Saturday, November 5, 2016

Here Lies Hip-Hop (And The Church As We Used To Know It)

I asked myself a question the other day that seemed easy enough to answer at first, but really caused me to plunge deeper into thought. The question was related to the state of hip-hop. I concluded that the state of hip-hop is the same as the state of our society…which is the same as the state of the Lord’s church…which is the state of every ‘evolving’ life un-regenerated by the Holy Spirit: progressive regression masked as progressive enlightenment.
You see, evolutionary theory (specifically, the concept of natural selection...more importantly, the related concept of fitness) tries to tell us, among other things, that living beings adapt and survive at the expense of lesser beings. Before you read any further, what I'm about to say is not an endorsement of Darwinism. Far from it. What I'm referring to rises supremely far above this unproven, inconsistent, unsupportable, and overwhelmingly shaky treatise. What I'm setting forth is in reality a glaring exposition of the righteousness of God, showing that sin has a way of making man more carnal, cannibalistic, and ambitiously egocentric (or egocentrically ambitious) with every step that is intrinsically false-positive. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle Paul, issued the caveats in Galatians 5.15 and 5.26. This, no matter how you slice it, is not progress.

So there is no surprise that commercial hip-hop has becomes every whit of a microcosm for the overall state of (hu)mankind. And that state has directly underscored how the church is sadly influenced by societal "winds of doctrine" in the worst way...winds that blow open the front door, pass through the foyer into the sanctuary, and obfuscate the pulpit.

I’m first-generation hip-hop. I remember in the late seventies the cries from the pulpit when Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Big Bank Hank rocked the mic and shot up the charts with “Rapper’s Delight”. To paraphrase the cries, we need to stop our youth in the church from listening, seeing that it’s a shame that they know all the lyrics to this song yet cannot quote any book, chapter, and verse. Even at my young age, I found it odd that this same medium was not wisely leveraged by the preachers of that day to reach adolescents with the time-proven Gospel.

Not to suggest that ministers needed to develop MC skills. This was anathema circa opposed to our day and time when evangelists stand on pulpits and hip-hop platforms alike proclaiming God's truth. I’m just saying that church leaders might possibly have discovered a way to harness and cultivate that energy and passion, nurturing it so my cohort would not have been "rap-shamed" out of listening to and ministering using this seminal music genre…which was nowhere near as insidious, pernicious, and seductively destructive to the soul as what is being offered by its contemporary secular offspring.

The legendary Grandmaster Flash on the wheels of steel...

You might argue that suggesting that evangelists 30 years ago leverage the raw essence of a grass-roots cultural movement can be seen as progressive...or even "ultra-progressive". I'll give you that. However, that does not minimize the overarching point that I'm trying to drive home: just like real, authentic hip-hop is functionally dead in the commercial/social stratosphere, the hey-days gone by of the church are similarly dead. Trying to relive or resuscitate old forms and methods in a post-Christian society is the equivalent of trying to show '60s-era Hanna-Barbera cartoons to millennials and expecting them to yield a Nielsen rating of 19.5 in prime-time.

We live in a new era where "progressive" is now one of the new buzzwords (either verbal or implicit) for a growing segment of the church populace...and anyone else not moving at warp-5 speed with them is probably not worth slowing down to drag along. It's just too much luggage, no matter what technology you employ. "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother" has given way to "Brothers Gonna Work It Out", which has now transmogrified into "Why You Always Hatin'"...

For me, I perceive the danger is not so much the idea of a church context being ultra-progressive (in ministry, worship style, evangelism, preaching, etc.) as it is the way the ultra-progressive mindset treats congregations not like them. Of course, I believe that there is an inherent risk theologically and spiritually in congregations that subscribe to "revisionist hermeneutics" to suit their means to an end. (More about that in another post.) However, I feel it is even more serious when churches of this ilk (especially those "individuals" who mount the pulpit) display a conceited, sucking-teeth, "you-poor-thing" pity move towards the less honorable, “uncomely” parts of the though the axiomatic red-headed stepchild actually has a better shot than these humble congregations at being loved by their own with the love Jesus directed in John 13.35.

Don't even ask...I have no idea...
In addition, those who have a snobbish attitude towards the "least" of us invariably seem equally enthralled with the "greatest" of us...or "others". (I may need to unpack that point in a separate post.) So the self-styled ecclesiastical "big ballers and shot-callers" (maybe in their own minds...likely in a great number of others) hob-nob with each other so the rich can get presumptuously richer, while those who do not fit in with their clique get the same treatment as Large Professor while he was "looking out the front door".

