Reflections on Lecrae’s Unashamed Book

Rapper Lecrae Moore’s autobiographical book, Unashamed, is one of the most important books I have read and will read all year. I made so many notes when I was reading, which is usually a sign that I’m reading something fabulous.

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The title of the book, of course, comes from the Romans 1:16 verse that begins with “For I am Unashamed of the Gospel…” and is the central and underlying theme of basically everything the label Reach Records (which Lecrae owns) does.

The packaging and presentation of the publication has a deliberateness about it which I think is adequately though implicitly explained at the very least by the book’s first two chapters. So, for example, I sincerely hope – and I think this was the intention – that a retailer of this book wouldn’t just dump it in the “Christian literature” section of the bookstore, if it could go in the biography/non-fiction section. As many people as possible, regardless of which faith they ascribe to, should read this book. And I know how limited the audience would be if there were explicit indications on the packaging that it should be placed among Christian lit. It’s not Christian lit. It is, as it says in the paper jacket of the book, “the story of one man’s journey to faith and freedom”.

Lecrae doesn’t call himself a Christian rapper or a person who makes “Christian music”. He goes as far as to deny that there is any such thing as Christian music, but I’ll get to that later. Lecrae is a rapper. He is a Christian. I personally know people who are upset that Crae disclaims the “Christian rapper” label. In their minds, what reason could a Christian rapper possibly have for reflecting the label other than shame in being referred to as one? But then you look at the title of the book and his career motto and then you realize your hypothesis doesn’t make sense. (Or at least I hope that’s what happens to you. Don’t go around thinking wack things!)

One of the reasons reading this was so refreshing to me was the raw honesty with which it is written. It’s not glamorized in the way that commercial biographies are. It’s not a self-help motivational book either. But it also isn’t a fairytale rags-to-riches. The good, bad and absolute ugly is all in there. He writes about his issues in the uninhibited way that I’m only used to reading from myself.

The reason why I say this is no fairytale formula, even though in general, it is a journey from captivity to freedom: I realized there were so many places that the book could have ended at – if it were a Disney fairytale, for instance. You see drudgery. Sex problems, school problems, alcohol and drugs problems, and many more problems prevail. Then Lecrae finds Jesus. The book could have ended on page 87:

“It was like the God of the universe had looked down on that dark rooftop in Atlanta and spoke to his son, Lecrae, saying, “You have the answer to all of your questions…The answer is Jesus.””

The realistic part is that it doesn’t end. Consistently, you see periods where it looks like everything is going to be rosy for the rest of his life. But either a flaw is realized, or life goes all the way downhill again, relapses and all. This is so important to me because one of the most common misconceptions people have is that accepting Jesus Christ is automatically meant to solve all your problems instantaneously. Which is absolutely false. The salvation is instantaneous but the sanctification is a process that is lifelong. When I think of this, I always think of Jackie Hill Perry’s lyrics in I Just Wanna Get There:

“God you’re making me better

You’re making me better

And you choose to do it however, whenever, wherever”

We’re not already perfect. We’re being made better.

Nearly throughout the book, there is a very clear depiction of the evolution of Lecrae’s music based on his experiences and mindset and stage in his spirituality. As for the evolution of his music, I have something personal to say about it.

The first time I met one of my most amazing friends, @EDWVN, we had like a 4-hour long conversation about music. When we were talking about “Christian music” – classically the Reach Records, Humble Beast Records, HGA etc. people, EDWVN had a lot to say about the “boldness” of the content of the music they made. The particular word he used was “safe”. I realized later that, I agree: that for a long time, the content seemed to be stuff that would gain easy acceptance and minimal criticism among the conventional Christian world; that not a lot of it was new, or daring, or relevant, outside of certain spaces, and that only recently had some of them ventured to make risky, challenging music that contained hard truths and values. And here it is, in Unashamed, confirmed by a music maker himself. Which brings us to a very important topical discussion: the reaction of Christians to the content.

