Father, but not a Dad

Dad’s Day

(Originally Published on the Conversant Life Blog [site doesn’t exist anymore] on 6.29.2010)

Father’s Day is an interesting day. It is a day to remember the fathers of the world—at least in this society here in the West. Father’s Day is a day to recognize the influence, presence, and significance of the male in a family unit—however one would define a “family unit.” This day is also a time of clever marketing to get dad that special “hammer” or lawnmower he has been wanting, or to treat him to a nice meal at his favorite burger joint—all with special “incentives” like 50% off this and or “no tax” on that. Father’s Day presents itself with a myriad of choices on what to do for dad. But, the deeper issue is, what is a dad? What does a dad really look like in today’s public sphere? Is dad someone who is relegated and minimized to tools, beer, food, and ties? Or is dad someone bigger than that? Is dad a male or a female?

Let’s take a closer look. As many of you know, I have only ever met my father twice in my life, once in July of 1980 and once in July of 1982, after which, I never saw him again in my life. I’m sure he’s out there somewhere, but I never knew a male authoritative figure in my life to which I called “father.” Moreover, the only memories I have of “dad” from 1982 is that he bought me pepperoni pizza, protected me from some deranged individual holding a bat, and a picture that is now too dark to even make out who he really is. Thus, my life was “dad” was not much. I remember early 1983 receiving a big box with a bunch of toys, which I still have to this day. Other than those interactions, I have never really had a “father” in my life.

Now, I’ve had male role models who performed fatherly duties ranging from good, bad, ugly, so-so— always older males who have shown an interest in me over the years and have been a wide assortment of characters. I remember the first male I looked at as a “role model” came in the 4th grade. There were 5 young men held back in ages between 12-14 years of age—yes, in Texas at that time you could get held back indefinitely. At that point I was being picked on by many of the older White kids who disliked Blacks, these group of older Mexican males, protected me—particularly Rene. Rene was the oldest and one of the toughest. He showed me how to fight back and how stand up for myself in real time—meaning beyond the sticks and stones crap you’re taught by people who don’t have a clue of what you’re going through. Rene was it for me. Was he a “good” “father” for me all the time? No, but then again, no father ever is. But, he helped me through rough times, paid attention to me, communed with me, and loved on me as a dad would. Growing up in Menard Texas, I was one of the only kids without a father, but when I got to high school, I fit right in. Vince, the new “dad” in my life, helped me my freshman year in high school and served as one of those males who showed me the “ropes,” so to speak, and kept me out of trouble. Vince was a young man who helped me transition from small town culture to big city culture. Vince also possessed many of the qualities that Rene had.

Throughout my high school years there were different dads, which took on that role model for me. They all had some of the same qualities: caring, love, community, a genuine care and interest for my life, and helped shape formative times in my life—just like a dad should. Again, were all these men “the best?” Yes, at each interval, yes, they were; they were not perfect, but had an important role. They had deeper qualities than just wanting a tie or a good meal on a societal assigned holiday, they wanted to get to know me better and help a younger boy find his way.

My mom was also a father to me when it was needed. There is a slew of single mothers out there who raise boys that turn into great young men—we tend to overlook many of the women who do this everyday. Moreover, stale definitions of the family picture a husband and a wife raising kids—while that is optimal for social, cognitive, and psychological development it is not always the “best” and life doesn’t always work out with June and Ward Cleaver. My mom stepped in often as a dad figure and taught me how to shave, ride my first bike, listen to me when I kissed my first girl, and there to help me through life’s struggles as a young male.

For me, there are two major distinctions in fatherdom: a father—which fulfills the basic role of a being a father (being a figure to look at as a parent, providing, protecting, and basic interactions); then there is the dad, who has all those qualities of the father, but also is there emotionally, has worked through (or begun to work through) their issues, someone who teaches and educates, someone who is able to let their children grown and mature, someone who is solid and admits their mistakes, and someone who is spiritually available for their children. These two differences are key in understanding how to find a good dad.

As I now have the great role of being a dad for my biological child, I know that I want to give her something I never had; I know I want to give her a future that is vastly different than my past; I know I want to educate and train her that life is not fair and that as an ethnic minority and a woman she will not be given anything in life; I want to teach her that God is more than just a “father” God is a dad and a mom and within that God head exists an abundance of love beyond what I could ever give.

