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June 2018

Imperial Myth

Imperial Myth 550 304 Corey Leak

Thomas Jefferson believed that without the separation of church and state clergy would become unresponsive to the needs of their own people, and that a State sponsored religion would lead to corruption within religion itself. It can be difficult to recognize when religion, or government for that matter, has succomed to corruption. Over time, the words, phrases and ideals that once reminded us of our sacred responsibility to God and one another, undergo a sort of data corruption.  We unwittingly accept flawed ideology because it comes in the form of founding virtues. In America, our Southern border is a glaring example. The ideas that were intended to build a more just society for European immigrants have become the bedrock of injustice toward migrants  seeking asylum at our border.

For a corrupted digital file, there can be a number of different causes both internally and externally. There could be a virus or incompatibility between hardware and software within the device itself or extreme changes in temperature, water, dust, or loss of power from outside of it. Whatever the cause, corruption changes the very nature of its host, and renders that host dangerous to whatever system it’s operating in. Today the dangerous host operating with corrupted data in our Country is unfortunately the American Evangelical Church. In these times of heated debates over the morality of how migrants, immigrants, POC, and women are treated, it seems as though today’s Evangelicals are either silent or worse yet, falling victim to partisan politics rather than human rights. American ideology was never intended to be the standard for justice for Evangelicals.

The Jewish founder of Evangelicalism intended for his disciples to go into all the world and share the good news that God had begun to make the world new again. The essense of evangelism is to deliver a message of freedom, peace, love, and togetherness. That is what his followers wrote about in what we now call the New Testament. They were writing letters and instructions to one another that were intended to spread the news of God’s new world order into a culture that had a flawed concept of justice. They lived in a world among people who had their ideas about justice promulgated to them by an imperial cult called the Roman Empire.

The Roman Emperors permitted freedom of religion to their subjects as long as it didn’t oppose or interfere with their true religion of Emperor worship. The Romans established a long tradition of claiming that their Emperors were gods in the flesh. They would tell stories of the miraculous births of each ruler, and spread propaganda throughout the regions on coins reinforcing the idea of imperial deity. Although there was religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire, all religion was subject to the authority of the Emperor, and resisting that authority was to resist the Divine. Emperor worship was so deeply embedded in culture that it was virtually unnoticed. The ruling class instilled rhetoric that the people used to exalt the Emperor as God. Buying and selling took place with coins that reinforced the the Emperor’s deity. Rebels who resisted imperial religious perversion through violence or subversive language, were put on trial and executed publicly to show the power of the divine Emperor and discourage even the slightest rebellion.

That was the world that the Jewish Messiah sent his disciples into as Evangelicals, which meant almost certain death as a criminal and a trader to Rome and God.

If being an Evangelical today was even a caricature of its original intent some thousands of years ago, it would be a step in the right direction. Rather than following the examples and writings of the Evangelicals before us, we have come to accept injustice in the present as long as it’s perpetrated by the Emperor leading the party we identify with. Our Emperor can do no wrong. We side with him against his enemies regardless of whether those enemies are the very people we were instructed by our founder to draw near to and help. In the name of patriotism, we curse our brother or sister and condemn them with labels that reduce their feelings and experiences to political orientations. A person who supports an athlete’s right to protest injustice or believes that foreigners should be treated with dignity regardless of what country they come from or their religion, is labeled a “leftist”. The label is usually proceeded by some demeaning adjective or slur. Somewhere along the way, loving our neighbor and the belief that all men are created equal, became associated with liberal politics. This idea seems to be most prevalent in American Evangelical Christian circles. As strange as it may sound to some, American Nationalism and the Christian faith can be mutually exclusive. It is possible to hold up American ideals and for those ideals to be in direct conflict with the just rule of God that the first Evangelicals were charged with announcing. The first people to evangelize believed that God cared about the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, and the Gentile. They believed that God was characterized by love, mercy, and compassion as well as order and law. They didn’t endorse a belief that a just God couldn’t be merciful or that a merciful God wouldn’t uphold justice. They advocated that God was love and that if human beings learned to love like God, the world would be full of justice.

The driving force of faith is love. It’s love that was the catalyst of the gospel movement, but not simply love for ones own tribe. We were charged to love the other, and that kind of love is messy. It raises complex questions and forces us to look deep within ourselves to see how committed we are to God’s world order. The command to love our neighbors is why the early church fathers struggled with what to do with Gentiles coming into a historically Jewish faith. A large chunk of Paul’s writings are dedicated to the topic of making space for the other. Evangelism is all about making more space for people to come into an authentic community of justice and love. That’s the core of the message and the reason Christianity outlived Roman imperial religious rule. I suspect justice and love will be how authentic Christian faith will outlive American Evangelical political rule as well.

