It was a strange, bizarre and uncharitable moment. What occasioned this moment was a joke about Jada Smith by comedian Chris Rock. Jada has a health condition, alopecia, which makes her lose hair. She has been battling this condition for years. I am not exactly sure if Chris knows about the health challenge that Jada is dealing with and for which she wears a bald head as I do. But he made a second joke about it. As you may well acknowledge, African American women and, in fact, close to one hundred percent of the women you know do not wear their heads bald. And so, for a woman to wear a bald head may not necessarily be about a fashion statement.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about makeup and the fact that it is a billion-dollar industry. Well, it is the same with hair. Women, in general, and African American women, in particular, invest heavily in wigs or artificial hair because it is very tasking to change hairstyles as frequently as they want to. And so, to go bald is considered an extremity. Of the many women that I know, I can state for a fact that there is not one of them who walks around with a bald head.
In my mind, a comedian is an artist who says what others cannot dare to say in public. A comedian is like a painter whose words are like artwork that speak for themselves and capture the emotions and challenges of people. A comedian is a poet whose words elicit deep laughter over human conditions, who turn difficult situations into laughter, who remind us that humor is a part of our lives we shouldn’t dare to lose, and who makes tolerable some of the heavy stuff that plagues the human condition.
But the question for our consideration is, when does art cross a line? When does a health condition which can bring considerable sadness and pain to a family turns into a joke?
For those of us who have had the experience of having loved ones deal with perennial health issues, we know how each member of a family becomes affected. More than that, we can tell of our helplessness in confronting health situations where we have absolutely no control, nor is any medication enough to deal with it. That sense of helplessness can be excruciatingly jarring.
But is dealing with the helplessness of a health condition enough to generate the kind of anger that it did? Was that enough for Will to disregard his own body of work, audience, and all those watching around the world to attack Chris? I don’t think so.
I don’t think so because two wrongs don’t make a right. There’s something about the strength of character which makes you resilient enough to take a blow - not for yourself, but for the other without hitting back. Indeed, he said later on that ‘Love makes you do crazy things.’ And he is absolutely right. Love makes you do crazy things, but love shouldn’t move any of us to hurt another person, irrespective of how justified we may feel. The crazy things that love make us do is directly opposite to violence.
Love lends its hand to us so that we may use it to heal, guide, nurture, support, and even suffer for the sake of love itself. Love gifts us with the strength to take a punch with a smile because real strength isn’t in violence or revenge, real strength is in the examples that we set for ourselves, those we love, and those we don’t even love but are called to love, nonetheless.
There’s this magazine that usually has pictures of these Hollywood stars doing ordinary things, living ordinary lives like going grocery shopping, watching the kids play sports, walking their dogs, or running... the sort of stuff that you do, and that I do. They caption it “Stars, they are just like us.” I think what the authors attempt to do with these pictures is to help us minimize our adoration or expectation of these so-called stars just so we can deal with some of the unflattering things that they may do.
Remember, the people that we idolize carry within them some of the godawful character traits that are not terribly different from yours, or from mine. They are as broken as you and I.
The gift of Lent, I believe, is not about how broken Will Smith, Chris Rock, you, and I may be, but it is about knowing that our brokenness is not enough to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. More to the point, it is purposefully because of this brokenness that makes Christ’s presence among us so important, especially during these unsettling times.
Do I condemn the action of both men? Yes, I do. But do I condemn them? No, I do not. Condemning them is like condemning my own self, and the truth is I have condemned myself long enough that I am missing the beauty that lies within me and you. I have condemned myself long enough that I am missing the new life that is available to me and you. I have condemned myself long enough to wonder if God still abides with me or if He’s so long gone that I am only left to play with His shadow.
Listen to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98:
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flow’rs in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
Lent reminds me of "the slap" - the often callousness with which we approach life. But that is only half of the story. The full story involves the Easter story.
Easter reminds me of how present God is. Easter reminds me of the beauty of life and the joy of new birth. Easter reminds me of the sweet smell of flowers that announces the arrival of spring, life, and beauty.
Although I can hear the sound of the slap reverberating around the world, I can also hear the joyful noise of Easter morning drowning out the noise of our broken lives and world.
And so this Holy Week and Easter, I invite you to join us in retelling not only the stories that capture our brokenness, but also the stories of a love that refuses to let us go - the love that seeks only our transformation and renewal.