In a recent post I wrote about finding God in music. I confess, I cannot remember the last time I set foot in a church. As a woman, I continually grapple with the foundational messages of Jesus and Catholic Social Teaching and the disconnect with the power structures that seek to control the ways we love and find justice. I long to participate in the culture I grew up in, but cannot support the weaponization of the tradition.
Lately, I’ve come to realize that the messages I connect to I find in music. There are particular songs that offer me the guidance, philosophy, and ideas around meaning and purpose that I resonate with. One of those is “Where’s the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas.
I’ve been listening to it on repeat lately because it is the sermon I need to hear; it speaks to me and even though it was recorded quite a while ago, it is still relevant. I think it is fair to say that in our current socio-political culture, people are “acting like they got no mamas.” And by the way, I include myself in that statement. Like anyone, I sometimes get so caught up in believing that my way is the only way, I forget to listen to what others have to say.
We are in the midst of a political civil war and are so busy yelling past each other, we’ve forgotten how critical unity is to shaping a healthy government that serves its purpose – caring for the people.
Where’s the love is a question I ask myself at least a dozen times a day. Never in my lifetime did I think I would see internment camps on US soil; children ripped from their mothers’ arms and held hostage in cages, racism and bigotry spewed from the oval office, banning individuals from our nation because of their religious beliefs, and such a willingness to accept it, justify it, – and sometimes even celebrate it.
The song talks about being distracted by the drama and Isn’t that true? I’m guilty of habitually playing the 24 hour news cycle in the background. And while we should of course know what is happening in the world; it is the commentary that we feed into and fuels the division in our nation. The ongoing drama created through spin keeps us wrapped up in our fear and anger so that we can’t move forward.
Some say that they want to Make America Great Again and I wonder what that means? It is easy for us to get wrapped up in nostalgia based on our own experiences and often filtered recollections. But what about the experiences of everyone else? It is as if we’ve forgotten that “this land for you and me” was stolen from Native Americans and built on the backs of slaves.
While our Constitution claims separation of church and state, the recognition of every person’s humanity, and equal protection under the law, those are not the values we’ve engaged. In her book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Kelly Brown Douglas points out that our Constitution was written based on ideas grounded in the Anglo Saxon myth and narrative of exceptionalism. From the beginning the American Dream was one for those of European descent who viewed themselves as superior. Racism and bigotry were woven into the structure of our nation. And Christianity has become a weapon to reinforce it.
Although we talk about loving our neighbor, love is not a driving force in our communities. Traci West points out that love has simply become a hollow word and needs to be disrupted. She asks, “who are our neighbors and what do they need? What do they want?”
In her talk that I share here, I was so struck by her comment that it is the Christian that goes to church on Sunday and then on Monday says it is okay to poison the water supply in Flint, MI that claims to love. And so, when the song asks, “can you practice what you preach?” it is an important question that challenges us to consider the ways we have bought into the power structure and perpetuate it.
Some respond to Black Lives Matter with “all lives matter” claiming the teachings of Jesus. But what they don’t realize is that Jesus’ teachings are connected to the same tenants of Black Lives Matter.
Jesus was a historical person whose ideas were grounded on four values: love, inclusion, liberation, and social justice. His ministry was in response to the Roman Occupation and a call for humanity to be the central focus of community; to end the violence and oppression of groups deemed as “other.”
Jesus created the prayer “The Our Father” as a challenge to the power of Rome and a demand for economic and social justice for everyone. Remember – there is no male or female, no Jew or gentile – we are all sacred in the eyes of God.
This is the foundational message of Christianity. And yet, it is a high percentage of white Christians that maintain the power structures that implement racism, misogyny, heterosexism, and the ongoing oppression of the historically disenfranchised.
Individualism dominates our society. We no longer think about what is good for the community, we only think about what is good for ourselves. And when we lose sight of the need for a healthy community, the only people who benefit are the ones who control the power, the 1%. And the 1% has been very effective at dividing the 99% percent so that its power can be maintained. That is “the truth being swept under the rug.” That is the truth that keeps us from having a loving and compassionate community that cares for all.
If we aren’t feeling the weight of the world on our shoulders, then we are not paying attention. We need to be asking these questions posed in the song and considering what our role is in perpetuating these injustices:
What ever happened to love and the values of humanity?
To fairness and equality?
Instead of spreading love we are spreading animosity,
lack of understanding, and division.
The Black Eyed Peas “Where’s the Love” is a call to action. Remember, when we think about prayer – it is not just about private meditation or group worship, it is about action; acknowledging our responsibility and roles as human beings to act justly in our communities. It is about recognizing that we are relational beings and it is through our connection and just interaction with one another that we experience the divine. If we are to resurrect this nation, we must disrupt the warped interpretation of love that condones violence and reengage a mission grounded in humanity.
Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, activist, and mom. She serves as Associate Professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and is co-founder of . She has written for the Huffington Post and is author or editor of five books including Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Again and Women Religion Revolution. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives of women around the globe. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram: @GinaMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.