Struck by Russ Ramsey, Free for CAPC Members
Death’s party-crashing ways are detailed in a new book by Russ Ramsey, titled Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death.
Our aim at Christ and Pop Culture is to highlight what is good and true and beautiful in pop culture, and point people toward ultimate goodness and wholeness found in Jesus Christ. We do this because so much of what’s happening in the world is evil, false, and ugly, so we need to engage with narratives that convict, inspire, and renew. We need to see what’s true before we can change it. The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, as well as the responses we see on our streets and newsfeeds, weigh heavily on our hearts and souls. Police brutality and racial violence exhibit some of our society’s worst sins. We need to see it, listen to the narratives, lament, and contribute to a new story. Pop culture is a powerful force for change, and these picks from Christ and Pop Culture staff members are a great place to start.
“What are you without racism,” Morrison asks in this clip. “Are you still good? Are you still strong?” Watch this brief clip and sit on some of the perspectives she poses.
A powerful song and visual breaking down how gangs came to be. The lyrics are just as important as the visuals.
Read the two articles linked here, but watch the documentaries themselves. It’s wrenching*, but it’s important you don’t look away. Let the gruesomeness grip your soul and your conscience and lead you to repentance and action.
It’s not enough to not be racist, or a nonracist if you will. Kendi’s book shows everyone how they can be actionable in our quest for equality, debunking the myth that black people or minorities can’t be racist. Anyone who is idle in response to racism is complicit in and for its existence.
Childish Gambino’s 2018 song and accompanying music video “This is America” is a complex and convicting work of art, in which every movement, item used, and word spoken displays the hard truth that there is a different America lived by Black people in this country than white people. The video shows the layers and layers of history, violence, and pain that overlay the America so many white people choose not to see, and how we demand performances from Black people to not only validate their very existence in this country, but to distract us from the America in which they live. When I watch “This is America,” I am gripped by my own culpability in sustaining a culture that does not uphold freedom and justice for all. (For more thorough analyses of “This is America,” I recommend this piece by Kathryn Freeman at Think Christian or this one by Timothy Thomas here at Christ and Pop Culture.)
Baldwin’s 1974 novel, and my very favorite work of fiction, is unparalleled in its literary unity: he creates rich, prismatic inner lives for his characters, while also penning a searing, uncomfortable analysis of race, class, incarceration and differing degrees of black consciousness. Baldwin’s amazing balancing act trained—and keeps training—my eyes to see the people navigating social issues, and not only the issues themselves.
Gospel singer Liz Vice’s song “Empty Me Out” is a balm, a plea and a tacit reminder of human finitude. Interwoven with glittering electric piano chords is a sense of joyful helplessness, spun skillfully into an imperative:
Empty me out
Fill me with You
Lord, there is nothing I can give to You
The song nudges listeners to ache for a greater sense of wholeness, helping us understand that to be emptied is to be filled with truth—and this truth, in turn, should spur us to act and live in light of the Gospel, seeking peace, justice, and the glory of God in the ways we treat all those who are made in His image.
In his 2016 album, The Narrative, Sho Baraka personifies the black experience through the story of one man’s life: Louis Portier. Spanning four centuries, Portier fights and tears through American history, inspiriting his dignity against the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and Jim Crow South and police brutality. Through the arc of Portier’s story, Baraka celebrates black beauty and creativity as a testament to the resilience of men and women who share a common story forged through the flames of America’s original sin.
Charles Burnett’s seminal indie film was made at a time when the film industry’s interest in Black stories began and ended with blaxploitation pictures. Far from blaxploitation’s preoccupation with pulp thrills, Killer of Sheep provides a grounded look at the lives of working-class Black people, infused with bone-deep weariness and a profusion of startling imagery. This film hits hard—one sequence juxtaposes a corny anthem about Americana with slaughterhouse footage. But Burnett also finds moments of transcendence, as when his camera, looking skyward, catches the silhouettes of children as they leap joyfully from rooftop to rooftop.
Film preservationists have made this film available to stream for free here.
Morrison’s literary legacy is one of bold conviction, courageous clarity, and unblinking strength. This story centers the Black experience, highlighting resilience in the face of trauma and the unbending narrative that does not, and cannot, account for the damage it ignores.
