By: James Howard Hill, Jr.
August 17, 2015
Words could never fully convey how integral my mentor, Pastor Demetrius McClendon, has been…
Rubem Alves once declared that our bodies are manuscripts that contain many suppressed ‘texts’ written over time. Alves also referred to these texts as the “tunes written in our flesh”1 and argued that vain commitments to oppressive dogmas have caused many to lose the ability to recite the melodic testimonies incorporated within their own bodily frame. As a black seminarian cultivated within the womb of the Hip-Hop aesthetic, I have long been aware of the incarcerated tunes languishing within my own body. Confined by perceived ecclesial limitations and compelled by a desire to constructively engage in a program of emancipatory potential, I applied for FTE’s Ministry Exploration and Mentoring Grant2.
Today, nearly a year after my proposal was selected, I can say with unfettered confidence that this experience has proven to be transformative, empowering, and pivotal in my quest for bodily confidence within the community of faith.
Words could never fully convey how integral my mentor, Pastor Demetrius McClendon, has been to this entire process. As the Senior Pastor of OneChurch, located in Midlothian, Texas, Pastor Demetrius leads a thriving multi-cultural congregation in an area where many people believed the concept of a multi-cultural church to be wildly naïve at best. Together, we contrived an idea to cultivate an intentional community centered on Hip-Hop spirituality that would meet weekly at my home with Pastor Demetrius providing mentorship, general oversight, and support.
Each week, roughly 15 young adults, whose ages ranged from 19-31, gathered together around a meal and sought to wrestle with their faith in a space that was both affirming and supportive. In this space, we were able to speak about our love for Hip-Hop and our longing for authentic places of worship and reflection. Each week, we read and discussed Scripture through the optics of a Hip-Hop hermeneutic. We interpreted Mary’s Magnificat as a freestyle during Advent season and observed how Mary’s freestyle poetics was reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged performances. We compared Nazareth to South Dallas and wondered aloud if anything good would come from our graduating class. During Easter, we listened to Kendrick Lamar and re-framed the Passion Narrative as a discourse on police brutality. We attended rap concerts together and constructed Venn Diagrams of Tupac Shakur’s Changes and the The Epistle of James over late-night pancakes and Belgium Waffles.
The lessons I learned from my mentor were invaluable and the time I shared with my group taught me lessons in fellowship and community that I could never learn in seminary. In fact, our time together has proven to be so rich, we have decided to keep our weekly meetings going indefinitely. Recognizing how liberating it is to own our own texts and play our own tunes, it is our desire to help other young adults in our community experience the very same freedom. Without question, I can say that this experience has given me far more than I could have ever anticipated. I would, unreservedly, encourage both discerning young adults as well as leaders within the faith community to open themselves up to such an opportunity. From my mentor, I learned that youthful zeal must be tempered with understanding in order to make a lasting impression in the world. I have come to realize that it is wholly possible to argue the need for intergenerational solidarity yet remain intractably fixed within spaces of fossilized comfort and tradition. It is something altogether different—and dare I say holy—about entering into a mentor-mentee relationship that bridges the chasms of age and experience and inaugurates a previously unseen realm of possibility. Once again, I cannot thank FTE enough for providing the opportunity for me to enter into such a wondrous reality.
1. For further reading, see Rubem Alves’ The Poet, The Warrior, and the Prophet
2. To learn more about FTE’s Ministry Exploration and Mentoring grant or to apply click here.