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The New N Word

Bad, dope, sick, ill, and even crack are all adjetives I’ve used to describe something good, exceptional rather. I mean really good, not just anything, It has to be really cool to warrant such potent vanacular. You know, I’m talking something thats off the chain! This kind of vocab makes sense to most of my generation, kids born somewhere between Malcom X, and DMX, but not quite generation X. I googled generation names and it turns out being born in 85 makes me a part of generation (wh)Y, a millinial, an 80’s baby; but being born in Harlem in the 80’s to parents of Jaimacan, African American, & Puerto Rican decent , the label I identify with most is the Hip Hop generation. I grew up in the Boogie down, and it wasn’t long before I was exposed to the culture and language of Hip Hop, and by a preteen I was fluent and lyrically killin it! We didn’t invent the slang we used, most of it had been passed down from generation to generation, particularely in the urban context, but we sure did remix them joints. After all, what is Hip Hop if it isn’t taking something that already exists, and giving it a totally new purpose and meaning? Hip Hop is infamous for redefining things, from style, to language. Perhaps the conditions that birthed Hip Hop contibute to the way we view and use words. See, in the 60’s the Bronx was on fire, literally, and out of the ashes came Hip Hop; something beautiful out of something broken. Today we say “thats fire!” when complimenting someone or something. The N word we redefined and used as a term of endearment, synonymous with friend, or brother, but also generally synonymous with people. Instead of saying ‘people’, we pluralized the N word. I was 9 years old when rapper Biggie Smalls said “I love the life I live, cause I went from negative to positive, and it’s all good”.

The I(N) Word (Crash Course in Culture, Context, Contradiction, and Conflict for Children)

So as a kid the N word was more like the in word. It seemed all the kids used it regularly, it was just the norm. I can’t remember when it infiltrated my vocabulary, but I can remember it rolling off my tongue with ease for over a decade. A few key experiences shaped my relationship to the word, and taught me in live action the diversity of the word’s history, meaning, and cultural application. So rap music is undoubtedly the most influential source of urban slang, and absolutely the culprit that popularized the N word around the world. Within the Hip Hop communities of East Harlem, & the South Bronx the word was sung, flung, but never stung. When my family moved to Throgs Neck the word took on a whole new meaning, which ironically was it’s original meaning. Throgs Neck at the time was still somehwat segregated, and prone to racial issues. Prior to moving there, I rarely thought twice about race. One day while sitting in a park with my best friend at the time, who happened to be white, another older kid came by and sat to talk with us. We looked up to the older kid, because… well because he was older. He spoke about high school, and things that intruiged us. Then he said something I’ll never forget. He said the same word I had been completely comfortable hearing, and saying myself, but with a different tone, and it stung like a killer bee. I stood quiet, embarrassed and ashamed as he made racist remarks unaware that I represented the people he was reffering to in such a hateful way.  Another time in math class my teacher who was African heard me use the word and flipped out! Sent me to the office and accused me of being racist. I argued how can I be racist against black people when I’m black!? You see, my pops complexion is light and most people think he is spanish, my mom is light skin, and low and behold I’m light skin as well. A few similar experiences caused me to learn and understand the N word has a different meaning, and effect on different people, in different places, at different times. I remember the day vividly that my brother and I explored alternative words to refer to our friends as we walked through the same park where the N word had left an inward bruise on me.

Remixing The N word

What is Hip Hop if it isn’t taking something that already exists, and giving it new life and meaning? We remix everything, It’s what we do. -Randy Mason 

“What’s poppin’ my neighbor?” – Damion B Sanders

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a gospel Hip Hop CD that his co-worker Dame made, and that joint was fire! One line in particular blew my mind when I heard it. On a Kanye West remix the rapper flipped Kanye’s line which originaly used the N word, and replaced it with the word neighbor. “What’s poppin’ my neighbor?”  That line was, and is still one of the dopest lines I’ve ever heard, it’s profound! I loved the CD so much, eventually Dame and I connected and formed a rap duo called Jesus Peace. Fast forward to a few days ago, (that’s an interesting sentence combining future & past tense) Dame and I are at our Church (Elements Church) youth concert where we were performing a few new songs. Prior to us going up, a brother went up to share his testimony. While passionately explaining the life God delivered him from he slipped up and said the N word.  Oops! Everyone kind of shockingly laughed it off as he apologized. As an urban church we knew exactly where he came from, what he meant, and how any of us could potentially slip up like that; especially when talking about our past life. So when Dame and I went up to do our song, I referenced our brothers raw testimony, gave God thanks for transforming his life, and lastly told the congregation that Neighbor, is now the new N word.

Biblebonics (Everything New)

Jesus flipped a lot of generational traditions, and cultural idealogy’s on their head. Because of the “new” perspective he brought someone once asked Jesus “what is the greatest commandment?” If that isn’t a loaded question I don’t know what is. In Jesus’s response we discover the two things that God esteems as paramount for humanity.

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So here we are in the year 2015, a lot has changed, and a lot is still the same. In regards to race in America things are once again beginning to intensify. In regards to Hip Hop culture and music, “consciousness” seems to be making a return as rappers address racial/political/social/economical issues in their music and interviews. Hip Hop & Christianity have a lot in common. From the underdog achieveing the impossible, to the remixing of culture, traditions, and perspectives; Most importantly the transformative aspect that they both employ; producing beauty from brokenness. So yo, consider this a Jesus Peace public service announcement: Neighbor is officially the new N word. Effective immediately. Tell a friend, tell all your neighbors.  We have an opportunity to make history! Lets make it so that when people look back at this time, and at our generation, they will see  a cultural shift in language and slang, when the N word was officially abolished and a new term flourished.

