The Power of Letting Go


For a long time, my sense of identity came from my role in ministry—specifically as worship director of Irvington Covenant Church in Portland, Oregon, serving as the next scion in the House of Greenidge, hoping to springboard, Game of Thrones style, into a greater role as a prominent worship musician/pastor.

That vision eventually crashed and burned.

Now, even though I still have plenty of expertise and passion for multicultural worship music, I am coming to terms with my latest transition, from worship leader to 911 dispatcher. My paycheck now comes from a job that has nothing at all to do with the church.

As such, I’ve occasionally found myself feeling wistful about being “out of the game.” I still lead worship occasionally at local churches, and I still do worship events with my band, but as I inch closer to forty and survey the music scene, I wonder how much room there is for me. At the risk of appearing self-serving and desperate, I sometimes find myself posting in worship leader message boards and Facebook groups, finding ways to subtly say, “Hey guys, remember me? I’m still here. I still matter.”

I wonder if that’s part of the appeal for people who support Donald Trump. Those of us on the outside looking in mostly spend our time being shocked and offended by his flagrant racism and general buffoonery, but I imagine there being an appeal for a certain white audience who are looking for someone to specifically vouch for them, address their fears, and reassure them of their significance. Trump’s campaign has tapped into fears that many white people have about the multicultural present and future of America. They’re afraid of being cast out and left behind.

Before we pile on Trump supporters too hard though, it bears mentioning that many of Jesus’s disciples experienced similar feelings. After Jesus had performed miracle after miracle (including the resurrection!), his disciples were still anxious about the future. We see this in their post-resurrection interactions recorded in Acts 1. They ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). Anxious about Jesus’s impending departure (again!), they wanted to know if he had plans that would secure their future. They might’ve cloaked it in religious terms, but what they wanted was, bluntly, power.

Jesus responded by granting their request—well, sorta.

He said, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (vv. 7-8, NIV, emphasis mine).

The power that Jesus granted was not a political, Kanye-and-Jay-Z-Watch-the-Throne display of dominion.

The power that Jesus granted was not a political, Kanye-and-Jay-Z-Watch-the-Throne display of dominion; rather, it was the power to be a witness to God’s power and goodness, and to humbly admit, like John the Baptist, that we’re not even worthy of untying his shoelaces.

One of the benefits of my new bivocational arrangement is that people at my job will get to know me as a person before they know me as a minister, so my witness won’t be encumbered by the baggage of church culture. If I offer to pray for someone or take a risk to help someone in need, I won’t have the temptation of trying to look good in front of other church people. I can just respond to God’s leading in the moment and leave the rest up to him. In other words, letting go of one role has freed me up to find power in another.

As the church continues to evolve, my prayer is for God’s people to trust him enough to allow our concept of power to be redefined into anything that enables us to participate in his kingdom. And also, I’ll be praying for Donald Trump to be defeated, because come on.


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  • I appreciate Jelani’s honest confession of his struggle with identity and feeling a need to be recognized for his giftedness as a worship leader. We all face that temptation in one form or another. How we all need to grow in our understanding that true significance and security is found in our identity in Christ. Praise God that His love for us is not based on position or performance, but on the fact that He is love. The cross proves we matter!

    While I share Jelani’s concern about Donald Trump, I have equal concern about Hillary Clinton, who has her own share of personal and political issues that shock and offend people. Can we pray for BOTH of them to lose?

    As a pastor, I refrain from making pronouncements about candidates one way or another because I recognize that there are sincere, God-loving, people-loving supporters on each side and that neither party has a corner on the market of God’s truth. Whether Jelani knows it or not, he has just called the integrity and judgment of a large swath of God-fearing Trump supporters into question with his broad brushed assumptions.

    In humility, let’s recognize that there is a complexity of issues surrounding this election, that people on both sides can have genuine concerns, vote our consciences and pray for our leaders, that we may live in peace and that the opportunities to live out and share our faith in Christ in our country may remain open.

    • Hi Scott,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the right to pray and vote according to their convictions. Let me first say that this piece is primarily about power and the choice to yield to the direction of the Spirit. Though I obviously have my opinions and convictions about Mr. Trump, don’t let that dissuade you from getting my main point. This is why I started with talking about being a worship leader, because I think everyone can identify with the desire to have power and the need for affirmation and inclusion.

      Despite the fact that this piece was not primarily about politics, because of the conclusion of my piece, I recognize it could be interpreted a variety of ways politically. Because of the demands of print publication, I wrote this a few months back when there were still a few other candidates in play besides Mr. Trump and Senator Clinton. Thus, I did not mean for this to be an explicit endorsement of Hillary… and to tell you the truth, I probably would’ve been more of a Bernie guy, but for a variety of reasons (some unrelated to this piece), I abstained from voting in my state primary.

      So for me, this is not a liberal-versus-conservative, Republican-versus-Democrat thing. If Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush would’ve somehow gotten the nomination, I would’ve strongly considered voting for either of them over Hillary. But this isn’t where we are today.

      You said:

      “Whether Jelani knows it or not, he has just called the integrity and judgment of a large swath of God-fearing Trump supporters into question with his broad brushed assumptions.”

      Yes, and I did this intentionally.

