Browsing articles in "arts and culture"

Celebrity Preachers: Reflecting on Preachers of LA

Nov 18, 2013   //   by efremsmith   //   arts and culture, spiritual growth, the church  //  4 Comments

Since the reality show Preachers of LA debuted on the Oxygen cable channel this fall, I’ve watched every episode. There have been times when I’ve been deeply touched by this reality show, but many other times when I’ve been embarrassed by it. This show has also caused me to reflect deeply on my own calling as a preacher and minister. Since, I now lead a national ministry with global influence that happens to have its headquarters in LA, I guess I’m now an LA preacher too in some way.

Preachers of LA presents 5 preachers. Four are African-American and one is an Anglo with Southern and Skateboarding roots. Four are leading congregations over 2,000 each and one is a leading urban gospel music artist. They all live in large, mansion like houses and drive luxury cars. They are all ministry celebrities.  Two of them are so well known that they have security and drivers. So that I don’t come across as a “hater” I actually don’t mind that they live this way in one sense. If you happen to lead a ministry that pays you a salary of a marketplace CEO and the congregation desires their pastor to be “celebrity like” because of the status it brings them in being connected to that pastor, go for it. I guess.

With my background in urban ministry, I’ve been up close to the urban poor and urban middle class. I’ve had many opportunities to hear their commentary on urban pastors. In many cases they were talking about urban African-American pastors. As one who desires to see Kingdom advancement and transformation among the urban poor especially, I care deeply about their perceptions of preachers. I have sat in barber shops and heard urban folks call urban pastors pimps, hustlers, and gangsters. These comments have been sometimes based on what the pastors drive and how they dress. Some of this has been based on their personal experience with urban pastors. It is the view of some of the urban poor and urban middle class that they sometimes can’t tell the difference between the pimps in their communities and the preachers. I’ve heard these comments for over 25 years in barbershops, community centers, at high school basketball games, and at soul food places. When I’ve shared these comments with some of the urban African-American pastors that I’ve know over the years, some join me in concern over this perception. Others look at me and seem to care less.

I care so much about the transformation of the cities across the nation and hold so much love for the urban poor in my heart that it has led me to make some decisions. Decisions on how I dress and what I drive. Now, don’t take my comments the wrong way. I’m not all that and never will be. There are decisions that I’ve made that could put into question my love for urban America. I live in the suburbs and have not made the type of sacrifices that urban missionaries and committed urban residents that refuse to leave “the hood” have made. What I have decided though is that living like a secular corporate CEO, a rap mogul, king of an empire, or NBA player may have a direct impact on my witness to the urban poor. So I drive a Hyundai instead of a BMW. I don’t have a driver or security when I travel across the country each month as a speaker. Maybe I shouldn’t travel alone and should have someone with me, but if I do make this choice, I don’t need them to be a traveling butler. This position on my ministry calling doesn’t make me a better pastor or Christian than others. I’m just attempting to live out my calling without judging someone else’s. Preachers of LA doesn’t show us the hundreds of other Preachers in LA, with a calling different from the celebrity preacher. Please know that this is just one preachers opinion and reality.


Jesus and 12 Years a Slave

Nov 4, 2013   //   by efremsmith   //   arts and culture, BLOG, race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, theology  //  1 Comment

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”

1 Peter 4:12-13

“And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Mark 8:31

“Therefore, as twenty-first-century discourse, Christian theology must take its bearings from the Christian theological languages and practices that arise from the lived Christian worlds of dark peoples in modernity and how such peoples reclaimed (and in their own ways salvaged) the language of Christianity, and thus Christian theology, from being a discourse of death- their death. This is the language and practices by which dark people, insofar as many of them comported themselves as Christian subjects in the world, have imagined and performed a way of being in the world beyond the pseudotheological containment of whiteness. To the extent that they have done this, they mark out a different trajectory for theology as discourse. The language and practices, therefore, of dark people who have lived into a Christian imagination can no longer be deemed theologically irrelevant nor made invisible, which is what white intellectuals in the theological academy have tended to do.”

J. Kameron Carter, “Race: A Theological Account” Oxford University Press, 2008, Pg. 378

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing some of the scenes of the film, 12 Years A Slave. If you haven’t seen the film, you may not want to read this yet, though I’m not giving away any main story line, which hasn’t already been told in the advertising of the film. Neither am I giving away any surprise ending (which really doesn’t exist).

