Some thoughts on worship, music, culture, race, and redemptive power of the Lord out of our pain & brokenness:
I grew up on black gospel with the choirs I grew up in and listening to, with some of the contemporary sounds like Kirk, along with the 90s/early 00 hip hop/rap as that became more mainstream, soul, r&b, a little throwback funk and dance music every now and then, with some top 40s pop, and a little bit of rock, and then later the very beginnings of Lecrae and others with more prominent spiritual themes in hip hop. All of that and more has certainly influenced me. And much of the CCM of Tomlin, etc was really foreign to me at that time. It was like a different world and I struggled with this as I began to interact with certain christian circles that were more predominately white. I could see how the sound and categorization of some of these genres as far as the gospel and christian music world were often along race lines.
As someone who is musical, but black and a disciple of Christ first, I struggled with asking do I need to change my sound or can I bring myself to the table culturally in contexts where I’m a minority…not just generally but in spiritual contexts with people who worship the same God, with same very core beliefs, but can do that in very different ways.
You all should know about “code switching.” Look it up. It’s real. I simply could not have made it in academic contexts without knowing how to navigate different worlds. And it was an added burden in being in a context as a minority.
I’ve learned much from different circles I’ve been in and am grateful that God has allowed me to interact with places and people of different cultures. Still to this day, I think there might be benefit from some of the praise and worship movements that have exploded in the past decade with connecting with the gospel music artists in the sound that was formed in many predominately black churches. I know Tasha Cobbs Leonard, and Eddie James are some black worship artists that people might now but there’s this whole world of gospel music out there. And I have seen how some Gospel artists have taken some songs like from Jesus Culture for example and have re-done them to present them to a new audience, which I think is beautiful. (And Jesus Culture themselves I remember would cover a number of songs from other eras and that weren’t being heard initially by their audience and the Lord was really in it.)
Then I’ve heard artists like spoken word poet/hip hop artist Propaganda speak on how much of those desire in making their music initially was to reach the urban communities but as they rose and connections were made and things were marketed a particular way, they would have arenas filled with a very different demographic. And it would make “convos in the green room filled with awkward pauses” he says on one track.
The beautiful thing about music is that we all can connect with it, universally on some level so you can have that effect of touching people far beyond your normal world. And even in worship much of the purpose of the simple choruses is for people to all be able to join along. I’m thrilled that Nigerian artist Sinach’s song “Waymaker” has now been re-recorded by several artists to now reach a broader audience. I’ve heard that it’s all over the Christian radio. It’s that type of song that has such a universal reach. If it’s His song birthed from Him and the gifts He gave, we truly don’t own it ourselves. (Though I do think it’s important to acknowledge the original artist-and we have royalties as part of that.)
I’ve heard Lecrae and Kirk Franklin speak on even the difference in the Dove Awards, which is more white and the Stellar Awards which is more black. And complicated things behind all of that. It’s not that we need to sound all the same; it’s beautiful that we are all unique and have different cultures and it should be that way. But I do see such a large chasm at times with this in the church. And excellence in something and the Spirit of the Lord on something knows no bounds of culture or color. He can touch anyone using whatever if He’s in it, even using a donkey to do what He wants to do. I know in heaven the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into the heavenly city, with people of every tongue, tribe and nation. His Kingdom is so vast, beyond our imagination! And in heaven we will worship as one, yet with the distinctives that He made brought to the table.
And I do want to give a shout out to Kids Across America Kamps (KAA) and Kids Across America Higher Ground (HG) for expanding my world in a number of ways, growing my spiritual walk with the Lord helping me to know him more truly, introducing me to the 116 in their infancy and other artists and also helping me connecting in worship in a different way. Also: Glenisha Burr who encouraged me to sing out and not hold back my voice.
In this aforementioned time growing up in my late teens, I remember hearing some of Jeremy Camp’s music and it was different than I grew up on but I was touched by his music. Before all of the shutdowns with COVID last month, I went and saw his movie “I Still Believe” and I’m not usually a big cryer but I was moved to tears a number of times as I had no idea what he went through in walking through things with his sick wife who eventually died very young. A number of his hit and powerful songs were birthed out of great pain, sorrow and loss. It both makes me think we don’t often know what people have been through or may be walking through behind the scenes. And how great creativity can come here and how God can redeem even the absolute junk the worst things that none of us world want to walk through. I recommend the movie.