Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Keeping Command in Rap Debate

"A new command I give you:  Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another."  - John 13:34-35

If you call fretting work, I worked all the way through this past Thanksgiving weekend.

Yeah, I know - God doesn't want us to be anxious about anything, but I readily confess that I was sinning all through the holiday.  And yesterday.  And up until about 11:20 this morning, Central Standard Time.  It was at that point when God finally convinced me that He's got this thing well under control.

What thing?  What has been my angst these six-and-a-half days?

That polarizing video about Christian rap that popped into the blogosphere last week.  I wasn't even looking for it, and I can't remember how I discovered it, but suddenly, I was watching the video, agreeing with some of it, recoiling at some of it, and then witnessing self-professing Christians coming out of the woodwork to blast the folks who believe Christian rap is not an appropriate worship format.

"Good grief," I panicked within myself.  Privately, I knew my own anti-rap opinions could be misconstrued as pompous ethnocentrism.   "But maybe... am I a racist because, although I don't mind the lyrics of reformed rap, I find its acoustics and its vibe unconducive to holiness?"

Hey - I don't want to be a white bigot.  I don't go looking for problems with Christian rap.  But neither can I simply snap my fingers and ignore what bothers me about Christian rap.  Shucks, I can't even help but wonder if many of those problems stem from unresolved cultural disconnects within and between white and black Americans.  Might ignoring such concerns contribute to the acquiescence that's helped them fester?

Starting on Sunday evening, I began writing down a litany of questions I'd assumed I'd already answered in my own mind about reformed rap.  But I was willing to admit they could be the wrong answers.  It turned into one of the most stressful blog essays I've ever written.  Yesterday, when I finally forced myself to stop writing, editing, and re-writing, I sent links of what I posted live to several people whose feedback I value.  Then, this morning, I was back at my computer, voraciously surfing evangelical websites, reading the arguments still being posted - and argued over - regarding Christian rap.

And to be honest, I appear to be in the minority on this one.  There aren't a lot of people writing in support of the idea that Christian rap is an inappropriate expression of worship.  Maybe that's because many of us know we're being branded as bigots for holding that viewpoint, and don't want to be blasted off the Internet by people refusing to let us explain ourselves.  Indeed, there's a ton of vitriol out there directed at people like me from people who love rap and the hip-hop lifestyle, believe that rap is key to evangelizing the inner city, and seem either oblivious or apathetic towards the impact rap's history has on its "reformed" style.

To be frank, the attitudes being conveyed by some of reformed rap's supporters could actually be used to support my contention that rap, at least in its "non-reformed" iteration, engenders rage, hostility, bravado, and belligerence.  These opinions are being maliciously voiced online, a venue which makes cruelty and mockery a lot easier to dish out than in face-to-face encounters.

Then there are those who scoff at the notion that white people think they have any skin in this game.  Why should people like me have an opinion on anything outside of our suburban ghettos, let alone America's urban ones?  We're not doing the heavy lifting in south Dallas, or Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood, or Detroit.  Quit criticizing and complaining, and if you don't have anything supportive to say, don't say anything at all.

Which, technically, isn't exactly a Biblical attitude to take, either.  Haven't we believers in Christ been empowered by our Savior to hold each other accountable, to sound warnings, and to encourage each other towards love and good deeds?  If a deed looks good, sounds good, tastes good, feels good, but really isn't good, we're not given a pass to just shut up about it since we're not the right race, or the right culture, are we?

Of course, we are to speak the truth in love.  And while that's what I usually attempt to do, especially in tricky, sticky situations like this, I realize that a lot of folks on either side of an issue don't even bother to try.

Then, too, just about everybody in support of rap has caved to the notion that the battle over contemporary Christian music (CCM) has been won.  They've determined that CCM's legitimacy as a worship style is unassailable, which in itself is rather discouraging to me.  Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, with CCM now firmly entrenched in most white evangelical churches, the acceptance of reformed rap represents simply the next step along that continuum.

Complicating matters even further appears to be not only the white infatuation with CCM, and the black infatuation with reformed rap, but the contentment everybody seems to have settled into, letting each fiefdom march off and do its own thing.  Nobody seems genuinely interested in combining forces and serving together in a broader discipleship effort, except when it comes to sharing an enjoyment of a particular music style at a rap concert.

But you know what?  As I was fretting a lot - and only praying a teeny, tiny bit - over this bitterness, hurt, and confusion in my own heart and brain, and wondering why I don't just shut up and be the silent, middle-aged white man so many people want men like me to be on this issue, God told me it was time for me to do pretty much the same thing.

Be still, and know that He is God.  I am His sheep, and this is His pasture.  He knows my heart, and He knows that I don't want to be a bigot, and He knows that my pride is hurt because I'm worried that other people will assume I am one.

So what does God expect from me?  And from you?  And from everybody who claims the name of His holy Son over their entire being?  It's that "L" word, isn't it?  The "new command."

His "new command" isn't to convince, or to condemn, or to chide, or to accuse, or to begrudge.  It's to love His people.

And you know what?  I can't do that on my own.  I still really think I'm right.  And I believe that God has allowed me to express my frustration on this blog to clarify my position as I believe it should be.  I'm not beholden to any culture, tradition, people group, race, nationality, ethnicity, musical style, or opinion.  My obligation is to honor Him in what I express and how I express it. 

And you know what else?  I could still be wrong about this reformed rap stuff.  Apparently, I'm going to have to wait and see.  In the meantime, it would be sinful of me to assume that because rap's fans and I are not on the same page, they're not even reading the same book.

Who among us likes to follow orders?  Yet, loving one another is a command from God; not a suggestion, or a helpful tip-of-the-day.  That means He knows there will be times when we won't feel like it, or be drawn to do it instinctively, or will love because we have so much in common with others.  There are times when love will be work.  It will be intentional, and it will be risky.

Since I'm not beholden to any culture, and instead am a product of God's grace, it is by my reliance on that grace that I will endeavor to love.  And I will pray, and be patient, and trust in God's sovereignty.

After all, if my main point in all of this involves my concern that God's holiness is not being honored, don't I need to let His holiness work in me, too?

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