Is America’s greatness or standing as “first” in the world something to be defended at all costs?

Also, I’d like to broaden this conversation beyond what I can reach alone… 

What 3 people can you share this blog with?

Their Shoes

Their Shoes 700 394 Corey Leak

“When I was in school I had to walk 12 miles uphill both ways in the snow.” That saying was supposed to let students fortunate enough to have a ride to school know that we had it easy. If we thought we had it rough, this was a reminder that we actually didn’t. If we were to walk a mile in their shoes (feet in this case), we would adjust our attitude. Those old folks recognized what I’ve come to believe is a profound truth. If we imagine ourselves walking in someone else’s shoes – compassion, not judgment becomes our stance toward the other. 

In the last several weeks there has been a great deal of discussion about what’s been happening at the Mexican border. It’s been refreshing to see the conversation about children being separated from their parents be mostly about how we can help them. People have rallied to aid them by setting up funds to get them legal representation, marching in protest, and appealing to their representatives to help. Many pastors and politicians on both sides of the aisle have spoken out against this policy of taking children from the arms of their parents (this includes pastors who are a part of the President’s Spiritual Advisory Board). It’s been nice to see that there is a “too far” for staunch supporters of this Administration. I’ve yet to see anyone be overtly callous towards migrant families being separated from one another at border, but I have noticed a bit of a disturbing trend.

We all have experience with children fighting, either as a parent breaking up fights or as children ourselves. Inevitably when the fight is broken up and consequence is being handed out, one or both of the guilty kids will say the other one “started it”. It’s a childish thing to say, and it falls to every parent to use that moment to teach their children that “two wrongs don’t make one right”. I’ve noticed that in the midst of people expressing both outrage and good-will, there are others who feel it’s important that we all know who started this practice. There are people staring at images like…

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who seem to believe that the most important thing to be noted is that the Obama’s and the Clinton’s “started it”. I suppose knowing what political party is to blame is helpful in political conversations. I imagine it even has some relevance to who we should vote for in upcoming elections, but it has zero relevance on what we should be doing right now. We should be careful as a people not to treat human rights issues as partisan issues.

Pause for a moment to imagine how it would feel to flee your home country to seek asylum in a foreign land only to be detained and separated from your small children at the border. How comforting would facts about MS13 and smugglers or understanding whose Administration is responsible for the condition you now find yourself in be? Would you not desperately want someone to show compassion toward you and your little ones? This is the situation for TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED migrants at the Southern border.  Prior to the President signing an executive order today, it was estimated that TWENTY THOUSAND migrant children would’ve  been in the care of the DHHS by August 1st if something would not have changed. The executive order does not reunite parents with their children who were already separated. There is still work to be done, but this was a crisis that human beings responded to with compassion and righteous indignation. Here is a link to join in their efforts. People stood up and demanded something be done, and the outcry of the people lead to action from the President.

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People with and without religious affiliation tapped into a compassion that is a part of our DNA as human beings. Thousands of years ago ancient writers wrote about the affect religion should have on society.

James, who is considered by many Bible scholars to be the leader of the early church, wrote in his book that “pure religion” is caring for orphans and widows. Jesus, when pressed about the greatest commandment, cited loving our neighbors as we love ourselves from the Torah. As did the Apostle Paul. The ancient holy writings are full of admonishments for human beings to be gracious and compassionate toward foreigners. Believing in a Divine Creator should naturally be followed by compassion for all human beings regardless of their race or country of origin.

I pray that as we continue to wrestle with the extremely complex political and social issues we are facing as a Nation, that we do so with a greater since of our humanity and not our political affiliation. Conversations that center around humanity put the focus on what we have in common and allow us to think through humane responses to the issues in our society. If we can learn to lead with grace and compassion for others, we tend to fall on the same side of most arguments no matter how complex. Something truly spiritual happens when we take a moment and imagine life in “their” shoes.

Whose shoes do you have trouble imagining yourself in?

Have you taken a stance that would be different if you were in “their” shoes?

Why “Superfly” is the Movie We Wanted, But Not the Movie We Needed

Why “Superfly” is the Movie We Wanted, But Not the Movie We Needed 1000 563 Corey Leak

I NEVER do this. I hate when other people do this, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to give my opinion of a movie still in theaters.

