Happy Resurrection Day!
Some time ago, I wrote a post for a previous blog, Gospel Music as Message Music,where I argued that hip-hop is one contemporary musical space that reclaims the protest tradition of the Negro spirituals. My views have evolved a bit since then, but the core striving for black musical expression that speaks to and can inspire continued effort for social change is in tact.
In anticipation of tonight’s first RE:BIRTH Live experience, What’s Going On: The Seven Last Words of Jesus, I’ve compiled a list of seven Good Friday themed songs that, I think, are great examples of contemporary songs that can nurture the struggle for social change, human freedom and liberation for black and all peoples. People Get Ready!
RE:BIRTH’s Seven Last Songs – Good Friday Playlist
Note how Ms. Hill engages the Hebrew scriptures, Shakespeare, the Gospels’ passion narratives and the O’Jays all while invoking the South African anti-apartheid struggle and sampling Bob Marley’s Concrete Jungle. This recording is a phenomenal example of connecting Jesus’ crucifixion to intersecting justice struggles throughout history and time.
Like Cain & Abel
Caesar & Brutus
Jesus & Judas
backstabbers do this.
Why Black people always be the ones to settle?
March through these streets like Soweto.
For many people, A.D. 2000 refers to the 2,000th year after Jesus’ Death, yet this song was written as a response to the murder of Amadou Diallo by New York City Police Officers that year, connecting the murder of Diallo with Jesus’ murder on the cross at the hands of the state almost 2,000 years before.
Oh, what in the world will we do?
Will we ever make it?
You know it ain’t right.
Oh, is it in Your plan?
Theologian James Cone’s 2011 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, is a useful text for engaging the connections between crucifixion in the Roman Empire and lynching in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hip-Hop group, the Strange Fruit Project has offered sonic correlation to those symbols since 2003. This track is from their most recent release, A Dreamer’s Journey.
Crucify my life
and celebrate me when I’m gone
You can’t kill a heartbeat this strong.
Akel Dama is Aramaic for ‘Field of Blood.’ This is the “potter’s field” which authorities purchased with the “blood money” Judas returned after he was filled with remorse for betraying Jesus. See Matthew 27:3-10.
To some god is the light
That leads them to believe
That they see,
And know everything
But if one is to truly be born again
You would have to gouge out your eyes,
Cut out your tongue,
And cry like a baby
This recording from Bob Marley’s classic Exodus album connects the crucifixion of Jesus to the struggle against the ongoing effects of the translatlantic slave trade and black freedom struggle in Jamaica and globally. He reminds us that despite the “cost of discipleship” we must all know where we stand.
I’ll never forget no way, they crucified Jesus Christ.
I’ll never forget no way, they sold Marcus Garvey for rice.
I’ll never forget no way, they turned their backs on Paul Bogle.
So don’t you forget your youth,
who you are and where you stand in the struggle.
This is Soulive’s post-modern jazz/folk infused re-appropriation of the Negro spiritual “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” While the spiritual has biblical allusion to Mary & Martha weeping for Lazarus, this recording advises the Marys of the world, that it’s okay to lament our suffering.
Ghetto livin like a curse
Can’t even find truth in the church
Mary, don’t you be ashamed to cry.
This has been a long time coming. Several years ago, I attended a U2Charist worship experience at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA and began to brainstorm on how to coordinate a similar worship experience but correlating black musics with traditional worship formats. The idea emerged to correlate the traditional Good Friday Seven Last Words Service with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album as a way to help uncover justice themes of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Many thanks to the people of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN for hosting and helping to bring this vision to life. Shouts out to Gordon’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Vance P. Ross and my sister, Cathy Cain, event planner extraordinaire, for your trust, faith and being co-bearers of this vision. May What’s Going On be a blessing to the Nashville community and beyond. We’ve only just begun!
REBIRTHLive: What are the Seven Last Words?
REBIRTHLive: Why Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?
REBIRTHLive: Participant List
This is an article I wrote for the website of the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church. I worked on staff for GCORR as the Coordinator for Advocacy for a good part of 2010. Check it out:
GCORR Celebrates Black History Month: Honoring Black Heritage
BY Victor Cyrus-Franklin
The commemoration of Black History Month in the United States began with the vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, the Journal of Negro History and spearheaded ‘Negro History Week’ to promote the heritage and contributions of people of African ancestry in the United States. The second week of February 1926 was chosen to commemorate the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Since then, other nations throughout the world have created time to affirm the heritage and ongoing contributions of people of African descent. Canada commemorates Black History Month in February, the United Kingdom, observes Black History Month annually in October and Brazil (which has the largest population of black peoples outside of the African continent) celebrates its “Day of Black Awareness” on November 20th.
Throughout the month of February, United Methodists of all “colors” designate time to celebrate the heritage and contributions of black people within the church. The stories of black people in the Methodist church are still under-told and under-appreciated by many, thus creating time to honor this heritage is an important way to affirm the witness of all members of the body of Christ.
It is important to note, that celebrating and commemorating black heritage is not a task for black people alone! At a discussion on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-atlantic slave trade in England, Paul Gilroy, a British scholar in trans-atlantic black culture, suggests “Those of us who were property, should not relate to this history as if it were somebody’s property. It doesn’t belong to anyone.” In fact, Gilroy suggests, such thinking assigns parameters to what our ancestors are “allowed” to say and places artificial limits on to whom they can speak. The voices of our ancestors of African descent are a gift to all humankind and the richness of black heritage provides lessons and a witness that challenges all people to be more human, more free, and more just in human relations.
For the church to live into our call to inclusiveness, honoring black heritage across racial ethnic boundaries is a beginning toward tearing down racist walls between us and becoming a truly inclusive church.