How much are those of us who operate like this - in the name of or under the guise of Christian, Spirit-led, or just plain church authenticity - willing to sacrifice for the sake of maintaining an ultra-progressive agenda? Is it really worth it? It would make sense for those who are supposedly enlightened in some nouveau, lightweight-Gnostic thought process to skip the pity-serving and share the wealth so the entire Kingdom can be blessed. Instead, hoarding resources, denying authentic relationship-building, "big-timin'" (I think you know what I mean), and, dare I say, reaching down "to help those less fortunate" is not high on the ultra-progressives' radar...because their view of the Kingdom at times fails to be inclusive of all their brothers and sisters, unless their "backwoods" siblings are willing to play by their "rules"...and get the same toys...and (I'm just going to say it) accept them no matter the consequences, collateral Kingdom/fellowship damage, absence of spiritual character and propriety, degree of departure from healthy/responsible teaching, or growing number of affronts to the righteousness of God. And because of all this, the term "unity" now becomes part of the "revisionist hermeneutics" narrative.

This is much of a challenge for the ultra-progressive as it is for the traditional/conservative, or even "ultra-conservative", congregations - some of which remain antithetical or resistant to palpable, necessary change that makes the Word of God relevant in their respective corners of the world. Those who are not seeking to adopt a real paradigm shift that stirs them to disconnect the life-support plug with both hands, and forcefully pull themselves off of the "bed of affliction" to be reinvigorated, and engage a postmodern generation with thought, purpose, and a fresh infusion of the "old paths" (not old methodology), will likely remain puzzled at why the ultra-progressive "plants" have yet to be "plucked up".

All in all, we have a critical responsibility to those who will undoubtedly get blindsided by this ecclesiological and ecclesiastical tug o' war, and find themselves unwittingly on one end of the rope or the other...fully unaware of the tensions in play. What we cannot afford to do is recreate and experience our own church-flavored version of the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud of the mid-'90s...rollin' with one faction, believing the hype/spin that accompanies it, and gearing up to proselytize, "worship-shame", marginalize, or even "divide and conquer".

What this responsibility should do is point us back to the righteousness of God and a holistic understanding of its underpinnings. If Since what Solomon said is true about this principle being the bellwether of the rise and fall of a nation, we must find our way back to it...reaching up over our heads for it, striving to model it for all to see...including the "saved and the blest". If we don't, or if we tell ourselves that we have reached that plateau and others not pulling for our "side" are falling way short of it, then we all - or most of us, save a remnant - will be caught up in "set-trippin'"...or end up far worse: like Rover.

At least when we bring the righteousness of God into the arena, we can view things as they are from God's perspective (as the standard that it is and should be). Not from our own construct or subjective an old-school/new school dynamic, say like a choice between Melle Mel/Rakim/KRS-ONE/Big Daddy Kane/LL Cool J and Jay-Z/Kanye/Drake/Lil Wayne/Future as the best rap "artist" alive or ever...but more like a Moses/Korah et al. construct/viewpoint (Numbers 16.1ff).

In essence, where DO we stand in light of God's righteousness? Will we passively point and watch while the accuser runs like a parasite through the Kingdom, or do we become transformed and teach? Will we be satisfied with only minding our own territory in the Kingdom, or see things as larger than our perceived intra-/inter-congregational agenda? And how much of the responsibility (and accountability) are we willing to own and bear for the Kingdom's sake?

Which reminds me of one hip-hop classic in which the lyrics penned by one of the best ever, the late Keith Elam - better known by his rap moniker, Guru - of the legendary Gang Starr, are ostensibly apropos:

So digest as I suggest we take a good look
At who's who while I'm readin' from my good book
And let's dig into every nook and every cranny
Set your mind free as I slam these thoughts...
You can't be sleepin' 'cuz things are gettin' crazy/You better stop bein' lazy
There's many people frontin' and many brothers droppin'
All because of dumb things/Let me tell you somethin'
I've been through so much that I'm such/A maniac, but I still act out of faith...
Just imagine if each one is teaching one/We'll come together so that we become
A strong force, then we can stay on course...
And for my people out there, I got a question
Can we be the soul controllers of our fate?/Now who's gonna take the weight?
The weight of the world is heavy on my mind/So as my feelings unwind I find
That some try to be down because it's trendy/Others fall victim to envy...
Spirituality supports reality/We gotta fight with the right mentality
So we can gain what is rightfully ours...
So let me ask it too late?/Ayo, who's gonna take the weight?

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