I’ve been working this grave shift and I ain’t made it, I wish I could I buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky – Kanye West (slightly edited)
Spaceships don’t come equipped with rearview mirrors; they dip as quick as they can – Andre3000
And the word became flesh and lived amongst us – John 1:14
When Kanye West’s The College Dropout debuted in 2004, I was in the middle of seminary; and I was not, myself, a college dropout. I had graduated with a bachelor’s degree some two years earlier. Nonetheless, as much as the musings of an emerging rap star can speak to the experiences, hopes, and dreams of a future pastor, Kanye tapped into something that I felt very deeply. I listened to this record repeatedly (and no my favorite song was not Jesus Walks).
At the time, I could not put my finger on what I liked about early Kanye (pre Yeezus). Now I see that I was drawn to how he described his struggle to escape his circumstances through music. This narrative comes out most clearly in the song spaceships where Kanye tells the story of working a dead end job at the mall all the while making beats in the hope that his music will be the spaceship that takes him from where he is to where he feels he ought to be.
A spaceship is an apt metaphor because sometimes it seems that the experiences of black people occur on a different planet such that moving from where we are to where we hope to be is the stuff of miracle or space travel. The more I thought about it, the more I began to reflect on the various “spaceships” that promised a way out. The paths were not numerous: You could play ball (football, basketball, track), you could make music, or you could hustle. In my part of Alabama, few of us had family members who went to college nor did we know many lawyers, doctors, or scientists. The American dream seemed to be for other folks. So we dreamed of flight instead.
So where does the church fit in the land of black spaceships? Some want to present the church as another means of black escape from the drudgery of our lives. At least in church we are free, if only in the midst of our fleeting shouts of Hallelujah.
Worse yet, for those who look at the wealth of some leaders, the church begins to look like a hustle or a spaceship for pastors. The church is seen as a way for clergy to escape poverty while leaving their people waiting and hoping against hope for the blessing that is always on the way but never arriving.
We can’t run from it. For some church is a hustle, but are things that simple? This is not the place for a full-fledged defense of clergy. Nonetheless, I will say that the vast majority of pastors are faithful men and women who dutifully minister in their local context. Taken as a whole, we clergy are not rich. As evidence, I simply invite you to drive through anyhood U.S.A. and ask yourself how many pastors are actually balling.
But the pastor is not the focus of this reflection. I am trying to point toward the fundamental nature of the Gospel itself. Is the gospel fundamentally the story of a flight from danger or is it, perhaps, something much more profound?
At the center of the Christian story is, in fact, not an escape from the world but a radical invasion of it by the Son of God. Christians believe that the world was fundamentally altered by the incarnation, the moment when God pitched his tent and dwelled among humankind. It is was precisely through Jesus’s radical love unto death for this broken and sinful world that brought about our hope for healing. The Christian, who believes the gospel, then, is not looking to leave. We have found the resources to stay.
Furthermore, the Christian story does not climax with a flight to heaven. The Christian story ends (if “end” is the proper word for eternity with God) with the transformation of all things through God taking up residence with us after the defeat of death and the renewal of creation. John’s apocalypse describes it thusly, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Rev 21:3).
Until our Lord comes, then, you will find God’s people – the church – right alongside the poor and broken offering hope. Not a mere hope of escape, but hope for a life that even now has been transformed by the descent of God. Nope, the Christian does not believe in spaceships, only Christ’s body proclaiming and embodying the good news among every tribe, tongue, and nation.
 By the way, the lack of southern black professionals is not a mere happenstance; it is the result of generations of oppression and legislation, the legacy of which is still with to this day.