Monday, March 21, 2005


Originally uploaded by Righteousb.
Bob Lesnefsky is an advocate for inner-city youth ministry. In 2004, he left Schenectady to take a position at a Houston parish. "As a Church, we need to listen more," he said. "We're just not doing enough for the inner city. We need to hear their stories."
Read More Below:

News Article From Albany Diocese

Rapper finds beat of faith


At St. Paul the Apostle Church in Schenectady last weekend, the afterlife looked a lot like a hip-hop concert.

"We're gonna take it back for the Church!" rapper Righteous B called into a hand-held microphone, twisting words into rhymes and working the crowd with an upraised, gesturing hand.

Hip-hop music rumbled and roared from large speakers on either side of the school gym's stage as dozens of Catholic teens from St. Paul's and St. Ambrose Church in Latham screamed approval.

"We're gonna bless the crowd!" the rapper cried.

'God of life'

The beats were secular, but the message was spiritual at the concert, which St. Paul's hosted as part of its Afterlife program, held after teen Masses.

Through rap and rhyme, Righteous B (aka Houston-based Catholic youth minister Bob Lesnefsky) imparted a message to the throng of teens that God isn't stale, dusty, boring or irrelevant.

"Our God is the God of life!" he said from the stage. "We hear about the vocation crisis, the sex abuse crisis. What we really got is a crisis of boring people in the Church. We need to be a people God is taking over. Wherever you're at in your life, Jesus Christ is calling you to be radical."

Rapper's message

For many teens, the concert was also a reunion. Five years ago, Mr. Lesnefsky inaugurated the Life Teen program at St. Paul's. He shepherded many of the evening's revelers through Teen Masses, Scripture study, social events, retreats, service projects and Confirmation prep.

He grew up listening to hip-hop in Philadelphia and carried his love for the form to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a degree in theology. In 2000, he was at St. Paul's, facing the challenge of adapting traditional youth ministry techniques to reach teens in the parish and in the neighborhood around the parish with "Christ's message," he said.

"Hip-hop is big right now," he told The Evangelist. "It's not just the city kids. It's everywhere. And hip-hop is at the forefront of art; it has an influence on every kind of music right now. It's not just the music. It's what you're doing, where you're going. [Youth ministers] have to enter into the culture."

Art and Christ

At St. Paul's concert, boys wore backwards baseball caps and hoodie sweatshirts; girls sported glitter and logo tees. Mr. Lesnefsky echoed them in jeans, a logo tee, silver earrings and a terry wristband.

As a Catholic artist, he said, he tries to heed the call of Pope John Paul II, "who said that we need more Catholic artists, people who are breathing Christ into all forms of art."

That happens, he explained, "when you listen to hip-hop. It engages your whole body, with dance moves, singing with the hooks and choruses. It's just like when we come to know Christ: He wants to engage our whole lives."


Kayla Schumaker, 23, believes that events like the concert help teens make a connection with their faith and the world -- and that it helps them feel more comfortable being a Christian.

"This type of music is all about getting hooked by something, a sense of belonging. His lyrics have meaning behind him that kids can relate to," she explained.

"It's all about the message," said Adam Powhida, 19, referring to hip-hop. "When you mix in all the profanity, that's when it gets bad. This message is pro-God."

"It's the content of what you're saying, not the beat behind it, that matters," Katie Hauenstein, 19, said. "And it's my style."

Pastor's blessing

Rev. George Brucker, pastor of St. Paul's, called Mr. Lesnefsky "an outstanding youth minister. He brought many teens back to the faith because of the program. It's one of the best programs we brought into the parish."

The priest called the concert the teens' "time to be demonstrative and spontaneous, and that's what hip-hop allows you to do. It's lively, gets hold of you, really makes you want to get up and bounce."

Seventeen-year-old Theresa Allen pronounced the concert "awesome. It took normal radio songs and turned them into Christian songs. Everybody was so full of energy."

Kim Himes, 17, agreed, saying: "I think it'll open people's eyes that hip-hop doesn't always have to be bad, that they can put good into words."


Lizzie Smalley, 18, had been part of Mr. Lesnefsky's youth group and brought her younger sister, Becky, to the concert.

"These days, when kids think about Church, they think about boring things," Lizzie noted. "This is a new evangelistic style that works. It worked here, and got kids off the streets and into church."

"It was awesome, just blew me away," raved 16-year-old Chris Mangano. "Christian influence is very nice to have in the music because of the message it has."


Monday, March 14, 2005

New York Crew

New York Crew
Originally uploaded by Righteousb.
Gettin crunk with the Schenectady crew. Read more below:

Return to the 518

It’s 5:55 AM on Monday morning and I’m in a plane flying home from Schenectady NY. For some reason I’m having a hard time sleeping despite the fact that I have had several nights in a row with little sleep. …Maybe it’s the energy of last night’s concert at my old stomping grounds still pulsing through my veins, or maybe it’s just the spring in my broken seat stabbing me in the butt. Either way I’ve had some minutes to reflect on this past weekend in NY and I am feeling an overwhelming sense of joy. I once read a quote by some holy guy that said “Joy is the surest sign of God’s presence.” I don’t know how theologically accurate that statement is, but if it’s true then God was very much present in the 518 area code last night. The concert in the recently closed down school was jumping with a couple hundred people filled with an amazing (almost freakish) amount of joy. And I’ll admit I was one of them. It was kind of infectious.

