The first book from Christian hip-hop artist and social activist Sho Baraka. He believes in the power of creativity to redeem and repair what is broken in our world, and that essential truths are found where social justice, art and history intersect.
“Sho has the courage to say what many are thinking and the candor to say what many are not. His words have positively influenced me for years—now this book gives the world that influence.”—Lecrae
You were created to help bring truth and beauty into this broken world. God made you with an imagination and a yearning for justice. No matter your calling or vocation, you can help shape a better world around you through your creativity.
But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. We are surrounded by toxic stories and bad cultural thinking. We’re held back by incomplete theology.
But does it have to be like that? Is frustration the end of the story?
In the face of confusion and injustice, we can lose sight of our true narrative—the one that started in a garden and wants to make our real lives better today.
In He Saw That It Was Good, activist and recording artist Sho Baraka wrestles deeply and honestly with these questions, gives you permission to do the same, and shows a hard-earned path to creative change. With Sho, you’ll engage with art, justice, and history. Learn from the powerful principles of historic movements, explore why it’s important to cultivate your creative calling (no matter what you do!), and discover a fresh look at how the gospel can transform how you see God, your neighbor, your work, and your world.
You’ll return to your biggest and truest story. Your life (and your world) need never be the same.
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|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||7 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
You Look Good in Red
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation.
What my grandfather left, my father gave to me. What my father left, I have to bequeath to my children.
But what I pass on to my children is more than wealth (or debt) or these Adonis-like features. Inheritance is about more than those things. I pass on ideas. I pass on virtues. I pass on values that help form their concepts about the world.
What others pass to us shapes how we see the world. It shapes how we see ourselves. When I was an impressionable young boy, my mother once told me I looked good wearing the color red. At that point in my life, I didn’t have much fashion sense. I didn’t know which colors I hated or which I loved. But I cared about what my mother said. It carried weight. Suddenly I looked good in red. That was more than a compliment. It was a scientific truth.
But the story doesn’t stop there. I grew up in Southern California, in a suburban community that was known as a Crip neighborhood. Wearing red was more than simply matching colors or exercising your freedom to explore the color wheel—to the wrong eyes, it meant an affiliation with the Crips’ rival gang, the Bloods. In the wrong spot, red could get you in serious trouble.
Looking back, I wonder at the power of my attachment to the color red. I’ve had friends killed because of gang violence—many of them with no gang affiliation. Wrong place, wrong time. In hindsight, I could have died more than once for wearing the wrong color. But I was willing to be confronted, picked on, and insulted because of a simple affirmation that my mother spoke to my adolescent imagination. I looked good in red. To this day, if you ask my favorite color, I’ll tell you “Red.”
If our lives are music, stories are the instruments that arrange it. A simple compliment from my mother quietly became a story I heard about myself. A story that shaped how I lived, including the risks I took to believe that story, to act on it. It became an image for how a simple word can shape someone’s world.
Today I am a storyteller. I am employed for my imagination. In my art and performance, I can construct worlds. I can rearrange reality. I can tell the truth. My vocation is a vessel, allowing me, in a way, to time-travel. Part of this storytelling work is learning the stories that have already been told, both good and bad. Part of the work is trying to understand how our culture and faith and very lives have been shaped by the words of others. I dig for the gold of the past. I also try to trace its shadows. And in both the light and the dark, I am learning about myself, about us today.
To be a good storyteller, you must first be an honest observer. No matter what you’re cooking, honesty is the best ingredient.
History is about telling narratives. And the honest communication of those narratives has the power to shape our future. But there’s more than one way to get a story wrong. Popular historian Howard Zinn critiqued the way many historians mismanage the past: “One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions.”1 Both can result in misshapen stories.
This book is about many things. But at the core it’s about how the stories we live shape the world around us. How we can use our creativity to bring gold or shadow into reality. There is no word or story too small to matter. Not mine. Not yours. But like the power of my mother’s compliment—“You look good in red”—we must consider the power of the narratives we live.
