Monday, November 26, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Reformed

For decades, I've prayed, taught, and lectured about the need for an indigenous Reformed African American movement, believing that a Reformed approach to theology is comprehensive and has many of the cohesive elements that are able to carry the weight and freight of the African American experience in its past, present and future. 

On that wise, I'd like to introduce a young mind currently studying at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS.  Jemar Tisby is my friend, and one of the founders of the Reformed African American Network (RAAN).

RAAN is a newly developed online resource dedicated to helping to shape a movement of believing African Americans and those who share their concerns.  At RAAN, you'll find a network of people and resources "fueling modern reformation in the African American community and the multi-ethnic nation beyond."

I'm pleased to share Jemar's latest article, "What It Means To Be Reformed" from the RAAN website as he discusses the underpinnings of the Reformed faith, and what it means to be literally shaped for Christ's purposes and His glory.

Look for more from Jemar as a contributor in the coming weeks here at Prophets of Culture.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy his thoughts.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Brazen, Beautiful Humanity of Malala Yousafzai

Karen's latest blog post looks at Christ's approach to women living under the first century Roman Empire in light of children's rights, and the recent radical Islamic violence against fourteen-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai.

I'm so proud of my wife, and I'm pleased to encourage you to follow her on her new page for blog posts about theology, identity, dignity, women's consciousness, the unique value of redeemed women of color, and the global pursuit of human rights. - CE

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Behold, The Man

By now, we’ve all seen this infamous tri-panel icon, an Ecce Homo that is Elías García Martínez’ fresco representation of the suffering Christ, crowned with thorns.  The three panels escort our eye from left to right; from the fresco in its younger days, to its time-weathered degeneration, ending finally with the well-intentioned yet botched efforts of an amateur restoration that holds only a shadow of the original.  This century-old Ecce Homo, housed in Spain’s Santuario de la Misericordia, was first created as an instrument to inspire worship.  After its unfortunate “restoration,” the community says it’s now valuable only in a far less lofty function – promoting tourism and stimulating pop-culture.  As t-shirts and other marketing items exploit its odd tale, experts now consider it ruined for its original purpose.

All is not lost; the incident brings out at least two valuable lessons that stand out in bold bas-relief. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

But God ... Reflections on Sleepless Nights

Battles are best waged 
under cover of darkness.

By day, a siege is easier to fend. 
Obstacles lie exposed, 
reinforcements stand ready, 
troops take action - quickly rallied.

But in the night ...
Lord, have mercy, in the night ... 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What's Your Basis for Justice?

Question:  What do you get when you cross one theological nerd who spends hours tweaking his keynote lecture presentations with another theological nerd who spent 8 years as a d.j., creating radio commercials?

Give up?

That's how nerds roll. Have a look. 
- The Ellises

Monday, July 30, 2012

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Mire

Famished after a vigorous workout at the YMCA pool, we decided to momentarily break our regular eating habits and grab a quick bite – at Chick-fil-A.  We dined deliberately out of a sense of protest over municipal politicians’ reactions to Dan Cathy’s expression of free speech.  To our delight, the place was packed with people of all manner of unidentifiable persuasions.

That the other diners' beliefs were unknown to us is important to note, as we found later that we kept surprising company with the likes of New York City Mayor Bloomberg, the ACLU, the talk show The View, and more than a few news outlets who also cried ‘foul’ over responses to public denials of Cathy’s fundamental right to free speech and entrepreneurship in our country.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Decent Proposal – An American Health Alternative

Much has been said about universal healthcare.  In my view, it is clearly in line with the theistic core values upon which this nation was founded.   However, though people insist that healthcare is a fundamental right, it is not listed in our constitutional Bill of Rights.  

The mistaken notion that healthcare is a right comes from the so-called “Economic Bill of Rights,” articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 11, 1944.

