Why Do I Have To Cross This River?

river crossing

The title comes from a scene in the Spike Lee movie Miracle at St. Anna, his WWII adaptation of James McBride’s novel.  As the company was crossing the Serchio river into enemy territory, Chocolate Giant, Pvt. 1st Class Train asks the timid question “Why do we have to cross this river?”

This past weekend, as my friends graduated from ITC that I began this journey with three years ago, as I watched my surrogate class from Fisk University who, as a senior hung out most with the freshman class who was happy to call me one of their own; and even to watch Facebook status message update for a one or two people I still keep in contact with back at Dillard University who celebrated their commencement exercises today with, I believe Michael Eric Dyson and Cicely Tyson as joint commencement speakers I sit and ask the question that Train asked, “Why do I have to cross this river?”

This past week has been of combined church stresses.

Often times, me, and what I’d call my more “liberated friends” would go to a church service, or a late-night here on campus and kind of laugh at the random “church” things that happen.  We generally laugh because much of what gets done is in stark contradiction to the theology that many of us profess to believe, or at least have been taught.  This is why church has become somewhat of a necessary evil for some of us–it’s merely a good paycheck.  So, we went to hear one of our friends preach and it was simply laughable at how the senior pastor of this host church for this revival got up, told some random testimony of someone’s tumors magically disappearing, and how the church went into an immediate shout and to watch 8 and 9 year olds do laps around the church and dance and buck like the adults.

Or what was even worse was to listen to the choir, albeit a good choir sing a song with lyrics that say “I’ve got Jesus and that’s enough for me” and just be like, this is absolutely horrible, I said HOOOOORIBLE theology.  The service went so long and the musicians left, so I backed my friend up as he closed and then the pastor got up and pulled the “don’t leave before benediction bullcrap” and told some horror story about someone who left before benediction and got killed.

Like are we serious?!?!  I really didn’t know that places existed where they pulled the scare tactics.

And then homeboy raised a second offering talking about how we owe God and to “not worry about where the money’s going” because we’re really praising God in our giving.  But, I should have known better when I saw the program that read “Service may change do to the Holy Spirit.”  

Right, spelled D-O.

We all got back in the car and The Critical Cleric, who was driving just simply said, “Man, this aint even funny at some point.  We’ve got to do better.  I mean at some point, some thing’s got to give.”   It was said with such an air of disillusionment and disappointment, rife with hopes dashed of a better and more conscious tomorrow all brought back down to earth with a painful crash.

As if that wasn’t enough, I was subjected to go to what should have been my last class today for this class called Music in the Black Church which is being taught by, in my opinion, someone who’s not fully qualified for the job.  My biggest pet peeve with this instructor is her blatant inability to facilitate a meaningful discussion about topics, theology and other religious ideas that don’t fit into her rather narrow view of religion.

So, one of the paper topics was hip hop music that two of my other classmates did.  I was really moved to hear that one of the young womenn said that she actually got saved listening to Lauryn Hill’s album in college and that it wasn’t a traditional mode of salvation that brought her back to the church, which is why she gets deeply offended when she hears some church members totally disavow hip hop.  This prompted our ignorant instructor to ask “So what’s the difference between rap and hip hop?”  to which all three youngest in the class, ranging from my 24, through the young woman’s 25 and my other homeboy at 29, simply said “Well, rap is hip hop.”

What our instructor did not want to accept (and clearly after I get done with this story, you’ll see still did not) was that hip hop, even as music did not neatly fit into the modal categories that she likes such as spirituals, hymns and traditional gospel music.  She wanted something concrete and tangible such as with hymns “that are denoted by their certain long meter, common meter, or double meter for instance, usually written in four part harmonies….” BLAH BLAH BLAH!!  I think what makes her all the more impossible is that she’ll visibly dismiss a comment or roll her eyes if a student says something that’s contrary to her opinion.

So, I tried to drive the point home by telling her as Ralph Watkins in the book The Gospel Remix about being an “informed participant observer” of hip hop.  She told this story of Michel Foucault who went to some place back in the day to “study” homosexuals (I’m glad we’ve come a mighty long way) and got so caught up that he himself came out and self-identified as gay.  

And it was a wrap from there.

She went off saying “See it sounds to me like there are no rules? Now I’m not sayint this about hip hop, but I just don’t understand about not having rules.  See when it comes to stuff like sex, it’s for an appointed time and in the institution of marriage….”

Which means, if she really believes this and adheres to it, she aint had none since Gerald Ford was the president of the United States.

disillusionmentI mean, she went on and on and essentially clowned hip hop from the beginning and was talking about how sex was for married people only and that when it came to God we had to have rules.  I mean, you know I got off board there.  I mean she got to quoting about what the Bible said, to which I’ve consistently rebutted vocally in the class that “the Bible says we also need to be stoning these people for their crimes.  Check Deuteronomy and Leviticus,” to which she never responds.

God we pick and choose scriptures for our own rules.

I mean, she went through the same process as we’re going through now at the M.Div. level and she acts as if she didn’t learn much, or at least accept the learning of much of it.  Like she was okay with the random famines and genocides in other countries because for her “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good” and that all of that just happens in God’s divine order.  And she also believe in the retributive nature of God.  That is to say that if I give a $20 bill to a homeless person, and later that night receive a $60 check in the mail, then it had to be because I gave the homeless guy the twenty spot.  Or better yet, that as she said, once she stopped going to the club and going to church and just quit the club, then stuff in her life starting falling into place.

