On a recent flight to Nashville, Tennessee just before Easter to visit my wife's family, I had an interesting encounter in the Dallas Airport waiting for our plane connection. I was sitting reading a copy of the Kansas City Star, the entertainment section it so happened. A young black man walked by and stopped right in front of me and said, "Can I have your paper?" "That picture there is me." I looked at the picture and then looked at him and said, "You're right. It is you!"
It turns out that this confident, edgy, energetic man was the great gospel recording artist Kirk Franklin, who lives in Dallas. (Franklin's known for a variety of great recordings such as "The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin.") He was on his way, like me, to Nashville, where he was set to co-host the Gospel Music Awards. I gave Mr. Franklin the paper and then asked if I could have his autograph. Sure he said. We chatted for a few minutes and I met a few others in his group. "Bless you man," he said to me, tapping his chest, and we shook hands. "I like your name, Hart" Reminds me of that old t.v. show "Hart to Hart".
Franklin's new cd is titled "Hero", and it's a power-house collection of 20 songs lasting over an hour. Joining him on this fusion of soul, classic Gospel, contemporary urban hip-hop, and soaring gospel choruses are the likes of Marvin L. Winans, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and the great Stevie Wonder. It's an awesome, sometimes overpowering expression of faith and struggle.
One reviewer says of Franklin's new CD, that "Hero is full of admissions of struggle and challenges, but Franklin always weaves a message of hope and encouragement to take the focus off the negative."
That's right! Take the first track, "Looking for you."
Verse 1 "I've been down so long/I've been hurt for so long/ There were times I thought I'd never see the break of day/ It was hard for me to see Your plan for me/ And I tried to believe struggling won't last always/ See night after night I prayed Lord/ Don't take Your joy from me/ And then late one night/ I read in Your love letter that it's gonna get better"
Listening to that track several times, I've thought the Black Church in America gets the raw honesty of struggle in life, clearly voiced in the psalms, while we in the White Church often gloss over these realities. A seminary class-mate put it this way once in a discussion. "We've taken the Apostle Paul's trinity of faith, hope, and love and reduced them to faith, hope and good taste."
In the duet titled "Why" with Stevie Wonder, Franklin makes the tough statement,
"We're building churches/But are we building people?" That song asks the painful question, "Why Oh Why, Lord tell me when our change is gon' come/ There are no fathers and (the system's holding me down)/ Sisters are dying of AIDS Why Oh Why can't our soldiers comes back home?/It seems like innocence is gone
The answer to the struggles, the pain, the discouragement and the doubts is the "Hero" who is Jesus, in the title song.
"We needed a Hero to come and save the day/Famine and hunger,disease in the land/The hatred, the killing/ Taking lives from your hand/ Creation waits. through darkness we pray./Tell me where is the hero to come and save the day/ Through the nails, through the thorns/From the hill to the grave/ Was a hero in the distance/ To the homeless, the widow, the fatherless son/ To the sick and the broken, alone with no one/Lift up your head, your hope is on the way."
In that Kansas City Star paper, the interviewer asked Kirk Franklin an interesting question. "You were raised in the church, yet this record, "Hero", is loaded with great music: the old-school sounds of Motown and classic soul, some '80s funk and some contemporary R&B and hip-hop. How did all that music inspire a guy who grew up in church?
Kirk Franklin responded: "I was raised in the church, but church music didn't inspire me. The music that has always inspired me is urban music, what I heard on the street corner. When I was 15, I trusted Christ with my heart, but that didn't change my swagger. If you grew up liking seafood, God isn't going to change that after you turn to him....I wanted the theme of this album to be, like "Christ in the Culture," you know, like "Jesus in the workplace, on the corner." That was my approach."
From where I'm listening as a paleface Presbyterian, I feel Franklin succeeded!
Like Mr. Franklin put it, "Although we live in a world of wars and desolation, Jesus is the ultimate Hero." Amen brother! Franklin's opening line in this great CD is to offer some "pain medicine for your soul." You'll find that and courage for the struggle! Let's share it...