      Reasonable men and women can disagree about the role of government in society and what kind of leader is best suited for the task, but it’s been my observation that Donald Trump is anything but reasonable. You may call my assumptions broad, but it’s difficult for me to demonstrate careful respect and mutual consideration for supporters of a candidate who seems to be, at best, incapable of either, and at worst, the antithesis of respect and consideration personified. One might point out that, despite its difficulty, it’s still my duty to be respectful as a Christian, and there’s an extent to which I agree with that, but how respectful was Paul when he “opposed Peter to his face” in Galatians 2:11? We obviously don’t have video footage of that, but given that this is the same guy who once wrote that his critics should go and cut off their genitals (in the same letter, no less) , my guess is, he wasn’t using conciliatory language and an NPR-like tone of voice in order to appear more respectful.

      I understand if you feel a bit offended by my plain distaste for Donald Trump, and I can understand why some might feel similarly about Hillary, but Donald Trump has demonstrated a startling lack of either qualification or temperament for the highest office in the land, and the evidence of this is all over the news clips of Republicans who were saying this when they were still trying to defeat him in the primaries. Now that he’s all but sewn up the nomination, most of those Republican leaders are trying to swallow their words, but the Donald isn’t making it any easier for them (refer to recent comments by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Lindsay Graham, for example). So saying this out loud is not about partisan politics, it’s about common sense and someone declaring that the emporer has no clothes on. I know it’s dangerous to speculate here, but I get the feeling that this is something that the apostle Paul might have done.

      Try not to see this through the typical culture war lens, because if this were almost any other Republican candidate for president (with the possible exception of Ted Cruz), we wouldn’t be having this conversation, at least not in this way. We are here because a majority of Republican voters have cast their allegiance to a man who promises to restore power to Americans, and he’s doing it in a way that is alienating a large percentage of women and ethnic minorities.

      And I picked that Galatians text intentionally, because Paul’s point was not just that Peter/Cephas wrong, but that he was wrong in the way he was living out the gospel. That is, his conduct was providing a false witness to what the gospel is about. His favoritism of Jews over Gentiles was providing people with the false impression that being a Christian is all about one cultural standard over another.


      Already, people who are not Christians tend to associate evangelicalism with conservative fundamentalism and, along with it, various forms of racism and bigotry. Now, I’m not one of those people who likes throwing the word “bigot” around (see my September 2015 piece, “Turning Down the Heat”) but in the case of Donald Trump, I think it’s pretty fitting. So endorsing Donald Trump, in my opinion, given all of the outrageous things he has said about Mexicans, given the incredibly disrespectful way he’s spoken about women (including his own daughter!), given the litany of failed businesses he’s left behind him and the related pending lawsuits against him for the way he’s run those businesses, I think it’s fair to say that to publicly support Donald Trump has the potential to be very injurious to the public’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that to support Trump as a Christian is to declare that Jesus is NOT on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the minority, the outcast, or the sojourner. This, to me, is antithetical to the core of the gospel.

      And if you don’t believe me, take it from George Yancey, an esteemed sociologist at the University of Texas who is also a conservative Christian, who has written extensively about anti-Christian bias. He just wrote the following at The Stream:

      “Why Christian Conservatives Should Seriously Consider #NeverTrump”

      As I wrap this epic response, I will again quote your closing:

      “In humility, let’s recognize that there is a complexity of issues surrounding this election, that people on both sides can have genuine concerns, vote our consciences and pray for our leaders, that we may live in peace and that the opportunities to live out and share our faith in Christ in our country may remain open.”

      I wholeheartedly agree with this, but what I’m also saying is our ability to share our faith is hindered because of Donald Trump’s candidacy. The ascent of Trump has revealed a certain level of hypocrisy amongst conservative Republican leaders and voters, because for decades they preached morality and decency (especially during Bill Clinton’s scandals in the 90s), but now that it’s become politically expedient to ditch their standards like yesterday’s underwear, they’re more than willing to do so. This hypocrisy lays bare their naked grab for power as being more important than living out the gospel. So if you say you want to see our opportunities to share our faith as not hindered, but you support Donald Trump (I’m not saying you are, I don’t even know you, I’m just saying *IF* you are) then you’re a little bit contradicting yourself without knowing it. Because people who *DON’T* know Jesus, but *DO* know about Donald Trump, if they associate the former with the latter, then they’ll already have written off the gospel without even understanding what it is.

      And if you are really concerned with people’s eternal souls, than this should be just as alarming as what kind of Supreme Court nominee could be appointed because of who wins the presidency.

      • One other short political clarification… when I said this isn’t about partisan politics, what I mean is that even though there are some policy reasons why I might have reservations about, say, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, I would’ve strongly consider voting for either of them over Hillary. In 2004, I may have watched a lot of The Daily Show, but I still voted for GWB over John Kerry. I may look like a liberal because I’m black and college educated, but I consider myself more of a moderate or an independent… I just have a problem with so many elements of conservative Republican Christianity because it fails to adequately address the world I live in.

        I quote the poet Propaganda:

        “Why would we listen? When American churches scuff their Toms on our brothers’ dead bodies as they march to stop gay marriage… yo, we had problems with Planned Parenthood too, we just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in…”

  • Jelani G. is a very talented and insightful artist. I enjoy his writings in the COV immensely. I am sure that in his new role, he will be quite an effective 911 dispatcher, as that job will require all of his talents, skills, and insights, along with Jesus’ model as his guide. God Speed Jenani!!

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