Near the end of this book-length poem on the impossible difficulty of black existence in America, Rankine dedicates a page to black victims of police brutality. Their names are listed on separate lines, one after the other. In Memory of Michael Brown. In Memory of Tamir Rice. In Memory of Freddie Gray. When the names run out, the words “In Memory” repeat, line after line, till they fade away at the bottom. Inscribed on the opposite page are the words “Because white men can’t police their imagination, black men are dying.” With each reprinting of Citizen, Rankine updates this page with those newly killed, newly lost. Someday, George Floyd’s name will likely join his brothers and sisters on this list. In the meantime, Citizen forces us all to lament the failures of our collective imagination—and their continued human cost.
White Christians who aren’t sure why it’s important for the church to speak out on racial violence will benefit from listening to this interview, with Tamara Johnson. As Johnson explains, we are harming our Black brothers and sisters in the faith when we do not acknowledge their grief and loss over the murder of Black people by the police.
With his racially motivated ouster from Relevant magazine as the starting point, Henry walks listeners through his own work as a Black activist and explains how the Bible, especially Exodus, calls for the liberation of the oppressed and the redistribution (read: looting) of resources, from oppressor to oppressed.
In addition to his Liturgists interview, Henry is an excellent Twitter follow and artist who uses music to challenge the church’s silence and complicity in racism and explore the connections between hope and activism. His song “Playing Hooky” names how the church fails Black people – expecting them to dress and act like white people, ignoring violence against Black people – and drives them to stop attending services.
Stevenson has spent his career as a lawyer defending Black people sentenced to death row. Tracing how he got started in the work and his major cases, the book introduces readers to the systemic bias against Black people in the United States justice system and urges reforms—among them, abolishing the death penalty. Especially for white people who expect cops, judges, and trials to deliver justice, Just Mercy is a must-read. And for the month of June, the film can be viewed on all platforms for free.
Yes, that Black Panther. Look, we all saw this and loved it when it first came out. But now is a great time to revisit it. Black Panther centers Black people as heroes, inventors, leaders, even villains (albeit very compelling ones), consigning white people to two roles only, villain or helper. Upending the usual racial makeup of superhero films, Black Panther invites viewers to appreciate Black excellence and to work for and celebrate Black liberation.
Science fiction is powerful for its ability to tell hard truths wrapped in a good story, perhaps more clearly seen set at one remove from our own world. Butler’s work is no different. Butler is a compelling science fiction writer, one of the very best. She is a must-read who asks us to confront racial inequities and recognize the power, wisdom, and capabilities of her Black characters. Taking up themes from white resistance to integration (self-defeating as always) to the liberation and power of Black women, her works never fail to move, unsettle, and challenge. (I’ve especially enjoyed Lilith’s Brood and Wild Seed.)
As the title makes clear, Jasmine Holmes is directly addressing her own young son, Wynn, in this book, but she has been generous and wise enough to let everyone else listen in. Even those without children have a great deal to learn from the gentle yet powerful and passionate words of this African American mother, who yearns for a world, a country, and a church who will see both her sons—the one she’s writing to, and the one who was in her womb when she wrote the book—as the beautiful image-bearers of God that they are.
You must counterbalance news with beauty and Tanner was a man of luminous talent. This is a good recent article about him and his work: The Million Masks of God.
Miles Davis was a rare genius. Stories like Davis’s—of a black artist selling records in the States and fueling the Entertainment Industrial Complex yet having to leave for Paris to be unequivocally treated like a human beings—shine light on the idea that racial reconciliation can be reduced to monetary terms or even ideas like opportunity. Healing would not be less than those things, but it would be more.
When my wife is asking me something from the other room, I mute the TV so I can hear the voice I want to hear. This is how to listen.
InterVarsity Press has made it a priority to publish gifted, expert authors of color who share stories and perspectives often silenced and discounted in society and in the church. A few recent titles are highlighted below; see their full offering here.
Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David W. Swanson
Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe
Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age by Mae Elise Cannon
Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara L. Peacock
Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope by Jasmine L. Holmes
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