Though the concert was beautiful and there was lots of cool ministry going on at the show, for me this weekend took on a personal note. Schenectady was the first place I lived with my wife, it was where all 3 of my children were born, it was where I cut my teeth in hip hop, and it was the place I fell in love with the inner city church. To say “it was cool” to be with these people this weekend just doesn’t adequately describe the effect they have on my heart. To be with them is soothing to me. Pulling into Schenect was like coming home – a feeling I have not felt in a long time. I haven’t lived “at home” since highschool and because my folks split up and sold our house when I was in college – even visiting them hasn’t felt completely like home as of late. We now live in Texas (at least for the next 61 days) and that, though filled with lovely people, doesn’t not feel the least bit familiar to me. However – there is something about urban, blue collar america that breeds a sense of belonging – like a family of people taking care of each other. You feel like you’re constantly in the “Cheers” bar – everyone knows your name and despite all your issues and all their issues – they are genuinely happy you’re there. And I don’t mean in a fake, put on a smile, “welcome to our lovely home – have a krumpet” kind of way. …just an authenitic fraternal community. To be a part of that community the last 2 days was a gift. Thank you New York.

Hip Hop is Taking Over

As I read an article in the March issue of Rolling Stone entitled “Rock Radio No Longer Rolling” I think back to a conversation I had with my father in law several years ago where he informed me that “rap’ was a fad that would be non existant in the years to come. The article stated that major radio stations around the country are dumping rock format due the ever growing decline in a rock demanding audience. Many of these stations who have since been converted into hip hop stations reported a 70% decline in listenership since 1998. Now, I (who enjoy rock and roll as much as the next guy) am by no means advocating or rejoicing in the fact the hip hop has the music industry in a choke hold. But I think these stats give some validation to a genre of music that people laughed off as a fad 20 years ago and has since influenced and shaped global pop culture with an unmatched force. The cold hard fact is this – love it or hate it, hip hop isn’t going anywhere soon. So give respect where it’s due and look who’s laughing now suckers!!! (I hope my father in law is not reading this)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Originally uploaded by Righteousb.
Lifting up an image of a white Jesus, or a black one for that matter, contributes to one of the largest obstacles to building an authentic Christian community. In 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that "the most segregated hour of Christian America" is "11:00 on Sunday morning." In nearly forty years, that hasn't changed. In some communities our image of Jesus speaks more to our history of racism, segregation, and slavery than it speaks to the Christ of Scripture.

My Passion for the Multiethnic Jesus

I hate to surface this point again out of fear that people think I like controversy (although I kinda do) - but I read this article today that really got me fired up. I think we like to have a pocket size Jesus we can fit comfortably into our own little boxes and sometimes it's healthy to have those boxes shattered.

My Passion for the Multiethnic Jesus
by Efrem Smith

A lot has been said and written about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. There’ve been many articles and reviews by Christian leaders who talk about how great this movie is and how many lives will be impacted through it. I couldn’t wait to see the movie; I was excited by all the talk. But the images of the actor portraying Jesus caused me, an African- American senior pastor at a multiethnic urban church, to struggle with this movie even before I’d seen it.

For years when closing my eyes to pray, I’ve had to struggle to fight off the image of the white Jesus. Many Caucasians, and even those of other ethnicities, may be saying, “What’s the big deal? What difference does it make what color Jesus was?” And to be honest, it ultimately shouldn’t matter what color Jesus was, just as long as he truly is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.

White Jesus

But historically it has mattered to American and Western European Caucasians. To them, Jesus was white and must remain white, especially, it seems, in a major film that was offered for preview and preapproval to a mostly white, conservative, evangelical community. How many African American, Latino, or Asian American ministry leaders were given the opportunity to host a special prescreening and provide their thoughts? None that I know of.

The reason for this article isn’t to bash the movie. I look forward to seeing it as many times as I saw Matrix Revolutions, and I hope that lives are transformed through it. My issue is this: Was Jesus European when he walked the earth? If not, why is there still such an obsession with portraying him as such in our ever-increasingly multiethnic world? If ideological or institutional racism has nothing to do with perpetuating this image, and if it isn’t authentic to the Jesus of Scripture, than why do we keep doing it?

I’m not just trying to play the race card—my purpose comes from one who deeply wants to live in an intimate daily love affair with God, one who wants to communicate authentic biblical truth about Christ to a multiethnic congregation, and one who seeks true reconciliation within the larger body of Christ. This is why I wrestle with an ethnic portrayal of Jesus that is false. It doesn’t matter what color Jesus was...unless you lie about it.

Race-based Christianity

I believe the main reason Americans have constructed a mostly race-based Christianity narrated through the eyes and felt-needs of Caucasians is that there’s still an overall belief that Jesus in human form was, indeed, Caucasian. Even many black churches promote, consciously or not, a white Jesus, even though most of these churches stand against racism and other forms of social injustice.