My wife randomly asked me if I wanted to go to the movies to see “Superfly” yesterday, and I said yes. I was excited to see it. We have Moviepass, so it feels virtually free to go. The previews to the movie looked amazing! It has great actors like the up and coming Jason Mitchell from “The Chi” and “Straight Out of Compton” as well as one of my favorite actors, Michael Kenneth Williams who will forever be known to me as “Omar” from “The Wire”. We both thought we were headed for a fantastic movie. I didn’t even check the reviews like I usually do. First, I was convinced I had a good sense of what this movie was going to be, and secondly because I knew this was a movie by black folk, for black folk, about black folk, set in Atlanta. How could it not be good?

With that as the backdrop I was in a good head space to be wowed. I wanted to be entertained, and for the most part I was. The movie does have some decent action, all be it way over the top at times. The costumes were fantastic. Especially on the main character “Priest”. His swag made me wonder if I could pull off perming my own hair. The story line was solid. It followed the same over arching theme as the original which was a cult classic. The problem was, once the excitement I brought to the theater wore off, I was left watching what amounted to an extended R rated rap video complete with what felt like a 12 hour shower scene that had no connection to the story at all.

Who doesn’t like rap videos? They are usually so original!!! Clubs, iced out wrist throwing cash in the air, dancing girls, extravagant cars and houses, rappers looking down at the camera, rinse, and repeat – that’s been rap videos since I was 12 years old.

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Originally posted by grittyinc

It’s my own fault for being surprised really. The movie was directed by a man who’s renowned for his work on rap videos and produced by Future. Both of these men are tremendous talents no doubt. With this film, they had an opportunity to tell not just a great story, but an important one. Opportunity knocked, and Future and Director X must have been pre-occupied popping bottles to answer.

I assumed that the overblown attitudes toward money and power displayed in the opening couple of scenes was intended to be hyperbolic. I was expecting to see the folly of worshipping money and power brought to light at some point in this film, but I was sadly disappointed all the way to the very end. It seemed to be continuing the same old, tired story of black men seeking to achieve greatness through robbing, killing, and degrading women. Some of that is to be expected from the antagonist of a story set in Atlanta, but in this story even the protagonist is caught up in believing the myth of power and money. The hero in this story has spent his life chasing the myth, and now wants to get out. I wish I would’ve seen the end game of this pursuit played out in this movie, but sadly it ends with madness being rewarded. “Superfly” suggested that after years of flooding the streets with cocaine, perpetuating violence, objectifying women, and blatantly breaking the law, a reward waits for you on a yacht in the middle of the ocean where your LTE has full bars.

I understand that the makers of this film wanted to be true to the original. I know they wanted to mirror as many of the iconic characters and scenes from the original as possible, but cast it against our modern reality. To that end in one of the more potent scenes of the movie, a racist and crooked cop shouts “take your hand off the gun” as he fires several shots at an unarmed black man in the car with his girlfriend, a clear allusion to #PhilandoCastile. In a later scene pointing to America’s racial tension, a statue of a Confederate soldier is knocked down during a car chase. Lastly, in a scene that fed my own carnal craving for vengeance, the policeman who killed the unarmed black man and his girlfriend in the aforementioned “police shooting” scene is shown being beaten to death by “Priest”. All of this would have been great to add to a story if only it didn’t feed into a false narrative.

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I’ve written before about how some people refuse to believe that an unarmed black man could possibly be the victim of injustice. They believe there is always more to the story no matter how much video evidence there is to the contrary. This movie surrounded important issues of racism with the kind of foolery that fuels the fires of ignorance. The unarmed black man in this movie had cocaine in his trunk and a couple scenes earlier killed three men himself. The confederate flag was knocked over by a black gangster driving a gaudy Lamborghini on his way to his death. This film fails to contrast evil vs good. It prefers to spend it’s frames contrasting evil with not that bad.

The glorification of sex, drugs, and money along with the myth of power have been a plague to the black community. Black people aren’t solely responsible for the plague, but I’m really disappointed when I see and hear black artists and film makers cooperate with oppression by telling stories that propagate destructive ideas.

With just a little bit of attention to detail and a conscience, Superfly’screators could have told a powerful story exposing the folly of chasing superficial joys and still spoke to the injustices of American culture. Instead they chose to bury a conscious message beneath cheesy villains, gaudy portrayals of black culture, and dangerous notions of vengeance and escaping consequence.

I wish I could have found the movie more entertaining. I was willing to suspend my disbelief and just let it be like Empire or a Tyler Perry movie, but once they introduced important issues like police brutality and America’s history with racism I held them to a higher standard. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or expecting too much from a movie or from rap videos for that matter. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but the times we live in demand more from all of us who are using a platform. Whether that is social media, music, movies, or sports. If you use a platform, use it well.