This dad’s day I reflect on all those men and women who influenced me and shaped me into the man I am today. I reflect back on a father who was never really there—but thankfully I never had to wait on the corner for a father who would never show up; I never had to listen to failed promises; I never had to witness my mom being beat; I never had to deal with a father who didn’t emotionally support me; not that my father was or did all those things, but as I’ve worked with young people over the last 16 years one of the most destructive forces in a young persons life is an absent parent—I never had to experience that. Am I angry at my father? No. I never knew him. Moreover, he never really knew me. I’m not the same 8-year-old gazing at him with awe back in 1982. I’ve had plenty of examples of what a good dad should be in my life. And I’m passing those on to my little girl and the young men I mentor.

Once we move beyond the stereotypes of Father’s Day, we find that there are many young men who have only been taught to be just a father. My hope is that we will be able to break through that stereotype and move into being better dads. I know that’s my mission.

As a side note, the picture you see here is the only picture I ever had of my father. Notice any resemblance?

Doubt is Essential to Faith & Religion

Doubt. We all have it. But, somehow when religion is involved, we think it needs to go away. We assume that doubt is bad, wrong, and in the extreme, something that makes us “broke.” That’s just bullshit. All of it. Truth is, we need doubt. We need doubt at every corner of our religious imagination. It is imperative. Without it, dogmatic ideological structures pop up and create what we’re seeing now in the U.S.: fundamentalism. I know it, you don’t. I have the truth, they don’t. You’re wrong, I’m right. So, to hell with you all!

Doubt pushes us to go deeper in our faith journey. It is the needed ingredient to grow in our own development. Yes, don’t believe the hype. If you’re in a religious setting that doesn’t allow doubt. Run. Don’t walk, in fact, get out that mu-fuckin’ place like now! It is eating you alive.

My pastor, Laura Truax, preached a sermon that captures the beauty of doubt really well; much better than I could have put it. So, give it a listen. I think you’ll be enlighted and, maybe, have a bit more doubt.

 

Humanism & The Challenge of Race: Dr. Anthony Pinn

An African American scholar that has had a great impact on my own thinking, is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn’s work is renowned. He is prolific. And while I was not directly under his mentorship, he has influenced my own process on theology, God, and how we see the aforementioned through the intersections of race, gender, and class. Trust me, I’m working on getting him on the podcast, Profane Faith.

I ran across a podcast interview he gave and I wanted to post that here. I think it’s important to engage with the fringes of our own belief systems; especially in the realm of religion and deity. While Dr. Pinn focuses more on humanism, and I lean more toward Christianity, his continual push to critically process deity and embodiment have been challenging for me and has pushed me forward in my own scholarship. In this era of trump and extreme racism, I think it is imperative that we question our own ideology of religion. So much of it comes with colonialism, and thus, tainted processes. Dr. Pinn raises some really good points and allows us to take on a type of meta-questioning in which we question the questions. Good stuff.

So, check it out and let me know what you think.

Between Selfies & Colonialism: The Effect of White Evangelical Outreach on Multi-Ethnic Young Adults within the Los Angeles Region

If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of  “short-term missions.” In fact, if I could, I’d do away with them altogether…even more so in the trumpster era. There is no pragmatic, theological, or even practical reason to do them other than to feel good about oneself and doing “good” for those “poor” people. I am for learning experiences, learning times, and excursions which lead to more self-reflection and growth. But please, do not put “missions” on the front of that. Are you really that arrogant that you’d think you were the only one bringing God to “these people?”

So, as a scholar, I wanted to investigate this phenomena since it is such a common theme among White Evangelical churches and, most mainstream denominations have some form of it. While the findings are to one specific area, the suggestion of the findings could point to a much larger problem. Check it out, here is the abstract and here is the link to the full article

This article is an exploratory look into the experiences of five ethnic-minority youth from the Los Angeles region who experienced and engaged with White Evangelical outreach organizations (WEOO) and short term mission (STM) groups over the period of five years. This article employs their qualitative narratives and examines the effects that race, gender, and racism had on them. Added narrative from emerging ethnic-minority adults is also applied in this article to discuss those impacts, albeit on a specific region of the country, of (STMs) which have become increasingly well-known over the past decade. The purpose of this article is to examine and explore the effects of WEOOs and STMs on the populations they are intending to serve. From the research findings, I will illustrate 1) subtle racism, microaggression, and patriarchy from WEOOs and 2) allow the narrative of ethnic-minority experiences to chronicle their experience in these types of organizations. Lastly, this article will briefly propose alternatives and insights from the data gathered.

For a great conversation on missions, race, & gender, check out Rediet Mulugeta on the Profane Faith Podcast.