“ObamaCare” as it is currently constituted, depends on altruism to control costs.  Its major shortcoming is the lack of a mechanism to keep costs down. Healthcare must be tackled not only from the payer side, but also in its management and cost effectiveness to reflect global rates.  In order to do this, we must trim the associated bureaucratic bloat.  “ObamaCare” does not factor in the flaws in human nature, which certainly extend to the individuals who manage and run our healthcare corporations.  If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are not naturally altruistic.  It is much more realistic to harness free market forces where appropriate and to encourage people – and corporations – to do right based on incentives

Monday, June 11, 2012

“Baby Mama” Drama to “Nanny State” Trauma

Once, while I was meeting with a brilliant young man, the conversation turned to marriage and fatherhood.  To my surprise, the young man admitted that from his formative years through his young adulthood, the concept of marriage was nowhere on his radar screen.  The shocker was that just a few years ago, though he had committed his life to Christ and had become and active member of his church, marriage was still a completely alien concept to him.  He admitted to me that he assumed the only way he could ever be a father was to become a “baby daddy,” replete with the concomitant “baby mama” drama.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

“Daddy Did My Hair” – Weaving the Nature of Fatherhood

My father always seemed larger than life.  A booming baritone who made the first Great Migration north with his family after the Stock Market Crash of '29, he worked throughout his schooling to help support his mother and numerous siblings.  My father finished Hampton University, and served his country during World War II as one of the first African American army captains leading an all-White company in the Pacific theater.  This was a man who integrated the public school system along with a group of brave high school teachers, who with my mother at his side was instrumental in exposing unfair housing practices and the need for the Housing Discrimination Act of 1968.  As an Industrial Arts teacher, he was so proficient at carpentry that he could design and build just about anything with his seemingly unlimited imagination and skill.

One morning, my father faced a daunting, never-before-performed task ... doing his daughters’ hair.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

‘How We Be’ – An Offbeat Look at Ebonics

There are many rich things about being African American that give me a warm smile.  Among these are our innovative, ‘good for the soul’ foods (taken in moderation, of course), our pioneering spirit that has created an entire series of history-making ‘firsts,’ and our multitude of globally imitated genres of music and dance.  These and many other things are reflective of our unique style that continues to grow out of our incredible resilience and adaptability as a people. 

Our ever-evolving linguistics is no exception.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Illogical Ontology - How We Misunderstand Ourselves

In the 1970’s, I visited a picturesque Philadelphia neighborhood of well-kept row-homes owned by middle-class Black folk.  Noticing a forest of “for sale” signs littering the front lawns, had I not known better, I would have assumed the proliferation of signs was due to “White flight” – but these were Black homeowners.  When I inquired about the reasons for this “Black flight,” the residents pointed to the rumor that underclass people were moving in – those displaced by the gentrification of downtown’s South Street.  I had heard the exact same arguments articulated by their White counterparts in other neighborhoods: “Our property values will decline,” “Our schools will go downhill,” etc.  This observation shook me to my foundation; I never dreamed that “Black flight” was possible.  It was then that I realized that I had imbibed the intoxicant of ontological Blackness – believing that we were immune to certain behaviors I had always associated with Whites.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Drives Poverty – Fire in the 'Whole'?

As a seven year old boy, I sat at the kitchen table anticipating the taste of my grandmother’s fried chicken.  Suddenly, I was traumatized by the eruption of a grease fire.  As my grandfather tried to douse the flames with water the fire flared up, nearly igniting the cabinets above before it could be smothered.  If this had been a wood fire, water would have killed the flames instantly; however, a grease fire poses a danger of a completely different nature.

Poverty can be compared to this – sometimes a fire of wood, at other times, one of grease.  The traditional means of dousing a wood fire will only exacerbate a grease fire.  This might be helpful in explaining the perplexing explosion of poverty despite government’s massive attempts to quell it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Freedom From a One-Dimensional Identity

I see myself as a walking paradox.  There are many manifestations of the human condition that I find repugnant, yet that I also find present in me.  Some would say that this makes me conflicted at best, hypocritical and self-loathing at worst.  Yet and still, I know I’m not alone, as many similarly struggle with this paradox.  While society is uncomfortable with the tension, the Bible tells us it is common.

As a follower of Jesus, knowing that I am being conformed to the image of Someone greater than myself empowers me to have peace with this tension.  This external conformation is what differentiates my struggle from other attempts, such as Confucianism’s ‘yin yang,’ to reconcile this dichotomy.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who You Callin' Oreo? The Devouring of Black Folk

In my last post, I spoke out against America's trend toward political polarization. Today, I want to refocus onto matters cultural.  It appears that African American culture itself is also being swept up into a socio/political vortex - a great tragedy in light of the current African American cultural crisis.