Do you have a platform you use for sharing values that make the world better? 

If not, why don’t you?

If so, how have you used it?

Equal Opportunity

Equal Opportunity 450 496 Corey Leak

One of the oldest tricks in the book of parenting is to put cookies on the top shelf so that your small children can’t reach them. Cookies don’t wind up on the top shelf so that no one eats them. They are there so that the people who were in the house first (the parents) can decide how they are distributed. While children aren’t denied access to cookies, they don’t have the same access adults have. Children live in the same house, eat mostly the same food, and have the same legal rights to stay in the home, but kids don’t have the same cookie privilege that parents do. American history has a similar arrangement.

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If you do the math since 1619 in America there are only 64 of 399 years that black people are granted full legal standing as citizens.

If you do the math since 1619 in America there are only 64 of 399 years that black people are granted full legal standing as citizens.

I felt that bore repeating. For 246 years black people weren’t considered fully human, and then for another 89 years after emancipation, blacks weren’t considered as human as white people. By 1954 white Americans had a 335 year head start on black people in this country. Segregation was declared unconstitutional in 1954, but that declaration by no means put black people on an equal footing with white people. Imagine if tomorrow Congress declared bacon unconstitutional. Would bacon lovers lose their appetite for bacon over night or perhaps ever? I imagine that in 1954 white people who believed they were superior to blacks didn’t change their minds once the government changed it’s position, and many of those people had children and grand children. Those children and grand children grew up to be law makers, business owners, politicians, police officers, CEOs, and POTUS.

Those children and grand children were privy to education, land, business deals, and other opportunities that the newly “enfranchised” black Americans had no access to. About a year ago I sat on vacation listening to black men and women in their sixties talking about the class reunion of their segregated High School in Tennessee. When we talk about America’s history with race, we aren’t talking about a history that is ancient. We’re talking about a history that people still walking around today lived through. We’re also talking about a history that still profoundly affects our present.

In a recent interview Van Jones talked about being the NINTHgeneration of his family, and the first to have full rights in this country. That means Van and others are forging ahead in their lives and careers without the benefit of ancestral succession. It’s estimated that 35 to 45 percent of wealth in America is inherited. Some would argue it’s closer to 50. A study conducted by Stanford Universityfound, in most cases, children’s future income is directly correlated to that of the household they grew up. Needless to say that with the opportunities lost to generations of black people, it is a much more difficult path to career success and independent wealth. It’s far less likely that a black person in America today would be the recipient of family wealth, education, land, or businesses passed down from generations of success. Again, I’ll turn to a man who can articulate what I’m trying to say far better than I can.

Everything great was built on an equally great foundation. We all know that heritage matters, and those who were here before us impact us today, but it seems like when we apply that universal truth to conversations about race, black people are accused of dwelling on the past. I’ve written about that in previous blogs, so I’ll not go into that any further. However, I would like to give you another word picture to help expound on this idea of equal opportunity.

Many of the races at track metes start off staggered to curb the advantage of the runner on the inside lane. It doesn’t look fair to the eye because some runners are so far ahead of the others, but it is the only fair way to start the race. Imagine if a race started without staggering the runners. It would be unrealistic to expect those in the outside lanes to keep up and compete with the people who had been granted the advantage of the inside lanes. If the runners on the inside lanes recognized mid race that they were given an advantage, how would they feel? They could feel guilty. They could feel like they didn’t do anything wrong. They could look down on the runners behind them and consider themselves better. They are winning, and they aren’t winning because they are cheaters or bad people. They are at the front of the pack due to a mix of their effort and the way the race was set up.

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It would help us all to consider how the “race” started in America, and what we can do now that the race is underway to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to win. Even in a competition the thrill of being the champion is rooted in the fact that the other competitor had an equal opportunity to win.

In America we talk a lot about equality, but maybe we should start talking more about equity. What does it look like to truly give equal opportunities to blacks and other POC in this country? I recently witnessed a white man grumble about being passed over for a job because the business he was applying to work for needed to fill a quota of minorities. That doesn’t seem “fair”, but it is a practice that is birthed out of the idea of equity. Practices like that are flawed. They can certainly be improved for sure, but let’s not lose sight that the idea that drives them is sound. We as a people have a responsibility to do what we can to right the wrongs of our history. I’ve heard great leaders say: “it may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.”

