Dianne Glave: Ministry & Church

Archive for September, 2011

Walter Hidalgo: Hip-Hop and Ministry

Walter Hidalgo has just published a book titled Beyond the Four Walls: The Rising Ministry and Spirituality of Hip-Hop.

He is currently working as an Associate Director of Youth Ministries for  Riverside Church in New York City. In addition, he teaches Spanish and History as an adjunct professor at Touro College in New York City. Walter holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts and a Master of Arts degree in Church History and Society from Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University in New York City. He is a native Rhode Islander and currently resides in New York City.

I met Walter in 2009 at the Hispanic Summer Program, and welcome his as a guest blogger at Being Ephesus as he shares about the book:

My motivation for writing this book is plentiful.  But one reason stands out the most; the commercialization of Hip-hop.  I believe that radio stations, music video channels and those individual Hip-hop artists that are making a lot of money from the business side of Hip-hop has created a monopoly in the music and in the culture.  As a result, the “other” side of Hip-hop lacks exposure and what we get is a one-sided view of Hip-hop that has many critics.  But what I try to do in this book is expose the positive side of Hip-hop by introducing its spiritual and social justice characteristics; which are most notably seen through its various ministries in (and outside) of the church.

Its presence in the Church (as well as other secular and faith based organizations) not only makes us re-think about what it means to do ministry, but it also makes us re-think about what it means to be the church.  The church and its purpose/mission became clearer to me when I attended Union Theological Seminary (UTS) at Columbia University–where I wrote my thesis, the genesis of my book.  When you add this knowledge and my work with youth in various churches and faith-based organizations, it became evident to me that the need for having Hip-hop in the church was both crucial and beneficial.
Youth want to change the world but the church at times appears to lack confidence in the gifts and talents that our youth have to offer.  This in turn creates a disconnect with our youth and in a time where many Churches are dying because of the effects of the economy, the competitiveness found in social medias such as Facebook, and ‘ol school methods of doing worship, to name a few; finding other alternatives to draw youth to fill in those empty seats in the church has become ever so important.  Ergo, one way that the church can survive these calamities is to go beyond the four walls of the church and begin, or go back to (I say “go back to” because the original Churches were manifestations of diverse groups of people who would meet in what we call secular places [i.e. a friends house, the street corners, etc.] to share and critique each others understandings of the world based on the teachings of Jesus Christ), reaching out to its youth, especially those that are in the margins of our societies, by using Hip-hop music and culture as a medium to create a safe and sacred space that is fun, dialectic, critiques openly and is real.
As a youth minister and professor, I integrate the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus Christ into the classroom by bringing in real life scenarios that are based on the examples given to me by my students.  Of course, this happens less often at Touro College where I teach History and Spanish, but when I teach History specifically, I cannot sway away the role that religion has had in the historical make-up of human kind.  But as a youth minister at the Riverside Church in New York City, the spiritual, educational and vocational elements of my job are what defines my duties as a youth worker, but most importantly, it provides purpose to me as a human being and as a child of God.

Walter with his Youth in Cuba

Because education and spirituality is so important to me, one of the best ways I find these two to intersect with my youth specifically is through mission trips and retreats.  This past summer 2011, we brought three of our youth from the Riverside Church to Cuba to learn about it’s economy, religious presence, African influence, etc.  This was a collaboration between our youth ministry department and our Mission for Social Justice Department.  In addition to these departments, we collaborated with our host organization called Pastors for Peace (www.ifco.org) where we collected computers, medical supplies, toys for kids, etc. from all over the U.S. and Canada and crossed them over via the U.S. – Mexico border to transport them later to Cuba.  Our objective was to defy and end the U.S. – Cuba blockade while being in solidarity with our Cuban brothers and sisters–because despite our historical and political differences, we are neighbors and therefore part of the Kingdom of God!  Exposing this to our young people, especially when the Hip-hop culture was used to create socio-political change in Cuba, creates a long lasting memory–and in many cases crystallizes–this call toward social action while creating this sense of global (and local) responsibility to work toward social justice.  So, some of the profits will be used to fund more mission trips like Cuba so we could bring more youth to various places (locally and globally) that need our help.

