Friday, September 29, 2017

Why Everyone, Especially Christians, Should Celebrate Cardi B

Earlier this week, I posted on FB about Cardi B having the #1 single in the country, “Bodak Yellow”. This is notable, as she is the first woman rapper to hit #1 without a featured artist since 1998. The truth is, sometimes, when I hear Cardi B, the minister part of me cringes. She’s so loud, raw, uncouth, and vulgar. Then I hear the beat and remember my hometown of East Chicago, Indiana. I remember the people I grew up with who gave me joy. I remember my sister who is loud and full of life. And then I root for Cardi. I think, “Gon girl, keep doing your thing. Go as far as you can!" In a text conversation with my play big-sister (Hi!), we talked about why Cardi B should not be villainized because of her past and in fact, should be celebrated by everyone, especially those who desire to follow Christ.

  • INTERSECTIONALITY- Any critique of Cardi B should occur alongside a discussion of intersectionality (the ways gender, class, race, sexuality and more complicate our identities). Cardi's identity influences how we receive her and her music.
    • Gender – Male rappers/artists ride their scandalous pasts to musical glory constantly. Many male rappers flaunt that they’ve shot people (50 Cent), sold drugs (Jay-Z), done drugs (Chance the Rapper), dropped out of college (Kanye West), and slept with strippers (J Cole, Drake, too many to name) and they are celebrated widely, even by Christians. We are quick to lift up men who struggle and then thrive, but women have to be “pure” to be redeemable. This feels like a false equivalency that illuminates our bias against women.
    • Class – When Beyoncé dresses in near nothing, she is the epitome of Black women uplift. When she cusses, she is strong. When she bashes a car window in, she is empowering. I believe this is because Beyoncé also represents a certain class (or desirable class) of Black America. Beyoncé is married with three children, a churchgoer, and worth nearly half a billion dollars. Beyoncé is friends with Michelle Obama and Oprah (and notably, Cardi B). Most people do not mind revering Beyonce (or other Black women who fit the middle-upper-uber rich class status). But Cardi is not in this class. Cardi is unmistakably and unapologetically, hood. She constantly reminds us of this, she is not trying to be Grey Poupon, she is bright yellow mustard with the label off.
    • Race – Race is always a factor in how we relate to one another. Cardi B (Belcalis Almanzar) is Dominican, Trinidadian and from the Bronx. She is a product of Afro-Caribbean diasporic culture. She does not fit neatly into the Lauryn Hill “Everything is Everything” box, the JLo "Jenny from the Block" box, or the Luis Fonsi “Despacito” box. She is not easily categorized and therefore society struggles with how to label her.  At one point in an interview, she emotionally names the way she is viewed racially - "What am I considered?" Because we cannot categorize her race quickly, it may be easier to dismiss her - this treatment is also connected to the insufficient way Americans (and Christians) have responded to the Caribbean hurricane victims.

  • WWJD? - In John 8, when Jesus saw the woman about to be stoned for committing adultery, he said whoever is without sin, cast the first stone. I wonder what would happen if that woman wrote a song about her experience, her freedom to make other choices, and her current struggles. The Jesus I worship would see her as an unfinished product. Not quite at where she might be, but a world away from where she used to be. Outside of Christ, there are no perfect people to aspire to (even aspiring to be Christ can be problematic when you consider that Christ’s perfection makes him an imperfect person to aspire to because it is impossible to be him - We can only be LIKE Christ, we can never BE Christ.) Cardi B too, is imperfect. As a teenager, she was dancing for money, stripping to go to college, and in an abusive relationship. Now, at 24, she is traveling the world with a number 1 song. She is paying her mama's bills and deciding what to wear and for whom. Christians, especially Black Christians (intersectionality remember?), know something about our heroes starting in the slums, the ghettos, the barrios, the fields and becoming someone great. David was a forgotten boy who became a king (and committed adultery as a king). Moses was a murderer who became a liberator. Rahab was a harlot (prostitute) who was the ancestor of Jesus.

I’m rooting for Cardi B (and all of the Cardi B's in EC and the entire world) to continue to grow, develop and expand. But I don’t need her to be a perfect heroine. I also don't need her to be a TV personality. I only hope she continues to be herself. She’s got my support. (Oh, and her birthday is the day after mine, so yeah, there’s that).  As she grows, maybe she will reach some elusive Christian standard of acceptance. If she never does, I believe Jesus and Jesus followers should celebrate her journey and if you can, nod hard to that beat.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

6 Practices that have Helped Our Commuter Marriage

Ashley, my wife, posted a vulnerable post on social media and I decided to respond to it. Her post: 

Marriage isn't easy. For the past 8 months, Jeremy has been driving everyday to and from Concord, NC (1 hr, 45min) to work. By God's grace, he has made it to & from home safely. But that also means, he leaves at 6 and gets home at 8. In addition to being a minister at church. To which, I get the girls up for their day, go to work (which is a whole nother thing) and pick up the girls, feed them, do school, etc. This all while doing my own school work. Jeremy and I barely had time to talk, we're tired! Lots of bumpiness, miscommunication, tears, I'm sorry's...and then I love you.. we can do this. And at the end of the day, I'm grateful. I get to do life with someone who is capable of doing anything for us & being prayerful about how to guide our family. I'm grateful for our marriage, bumps and all. #blaclovematters #gilmores #marriage

Like Ashley said, this past year has felt like a rollercoaster emotionally, physically, and logistically. Frankly, we’ve gone through a lot of changes and we are almost always tired! Below are some of the ways we’ve managed to survive and grow in our marriage through this experience.

