One of the most highly anticipated births in recent memory has now taken place. Shawn Carter, better known by his rap pseudonym, Jay-Z, and Beyonce Knowles have given birth to their first child, a daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, who entered the world weighing seven pounds on Saturday, January 7th at a New York hospital. I pray God's continued blessings upon the family!
In honor of his first born, Jay-Z readily recorded and released a masterful song, "Glory." The song has the potential of becoming this generations' "Isn't She Lovely?," Stevie Wonder's tribute to his newborn daughter, Aisha, from the classic album Songs in the Key of Life (1976). I readily identify with such creative inspiration and the immediate need for expression. The week leading up to the birth of both of my children, I preached sermons inspired by the meaning of their anticipated births to me. And as my wife and I await the birth of our third child next month, I am confident that sermonic inspiration will find me once again. The overwhelming joy of fatherhood is its own inspiration, but I now find inspiration for expression in Jay-Z's "Glory!"
When Beyonce rubbed her belly after a dynamic performance at the MTV Music Awards last August, then the camera shot to an ecstatic Jay-Z flashing a thousand-watt smile, I immediately considered it to be one of the most important popular culture moments of this century. Unfortunately, a happily married African-American family basking in the glow of the anticipated birth of a child is rarely captured by popular media. That the number of children born out of wedlock is increasing in America, in general, and within the African-American community, specifically, where 70 percent of African American youth are born outside of the covenant of marriage, is tragic, to say the least.
I am aware that my expressed concerns place me at odds with some. I fully recognize that I am among a fleeting number of individuals who believe that God's plan is for children to be born within the confines of a marital union. Nonetheless, I believe.
Honestly, I hoped that my generation, the hip-hop generation (or Generation X), deeply scarred by the absence of their own fathers, would not repeat their fathers' mistakes. Increasingly, I see my hopes dashed. As a pastor, I recently came to the grim recognition that of the last fifteen children that I have baptized, only four times was the father present to participate in the celebration of the sacrament. Of those fathers present, only one father was married to the woman with whom the child was conceived at the time of the baptism. And for me, it appears as if the trend of fatherless baptisms will continue in the near future.
Yes, I know that my concerns are at odds with some, especially those actively advocating for the redefinition of the family. Such attempts to redefine family deeply trouble me. Redefinition of family formerly came on account of necessity, such as after tragedy or disappointment, after a failed marriage or incarceration, or a parent with a substance abuse problem, or even the death of one or both parents, which resulted in other family members or friends stepping in to raise the children. Today, many families are "redefined" at the very point of conception as marriage is no longer considered a prerequisite towards beginning a family.
I applaud Jay-Z and Beyonce for accomplishing what many in my generation have failed to do, breaking the cycle of absenteeism established by their parents' generation. Jay-Z's dedication to break this cycle has been vividly captured in his recent recordings. In a song from Jay-Z and Kanye West's album Watch the Throne, "New Day", Jay-Z raps "promise to never leave him... cause my dad left me and I promise [to] never repeat him." Such important reflections on the meaning of fatherhood and of commitment to the next generation are largely, and unfortunately, missing within our society.
Admittedly, I did not see this coming. After years of listening to Jay-Z spit verses of material opulence, drug-dealing escapades, and womanizing, the possibility never entered my mind that one day he would be revered as a husband and a father. Popular hip hop has never been known as a bastion of morality or familial commitment. Yet, these recent reflections on fatherhood from arguably the genre's greatest living artist could signify a new day for fatherhood, accountability, and responsibility expressed not only within the genre, but throughout the culture. And because of the tremendous influence of hip hop culture upon American society, I pray that it might also serve as a new day towards the reclamation of the importance of fatherhood, accountability, and responsibility throughout America.
With hope and anticipation of such reclamation of family and fatherhood in American society, there is only one possible response;