This push for more mission trips stems from my own experiences doing research for the book which basically reinforces this notion that Hip-hop is creating sacred and safe spaces of socio-political change and spiritual growth.  For example, in the Conclusion section of my book I talk about my experience traveling to Colombia in South America as part of a travel seminar course that I took while studying at UTS back in 2008.  About 15 of us traveled to study peace culture, peace education and liberation theology in a country that continues to struggle with internal displacement, racism, and paramilitary chaos.  Not surprisingly, many of the organizations that we visited that supported youth utilized the Hip-hop culture as a medium for education, community building, and life learning skills, to just name a few.  But what I remember the most was when a famous “Colombian politician Piedad Esneda Cardoba Ruiz said: “The youth are the key to the liberation of Colombia.”  (pg. 102) This statement was said after several Hip-hop performances from Colombian youth (and myself) and before a discussion that I had with local (youth) MC’s where they said to me that it’s Hip-hop culture and music that is helping to provide a positive alternative to guerrilla army recruitment and racial bigotry that is sometimes found in Colombian youth culture.

In the Colombian context, like countless other places in the world, Hip-hop is being used to build communities that fight for social justice while creating sacred spaces of peace, love, unity and having fun!  This mantra is no different then the Hip-hop culture here in the U.S., especially with my young people.  Again, socio-political change, spiritual awareness and of course knowledge and agency using the Hip-hop culture are but a few ways that reflect the kind of work that I do whether its my youth ministry, youth organizing and/or youth worship because all are all encompassing with a call to take action to change themselves, there respective community(s) and there soul.

You can connect with Walter on facebook and twitter to learn more about him and the book. Information about purchasing the book is at the Beyond the Walls website.

It’s Ok to Go Back to 911

I sat inside my car outside of Kmart. I had much to do–so much of it mundane–but was listening to NPR on the radio. I heard the voices, the accents of my “kinsfolk” from New York sharing about 911. Listen to the words a few brave firefighters. Back on September 11. 2001, 911 leaned into me, really fell on me like the north and south towers of the World Trade Center (WTC). I grieved out of shock for my home, New York in those first few months. Ultimately, I had to turn away because it was too much for me.

With One of My Muslim Sisters in NYC

This week, the second week of September 2011, I am leaning into 911, feeling my grief, experiencing my grief, looking back, and remembering. It has been more than nine years since I’ve looked at the footage of the two planes hitting the World Trade Center. God continues to heal me as I am now able to directly face the terrible events of 911.

I was living in Los Angeles, so far away from New York, my place of birth, when the city and its people were attacked. I was busy getting ready for work. My mother called me and told me to turn on the TV. Every channel was showing the WTC footage of two planes crashing into the buildings. I dropped down to the floor, my legs crossed watching the explosions over and over again.I tried calling relatives, one in particular who worked a few blocks from the WTC. All lines were busy. Was it possible to be both numb and frantic?

Stunned I moved into auto-pilot going over to Loyola Marymount University to teach a class. LAX, Los Angeles’ International Airport, stood between me and the university. The airport was ringed off, and it was impossible to get there from the highway. Somehow through side streets, I drove under the net. Some of my students actually showed up. We scrapped talking about American Cultures and we mourned together around our conversation. We hugged and departed going to our homes, knowing that tomorrow would be a new different America.

Faithful Central Bible Church, my church at the time, quickly organized an evening service in response to the tragic events. At the service, a few words came from the pulpit and we moved into prayer. A rush of voices went up; the Holy Spirit filled the sanctuary. As I stood still, a sob came from my throat. Three or four women, strangers in a mega-church, surrounded and held onto me. We swayed as one.

