Posted in Headlines, Hip Hop, Music, Politics

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 07 Reagan

When my wife and I entertain guests, you know, back in the days when we could have gatherings at our house without worrying about somebody’s grandma dying because we wanted to gather together in community and eat tacos and listen to music and discuss things with like minded people. Anyway, when I make playlists for company, I try to place similar genres together in small sets, so hopefully everybody gets to hear a little something they like. We are at the pinnacle of a Hip-Hop set in our Playlist for the Apocalypse.

Killer Mike embodies so much of what I love about Hip-Hop. When I was 12 years old, I listened to NWA because that’s what rebellious white kids listened to in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But I fell in love with Hip-Hop later, after Ice Cube went solo. In 1992, when his third solo album The Predator was released, it offered me a completely different commentary on the LA Riots than what I got from my parents or the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. As I say in a spoken word piece I often perform

I learned about Rodney King, Dr. King, my white privilege and Malcolm
I fell asleep every night for a year listening to that album…
I’m not kidding when I say
I sit beneath the lilac tree in the cool breeze
While Ice Cube spit hot ash
And that’s why I sought a seminary degree
Because despite a thousand sermons
He was the very first person
I heard preach about Justice

Killer Mike and Ice Cube are kindred spirits. Killer Mike is a self described “Pan Africanist Gangster Rapper, Civic Leader & Activist.” Just the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with, or at least listen to on a frigid May afternoon during quarantine. Some days I go a little bit insane staying in the house. Today I set up my deck chairs and furniture for my outside listening area on my front porch. The plan was to listen to the playlist, drink coffee and write outside. But I decided it was too cold outside today here in West Michigan. So Killer Mike’s music will have to help me transcend these four walls.

When I feel helpless about how comically sad our society is while people protest not being able to get their nails done, Killer Mike’s music reminds me of the true priorities of protest: taking on systems of power. Today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track, “Reagan” uses the imagery of the Beast from the book of Revelation and likens it to the American government, particularly Ronald Reagan. And don’t come here with that Fox News, Geraldo Rivera, “hip-hop has done more damage than racism” bullshit either. Mike’s not having it! He offers an in house critique of some of the themes in Hip-Hop that at times seem like “advertisements for agony and pain.” What Mike offers is a meta-critique of sorts. It is one in which, governmental and world powers might be held to closer scrutiny because of their enormous power and responsibility. In the end, we all carry the burden of our collective responsibility, even if some people with their great and terrible abuses of power shoulder more of the guilt. But nobody is spared in Mike’s prophetic critique of American politics

Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country’s real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Qaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Same as in Iraq, and Afghanistan
And Ahmadinejad say they coming for Iran
They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor
If I say any more they might be at my door
Who the fuck is that staring in my window
Doing that surveillance on Mister Michael Render
I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead

Posted in Beauty, Health

The Aftermath

25 years ago today, a jury acquitted Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind on charges of assault and use of excessive force in the now infamous caught on tape beating of Rodney King. In some ways not much has changed in 25 years. Now the footage is captured on iPhones instead of camcorders. But police brutality, especially against people of color, is still rampant in the United States. Victims of police brutality are still scrutinized and blamed. Rodney King certainly wasn’t an innocent man. Amadou Diallo was! But in either case – or any of the plethora of like cases we have been inundated with over the past quarter of a century – the narrative is always similar. It always becomes a story about how much the victim did or did not deserve the severity of force rather than primarily about those who abuse the power of a badge and a gun.

These are things I have been thinking about, at least since the fall of 1992. Ice Cube released his third solo album, The Predator. From beginning to end it was a scathing indictment of police brutality and race relations in America. And from “We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up” to “Who Got the Camera?” it was a completely different commentary than what I got from the Evening news with Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and drastically different than what I heard from my parents. I am not being hyperbolic or speaking flippantly when I say that listening to that album with my headphones on was a large part of why I ended up going to seminary. I just no longer see the church pulpit as my avenue for trying to be an agent of change in a sick and heartbroken society.

What I haven’thought a lot about is the aftermath of a highly publicized event on a city and all of its inhabitants. From the violence that erupted in L.A. to the mostly peaceful demonstrators and vigils in Ferguson, there is some level of violence, lots of civil unrest, negative impact on local businesses, whether from looting or the enforcement of curfews. Already tense relationships between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities are heightened. And in this state of affairs the media descends on a city and saturates the entire country with coverage of their story… until the next big headline. I say none of this to minimize the importance of the people being heard. It is more of a judgement about our poor listening skills, about how we only talk about ugly truths when the worst things happen, we turn people and whole cities into talking points until there is another headline about a President’s tweet, or the unrest in Syria or a viral video of a bluegrass band covering AC/DC diverts our attention.

I am thinking a lot today about what the aftermath must be like for the communities affected. I am thinking about it largely for two reasons. Yesterday I listened to a heartbreaking report on NPR on how L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and sports and business mogul, Peter Ueberroth’s attempts to Rebuild L.A. were in large part a failure. And in many ways the city is still reeling from the aftermath of the verdict and the subsequent civil unrest.

I am also thinking about it because one year ago today in a much less publicized case I was a “defendant” for the first time in my life. The plaintiff was my ex-wife. We stood in front of a judge. There were no lawyers. He didn’t even bang a gavel. He simply pronounced us divorced. We had already been separated for 6 months. We had been growing apart for years, creating a void that was almost unbearable for all, including our two children. People find all sorts of ways to cope with the dysfunction of an unhappy home. I was distant and drank too much. I threw myself headlong first into the search for ministry placement. Then after a heartbreaking two year search and a very short lived time as an underpaid “resident pastor” I threw myself into being an online, Christian “social justice warrior.” My family suffered, I suffered, my art suffered. But divorce, while many things, is not a cure for dysfunction or broken hearts. The civil unrest of divorce creates a vortex of new pain and an aftermath that requires a lot of rebuilding.

I am working my ass off to rebuild. I am working to resurrect a bridge of communication that was completely dismantled between my ex-wife and myself, so that we can successfully co-parent two children whose dreams of a happy home and a white picket fence, with both parents together were shattered. I am working on reestablishing a relationship with the two most important people in my life, my 9 year old daughter with trust issues and clinical anxiety and my wide-eyed, usually optimistic but heartbroken 7 year old son. Some days the effort seems futile and fruitless when my daughter calls me the night before a “daddy’s weekend” and says she is not coming to my house anymore and hangs up on me. There are lots of fits, temper tantrums and some trying to play mom and dad against each other. But there is also a lot of precious time spent playing baseball in the yard, letting my son get unlimited turns at bat to kick my ass and letting my daughter make up her own 15 strikes before your out rule. There is ice cream and hugs and snuggles. And I cannot let myself forget things when they break my heart or during the void I feel, the 10 out of every 14 days that they are not here with me.

The aftermath is hard. Somethings take a lifetime and constant effort to rebuild. Time certainly does not heal all wounds. But love – love and tireless effort – can bandage those wounds and hold us tight as we walk through the flames and sift through the ashes and strain towards compassion, growth and new ways of navigating life and finding joy.