Holy hip hop – a response to the NCFIC panel

I don’t very often blog about my faith. I keep it very close to my heart. But this video prompted so much of a response from me that it just needed an outlet, so I decided to write it down.

To the first guy who speaks:

You say you think rap can never be about anything other than the rapper. Then you go on the mention a story about the preacher who is the  best preacher ever. Until, by the end of the sermon, the listener appreciates how wonderful his Lord is.

So if that can happen with a preacher, why not a rapper? That man went to listen to that preacher after being told he was the best, and without that talented preacher I expect the man wouldn’t have listened to the sermon. Many other sermons, perhaps. But that sermon stuck because it was well delivered. The charisma and skill of that preacher opened the man’s eyes to a love for his God all over again.

Another point is that all art is about the artist. A skilled painter uses his skill to paint scripture. A skilled writer charms others with words to appreciate the wonder of God. And a skilled singer uses their voice to praise the Lord with emotion and grace. Without those skills the praise would not be any less meaningful, but they wouldn’t inspire others in the same way. There’s no disputing it – skill is what gets our attention. And a skilled rapper might not get the attention of a lover of classical painting, but it does reach out to someone. And that’s the important thing – just because it might not reach out to you doesn’t make it wrong, and it certainly isn’t as damaging and, in many ways, disrespectful to Christ as you seem to feel it is.

Finally, one of my favourite bands is Linkin Park. They do a lot of rap-style songs. The emphasis for me, as a fan, is on the words. I know so many of their songs word for word, and I enjoy rapping along. I’m not a talented rapper. But I feel the power of the words as I speak them. Recently I went to see some spoken word artists,and you could argue once again that the focus is on them. But I only heard the words they spoke and the power with which they were delivered. Only after that thought, that experience, that moment, did I take a step back to appreciate the artist.

Now for the second speaker:

Take every word you say, and think about jazz music. Grown from what could arguably be just as negative a place as rap and hip hop. But I imagine that wouldn’t be such a disreputable vehicle for God’s words.

How much has art changed to be a vehicle for God? What about word play? Other forms of music haven’t changed – some Christian songs I’ve heard come from pop, dance, rock, even gothic and heavy metal genres. And they are just like any other song of their genre besides their focus on God. Music doesn’t change for God. Music was made by God – a wonderful metaphor described in full by this article as a response to the panel explains the point perfectly.

Another point made on the Facebook status that originally made me aware of this video is that hymns, as we recognise them today, were once seen as degrading to God because they sounded too much like tavern songs of the period. And yet we still sing them today in Churches all over the world to celebrate God in a language and form that WE understand, that WE feel comfortable with, and that WE can throw ourselves into fully and emotionally. If we praise in a method that’s uncomfortable we wont be able to lose ourselves in the moment and feel God’s smile on our voices. Our words will be lost through our own discomfort and uncertainty. But if every one of us can find the way that fits our differences to communicate with our Lord then every moment, every feeling and every single word will count.

Third speaker’s turn:

Where do I start? You, at least, seem to have a problem with much more than rap. But again I hark back to Mike Cosper’s article when he says God is not surprised by any of our inventions because they are discoveries of what the Lord left for us to find.

Who are you to judge another’s work? A point made on a comment on the video says rap music is used to reach out to many people. I personally agree, also, with something else on that Facebook message. You really think standing up to fans of these kinds of music, and I am meaning jazz and rock here too, and admitting your faith, communicating your beliefs, and sharing that religious viewpoint is cowardly? Not as cowardly, in my opinion, as sitting behind a desk and a microphone dictating how the world should work. How God’s world, broken as it is, should work.

How do you know your judgement is right and they are misguided? How can you be certain, without asking God yourself and being told a direct answer, what is right and what is wrong? What is cowardly and what is brave? What should be changed and what should be left as the Lord intended it to be? If reforming the world means stamping out individualism and creativity then I honestly can’t see the God we serve, the God who made us as we are and in His wisdom carved our differences, being content with that.

If we aren’t supposed to consider science and evolution God wouldn’t have given us a past – dinosaurs and solar systems and all manner of things to investigate. If he didn’t want us to speak he wouldn’t have given us the ability to form language. And if every method of music couldn’t be used for good there wouldn’t be so many. And we need this many because we’re so different. What was once a lively tavern song is now dull in comparison to the world around us, and you can’t change everything. You have to embrace it first – change comes from within.

We’re taught that the Church first took hold in many places by embracing their festivities. Embracing their calenders and adopting their celebrations. Embracing their cultures so that the people could accept faith more easily. The Church must have done so because they realised back then God wanted to be accessible. Jesus died to make God accessible, so that when he tore the temple curtain everyone could reach the Lord. Everyone could ask forgiveness and be accepted into God’s kingdom without any man, any priest, any human vessel ever needing to act as a bridge again. Jesus did that for us, and opened up the path to God for interpretation and change. Christianity could do that once upon a time. So it should be able to do so now and embrace every method of praise.

I think I need to step away from this one and move on to speaker four:

At least this guy accepts that not everyone comes from the same place when they first find God, but treating that person’s culture and upbringing like it’s wrong and needs fixing is still disgusting, no matter how slowly you intend to do it. In fact, doing so almost sounds underhand. Accepting someone into the faith then telling them every step of the way that each little thing that ties them to their upbringing and culture needs to be different until they fit into your mould of the perfect Christian. That’s what you’re trying to do.

Speaker five:

The poijnt made here is a valid one, but I don’t find it related to the question. Yes, a 50-year-old man is dressing like a 20-year-old and he happens to be a modern musician. I see men of that age all the time with aspiring youthful tendencies without a connection to music, or to God. It’s not relevant at all, it’s a completely different social point. Van Gogh cuts off his ear, doesn’t mean every painter is at risk of self-mutilation. You can’t judge every man by one man’s actions just because there are similarities. He’s still just one man.

Finally, speaker six:

Almost a good point in the fact that some music is hard to separate from the culture from which it’s born. But I don’t think having a piercing identifies you as being within a social label. True, having several might. But I have had several friends with a single piercing that I wouldn’t count as anything besides mature, well-adjusted and good-natured individuals. I myself have my nose pierced because it’s part of who I see myself as.

The comment about losing the words is ridiculous. You can’t always hear the words in hymns when choirs sing them. Some songs are still done in other languages. And right through much of history they didn’t even translate sermons into many languages. Medieval English Church-goers would listen to a sermon in Latin and be non the wiser about what was said.

As for his closing point, I agree with it. But not in the way I think he intended it. I don’t think everything repetitive is boring. I do thing songs of praise should be joyful. And I do think it’s important that the music fits the words. But I don’t agree with the concept that certain genres of music don’t fit praise. That they detract from the worship. That they disrespect God in any way. For many reasons a lot of what we now accept as classic art, music and culture was once deemed blasphemous by the Church. But it still sends a message. And that lasting message is what’s important.

Opinions are always going to differ. I don’t think my opinions are always going to be accepted as correct, and in fact I know they won’t be. But I am also humble enough to know that I am never, and will never be, in a position to judge someone else’s ways of communicating with God. Because we have free will for a reason, and we all have a different path back to Him. That path is mine alone, yours alone, and theirs alone. And nobody has the right to dictate that for you.



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