If you were to apply for a home loan, a car loan, a small business loan, or a job, you’re likely to discover that you’ll need approval from a white man or a group of white men to get what you’re reaching for. It’s entirely conceivable that a white person could go their entire life and never have to go to a POC for approval to move forward in their career or life plans. Of course, every American has access to equal, legal rights and freedoms, just as children have access to the kitchen and probably the pantry.

I’m not comparing black people to children in terms of maturity, intelligence, or ability. However, I am in relation to American history. America has kept her cookies on the top shelf throughout history, and white people have been reaching up and taking as many as they want. It’s time that we bring those cookies down where everyone can reach them. That is what equal opportunity looks like.

Are there real life scenarios in which you’ve seen equality vs equity play out?

What are ways that we can ensure that every American truly does have equal opportunity?

Lenses

Lenses 1200 675 Corey Leak

Earlier this week game one of the NBA finals gave us one of the most entertaining sporting events of the last decade. The game had everything! It had an all time great performance from Lebron James, late game heroics from both teams, big shots, taunting, fighting, ejections, and of course…

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This game gave us all the meme and gif fodder we could ask for. I’m sure you’ve seen this image about a thousand times over the last few days. I laugh every time I see it. I’m actually laughing now as I write this.

However, the most talked about moment from the game, was a call the referees made late in the fourth quarter when the outcome was certainly still in doubt. The refs called a charging foul on Lebron after initially calling a block on Kevin Durant and then reviewing the call in slow motion. The overturned call has been talked about ad nauseam from that moment until now. It was a subjective call, and as with all subjective situations, it really could have gone either way, but try telling that to a Cavaliers fan. Cavs fans see this issue one way and one way only. They were robbed. How can you blame them? Their favorite team eventually lost game one, and maybe if that call goes differently they would’ve won. Ask any Warrior fan on the other hand, and they’ll tell you that the referees made the right call. Neither one is wrong I suppose, but both have limited views.

Sports fans can debate charge or block, and still maintain respect for one another. Two art lovers can walk into a museum and look at the same work of art, and have two drastically different opinions about them. Two friends can watch the same movie and give two totally different reviews. All of this is because we all see the world through different lenses. I know that’s not some deep revelation. We all recognize that we are free to think how we want, and for the most part disagreement doesn’t bother us. We are fine with disagreements over sports, art, or entertainment, but when we put our political or religious lenses on, things can get a little more volatile.

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We seem to lose sight of the fact that everyone doesn’t wear our lenses when issues of racism, guns, sex, or religious theology come up. I know that there is much more at stake for humanity when we start talking about these issues, but  even in heavier matters we’d all do well to remember that there are other lenses to see the world through. In fact, my lens is not the only lens that has a beautiful view of the world. 

We tend to believe that our view of things is right, and any other view isn’t, especially when there are religious writings, data, or facts that support our view. Some of us treat anyone who doesn’t view the world through our religious or political views as less intelligent or uninformed. I’ve seen people try to discredit the personal experience of others in light of the “facts” they read on the internet. There seems to be a tendency in our culture for us to become too enamored with our own lenses. We are comfortable with them. They have served us well in life. They are passed down to many of us like precious family heirlooms, but I wonder what would happen in our world if people started asking to borrow each others lenses?

I have to be honest, I’m extremely guilty of picking up my lens every day and being mad at other people because they don’t see what I see. I do try to offer my lens to people through what I write, and what I share in person, but I know I fall short in taking the time to lay my lens aside and looking through some one else’s sometimes. My connection to my lens doesn’t mean that it’s the only lens of value in the world. It just means I’ve grown attached to it, and the more I keep  my limited views safely tucked away and guarded the less I’ll see all the beauty that is in the world around me.

We all fail at times to pause long enough to see the world through someone else’s lens. Sometimes we fail because of our fear, other times because of our insecurities. Most times we fail because of our pride. Pride won’t allow us to entertain the idea that an opposing view point could possible be valid. One of the ways you can tell if you’ve become too proud of your lens is by gauging how emotional you become when you encounter a view that is not just different than yours, but actually in adversarial contrast to yours. Are you able to pass by a social media post without commenting or judging the writers when you see something you strongly disagree with? Have you entered into a dialog around subjective religious or political material and actually changed your mind? If not, then you may be too in love with your own lens, and it’s probably time you asked a friend or two if you could borrow theirs.

One last REALLY IMPORTANT thing before you wrestle with what you’ve read….

It was totally a block!!! Suck it up Lebron!!! 😂 

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When was the last time you intentionally put effort into seeing the world through some one else’s lens?

Who can you reach out to today to exchange lenses with?