Sitting thru the entire almost 3 hours of the film “12 Years a Slave” was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but I had to. I had to watch the violent and brutalizing realness of the enslavement of Africans in the history of the nation of which I am a citizen. 12 Years a Slave is the story of a free Black man named Solomon of New York, who is tricked into going to Washington D.C. and then kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Not much is held back in showing the demonic evil that the slavery of Africans in America was. What is very troubling is that this evil was practiced for the most part in the name of Jesus. Speaking of Jesus-

Another movie that was hard for me to sit thru a few years ago was Mel Gibson’s version of The Passion of the Christ. There is a scene in The Passion that is hauntingly similar to a scene in 12 Years a Slave. In The Passion, Jesus is tied to a post and whipped violently. We are brutally treated to witnessing skin tearing and blood pouring all over. The body of Christ looking like butchered meat. In 12 Years a Slave, there is a scene that is similar, except the victim is a Black woman. I couldn’t help but see a connection between the suffering Christ and the suffering Slave. This is not to bring the same divinity to the African slave that was upon Jesus, but to proclaim the way in which the Son of God is so connected to the oppressed, Brown and Black skinned sufferer. But the again, maybe by seeing the suffering slave that is something divinely planted that we might know the work of Christ.

By making Jesus European, White, and privileged, the non African or African-American Christian is able to watch 12 Years a Slave from a distance. You are not granted this opportunity once you accept the biblical truth that Jesus was born as an oppressed, Jewish, Brown, and ethnic minority, when coming into this world over 2,000 years ago. For more on this you have to read, Radical Reconciliation by Allan Boesak and Curtiss DeYoung. Jesus can bring liberation to the oppressed because He is God and because He came to earth packaged in the human form of a non-privileged, ethnic minority.

If we want to truly understand the oppression of first century Christians in the New Testament, one way is to gain a deeper understanding of “slavery past” in the United States of America. This could assist the church closing the gap between being privileged and having a closer, transforming relationship with the poor and oppressed of today. Please go see the film 12 years a Slave. It may help us realize the true work of Christ needed in our nation and world today.

The Gospel According to the Dark Knight Rises

Aug 18, 2012   //   by efremsmith   //   arts and culture, theology, Uncategorized  //  3 Comments

I have to start by admitting that I have seen the Dark Knight Rises three times. Understanding the importance of three from a biblical and theological standpoint then, it makes sense for me to share some thoughts I have theologically about the movie. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might not want to read this. If you haven’t seen it yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!? Lol!

Here are just a few thoughts in my head as I’ve been connecting the movie and the Gospel-

1.) RISING FROM THE PIT- As Bruce Wayne comes out of the prison pit, he throws a rope down so that others may be set free as well. Jesus through His death on the cross, goes into the pit on our behalf for the sins of all of humanity.  Jesus goes into the grave and into hell for us. Through his death and resurrection we have the ability, through our faith in Him, to come out of the pit of our sinful lives. Jesus provides the way for our escape from a life of slow death to the abundant and eternal life.

2.) ALFRED THE BUTLER- Throughout the movie Alfred attempts to give words of wisdom and life to Bruce Wayne. To this degree, Alfred is a picture of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a counselor, teacher, and a comforter (John 14). Are we willing to listen to and be empowered by the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Dark Knight Rises ends with Bruce Wayne living into the words of Alfred.

3.) HOPE- Batman, Bane, and Robin all speak of hope in the movie. The movie causes us to wrestle with whether hope is a tool for good and rescue or a weapon of control and manipulation. Hope is indeed a tool for good and rescue when it is coupled with faith. Our faith in Christ is also about a hope of what is to come and what can be right now. Christ in us, is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). No matter how dark the day, our hope and faith in Christ is our new day.

4.) CAT WOMAN: “YOU GIVEN THESE PEOPLE EVERYTHING.” BATMAN: “NOT EVERYTHING- Batman, throughout the movie showed how far he would go for the people of Gotham. As Christians we must ask ourselves how far we willing to go so that the lost would be found and the hurting would be helped. Every day of our lives is an opportunity to reach beyond self-centeredness so that lives and communities might be transformed.

5.) BRUCE WAYNE: “BATMAN CAN BE ANYONE”- God is in the business of using ordinary, everyday people of faith in order to do extraordinary works in the world.

Just a few thoughts. What are yours?

