COVID-19, also known as coronavirus (or da Rona), has been the center of conversation for the past few weeks. My heart goes out to everyone who's been affected by the virus so far, and I pray that God continues to heal and pour out heavenly wisdom on His creation during this time. While we continue to wash our hands, wear masks, rest at home, and pray for the globe during this crisis, I can't help but praise God. That might confuse some, but I'm reminded of this passage:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.
--God in Isaiah 55:8-9
As the world tells us to panic and live in fear, I can't help but sense God saying "rest and prepare for what I have next." While I don't know exactly what the future holds, I know that God has repeatedly told me to keep faith, rest, and reject fear in prayer, in the Word, and in conversation with believers. God ordained a pause on the earth. This is an opportunity to seek His face, pray, bond with those in our households, and clean up in the natural and spiritual.
Additionally, I've felt a strong pull to consume art recently. God is doing something special with the creatives this decade, and I wouldn't be surprised if He's calling more people to study and create for His glory during the quarantine. God's been dropping ideas in my spirit--phrases, color schemes, choreography, collaborations, and even titles for future projects. I'ma keep it real: I haven't started seriously working on any of it. However, a variety of cool, edifying projects by other artists have gotten my creative juices flowing. I've danced in my room. I've laughed. I've cried. I've learned. I've worshipped. I've imagined how I can contribute to the creative fold. Ultimately, it has been a great time to sit back with a cup of tea, consume art, and be a child of God.
So below, I've compiled a list of 10 things I've been watching, reading, and listening to amidst our world's current trials and tribulations. Everything listed is Christian, creative, and quarantine friendly. These projects have truly blessed me, and I hope they do the same for you.
AMAZING GRACE (Documentary)
This gem has been sitting in my "unwatched" folder on Hulu for months. Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace album saw me through a very rough period of my life. I have a distinct memory of driving with tears in my eyes and calling out to God while blasting the album at one of my lowest points. It was the only Christian music I had on my phone at the time, but in the midst of my storm God used "Oh, Mary Don't You Weep," "Amazing Grace," and "Precious Memories" to soothe me. This album (along with many other things) definitely contributed to my journey back to Christ.
To finally see the live recording of such a life-changing album was simply... AMAZING. Of course, the music is fire and made me nostalgic for the traditional, Gospel music I grew up with. I also loved the fashions of the young, hip congregation--especially mama who got up to shout in the pink velvet dress and afro puffs. However, the best parts of the film were seeing Aretha Franklin in moments of pure worship. She was in her own world, calling out to God, and returning to her roots. Crazy how this album helped me do the same.
This Lauryn Hill Speech from 2000 (YouTube Video)
Ms. Lauryn Hill has always been a fountain of rare wisdom. New York Times writer, Wesley Morris, once joked that Lauryn Hill is one of the few people in the industry that reached the pinnacle of success, saw the sunken place that laid ahead, and said "nah not for me" before it could swallow her whole. I stumbled upon this video after watching a YouTube documentary on her rise, fall, and resurrection within popular culture. In this video, she's 25 years-old speaking to a room of high schoolers, answering their questions, and repeatedly pointing them in the direction of God. I was so struck by her candor and humility.
Some of my favorite quotes from this speech are:
"Without the power of God behind everything I do, I really am completely inadequate. I fumble."
"I've been put in this unique position and have this unique responsibility that God has made me aware [of the truth], while I still have the mic."
"I'm learning it's more important to be righteous than to be right."
"Open The Scroll" - UPPERROOM (Worship)
UPPERROOM continually delivers worship moments straight from heaven. I'm new to Contemporary Christian Music, but it has become a staple in my music rotation. Not only is this particular song straight from Revelation 5:
2 Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.
4 So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. 5 But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”
But they released this recording around the beginning of all those wildfires last year, and we've seen what's followed. So, it's also prophetic. This song always reminds me of the reality that Jesus is on His way back. Seals are being broken. He IS The Worthy One. It was beautiful to watch the worshippers in this video receive the same revelation. This is truly "on your face music," but watch til the end for high praise. When homie came through belting Revelation 5:13, I ran laps around my room.
Revelations - Alvin Ailey (*Iconic* Dance)
Ailey needs no explanation. I was privileged to see Revelations once live and even perform a rendition of it as a teenager. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is a giant in the secular dance world, and Revelations is one of their most treasured pieces. I was shocked to find the full footage online. To watch through the eyes of a worshipper and minister of movement this time around, really blessed me. "Wade in the Water" and "Sinnerman" have always been favorites, but "Fix Me, Jesus" wrecked me for the first time. Plus, "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel? So why not every man?" is an eternal mood.
Creative Quest by Questlove (Book)
My Godbrother gave me this book for Christmas two years ago. I knew I really needed it then, because I had just dropped out of art school (lol). However, I never actually committed to reading it until last month. This book was actually the catalyst to me biting the bullet and publishing this website. Questlove shares insight on his creative process and the processes of others (painters, chefs, entrepreneurs, dancers, musicians, etc.) every chapter. He encourages readers to pursue artistic excellence without letting perfectionism prevent us from getting started. It's pretty inspiring, and just reaffirms the truth that there's no one right way to be creative or pursue a creative career.