Less than a week passed and I had to get on a plane. I was afraid but pushed through. LAX was close to empty. Military held semi-automatic weapon. YES, I was afraid. but I pushed through.

I learned that everyone in my family was safe and a few months later went to New York City for Thanksgiving. I met one of my cousins a few blocks from Ground Zero. My parents arrived a few hours later. My father worked at a bank much of his adult life directly across the street from the south tower. I worked there too remembering running from the subway, my feet hitting the cream tiles, up the stairs, into the sunlight. In sum, I spent ten years working at various companies in midtown and downtown so standing next to the wooden fence with photos and notes at Ground Zero with my parents tore me up. My father and I looked south at the shattered damaged bank draped so familiar to both of us. In that desolate spot, a vast footprint, the spot of the once most recognizable buildings on earth, was God. We stood on holy ground.

Ten years later. 2011. It took me ten years to fully share my first experiences out of 911. And today, I thank God for it. I am in the midst of rememory, a term coined by Toni Morrison in Beloved, to describe reliving a collection of painful repressed memories towards healing.

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why are among the three books that have unequivocally changed the way I treat people. The first is The Bible. I grew up with it, and consciously and subconsciously it defines what I do and say. The second is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, non-fiction. Ehrenreich, an upper middle-class woman, decided to experience for herself how the lower class lives. Granted she often cheated renting cars when she got into a bind. Yet and still, I learned about how the working class like waitresses rely almost entirely on their tips, living from week to week in housing that could be pulled out from under them if they get the flu. To this day I carefully consider my tip because it could mean a night on the streets for someone.

Back to Thirteen Reasons Why, the third book. The novel tells the story of  Hannah, a teenage girl in high school. She commits suicide. Yes, she commits suicide. Before Hannah kills herself, she leaves behind thirteen cassettes, to be distributed by mail to thirteen people who contributed to the cascade affect that led to her death. Clay Jensen, another teen, is one of the thirteen who gets the cassettes. Both Hannah and Clay share in telling the story in first person. Clay, particularly in the beginning, does not understand why he’s on the list of thirteen and why Hannah even after death is holding him responsible. It becomes very clear throughout the novel the role he played briefly as a boyfriend that spoke disrespectfully of Hannah to others; his actions and words served as a catalyst for others to abuse her.

I tell you, I read the first half of the novel in a single night. It entered my subconscious in such a way that I slept fitfully. I wondered the next morning how my actions, both big and small, have hurt people. I could think of at least 100 ways. I’ve hurt people, and if I could go back and rectify it I would.

Though the first half of the novel was a quick read, I am struggling with going back to finish the second half because I so felt Hannah’s pain. I know I will go back because I need to find out if Clay was able to do right by Hannah even if she couldn’t be there to thank him.

Like most peopleI think about how tough I had it in high school. I know things are worse these days in and outside the schools. Girls have been impregnated and given birth at less than ten years old. Young couples are in abusive relationships that seem to be accepted as the new normal among their peers. Children in middle school are experimenting with drugs. Children bully other children with verbal and physical abuse that has mushroomed on-line.

Asher writes around the edges, which on first read is milder than these examples. Yet and still, when a young girl like Hannah is identified as “best ass” on a list floated around school the damage has been done. She’s an object, not a human being once she’s been labeled.

I really hope to use this book with teens and young adults in the church in a group setting. I think a fifty year old woman or a ninety year old man would benefit from the reading. We could discuss how we see ourselves in the characters and how we see others. We could ask one another how we have wronged others or been wronged. How could we change? And we could turn to the The Bible for insight on abuse, love, kindness, forgiveness, and more in relationship to the novel.

So as I finish the novel, I suggest you order the E-Book or paperback. It will change your life. That sounds trite doesn’t it? Doesn’t matter. Trite or not, this novel will ask you to be more careful with the feelings and lives of others.

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