I’m preparing to kick off the new year for the Young Adult Study of my church. Our first session of 2012 is a continuation of a series we began toward the end of last year themed ‘The Gospel According to Purple Rain: What the Music of Prince has to do with the Prince of Peace’.
How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that’s so cold? (A world that’s so cold)
Maybe I’m just too demanding (Maybe, maybe I’m like my father)
Maybe I’m just like my father too bold (Ya know he’s too bold)
Maybe you’re just like my mother (Maybe you’re just like my mother)
She’s never satisfied (She’s never, never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other? (Why do we scream? Why?)
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry
This is a song about a relationship gone awry, but why a dove? Doves can’t cry. What could Prince possibly mean?
From there, we did a word study on “dove” in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and New Testament. Among other things, doves in the Bible represent peace and symbolize the Holy Spirit. For example, in Genesis 8, it is the dove that delivers the message to Noah of the great flood’s end. It is the dove that represents the end of God’s punishment of humankind and the beginning of a new covenant restoring God’s relationship with all of creation. In Matthew 3, at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descends “like a dove,” in effect commissioning Jesus to go forth, resist the devil’s temptations and heal the afflicted.
So, biblically, the dove could be interpreted as a “winged messenger of God” who foretells and works for peace, restoration and reconciliation of God’s creation. With this interpretation of doves in the Bible, Prince’s song could have deeper meaning. It’s possible that the dove is crying, because the dove represents peace and wants the fighting between this young couple to end. It is also possible that the dove represents God in the Holy Spirit, crying because generation after generation refuses to receive and live into the healing and reconciliation she offers (Maybe I’m just like my father…too bold / Maybe you’re just like my mother…she’s never satisfied / Why do we scream at each other?). In any event, the power of the dove as a symbol has biblical roots and the exploration of those roots can help us hear new meanings of the song.
Tomorrow, we’re building upon this lesson to explore the song that follows ‘When Doves Cry’ on the Purple Rain soundtrack, ‘I Would Die 4 U.’ Should be fun. Stay tuned…
I’m not your lover
I’m not your friend
I am something that U’ll never comprehend
No need 2 worry
No need 2 cry
I’m your messiah and U’re the reason why
It’s the day after Christmas and the first day of Kwanzaa (which celebrates Umoja/Unity). I never got around to posting Christmas reflections, but maybe it’s appropriate to wait considering that “the work of Christmas” begins on the day after.
As I shared in previous posts, I led a Christmas themed bible study for my church’s young adult group and preached for the third Sunday of Advent. Both were spaces where I felt challenged to engage the congregation I serve in social justice themes of the Christmas story. Hopefully, I’ll get to the sermon summary later, but here’s a bible study synopsis:
Christmas According to the Boondocks: Who is Jolly Jenkins?
Most are familiar with The Boondocks because of the animated series televised on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, but the adventures of Huey, Riley and Grandad were first told through a daily comic strip series. Aaron McGruder (who happens to be a co-writer for the soon to be released Tuskegee Airman motion picture, Red Tails) is The Boondocks‘ creator.
We began our study with a “reader’s theatre” performance of a Christmas themed comic strip series from December 1999. In the story, Huey’s friend, Jazmine, asks him if he is excited about Santa coming soon, but Huey (always the cynic) sarcastically quips that the real Santa was a black man named Jolly Jenkins who was unjustly arrested, and put on death row for “spreading books and wisdom” on Christmas Eve. Jazmine quickly shares with her father, Thomas Dubois, the “truth” about Santa Claus.
Tom immediately finds Huey and tells him that the Jolly Jenkins myth is “totally inappropriate” for his daughter. Huey replies, “Well, every year at Christmas, my family remembers a certain famous revolutionary who was unjustly jailed and lost his life.” Tom, puzzled, asks if they celebrate the life Martin Luther King, Jr., Steven Biko, or Nat Turner. Huey replies “no” to all three and encourages him to “think really hard.”
Of course, the “certain revolutionary” Huey invokes is Jesus of Nazareth, but what is revolutionary about Jesus and how is he connected to such revolutionary social and political leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Biko and Nat Turner?
From here, we explored two lectionary scriptures for the third Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11 and Luke 1:46-55. Both of these historic Christmas passages suggest God’s investment in political revolutionary struggle and social change. Isaiah proclaims “good news to the oppressed,” “liberty to the captives,” and “release to the prisoners”and Mary rejoices because God has “brought down the powerful from their thrones,” “lifted up the lowly,” “filled the hungry with good things” and “sent the rich away empty.”
Our group then discussed how Jesus himself could be the inspiration for the revolutionary spirits of MLK, Biko & Turner, as they all were self-professed followers of “the way.” We also engaged the possibility that Huey’s Jolly Jenkins could be Jesus, a jolly black man, imprisoned, because we, like Tom, fail to live out the revolutionary call of Jesus’ life, ministry and message.
Yet, there’s still hope, because Howard Thurman reminds us that:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins…
I’m preparing to preach tomorrow morning. It’s always a challenge for me as preaching has much to do with sharing a word to help people face the uncertainties and ambiguities of life with faith, courage and hope. That’s how I understand sharing the Gospel (Good News), anyway.
I find my self drawing inspiration from the many persons who have shared the “good news” with me and helped me carry on. I can say in no uncertain terms that discovering the writings of James Baldwin while an undergraduate at Tennessee State University saved my life.
Thank you to the educators in my life! Special shouts out to: Dr. William H. Hardy, Dr. Helen R. Houston, Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis, Dr. Jacquelyn Grant, & Dr. Randall C. Bailey. I hope I, too, can educate to help other young (and not so young) women and men live with their questions.
“The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.”
From James Baldwin’s address, “The Negro Child – His Self Image,” delivered October 16, 1963.