Hip Hop & Religious Rhetoric

Taken from the Rock & Theology Blog-now discontinued

As we enter a new era of religious rhetoric in the upcoming election year, I am reminded at some of the mythical vernaculars which get exhumed almost every time politicians run for office in this country. In an essay by Wade Clark ROOF (titled American Presidential Rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush: Another Look at Civil Religion), American civil religion is examined while taking on the myths of “one nation under God,” the “Chosen Nation” and the timeless classic of “Manifest Destiny”; in other words, it is our “destiny from God” to be the nation from the most High. But as ROOF reminds us, “Myths are the means by which a nation affirms its deepest identities and frames its rationale for political action; they are elementary, yet profound…” (p. 287 in Social Compass 2009; 56 [2]). Therefore, these simplistic ideologies get woven into the fabric of social DNA and become things that people will die for; and kill other for as well.

We find ourselves—meaning the Christian audiences of the U.S.—at a crossroads of sorts. The religious rhetoric coming from the conservative right is at times frightening; laws changed for the “morality of God” and/ or laws put in place to “serve God” better.  These types of crowd pleasing statements are interesting as we look at socio-religious structures within America. For example, sociologist Neil J. Smelser convincingly argues (2004: 276-9) that fear of an external threat in a setting where God and country are closely aligned is powerful in reinforcing a Manichean-type morality, or tendency to frame conflicts with other nations as essentially a struggle between “good” versus “evil.” (Chapter titled “September 11, 2001 as Cultural Trauma” in the edited book Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity.)

I believe this creates a dangerous quintessence for the non-critical worldview person (which so many churches seem to have these days), which blurs the lines between church and state. Thereby creating easy escapes into the excuse for more violence and senseless killings of people groups deemed “evil.”

Hip Hoppers call this out. At the root of Hip Hop essence and culture is the power and strength to call out authority and question authoritarian powers that have, historically, been non-trustworthy and continually lied to the public; particularly the urban public. Once again, Tupac brings some very interesting thoughts on these types of issues. In a raw and unedited manner, Tupac presents a theology of culture in an unapologetic modus; he is able to cut into the depth of the issue and see it for what it truly is.

In this clip Tupac breaks down these elements of religious rhetoric and asks the question of how God can connect to him and people like him without all the dogma, caricatures, social accolades, and misinterpretations of scripture.

Take a listen. (Please note, there is language that some might deem as profane and/ or offensive. For those who do find it that way, please try to look beyond the obvious offense and look into the context and meaning of what is being said.)

Profane Faith

I’m sure you’re wondering, what is profane faith? What is a faith that is profane? And, shouldn’t faith NOT be profane? C’mon now!

Well, check out a chapter from my latest book, Hip Hop’s Hostile Gospel, on the hostility of the “gospel.”

It was the rap artist Talib Kweli who asserted that even a Gospel was hostile to begin with. In his song titled “Hostile Gospel,” he begins by asserting that there are double standards and major issues which are being ignored in mainstream American society:

Hip-Hop’s the new WWF

What do you rap or do you wrestle? Niggaz love to forget

We got til it’s gone, you think you on, you still hustling backwards

Your topical norm a tropical storm, it’s a fuckin disaster

Back to the topic we on, it all started at Rawkus

They couldn’t find the words to describe me so they resort to the shortcuts

Is he a backpacker? Is he a mad rapper?

An entertainer or the author of the last chapter

We living in these times of love and cholera

Synonymous with the apocalypse, look up the clouds is ominous

We got maybe ten years left say meteorologists, shit

We still waitin for the Congress to acknowledge this![1]

Here Kweli describes some of the current issues and the attitude of ignorance from dominant society. Kweli even argues that Hip Hop is the new “WWF.” In other words, the commercialization of Hip Hop has created a type of hostility even from within the Hip Hop community which is then compounded with the fact that issues in the urban context continue to be ignored. The song goes on to say:

In these tryin days and times

All I need is to be free

I can’t do it on my own

Lord can you deliver me?

There are trials still to come

It’s salvation that I need

So I’m reachin to the sky

Lord can you deliver me?

Deliver us…

The asking for deliverance is fundamental in the face of hostility and suffering. Kweli asks the higher power of God to deliver not only himself, but also the community (notice that the song ends with the word “us”).

How does one deal with God in the face of such hostility? How, as rapper Tupac Shakur asks, does one act like an angel when surrounded by devils? Yet, in the same sense, the question can be asked:  how can hostility be found in “good news?” The rapper and Hip Hopper living in the hostile urban context would rephrase and state that even in “good times” there are hostile elements to life; even in the midst of good days, there is still the chance of being killed; even with a loving God, shit still happens on a daily basis. Yet, can God, devoid of White dominant societal theology, deliver me in my messy and hostile context? Further, where can I find God in the hostility of life? Ralph Watkins tells us that, “the heaven-and-hell debate drives this song—the premise being that hell is right here on earth. Do you know hell? Do you know what hell feels like and looks like? Kweli says, ‘if you ever walked through any ghetto then you know it well.’ Living in the ghetto is hell” (2011, 109). This type of theology is rooted in the reality of the now, today, the pragmatic daily life existence—the ghetto reality.