"The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" by Langston Hughes
Every artist with an identity that veers from "the mainstream" must read this essay. Hughes penned this landmark piece for The Nation in 1926 during the heat of the Harlem Renaissance. He argues that strong self-esteem and cultural consciousness are crucial in creating art. We shouldn't try to run away from who we are in order to create "acceptable" art.
Sitting comfortably in 2020, I can say that black art is multifaceted, and there's no one, right way to be a "black artist." But I understand why Hughes felt the need to uplift black art that didn't try to appeal to whiteness. In his day, black people were only a few decades removed from slavery and violently dehumanized in ways I can't imagine daily. "Black is beautiful" meant so much more 100 years ago.
"One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, 'I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet,' meaning, I believe, 'I want to write like a white poet'; meaning subconsciously, 'I would like to be a white poet'; meaning behind that, 'I would like to be white.' And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself.
I feel the same way about being Christian. As I move forward in my life and career, I refuse to water down or hide my faith in exchange for critical acclaim. While I love being a black woman, my devotion to Jesus Christ is eternal--my skin is not. So, I'm not just a creative or a black female creative. I'm a Christian creative. I have no choice but to share my faith through my art. I am not afraid of being the woman God created me to be: an artist for His glory.
Side note: another 20s artistic Renaissance is on the horizon :)
I've listened to...
Back to the Book by Todd Dulaney (EP)
Contemporary Gospel singer, Todd Dulaney released this EP just in time for what we are currently going through. Every lyric comes directly from scripture. I like all three songs equally, and I can't choose a favorite. However, I've linked footage to the Proverbs 3 song, because it's great to declare and decree (to ourselves and others) right now and always.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths."
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, y'all. Our words matter. So, if for any reason we find ourselves unable to speak life in our own strength. We need to remember and lean on the Word of God.
Modern Faith by Dr. Neichelle Guidry (Podcast)
I highly recommend this podcast. I was first introduced to Dr. Neichelle Guidry through Jude 3 Project's 2019 Courageous Conversation Conference footage. She spoke on the "Discerning Truth" panel, and I was really struck by her intellect, poise, and gracious *but hard-hitting* takes. I decided to check out her podcast, and boy, have I been challenged in a good way. "This podcast exists for the spiritual nourishment for today’s millennial woman of color... but without all the religious toxicity." It definitely does that. I've sent episodes to some of my intellectual, non-Christian friends and even they love it. Each episode, Guidry's point of view is unapologetic, fresh, concise, and rooted in the Gospel. Check out her "Holy Week 101 + Palm Sunday Blessing #keepgoing" episode for an on time word.
Bedroom Gospel by Montell Fish (Album)
Thank you, Lord for leading me to 2010s chill, vibe-y, worship music. I've known about Montell Fish for a while, because of his YouTube channel and social media presence. Algorithms made his name and face pop up in my feeds, because he's young, hip, and rockin' with Jesus. I didn't know he made music until one of my Twitter mutuals called him the Christian Frank Ocean. I immediately ran to Spotify to find out, because Lord knows I miss that sound--not the content, but the sound. I've been playing Montell Fish albums and EPs in the background as I write and study ever since. Imagine lofi, hip-hop/r&b Psalms. That's his music. So fire. Out of his projects, Bedroom Gospel spends the most time in my current rotation, and "Wonderful God" is my favorite tune.
"Awake O Zion" by Twinkie Clark (Song)
My good friend, Gabriel, who is also a DJ, dancer, recording artist, and overall musical connoisseur sent this song to me a few weeks ago. We used to bond over upbeat dance tracks, house music, generally groovy tunes in New York, but he knows I only listen to Christian music now. The fact that he found this song and placed it at the beginning of his new Spotify playlist for me really touched me. It's my literally new anthem. It's fun, funky, empowering, and pointing people to God. "Young spirit, old soul," as Gabriel and I would always say.
Twinkie Clark was ahead of her time with this one. Interestingly enough, I believe this song is prophetic for the time we're living in right now. God is calling His people to "AWAKE" and "put on that strength" just as Twinkie Clark urges repeatedly. But she's definitely singing with a smile. There's urgency! But also encouragement. Do not be afraid! Yes, things are changing. It's true we haven't seen anything like this in our lifetime. But the favor of the LORD is still upon us. As we watch the world transform before our eyes, we must put on the whole armor of God. We must march into this new era with our heads up. We are HIS! His plan has not changed, and we must continue to be about His business. Let's keep faith, stay in His Word, and delight in where he's taking us. Amen?
"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert."
Photograph of Alvin Ailey's "Wade in the Water" edited by me.
This is how I imagine we'll look (in the Spirit) coming out of this. Wading in the water. Crossing the Red Sea with God's pillar of fire holding back the darkness from which we flee. Dancing on our way through the wilderness and then into Promised Land. Jesus is Coming.