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FundTheMentals Bible Study @ Elements Church

I am leading the fundamentals bible study at Elements church every 2nd & 3rd Wednesday of the month from 7:30pm-8:30pm. A leadership development bible study will be taking place same time, date & frequency in another room at Elements church lead by Pastor E.

All our welcome. Come through, bring a friend, and lets build. Looking forward to growing with you.

The Elements of Worship

Church Music?

 We’ve all heard traditional “church” music at some point in our lives. Whether we grew up in the church, or only attended church on holidays like Christmas, New Years Eve, and Easter. Never been to church? It’s likely you’ve still heard your share of hymns ( a religious song or poem, typically of praise to God.) in movies, at funerals, or even at a sports game (God bless America sounds like church music to me). Ever hear the song “Amazing grace”? It’s just an old didy the President of The United States recently sang at a eulogy, and is estimated to have been recorded over 6,000 times, and quite possibly the most recorded song ever on the planet.

 Some of the most succesful American singer songwriters of all time have roots that we can trace back to their musical beginnings in the local church. Yet there still remains a bit of confusion surrounding “church” music, a sense of obscurity both for the secular world, and the christian world alike. Walk into any charismatic church on a Sunday morning during praise & worship, observe and you’ll see some people totally unengaged, others clapping, and singing in the most monotonous manner possible, and some lifting their hands, maybe crying, maybe smiling but definitely in a state of rapture. As a Hip Hop artist I’ve performed in front of plenty of people in various types of settings from NYC to Paris France. As a christian who grew up in church, I’ve participated in praise and worship from the pew for years; but when I was recently asked to lead worship at a church in the Bronx, I began to shrink in fear realizing the magnitude of worship, and how I/we sometimes take it for granted. Here are a few thoughts, and notes I prayed on, and scribbled in my notebook days prior to my first day as worship leader at Elements church in the Bronx.

Praise and Worship is NOT a genre of music, such as Gospel, or Christian Contemporary Music, but is essentially a form of prayer which we are commanded to do.

Revelation 22:9 But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” 

This is what the angel told John on the island of Patmos, when in reverence toward the heavenly angel, John bowed in worship. The angel commanded John to worship God. I doubt John had a full band, sound system, and big screen ready to display lyrics available to him on the island. In theory, we can remove musicality from worship all together without compromising its sole purpose, which is to praise and worship God. Unlike genres of music, praise and worship is not dependent upon lyric, melody, instrumentation, performance, artist, or audience. I will venture to say worship isn’t even dependent upon sound, because the cry of our heart will reach God infinitely quicker than any note we can sing, or play.

Praise and Worship is NOT about our talent, voice, and instrument, but about our heart, offering, and sacrifice.

Mathew 15:8 These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commands of men. (Isaiah 29:13)

In theory, the most skilled musician, and vocalist can be ineffective in their attempt to worship, while a person with virtually no musical ability at all can lead even the heavenly angels in worship.

Offer up a sacrifice of Praise (What Are We Offering God?)

Romans 12: 1-2 Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. 

Hebrews 13:15 By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. 

When we come before God to worship whether privately, or collectively we are actually presenting an offering, a sacrifice. So what are we offering God? A lyric? A song? A well rehearsed routine? (Insert comic relief here) A two-step, soul clap, and a nice looking choir robe? (We don’t rock robes at Elements church by the way, nothing against robes; just saying) We ought to have a healthy fear when it comes to presenting anything to God. In the old and new testament God has expressed terrifying indignation toward those who offer unworthy sacrifices.

Genesis 4:6 Then The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won’t you be accepted? But it you do not right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Malachi 1:14  But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifice to The Lord what is blemished. “For I am a great King” says The Lord of hosts, “and my name is to be feared among the nations”.

Acts 5:3-4 Then peter said, “Ananias, why has satan filled your heart to lie to the holy spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? Wasn’t is yours while you possessed it? And after it sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

The Elements of Worship

Psalm 51:15-17 Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not want a sacrifice or I would give it, you are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, you will not despise a broken and humbled heart. 

A humble heart. A repentant heart. Complete and total surrender before God. Adoration. Awareness of our frailty, and God’s omnipotence, gratitude, and thanksgiving for who God is, and for all God has done. Knowledge. We cannot worship a God we do not know personally, and intimately. When I first met my wife I complimented her, but as I got to know her over the years my affection toward her grew deeper, and my way of expressing my love and appreciation for her far out weighed the compliments I showered her with early on. To “keep it 100” as the kids say,  some of the initial compliments at times (Disclaimer: At times, not all the time. I love you sugar, I loved falling in love with you then, and love falling in love with you now) – but at times those compliments came from shallow, and selfish motives, just as some of our early vows to God have. “God get me out of this mess and I’ll serve you forever!” How many messes will we try to game God to get us out of, with no real intention of getting to know him? Today the praise I give my wife comes from a place of experiencing and learning who she is, who I am, and who we are as one. The same applies to praise and worship. Lip service is worthless, and even dangerous. What song does our heart sing? What lyric is our soul writing? What melody does our mind make when reflecting on our savior? God is not impressed with our bands ability to jump and play at the same time. God isn’t impressed with our cool new songs. God is much more concerned with the song of our heart. As a creative artist my prayer is constantly “Lord purify my heart, and the art within it.”

So whether you are a new believer in Christ or as seasoned as a pack of Adobo, let’s be intentional in getting right before God, and make a joyful noise. God bless you!