In part two of the song Hostile Gospel, Kweli asks for God’s deliverance from this hostile context of economic, social, and theological inequality:

Die on my feet before I live on my knees Lord

Deliver me from point A to B like livery

Nothin is free, you got to be a hero to save

They got you working like a slave from the crib to the grave

A minimum wage can barely keep a job for a home

A car or a phone, forget about gettin a loan

You starting to moan, your bank account is getting withdrawn

It’s pitiful how we becomin slaves to things that we own

They en-slavin the brains with the whips and the chains

End up in the coffin chasing the fortune, chasing the fame

Slave to the rhythm, slave to the night, slave to the day

They hop aboard the Underground Railroad and run away

Pray for the day niggas don’t get taken away

For makin a way to stop their baby’s stomach aching today

I sip a whiskey straight, no chase

It’s hard to take a man away from the sin when it’s inside of him

Please[2]

Hip Hop theology is about engaging this hostility and tension head on. Watkins once again says, “The God of hip-hop is a God who is found inside those who follow this God [the God of justice, equality and freedom]” ( 2011: 110).

What makes this hostile is 1) the nefarious social and living conditions of the urban context 2) oppressive living and social conditions within urban areas that breed frustration and hostility within the Hip Hop community such that 3) Hip Hop creates a hostile form of theology which not only engages these issues, but also demands a voice at the theological table while it brings its frustration and hostility paired with a “good news” to get out of the current situation. Kweli might also suggest that his point is less sophisticated and more blunt—a Hip Hop mantra of being direct. The Christian Gospel is hostile to people.

Carter Heyward has a statement which captures the essence of this hostile Gospel in relation to Jesus Christ. Heyward states:

Most Christians expect Jesus to be all good, completely good, perfect, “without sin,” as the tradition has taught us. Either we overlook and ignore things that he did and said about which, if it were anyone but Jesus, we might complain (cursing and killing a fig tree?), we learn to rationalize away the biblical record (he didn’t really do this), or we find positive ways of looking at what only appear to be negative images (he’s not really belittling his mother at the wedding; he’s just trying to stretch and re-image his friends’ understandings of “family”). We cannot seem to bear the notion of a Jesus who didn’t always do or say the right thing (1999, 144-145).

In other words, if one of the central figures of the Christian faith has hostility in their own life, is it not fair to say that Hip Hop can have this same mix with its approach to God?

To look at it in yet another way, the Gospel in its root meaning—aside from the Protestant meaning of the message of Jesus Christ—is ‘good news.’[3] This good news is part of what Hip Hop is attempting to bring to its community and culture. This good news is not based in Christian values and theologies, but in a much broader view of social justice, social awareness, social consciousness, community mindedness, personal consciousness, and a journey to a God who can help and will provide shelter. Moreover, this gospel within the Hip Hop community is not always a sacred quest; the secular and profane are intertwined with weed, alcohol, sexuality, and ‘living a good life/being successful.’ These are all domains that seem to be anti-God and to appear ‘sinful’ in nature. Yet, Hip Hoppers say, we must also hold these areas in tension as part of the ‘good news’ for survival, and to rise above the current situation. There might actually be a spiritual presence within these domains which can uplift the person into a transcendental force; a spiritual presence in those domains which are often touted as sin, secular, and evil; a God in those spaces is good news for Hip Hoppers. If one is to examine truly the religious and theological meanings within a culture then we cannot ignore or overlook those areas labeled as “sinful” and “wicked” for in that sin and wickedness, Hip Hoppers are searching for a theology. As Spencer (1991) argues, Black secular music such as Hip Hop can masquerade as sinful, sexual, and sonically evil yet represent a spiritualty for the everyday (1991b, 9-10). Further, in some regards, this book (Chapters Three and Five) will demonstrate that certain artists such as Tupac offer a theological hermeneutic and ecclesiology that is “enough” for Hip Hoppers and the Hip Hop community theologically. In other words, Hip Hop actually becomes the “word” and “truth” through its artists and culture—an aspect KRS-One is also attempting to do in some respects (One 2009).

[1] Ear Drum (2007), “Hostile Gospel, Pt 1.”

[2] Ear Drum (2007), “Hostile Gospel, Pt 2.”

[3] Taken from an etymological study in the Oxford English dictionary database, 2013.

Well, no and yes.  In one sense