When The Praises Go Up: Chance's Guide to Blessings
I got my first “blessing” as a mid-pubescent 6th grader in July heat, sweat soaking through my t-shirt and sticking to the back of a white plastic folding chair. A hundred or so Jesus kids were under the canopy of a circus tent on the campus of a sprawling Pentecostal church. On Sundays, inside the building’s walls, women pranced down the aisles and holy (non-essential) oils were distributed on foreheads and tongues got spoken like elementary school children who just learned their first swear word.
This was church camp--a weeklong revival intent on saving our souls and ensuring premarital sex and anything close to it wasn’t in our future.
“Do you want a blessing?” a speaker asked the throng.
The majority of our crowd shouted “Yes!” either audibly or in our hearts, where we had been told Jesus physically resided, where he’d bought and assembled an Ikea couch with the snap of his fingers.
Sometimes when the phrase “Jesus lives in your heart” get used, I picture him slapping his favorite movie posters on the wall to make the place more homey--maybe Top Gun or Mrs. Doubtfire or The Bridge on the River Kwai (I really don’t know what kind of movie Jesus would watch) nailed right next to my left ventricle.
I’ve also heard this, on television, when I’m skimming through the 10 channels I get via antennae and wishing I paid for cable: “Plant a $5 seed, brother, and God will return you blessings a thousand fold.”
I think blessings are sacred -- they’re supposed to be hallowed and joyful gifts. But so often, when I’m confronted with“blessings,” I feel I’m being manipulated. What I get packaged and sold as “blessings” seems hollow and transitory, not nourishing.
The blessings we hear about from many pulpits, in inspirational non-fiction, and via TV and radio and podcast preachers interpret living as a contract. You believe, do good, give, and then you’re provided with presents like Super Mario “power up” mushrooms in return. It’s karma, although if you called it that, you’d be shunned by the same minister asking you to sow a cash-money kernel.
“Blessings” get treated like commodities to be bought and bargained for, as if to live on this planet is to be an indentured servant who only receives goodness once you’ve sacrificed all you’ve got.
I’ve brushed off blessings for a while because I’ve been jaded false prophets and phony hermeneutics. My disdain for emptiness slowly melted into dispassion, then cynicism. For a while, I’ve been a blessing skeptic. I’m embarrassed about that. But then Chance the Rapper put out an album titled Coloring Book, and his songs “Blessings” and “Blessings (Reprise)” gave me my theology back. To put it in Chance’s terms, he “made me remember how to smile good.”
On the track “Blessings” Chance and Jamila Woods proclaim,
“When the praises go up, the blessings come down.”
Praises here aren’t the sort of sacrificial donations prosperity proponents preach, nor are they implicated in the tedious negotiations of God granting wishes you if you do something worthy first. Praise is opening your damn eyes and letting light in. “Praises” aren’t deeds. Praising is a posture of seeing good and goodness wherever your eyeballs glance.
In “Blessings (Reprise),” Chance begins with a list of a few of his favorite things.
“Soil as soft as momma’s hands.”
“Endless fields of daffodil and chamomile.”
“Rice under black beans.”
This has been read as prophecy, but I don’t think it’s about the future. Chance isn’t so much predicting a world to come as he is interpreting the earth in all its glory and glorious little bits right around him. In these two tunes, Chance tells us everything we need to know about blessings.
You don’t need to do good to get them. Planting seeds, breaking your back, toiling and selling your soul-- these can be healthy postures, but they aren’t required. You just have to open your eyes and feel for them. You’ll find them. Your blessings are there, all around you.
Are you ready?