A recent video from a church service in a large metropolitan area has gone viral. In this video, several young ladies dressed in fatigue t-shirts and jeans are dancing to Jay-Z's The Story of O.J.. In fairness, I went on You Tube, objectively watched the music video and carefully listened to the lyrics in order to express an informed opinion about what I was seeing and hearing, as we were required to as college students when we had to attend dance concerts, view films, watch plays, and read articles, some of which we agreed with and some which we did not. We still had to look for certain elements that stood out to us, find the message the artist was attempting to convey, and determine its relevance for the time in which it was expressed. Art can be very controversial, and its inherent value often lies in its ability to make people uncomfortable.
Does this mean that The Story of O.J. belongs in a house of worship? Definitely not. However, I understand Jay-Z's cultural references employing black & white cartoon characters to portray Nina Simone singing Four Women, as well as social commentary surrounding racism, colonialism, colorism, the whole dilemma of O.J. Simpson forgetting where he came from, the Heisman trophy debacle, and no matter how many touchdowns he scored, and what he did (or didn't) get away with, society still sees him as a "------", as well as the rest of those who need to be put in remembrance. He addresses economic disparities between the Jewish community and African-Americans and why many of us are still impoverished, the systematic murders of young black males, and the gentrification of Brooklyn and eventually, Queens. Jay-Z informs his audience that he has taken advantage of his own financial opportunties and put his money to work for him, allowing his money to turn over, make more money, and successfully fund his own work, evidenced in record breaking sales of his album weeks before its official release date. He clearly made his point.
Young people listen to Jay-Z and can relate to his music, and while the church is in an uproar about the pastor using this medium to preface his sermon, were there more appropriate songs that could have been chosen to get the point across? Probably so. But more importantly, what message is being taught to the youth who were part of the sermonic presentation? Could things have been done differently?
What more of our churches could possibly do better is to listen to the youth, hear what they are saying, offer intelligent and non-judgmental, biblical answers to their questions and show them something other than the duplicity they have been so accustomed to seeing from many of us. We can see the inappropriateness in much of what they do, but we can't blame teens for what they don't know when it's our responsibility to teach them, or expect for every young person to change what they are doing simply because we disagree with it. Imagine what our churches would look like if each of us who were concerned about what's happening with the youth could become a mentor, a teacher, or a Christlike example to one or two young ladies or young men? Suppose ministers really considered the content of what they allow in the sanctuary when trying to creatively prove a point? What could happen if we really understand what it means to be led by The Holy Spirit everything that we do?
There are no simple answers to any of these questions, because in reality, we don't all read our Bibles the same way and no matter what anyone says, there will always be someone who can find ways to justify what they are doing, and many more who will support the actions of those who do.
Art is a powerful tool for communicating The Good News of Christ. Let's be responsible and learn how to use it correctly, and as we do, give the youth an opportunity to learn and grow along with us!