Or maybe she just got older and more mature.  And believe it or not, with this maturity came her ability to finally manage her friggin bank account.

So, I ask myself why do I have to cross this river?

I realized that just today I’m already apprehensive about this upcoming school year.  Well why? do you ask–it’s your senior year!  You’ve been wanting to get out for the longest–what gives?  Well, last time I had put three hard fought years into a school—Hurricane Katrina came and it shifted plans.  

Like, I don’t have my name in a graduation program.

Nor, did I get to send out graduation invitations.

I didn’t even get to apply to all of the schools I wanted to for seminary.

Well, I’m not sure why I have to cross this river.  I’m definitely not sure what’s on the other side of it, but I do know that there’s always one more river to cross, particularly for someone my age.  Who really knows why we have to deal with one person who seems to have it out for us, or what lessons are in for us.  Or to get real non-spiritual about it, do we really believe that a lesson lies in our river?  I’m not necessarily convinced.  Or maybe at best it’s just one of those “what not to do” encounters.

oregon trail crossingIt reminds me of a this game when I was a child called Oregon Trail  and they’d always give you the option of “fording” across the various rivers, namely the North Platte and Kansas rivers early on in the game.  In the midst of my travels with my family, I had the opportunity of seeing the Platte River and the subsequently, the North Platte rivers out in Nebraska, and generally these rivers were wide and shallow often times not more than a couple of feet deep in a rainy season.  So this meant that often times, the river bed was muddy and that meant that it was easy to get caught up in the river and lose some of your items–like ya pemmican, some meat, an axle or whatever random stuff they had on the game.

What intrigues the preacher in me is that this river was so early in the game, seems easy to cross, but still offered as many perils as the Snake River in Idaho or the Columbia River at the end of the game.  This river was early in the game, but offered the same perils at the end of the game.  That is to say that if you successfully made the right decision early in the game, by the time you got used to playing the game, you knew what decisions you had to make later on in the game.

So, I guess, I know that much like the game, there is a goal, somewhere down in the future, and that this river is nothing more than one among many on the journey.  But, I have to be careful not to get bogged down in this one so early on in the game.

Feel free to leave you support comments (lol), or rebuttals or just general comments. 

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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5 thoughts on “Why Do I Have To Cross This River?

  1. Again, enjoyed your uppity reflections on this part of the Black Church. IMHO, I’ve felt that God is where God is because we find God where we are.

    For those who need Jesus, without understanding early on (or later on for that matter) that spiritual growth (and maturity) happens after one picks up the cross and emulates Jesus-spirit in their own lives and in the lives of others.

    Acceptance of God through Jesus Christ is not the transformation that occurs over time and/or circumstances (rivers to cross).

    The transformative nature of progressive (toward God) spiritual growth begins with all-I-need-is-Jesus AND God-is-good-all-the-time AND all-the-time-God-is-good theology. We must DO the theology that we believe in, AND the theology that we’re ready for in the place that we find ourselves.

    Being Uppity continues onward and UPward…

    1. @dowl

      Well, I’m not at a place, where the “all I need is Jesus” and “God is good all the time” even remotely makes sense. This isn’t a disavowal of God or anything, but just merely a challenge to what I was raised to believe. Not a bad thing, just different.

  2. What fascinates me about you is that you seem to be in conflict with the path that you are on. The Divinity aspect to be more exact. I notice your love for Christianity but your disdain (let me know if that’s the wrong word – I don’t want to offend) for it at the same time. Or am I reading into it too much??? I heard a guy say one time “we are all sinners trying to be winners”. I truly believe that. Man/Woman are flawed individuals and once we get hold of something we will eventually “screw the pooch”. That’s why you see all these different Christians running around. If we were all following the same book shouldn’t we be on the same page? You shouldn’t go to a church and after the service someone says “we have got to do better”. But across America that is happening every Sunday. But then again what do I know………..

    1. @CO

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s not that I’m looking for a perfect church, even trying to make religion perfect, but I haven’t even found a place that’s open to hearing new ideas ya know? Like white liberal churches are generally open to new ideas–not the black mainline denominations. No one’s willing to friggin rock the boat! I’m sick and tired of complacency. Fact of the matter is that I technically don’t go to church–I play for a church and get a check. I think we can do a LOT better in the church. I’m disillusioned at the lack of intelligence I see in our churches.

      The reason I went to that church, or participate in “church” activities so to speak, is because it’s what’s familiar. I’m a church kid born and raised. It’s kind of like going back to that abusive parent–whether they abused you, or abused your sister or brother and left you alone–you love them, so you keep going back trying to change, for the better, that which you love.

      Honestly man, this is one of the WORST predicaments to find myself in. I’m forced with either a) keep my mouth shut and just let things be and pray and hope that God will change it later b) be the loudest rabble rouser and prolly not get any respect from anyone c) sit and bide my time until I can get in a position to change something or d) just be bitter about everything.

      I’m somewhere between c) and d) so just pray for me man, that’s about that I can do.

  3. Re. your current prof (and I’m SURE I know who that is)–fill out the ****ing evaluation forms and get everyone who feels the same way to do the same.

    If you don’t evaluate profs, we have no data to replace them…

    Re. the church–oh do NOT idealize the white mainstream church. Some folks are just as ignorant. But, when YOU know better, YOU can do better. Patience, the crossing goes far more quickly than you imagine, and in less time than you imagine, some uppity seminarian is in your church critiquing you.

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