Monday, July 30, 2007

The Death of Prophecy

Let me begin by saying this weeks meditation is not a selfish plug. I’m writing out of a desire to process the sorrow I feel related to the shadows I wrote about on last week. To recap, last week I spoke of the dread that comes with doing our best to let that little light shine when our light appears as the flickering of a flashlight at midnight. Just a little light and a consuming darkness to overcome.
What appears as a plug is this-I’m close to completing my second novel. The title is “Backslide” and it is certain to raise eyebrows for its candor. In it, Simon, the Preacha’ Man, starts a new ministry. He does so with a faith and courage that comes with having functioned for years as the whipping boy of a traditionally minded church. Finally, after pondering the consequences of being free from the political machine we call the Church, he steps away from it all at the end of Preacha’ Man. He decides that being a person is more important than being the robot of the Church.
Problem is this thing called a calling. For those not bond to this prevailing force, there is a significant difference between a job and a calling. Those of you privileged enough to function with the freedom that comes with finding a job, holding a job and seeking a new job-enjoy all of that. Those called lack the freedom that comes with taking your credentials to the highest bidder. Callings require sacrifice, and sacrifice comes with pain.
Years back, I wrote a paper for a seminar at the University of Chicago. The title of the piece is “Prophetic Voice in Public Space”. I based the paper on Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s book Barbershops, Bibles & BET. Melissa used me as a subject for her research on how the church molds the political ideologies of those who attend. Melissa took my columns (at the time with the Herald-Sun) and sermons (then at the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church) and went about t he business of analyzing how much of what I wrote and preached about was believed by those in the church.
Part of my tussle over the years has been with maintaining integrity as a prophetic voice within the context of community enamored with maintaining a traditional model of faith. What it means to be faith minded has changed over the years. The tradition with traditional churches has been fractured by the influences of the mega-Church movement. The consequence is the minimizing of prophetic voice while accentuating the merits of the individual’s quest for prosperity.
An example is an article I read this week from the Baltimore Sun. I felt the zeal of God when I read the account of the First Mount Olive Free Will Baptist Church. They really love their pastor. The good Christians went and purchased Bishop Oscar E. Brown a luxurious custom built Bentley two summers ago. The members of the church yelled “praise Him,” as he backed the car, estimated to cost between $130,000 to $150,000, out from the church parking lot. Its not like the good Bishop needed a car-he also owns a Lexus SC430 sports car.
Before you jump down my throat and call me a playa hater, let me finish the story. The church is facing foreclosure for failing to pay a $12,000 water bill. In addition to failing to pay the water bill the church was notified the property would be auctioned at the end of the month for defaulting on its $1.5 million mortgage. The plot thickens. The church was recently destroyed in a fire days after receiving notification of the auction.
The article in the Baltimore Sun ended with addressing the Empowerment Temple. The church leases its pastor, Jamal-Harrison Bryant, a 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Churches seemingly aren’t disturbed, in fact they seem to enjoy, providing lavish lifestyles to those called to be prophetic. The Christians in Atlanta have made Creflo “Give Me Some” Dollars and Eddie Long millionaires. It’s not uncommon to hear of churches willing to purchase planes to make it easier for the pastor to make those trips to the money making conferences across the country. The prophetic voice of the Church has been cashed in for a more lucrative enterprise-the marketing of Jesus for personal gain.
Which brings me back to that selfish plug-it doesn’t pay being prophetic. The best way to run people away from God is to talk about God. That’s crazy, you say. Is it? When’s the last time you’ve seen a movement to bring people together that didn’t involve a $100, $50, $25 line for those willing to make a seed offering to build the work of the kingdom? When is the last time you’ve heard a person talk about taking that money and placing it into the hands of the homeless, the addicted, the afflicted or rejected? When is the last time you heard someone promote a message of inclusion? No, that’s too much like Jesus who welcomed people in rather than finding ways to throw people out!
Where in the gospel did Jesus engage in an act that promoted his need? Imagine Jesus saying, “The Father has shared with me our need to purchase me a Bentley. I need it to prove to the lost that God is a provider. God is using me to show you what can be yours in the kingdom.” Can you imagine Jesus saying something like that? If not, why are we suckered into believing it’s legitimate for those called to serve Christ?
The answer is simple. The calling is treated like a job. We are not called to promote our own agenda. We are called to advance the kingdom of God. The kingdom needs servants willing to stand above and beyond the common trend. This is risky business. Being called isn’t profitable. People hate watching a called servant. It exposes the truth regarding the hypocrisy of their faith. They desire the easy life. They want leaders to make them feel comfortable about their own decisions.
Simon learns the lesson. They kill prophets. Like they say, nothing under the sun has changed. The only thing that has changed is the Pharisees are driving Bentleys.

Homeboys and Pitbulls

Someone help me understand what’s wrong with Michael Vick. How does a person turn their back on millions of dollars to make a few bucks watching pit bulls go at it until one of them dies? Of course my statement assumes the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons is guilty of the federal dog fighting charges he faces in Richmond.
Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Vick on Friday, while Reebok stopped sales of his No. 7 jersey. This on top of not being able to draw from his contract with the Falcons while he waits for a verdict on the charges facing him.
It is true that one is innocent until proven guilty. For all we know Vick was clueless that his cousin and homeboy’s were using the property he owns in rural Virginia to train 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls to go to war. Yes, he may be that stupid. One thing is clear. If that is true, Vick, like many black men enamored with maintaining street credibility, is guilty of surrounding himself with people willing to use his resources in a way that could destroy everything he’s worked hard to build.
This is another example of being careful when choosing your friends. I’m down with not judging a person too soon, but shucks, if you hang with pigs long enough eventually you’ll end up smelling like your home is a pigpen. Vick is guilty of thinking, “Yo, those my homeboys”. Whatever. Truth is, as much as Vick wanted to be down with his boys, one thing prevails- he had much more to loose than they did. He is living with a higher level of responsibility, and, as a consequence, needed to deal with the burden of carrying people unwilling to protect his interest.
What is Vicks interest? He’s an African American quarterback in the NFL. For those of this Hip-Hop generation that’s not a big deal. For me and others who can remember back in the day, it means so much more. I will never forget the tears flowing from my eyes when Doug Williams led the Redskins to a Super Bowl win. Never mind I hate the freaking Redskins. I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan. The Cardinals, before they were shipped out to Arizona and the Rams replaced them in St. Louis, were in the same division as the Redskins. Those Deadskins were our divisional rivalry, but when it came to that game I wanted them to win because of Doug Williams.
As a former quarterback I fought to overcome the view that black quarterbacks lacked the stuff to succeed at the position. It was assumed that our natural place was to run and catch the ball, and to do a silly dance once we got to the end zone. The quarterback position required intelligence and leadership. Williams proved that black folks could do the job. Others followed to solidify the claim.
Then comes the knucklehead named Vick who lacks an appreciation for the history of the struggles to secure his right to stand behind the center. Too many people fought for his right to be there. How can he forget Joe Gilliam, the former quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers who was set to start ahead of Terry Bradshaw before getting hurt? How can he forget that Warren Moon was forced to go to Canada to play because no one was willing to give him a chance in the NFL. He went on to post Hall of Fame numbers.
The position denotes responsibility. We should never forget the sacrifices that went into his right to play the game and make the money that comes with getting that chance to play. His boys don’t care. They wanted to make their own way by playing games. The problem is they used dogs instead of pigskin. It’s sad how your friends can get in the way of your progress. Sometimes you simply have to let them go.

Carl W. Kenney II,