1. Becoming More Ratchet… that is, more unfiltered, with one another. This has been a huge blessing in lots of ways. Each year, it feels like we learn more about one another. Our secrets, our fears, our hopes, our desires. Early in our marriage, we struggled with pretending. Presenting a marriage that is perfect is pretending. Presenting ourselves to one another, ratchetness and all, has been liberating.

2. Facing the Hard Stuff – In the last eight months, we’ve had challenges regarding family, children, finances, work, etc. Because of our limited time together, one temptation is to avoid the hard stuff and only focus on the topics that are easy. That doesn’t work for us. Resentment can creep in easily and can linger long when you have an hour and forty minutes to drive one way. Rather than letting hard things build up, we’ve been good at texting and calling in the middle of the day to talk through things. Years ago, Deacon Bill Brown from Second Baptist Church in Bloomington, Indiana told me something I still remember to this day. “Never leave the door closed.” He meant we should always be open to communicating with one another. That has proven to be sage guidance for our marriage in this season and I’m glad we listened to his coaching (see below). This advice has obviously worked for them - Deacon and Sharon Brown celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past December!

3. Inviting the Children to Open Communication– Our two daughters surprise us routinely with the things they say. They tell us when a song has cursing in it (“Daddy that’s inappropriate”) or when we’re embarrassing them (“Daddy that’s inappropriate”). In the last year, I’ve had to consider various employment options. When a job out of state was an option, I talked with the children. The oldest said, “Daddy, we can do anything as long as we’re together”. It was one of the sweetest things I’d ever heard. A few weeks after that, we were in another state considering a move all because of her honest words. This summer, I had to make another decision about taking a job or moving our family. Again, I talked with the girls. They only wanted to know if I would be able to drop them off at school. It put the decision into perspective for me and made our decision easier (announcement to come soon). Their honest communication helped to shaped our priorities. By inviting them to be open about their feelings, we strengthen our family unit – which, in turn, strengthens our marriage.

4. Having Good Sex – Is that too real? Well, I don’t want to pretend. Ashley and I marvel at how little happily married couples talk about the sex they’re having (not in detail please). But many of these happily married couples are happy because of good sex. Sex is a natural and healthy way of staying physically and emotionally connected to one another. During these months when our time has been precious, we have reclaimed it in the bedroom. Our bodies won’t last forever. They won’t be in this shape forever. They won’t be this limber or this enduring. We need to be having good sex! Notice I said good sex. All sex is not created equal. And sex is not the same as good sex (there is something metaphysical, even spiritual about good sex). Figure out what you need and communicate it with your spouse (not the world). We’ve promised ourselves to one another for the rest of our natural lives – that’s a long time to go without having good sex.

5. Enlisting Marriage Coaches and Cheerleaders - Marriages don’t succeed on their own! We’ve had wonderful couples and individuals coach us through these major transitions. (S/O to Felicia and J Carter, Lisa and Clarence Laney, Renee and Antonio Bush, my brother Jeremy Simmons, and pops Michael Brown) We are also both advocates of seeking therapy – another coach to support us. Having people cheer you on also makes you feel like you can do it. Many of you on social media who are rooting for us inspire us to keep working to improve our marriage. We trust and believe in ourselves, but your affirmations are oxygen for those days when life feels only uphill.

6. Continuing to use the Special Sauce – What’s the special sauce? Gucci bags? No. Cologne? Doesn't hurt, but no. Date nights? Important, but no. For us, the special sauce is prayer. Cliché, I know, but prayer has been the common denominator in our 11 years of marriage and years of dating. For nearly 17 years, we’ve prayed together everyday. Together as a couple. Together as a family. Alone. Prayer has helped us realize that even with all of our knowledge, wisdom, and expertise, we’ve never been the primary factor holding our marriage together. It hasn’t been jobs, education, flowers, poems, or even good sex. It is our willingness to continually submit to the hard, lovely work of being together and to invite God into our marriage daily… To say yes to one another and yes to God over and over again.

Ashley, you are incredible and I thank you for everything over the last eleven years and especially the last eight months. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our marriage in this time. What could have made us weaker has only made us stronger. To God be the glory! I’m excited about what’s in store for us. Thank you for being my life partner and best friend. I love you…