosperity Gospel that emphasizes tithing 100% of our best qualities, our best abilities, our time, our love, our concentration and attention. We would preach a Gospel that sees our best as unable to be enhanced with money, but with and through God. We would preach giving God us first and foremost and what it would feel and be like to experience this; what joy, happiness, love, and kind-heartedness we would not simply feel but be. We would be like God. What if Prosperity was a process of becoming God-like? One thing is for sure, there would be enough for everyone.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that our transformation to be like and look like Jesus doesn’t come to us through the mail or a debt cancellation or a tummy tuck, but that it comes quickly and slowly all in the same moment into our hearts, a peaceful and painful process that yields a different kind of wealth unhindered. Lord, may we rejoice in enough. It’s in the name of the Savior who is enough and more than enough, Jesus the Christ, Amen.





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 Make-Up Confession

7 08 2010

I’ll be frank. I don’t wear make-up for two reasons:

First, I don’t like other people telling me what will make me important, beautiful and loved; and, second, I think we (society, even the world) wear make-up so that our flesh (and others’ flesh) can be pleased, so that our flesh can feel like we have control over something in our lives. We feel that if we control our looks we can control our love.

But I truly don’t understand this. People are made to feel bad if they don’t mask their true selves. God didn’t make me with make up so what is it saying that I make myself into the way “I want to be so others can desire me”? What is it saying about where my heart is?

It doesn’t make sense to me. I thought God loved us as we are. And we aren’t made with make up on. Nor are we made with minds that value the root of what make-up represents: dissatisfaction and disappointment with how God made us.

Make-up is learned. It’s a verb full of colors. It’s a strange attempt to recover something that we cannot, unconditional love and acceptance, by putting colors on our faces to cover up our blemishes.

Honestly, when it gets down to it, God sees our blemishes.

To me, make-up is the half-hearted sacrifice to God. It looks good; we think we’re doing something pleasing, but we’re covering up our sin and greed and mistakes by buying into the falsity that our natural beauty isn’t good enough; we must make ourselves look better.

How God made us wasn’t enough. We have to improve it. No one can see our blemishes, only God can, even if we don’t want Him to either.

Tomi. Whoa. You’re doing too much. I only wear make-up because it’s something nice. It enhances my features. I’m not hiding from anything.

Maybe not, but maybe so.

Sometimes we hide without knowing we’re hiding or sometimes we’re taught that hiding is normal and those who don’t hide, who sit with their faces: their pimples, skin blotches, creases and wrinkles exposed are the posers, are the losers, are ugly because they won’t hide too.

But what is ugly? Exposing all flaws so that nothing is out of sight, nothing is hidden; nothing is giving an untruthful impression? Or does it trick people into a perception of perfect, and cause people to love, lust over, be attracted to what really isn’t?

It’s risky, not wearing make-up, but it can be a spiritual act of confession.

The natural face confesses flaws up front and doesn’t desire to be masked. It doesn’t put a band-aid on a scar but allows the scar to show.

Jesus had scars that He gladly showed to prove one thing: He was real. (John 20:24-30)

Maybe not wearing make-up can do something similar. It can prove our humanity, imperfection and remind us and others that we don’t have it together even if make-up or clothes say so.

Maybe make-up confesses our frailty and our peace with the fact that we are really human, just as Jesus was.

Marks, blemishes, and scars, imperfections say so.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing but a faith thing.

We acknowledge our limitations and rejoice that Jesus is perfect even when we aren’t.

And that His perfection came with skin blemishes too. Divine scars.





My Perfume Mask

6 08 2010

I know I’m “Mrs. Anti-Vanity”, but I do have a weakness that I can no longer conceal. I am vain in one particular area of my life, scent.

I won’t buy expensive clothing, wear what’s in, wear make-up, nor fall into the shoe fetish that is many a woman’s weakness, but I will buy expensive perfume.

Not a ton at a time, but I will spend a ridiculous amount of money on a perfume whose scent I adore.

It’s an addiction. It all started seven years ago. They all started out as gifts; I’m introduced to them slowly, but then surely I get to know and then lust after them. “Dolce and Gabbana” was a high school graduation present. “White Diamond”, a Christmas present. “Amarige”, a college graduation present from my mother. That was the best piece of advice I took from my mother, make sure you smell good.  

For smelling good was just as important as looking presentable my father urged. But I only took half of their advice. I was too radical to conform to societal clothing norms.

I’m only scent-vain; see, I have a heart! (I’m socially conscious!)

But I’m scent-vain for a reason. I have this philosophy that I should use and wear the best that I have as often as I can. That’s why my shoes wear out so quickly. I wear my “good” shoes all the time. I wear my best perfume every single day (unless it’s a day where I know the bees will be out and will proceed to chase me around the block!). If you’re not going to wear it every day, why have it? Why can’t everyday be a special occasion?