The Gospel According to Oprah

May 27, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   arts and culture, the church, Uncategorized  //  6 Comments

I listened on Oprah radio (XM radio) to the last show. I have to admit that I wasn’t one who was glued to the television weekday afternoons over the last 25 years catching the over 4,000 episodes. I would watch every once and awhile, but I was very interested in this last show. I guess mostly for the historic moment of it all.

She stated that this show would be her love letter to those who have supported her all these years. From there she went into what I would call the Oprah Gospel; her good news to the world. I would sum this up into three areas-

1.) You have a calling. Find it and make a difference.

2.) You have the power to change a life.

3.) You are responsible for your own life. No one is responsible for you.

This is the foundation of the gospel according to Oprah. After that she spent time talking about energy, the golden rule to the 10th power, and other things that could be interpreted as new age. After listening to this, I wondered about Oprah’s connection to the black church, both good and bad. I wondered about her relationship to the church in general. To borrow number three in her gospel, she is ultimately responsible for her connection to God and the church. She is responsible for making the decision to follow God thru a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or not. She is responsible for joining a church and participating in the local fellowship of believers, or not. But does the church itself carry some responsibility?

My take is, that to a degree, Oprah’s gospel is connected to her being bruised by the church and even abused by those who claimed to be carriers of the true gospel. During her 25 year run as a talk show host, Oprah has shared stories of abuse since her childhood by, “church-going, God fearing people.” This does not take her off the hook of responsibility, but it explains some things.

I began to wonder about all the people away from God and outside of the church because they’ve been hurt by the church and abused by Christians. I realize that the next line may get me in trouble. Are there times when the church and Christians have been abusers and maybe even oppressors? Is Oprah’s gospel connected to pain, abuse, or hurt by the church and Christians? It’s no excuse, but it might help to explain, in part, her gospel. It is interesting that her show ended with Aretha Franklin creating a church like atmosphere with her powerful gospel singing. No question Oprah seeks out a connection with God, but is it impacted by a disconnect from church based on some unfortunate childhood experiences? I pray that the love and grace of God found thru Jesus Christ continues to pursue the queen of the talk shows.

“Little Town of Bethlehem” is a Must See

May 23, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   arts and culture, politics, reconciliation, the church  //  13 Comments

Last week there was an important meeting held between US President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What the future holds for the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is unknown as well as what role the United States will play. Because of the prominence of Israel in the Scriptures, it makes sense for Christians to have much interest in this conflict as well as others in the Middle East. It is also important for our understanding to not be held captive and shaped simply by the political ideologies and divides of the United States. Many evangelicals are only able to see these issues thru the narrow lens of the political ideology of the Republican Party. I’m not suggesting at all that being held captive to the Democratic Party position would be any better.

If you want a different perspective on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict that will drive you to prayer and Scripture as well as provide some hope, I encourage you to see the documentary, Little Town of Bethlehem (WWW.LITTLETOWNOFBETHLEHEM.ORG). This film shows the powerful story of three men committed to non-violent strategies for solving this crisis which is impacting so many families. Speaking of families, that’s what makes this film so powerful to me. The story of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is told from the vantage point of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families who desire to see a peaceful solution to the conflict. Too many evangelical leaders are providing heated, uncivil, and biblically misinterpreted rhetoric on this subject. Little Town of Bethlehem will provide a much needed alternative for wrestling thru a very complex issue.

The main characters are Yonatan Shapira (Israeli Jew), Sami Awad (Palestinian Christian), and Ahmad Al’Azzeh (Palestinian Muslim). Based on media and politically driven depictions of the conflict you wouldn’t think that these three individuals would form this needed alliance for peace and reconciliation. The film begins by introducing these three leaders with a hip hop soundtrack in the background. They are taking great risks just to provide a peaceful solution to the crisis of their day. Their solutions should be heard by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and and President Obama.

When I was in college, I was moved greatly by the documentary, Eyes on the Prize. This film series told the story of the Civil Rights Movement and watching it changed my life on many levels. It played a role in my calling to Christ-centered, reconciling, multi-ethnic, and Kingdom-minded ministry. Little Town of Bethlehem has gripped me in the same way Eyes on the Prize did years ago. This film really is a must see for Christian leaders. I even highly recommend this film for small group ministry within local churches as well as forums focused on reconciliation and a global understanding of racial righteousness.

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