Lifting up an image of a white Jesus, or a black one for that matter, contributes to one of the largest obstacles to building an authentic Christian community. In 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “the most segregated hour of Christian America” is “11:00 on Sunday morning.” In nearly forty years, that hasn’t changed. In some communities our image of Jesus speaks more to our history of racism, segregation, and slavery than it speaks to the Christ of Scripture.

Because it’s still very difficult to talk about a past from which we feel far removed (and from which we want so badly to be far removed ), we struggle to reconcile images of Jesus that speak more to our past divisions than to our present desires to be the reconciled and unified body of Christ. The current and dominant image of Jesus we put forward, as portrayed in The Passion of the Christ, points to our current and historic struggles with racism and segregation, not the Christ of the Bible.

Spirit and Truth

In John chapter 4, we see Jesus dealing head-on with segregation and racism:

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”(John 4:23-26)

To worship God in spirit is to know God outside the natural realm—to be embraced by God beyond the tangible and natural touch, hug, or kiss. We gain the experience of true intimacy with God through prayer, praise, worship, meditation, and study. But promoting images of a false Jesus keeps the church from being whole and prevents us from worshipping God in truth. To know God in spirit but not in truth cripples the church’s ability to build God’s kingdom on earth.

Many people worship God in the spirit; they fast, pray, and so forth, but because they have a false natural reality of the authentic Jesus, they’re unable to communicate the Gospel of Jesus to those outside of their personal spiritual reality. God calls us as Christians to live in a balance of spirit and truth to become a community of true ambassadors for Jesus. By lifting up the authentic, multiethnic Jesus in human form, we dismantle the false Jesus and give life to the Christ-centered, multiethnic, transforming community.

Multiethnic Jesus

Matthew 1:1-17 gives the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham through Jesse to Joseph.

“The genealogy of Jesus is both Hamitic and Semitic. Originally both groups were people of color and closely associated with Africa. By modern American legal standards, anyone with a miniscule amount of African ancestry is considered black and accordingly this would include Jesus, even though in antiquity there were no such racial typologies…”

—from commentary on Matthew 1 in The Original African Heritage Bible

The human genealogy of Jesus points to a multiethnic heritage, not just an African one. Jesus shouldn’t be presented as European, Asian, or African. In Coming Together: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity, Curtiss Paul DeYoung contends that in order for Jesus to blend in when his family fled to Egypt, his “appearance must have been quite similar to that of the people living in Egypt at the time” and that “Jesus, like other Jews in Palestine who had descended from the Hebrew people, was Afro-Asiatic.”

There’s something powerful about Jesus being multiethnic. God is on a mission of reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A multiethnic Jesus in human form points a scattered humanity back to a place of unity. Today’s youth—rural, urban, and suburban—are increasingly influenced by hip-hop, black, urban culture; yet they usually walk into homogenous youth groups staffed by leaders who are oblivious to multiculturalism.Within the youth culture, there’s a growing multiracial population that will tear down the walls of race and culture that have separated past generations.

Multiracial Culture

A May 8, 2000 Newsweek article entitled “Color My World” discusses this growth of a multiracial youth culture:

“Thirty years ago, only one in every 100 children born in the United States was of mixed race. Today that number is one in 19. In states like California and Washington it’s closer to one in 10. The morphing demographics give many teens a chance to challenge old notions of race.” And this article was written nearly four years ago.

According to a January 2004 USA Today Snapshot: in 1980 there were 651,000 interracial couples in the U.S. with one black or one white spouse; as of 2002 that number was 1,674,000. This will only continue the growth of the new multiethnic youth population.

If we intend to minister to this emerging “race-less” generation, can we continue to lift up a white Jesus? Jesus must be allowed to represent all of humanity and bring about redemption, reconciliation, and unity. A white, black, red, or yellow Jesus cannot accomplish the reconciliation, healing, and unity of a Jesus who is multiethnic. In the same manner, a segregated, homogenous church doesn’t have the natural and supernatural power of a Christ-centered, multiethnic Church.

Unification and Reconciliation

The Christian Church in the United States has missed out on many opportunities to be a part of God’s will because of our failure to dismantle a segregated church system based on a single-race Jesus. If we recognize the multiethnic Jesus in human form, we will be able to build a unified church on the foundation of a revelation of the authentic Jesus Christ.

When I think of the true passion of Jesus, I think of a multiethnic Jesus on the cross. I think of the Son of God with African, Asian, Jewish, and even European blood running through his veins. I picture this blood representing all of humanity running down his face, running from his pierced hands and feet. Jesus shed his blood for all of humanity.

A multiethnic Jesus can truly die for all of our sins. Ethnic groups still in recovery over oppression from the dominant culture can be reconciled to God side-by-side with their former oppressors.

Only the true biblical Jesus can reconcile us to God and one another. As the body of Christ, we must collectively refuse to accept any form of a counterfeit Jesus, black or white.