The way I see it, the ground is for walking on; I never understood people who grow grass just for people to not walk on it, but to show it off.  Shoes are for wearing to get wherever we need to go; I never understood wearing shoes solely for presentation sake. Crystal dishware is for eating on; Sure it’s expensive, but there’s no point in having dishes if you don’t use them to eat more than once a year…unless you’re eating once a year. That’d be a different story and quite justifiable. And expensive perfume is for wearing, not dabbing, but wearing because if you want to smell good and deodorant only won’t do, perfume compliments your already fresh-smelling scent with a touch of elegance.

At least that’s what I tell myself. But what about sacrificing what we treasure, what I treasure?

In ministry I want to wear my best everyday or not wear it at all, for I’m sure God’s not interested in in-between dedication. He wants all of you or none of you. Not what you deem to be a special circumstance or special occasion.

He wants our kindness not only when volunteering at prison or a food bank, but when that homeless person approaches your car on 15-501 asking for any amount of money. He wants our love not only when volunteering for Vacation Bible School at our churches, but when our parents are annoying us and we’d rather ignore them. He wants our sacrifice not only when we give our usual $10 dollar offering during church, but when the church asks for money to give underprivileged kids school supplies that will cost more than our designated $20 budget.

God wants our best every single day. He wants us to anoint His head with it.

He wants us to sacrifice what we “just can’t give up”, not anointing ourselves, but to drench Him in it, pour it on Him, waste every drop of our selfishness on His perfection. (Matthew 26:6-10)   

And this hurts. It is a sweet, fatal sacrifice.  

For although sacrifices may smell like death to us – an eerie combination of flesh, blood, hair, and violence – it is a sweet aroma to God.  (Ephesians 5:2)

In sacrificing perfume, we sacrifice our masks.

That which either covers our stench of sin, or enhances our fresh scent, our self-perceived righteousness, is not ours to wear, nor anoint ourselves with. It is God’s. And we’re called to give it to Him. All of it.

And shed what once covered our human stench, what masked our human odor. We shed our mask of sweetness and give it to Jesus, for it all belongs to God.

We die to our masks just before His death.

We expose our weakness, expose our weak self to Christ and douse Him with it. He takes it in preparation for the cross. He wears our sin, our mask, our perception of what we need to be and wear and do to be acceptable before man, and wears it to the cross.

He was set on the cross, wearing my mask, my weakness, my errors, my misconceptions of myself and who I needed and need to be and dies with it on.

And my mask died with Him.

And although His dead body was supposed to be anointed with perfume again, it never was. (Mark 16:1)

Because His body, our body, my body doesn’t need it.

We wear the sweet aroma of resurrection and new life instead.





I wonder why we assume that the important ministers should be chased like they are some celebrity.

12 07 2010

I wonder why we assume that the important ministers should be chased like they are some celebrity.  

Or maybe it’s just me and what I have been taught.

I have learned that you find who you admire and want to mentor you and you ask them if you can tag along, if you could join them, learn from them, be like them. I learned you find the best in the game, your field, the area, the profession and become their pupil. You seek them out and learn how to be the greatest from them.

It sounds ideal and pretty normal, except I am not sure that’s 100% the proper discipleship model.

Jesus is kind of huge. He is pretty much this revolutionary figure who is the reason for Christian ministry today. And yet He did the hard work of hand-picking His disciples. Jesus walked to find people and invited them to personally join Him on a quest. Jesus sweated and got sore feet finding people He personally called to be with Him.

The pressure was on Jesus, not to find the perfect students, but the right disciples.

The work was Jesus’. Not the disciples’.

Because it was not the disciples’ job to call themselves, but Jesus’ to call them out.

In Matthew 20 (vs. 1-16), the parable of the vineyard workers, the owner calls people to work in his vineyard, not the other way around. There is no presentation of a resume, a long list of ministerial experience, or extroverted personality requirement. Just a call.

Ministers have moved away from that model. I don’t know why. I don’t understand why some ministers see themselves as so vital to the ministry of God, the superstar of the church, that they are no longer doing the hard work of seeking workers but want workers to seek them. There’s been this strange reversal that encourages worshipping the pastor instead of God; both the pastor and the protégée are not seeking God together in caring for the harvest but the pastor expects to be the people’s harvest.

At the end of the day this reversed disciple model encourages an increased desire for the pastor of God and not God.

In the Matthew text, the workers did not even know they were supposed to do this work. God calls people into work and ministry they may not have ever done before.  They don’t call themselves. If they did, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of God doing the empowering?

Ministers who have gotten to a place where they expect people to work hard to get close to them because they are so important may be missing something. Like humility. Perhaps they’re missing the fact that the owner is the one who initiates this movement of harvest by doing the hard work of recruiting workers to gather fruit from dawn to dusk. The owner works before any worker until the latest part of the day.

He is supposed to be a 6am to 11pm type of minister. No photo-shoots. No women doing the real work and he calling it his own…

 Maybe the true role of a minister is not corporate but personally recruiting legacy-keepers. Maybe the job of a pastor, minister, evangelist, etc. is one where they seek those who they plan to pass on the mantle to.

Jesus did and He was pretty pastoral, right?

 Maybe it’s not about how long a pastor or minister can keep their position and influence, but about how to keep the ministry going through the next generation of spiritual examples and leaders.

Maybe.








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