On Matters of Representation

A few years ago at a church camp, I was responsible for audio and visuals. I decided to play black gospel music at the end of group gatherings. That's worth noting because this camp was made up of predominantly white campers and leaders—some of whom were probably not well exposed to gospel music. So, I sprinkled in some Donald Lawrence, Hezekiah Walker, Tamela Mann, Fred Hammond, Mary Mary, and others.

I distinctly remember two African-American campers who approached me in the sound booth so enthused that I had played gospel cuts. It wasn't that they hated the other music. It was just that in that particular setting, they heard music other than the norm (Christian Contemporary Music). They heard music familiar to them—music connected to their experience as persons of colour. They walked away and I thought (obliviously), "Huh, that was cool." It wasn't until later I was reminded why those moments matter—why representation matters. See, I grew up in a predominantly black country (shout out to The Bahamas) and a part of the racial majority. Moving to the US inverted that whole experience for me. Now, I don't know if those two campers thought about those moments as deep as I did. Yet, I think there's something to the fact that they mentioned it to me.

This week a story broke that a now former engineer at Google released an internal memo that seemed to communicate anti-diversity sentiments. He stated that Google's diversity programs are not effective because they ignore the biological differences of men and women. He made sweeping generalizations based on narrow stereotypes of men and women. From those conclusions, he inadvertently suggested a diminished role of women in the tech. This memo brought to light once again the tech industry's issue of lacking diversity, with particular regard to gender as well as race. Google's CEO has since spoken out against the memo.

Lauren Goode, Senior Editor for The Verge, aptly noted:

When there is a lack of representation of one type of group, then that group may be more likely to be discriminated against . . . When that happens, it can escalate to the next level, which is when someone feels sexually harassed or discriminated against, they’re not actually reporting it or don’t know where to go.
— Lauren Goode, The Vergecast (episode 269)

Whether it is geographically, religiously, racially, culturally, economically, in gender, or in sexual orientation, representation matters. Representation is not about erasing what is different in hopes of unity. (That's actually more like uniformity. We then have to ask, whose uniform are we adorning?) It is about learning to push back on the dominating voice in order to celebrate all the beauty that our differences bring to the table.

I love that Jesus was seen around different types of people—tax collectors, zealots, fishermen, the sick, children, women, and the foreigner, among others. In reaching out to the marginalized, Jesus communicates that as we see ourselves in these types of people, we see ourselves with and in him. The love of God is represented in and towards us. In this, hope is not seen in what is the present, but in what is possible. So . . .

May we see ourselves.
May we recognize the ones unseen.
And may we risk our privilege so they can see the gifts and beauty within themselves.

Passing The Baton

It's not just enough to leave a mark. Legacy also matters. If we leave a mark, it may just become a monument. But, if we leave a legacy, it becomes a movement. I hope this can be said for my life up to this point.

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7 of My Favourite Shows/Films on Faith and Life

I love watching TV and movies, probably more than I should. But don't judge me. There are a lot of good shows out there with profound stories, whether fictional or based on real life. Sometimes it takes work to find those shows. Other times they're right under our noses.

I grew up a pastor's kid who now as an adult currently works for the church. I've been fascinated with the way Christians and the Church have been depicted on screen. Sometimes cynically. Sometimes cheesy and questionable (I'm looking at you, "God's Not Dead" and friends). But other times, I've seen some really insightful portrayals of the Christian faith.

So, here's my list of the 7 shows or movies I think do a pretty good job at taking us behind the scenes with of the church and those a part of it. Here we go:

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1. "Sister Act" (1992, comedy)
Classic 90s cinema. Whoopi Goldberg stars as a lounge singer forced to hide out in a Roman Catholic convent under witness protection. What I love about this film is that explores a number of themes including: redemption, forgiveness, and dealing with change.
What I likeMy favorite part is watching St. Catherine's Church struggle to adapt to the world around them. It takes an "outsider" to help them see things in a new way. The Church in real life struggles with this big time. It really shows that the very people we margnalize (intentionally or not) can add value to the faith community.

2. "Rev." (BBC TV series, 2010-2014, sit-com)
The Rev. Adam Smallbone is a Church of England (Anglican) priest, newly appointed to the busy, inner-city parish St Saviour's in East London. He's a fish out of water coming from a small town. The show explores his struggles in the parish with a small, "eclectic" congregation. 
What I like: The show depicts legit pressures of being a pastor in a more post-Christian city while comedically depicted the other 6 days of a pastor's week.
Favourite episodes: Season 1, Ep. 2 "Jesus Is Awesome." & Season 3, Ep. 5-6 (season finale that explores Holy Week).

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3. "The Preacher's Wife" (1996, comedy, drama)
An angel (Denzel Washington) sent to help a Baptist pastor (Courtney B. Vance) with a struggle congregation and struggling faith accidentally falls in love with the preacher's wife (Whitney Houston).
What I like: Pastors and their spouses go through a lot when in ministry together. This shows a glimpse that congregants don't often get to see. Truthfully, it can be a real part of clergy home life.

4. "The Exorcist" (FOX TV series, 2016-present, suspense)
The Rance family gets involved with the Catholic church when it feels there's a demonic presence in its home. This show is connected with the 1973 film of the same name, but I won't tell you how.
What I like: Stay with me on this one. While it definitely explores demonic possession, the real story is about a priest and a family's faith in everyday life with loss, pain, and the past.
Favourite episode: Season 1, Ep. 10, "Chapter Ten: Three Rooms."

5. "Black-ish" (ABC TV series, 2014-present, sit-com)
"Andre 'Dre' Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow, four kids, and a suburban home. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family?"
What I like: Specific to this topic, watch season 2-episode 5 "Churched" and season 3-episode 2 "God." The first explores the Johnson's attempting to re-engage with church (filled with shenanigans, of course). The second explores Zoey (the oldest child) struggling with whether or not she believes in God.

6. "Hillsong: Let Hope Rise" (documentary, 2016)
This is a documentary on the Australia-based band from Hillsong Church and their rise to prominence as a band and church.
What I like: Worship music and leaders get a lot of flack (sometimes from face-value judgements). The film goes behind the scenes with the band members and pastors to talk about the real life sacrifices of following God's call on their lives. I also like that the film was shot by someone who isn't a Christian, so it has a more objective storytelling perspective.

7. "Doubt" (drama, 2008)
A Catholic school principal questions a priest's ambiguous relationship with a troubled young student.
What I like: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Meryl Streep. Amy Adams. Viola Davis. My goodness. The cast alone is worth the watch. The theme of doubt permeates this film. Some people hold that faith and doubt can't share the same space. I just don't believe that's true. Life is complicated and this film depicts this complexity—making you even question what you think you know.

If you're not religious, these are good stories regardless. I hope you see something redeeming in these stories that you can apply in your life's journey.
If you're pastor or church worker, watch with eyes that see your congregation more than just their pew.
If you're a regular church member/attender, watch with eyes that see your pastor or church staff as normal people with issues just. like. you.

Hopefully, this will lead us all to living a more authentic life for the world to see.

Comment on your favourites below!