It seems the cultural ground has shifted under our feet.  Memories of the Civil Rights and Black Consciousness Movements remain, but they have morphed into something alien to these movements’ pioneers.  The Civil Rights Movement has degenerated into a civil rights industry, and Black consciousness has degenerated into non-achiever consciousness.  Our sense of momentum has eroded, our moral clarity has evaporated, and moral confusion is the order of the day.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Children of ‘Mama Nem’ and the Pharaoh Who Knew Them Not

When the children of Israel arrived in Egypt, they rode in on Joseph’s political coattails.  His God-given skills of dream interpretation (oneiromancy) had saved Egypt from a global disaster and increased Pharaoh’s power and prestige; as far as Pharaoh was concerned, any friend of Joseph’s was a friend of his.  Politically well-connected with their own “man inside,” the children of Israel soon made a fundamental blunder: they put all their eggs into the basket of the existing Pharaonic administration.  

Once the campaigning was over, with convention confetti littering the floors amidst deflated hopes and balloons, “a new Pharaoh came to the throne who knew not Joseph,” and a bitter lesson was learned.

It seems that we, the children of ‘Mama nem’ (African Americans), have not learned this lesson.   In the last few decades, African Americans have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates to such an extent that our vote has become a foregone conclusion.  We are dangerously close to being taken for granted by Democrats and being written off by Republicans; this is a recipe for marginalization.

Monday, May 14, 2012

“Marriage Equality” - An Irony

A casual observer of today’s Western culture would be hard-pressed to miss the prevailing trends toward marriage devaluation.  As increasing numbers of heterosexual couples are opting to do ‘married people things’ absent the marriage commitment (e.g., cohabitate, have and raise children, etc.), marriage itself is viewed with considerably less favor than a generation ago.

In the midst of all this comes the push for “marriage equality” in same-sex unions.  Why is this community swimming against the prevailing marriage devaluation stream?  They seem to appreciate what we no longer value – a legal, long term commitment to one person.  Do they know something that our society has forgotten?  Are they wiser than those who see marriage and the nuclear family as “obsolete institutions?”  If so, this is a just indictment against our civilization.  While I cannot biblically justify same-sex unions, "marriage equality" advocates are to be commended for valuing a form of this gift toward which our society has become cavalier.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Social Justice: A Foot Race Paradigm

There was no way I could anticipate the appalling reaction I received from the college students when I returned their assignments. Some of the papers were cogent and informative, while others were illogical and full of grammatical errors. The well-written papers received an “A”, while the poorly written ones received a “C.” The “C” students erupted in outrage and demanded an “A” “for the sake of justice”, yet it was obvious to me that they did not understand the nature of “A” work.

As I contemplated the incident, I realized that these students grew up in a generation where everyone received a trophy just for showing up to the soccer game. I also realized why the term “social justice” has become controversial today.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Checkmate: Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Now in the Game

Many are debating the moral and social obligations of the Black church in the wake of President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage.  The details of what should be the appropriate reaction of the media-crafted monolithic “Black-church vote” are being hotly debated, and well they should be; this is good political discourse.  However the limited focus of these debates seems to ignore a much larger picture.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Neither and Both: Conservative vs. Liberal

As I address current social issues in a variety of venues, I'm often intrigued by the responses to my analyses.  They are remarkably similar, regardless of whether they come from folks who self-identify as “liberal” or “conservative.”

On the other hand, I find it difficult to label my own social ideology.  While I have agreements with both liberals and conservatives on several fronts, the intersections with my own philosophy aren’t significant enough to allow me to identify with either.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Difference Between "Broke", "Poor" and "Po' "

I was recently asked to write this article to briefly explore poverty, the history of achieverism and non-achieverism, and the nihilism that pervades the 'hood today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Discipling Urban Men

In October 2011, I was honored to deliver this lecture on Discipling Urban Men at Epiphany Fellowship's Thriving Conference, with Dr. Eric Mason hosting. The basic thought in this lecture is that God makes converts, and we make disciples - that's the Great Commission. Too often, we try to make the converts and expect God to make the disciples. With this reversal, we're left not with the Great Commission, but rather a great debacle.

Key point: True discipleship happens both before and after conversion. 

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. is a theological anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX.  Follow Dr. Ellis on Twitter: @CarlEllisJr

The Spiritual Dimension of Fatherhood

With my son’s twenty-ninth birthday looming and Father’s Day following close on its heels, I can’t help but reflect of the spiritual dimension of fatherhood. 

While doing a Prison Fellowship seminar in LaGrange Kentucky, I heard news that would forever change my life.  I was going to be a father. Speechless, I stayed on the phone, but lost track of the details.  The news was exciting but frightening. I was visibly shaken by the gravity of the situation.  Others who had heard this news seemed so casual about it. Did they know something I didn’t know?