Stories have the ability to cultivate societies. Or to kill them. The ethnic lies accepted by the Hutu and Tutsi peoples in Rwanda (lies engineered by German colonizers generations before) were the roots that gave rise to the 1994 genocide that killed over eight hundred thousand human beings.
So, as we embark on this journey, let’s start by considering our stories.
The story seed that rooted the Hebrew people was planted in one of the first stories of the Bible—the Garden of Eden. After God made the cosmos, what he said about humanity is one of the most profound statements possible about our identity: “Let us make humankind in our image.” From the beginning, God saw us to be evidence of his existence. His image. Furthermore, God blessed that image by stating that we are “very good.”
He saw that it was good. In that simple statement, we can find our beginning and our purpose. And this purpose begins with us being like God. These are positive affirmations. His creation would start running the marathon of existence knowing they have dignity, purpose, and support. Our heads are up, our eyes are focused, and our hearts are filled with confidence. We have been given a gift that is priceless and a world in which to use it for God’s glory for all eternity.
But if only it were that easy. Of course, it isn’t. Because of sin, the creative impulse can be cloaked in shadow. A simple story can be a seed that grows and produces the manifestations of evil deeds.
We are shaped by our stories, and we are given our stories by our tribes. There are no blank slates. We get our gold and shadow, our centering, and our creative life from our tribes.
We each belong to a tribe in some capacity. Our tribal associations span the spectrum from nations to families. But no matter what tribe you come from, one thing is constant. Every group is fashioned by a story.
What is the story of your tribe? It’s one of the most important questions to ask. The answer has likely defined you long before you were aware of it.
The stories we accept about our tribes have lasting impact on how we see ourselves. In my song “Kanye, 2009,” I made an observation about the common mistake of tethering African American identity to slavery:
Why does Black history always start with slavery so even when I’m learning, they’re still putting those chains on me?
Do you follow? To believe my identity as a Black man starts as a seed sprouted from the ground of slavery suffocates my dignity. It tells me something false about my purpose. Is oppression what defines my narrative? If oppression is at the center of my formation, then the implications of that oppression will inform what I love, who I love, and how I love. Until new stories are told, your whole identity is in bondage.
The deepest roots of my story matter. What if there is a deeper truth about me? Something that runs beyond generational pain into something richer and older and more beautiful?
Even the shadows of our stories are powerful. In our search for honesty, it’s possible to cultivate pessimism or even self-contempt, if we don’t go back to the true beginning of our narrative—made in the image of God. Made to help create the world. Able to tell a better tale to anyone who will listen. Able to be liberated and to help Jesus liberate others from the stories that confine and oppress. My identity is not chained to the oppressive actions of any nation or individual. Neither is yours. If we let that happen, we lose our rightful gold in the shadows of a small and dangerous story.
As we understand our creative potential as image bearers of God, we need to understand our stories. Especially the stories of our tribes. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popped one stereotyped story by observing that people of Asian descent aren’t good at math because of genetics. Rather, a common cultural or family disposition to work hard tends to create communities of students who value hard work and excel in the classroom.
Frank Smith, an expert on language and formation, would call this learning process “the classic view of learning.” It holds that “we learn from people around us with whom we identify.” This means we are learning even when we aren’t aware of it.
Those “people around us” make up our tribes. The tribes we belong to teach us how to paint God. They shape our values and imagination. They give us the colors . . . the canvas . . . the backdrop . . . that we apply to our creativity, to our liberty, to our shaping of a good life. One tribe’s God might look like a 1970s hippie. Another tribe’s God may be fashioned like a Maasai warrior.
As part of our growth, we all have to begin questioning the stories we were given about ourselves, about the world, about God. We have to compare what we’ve inherited with the stories Jesus told about a humanity being redeemed. What does your tribe say about the poor? What does it say about sex and relationships? Whether you come from a conservative village or a progressive metropolis, odds are that you have assumptions about your narrative. How might those assumptions be shaping your creative life right now? How might they be imprisoning you? And most important—how do they compare with God’s image in you?