“I was still unashamed of my faith – that hadn’t changed – but now I was being bold with my art. Why were people attacking me?” (p. 174)

Well, because they don’t want to hear anything that makes them uncomfortable. (Shout-out to Andy Mineo, who has a whole album dedicated to shaking our comfort zones.) Most of the time, we just want to hear what we already know, what won’t make us think too much or call for radical self-evaluation.

Some pastors are corrupt. Why should Christians get mad if other Christians acknowledge that? Some members of the church are gay. Why do you get mad at someone who’s telling the story of a closeted church choir member? It’s stating facts. To go as far as writing explicit hate comments online, calling someone hurtful names and trying to get them banned from performing, is honestly not what I would call Christian behavior from so-called Christians. It’s this conservative fear that’s been holding us back since the beginning of time – so I’m so glad that rappers like Lecrae are helping us break out of it.

At the same time, an important theme I found within the book is how to influence the culture with grace, rather than being obnoxious. It is acknowledged multiple times how much of an ass Lecrae was, with his obnoxious “evangelism” in his early stages, more often than not, serving to push people away from the faith rather than draw them closer.

But…3 things.

  1. Grace isn’t a compromise on truth.

At some point, he talks about how he doesn’t perform a certain line in a song where he took a shot at some church. And it’s not because what he said about the church wasn’t true; it was because it was ungraceful. And honestly, truth spoken without grace probably won’t have any positive effects. Repulsive effects are far more likely. It’s probably one of the major causes of church hurt. So, I like what he said on page 136:

“I almost never perform that song anymore, and if I do, I don’t sing that line. Not because I don’t still believe the truth of what I said – I do – but because I’ve learned to temper the truth with grace.”

I really hope this speaks to anyone with a tendency to just go off on others in the name of God.

  1. Preaching at people isn’t the only way to spread good news through art.

“Have you checked my lyrics?

What I sing about?

Do you know my message?

Have you heard me out?”

-Adomaa, Born Again

There’s something strange about what we call secular music. It makes me upset that we have typecasted all music with a Christian message to have a particular sound. If it’s not Don Moen or Hillsong, we can’t deal, right? And even when we get past that and acknowledge that some rap lyrics may belong in the church, we don’t want to acknowledge that rap can be edifying even if every other lines does not mention the name Jesus or quote a praise Psalm. =(

“I felt like if I wasn’t teaching, preaching, reciting Scripture, and evangelizing through my music, I wasn’t doing it right. Being theologically educated is a great thing. And using music to explicitly express theology is needed. But I mistakenly believed it was the only way to make music.” (p. 139)

But what happened when he let go and wrote personal music? Suddenly, people could personally identify – duh. Music that speaks to people’s own hearts and struggles can actually do way more for them than preaching to the choir sometimes. There are too many things we feel obliged to hide when we are members of the church. But pretending that problems don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. Lecrae’s honesty about drug abuse, sexual abuse, difficulty with prayer etc. spoke to people going through similar issues in ways preachy lyrics never could.

  1. A division between content is not a division between genre.

By which I mean, hip-hop is hip-hop. It doesn’t suddenly become an entirely different genre because it lacks swearwords or whatever.

Page 193 has my favorite paragraph in the whole book:

“This has changed the way I do music. There is no such thing as Christian rap and secular rap. Only people can become Christians. Music can’t accept Jesus into its heart. So I am not trying to make Christian music or secular music. I’m just making music. Hip-hop, like all music, is a good thing. I could use it for evil by filling it with violence and misogyny and profanity. Or I can use it to glorify God. Every song I write doesn’t have to have the Gospel spelled out or quote Scripture so that people will know I love Jesus. My goal is just to use my gifts to produce great art that tells the truth about the world. If I see the world through a biblical lens, the music will naturally paint a picture that serves people and honors God.”

Wasn’t that beautiful?

The last thing I have to comment on is that there is no point in Lecrae’s life where, as far as I can tell, there was a stark resolution to atheism. Yes, there was a falling in and out of faith cycle, doubt, but never truly an atheistic belief period. It is the reason for this that struck me – particularly because I could identify with it and have even written about it myself before:

“But I was such a mess at this point that the thought of being responsible for my own life was mortifying.” (p. 56)

Exactly. No way could I possibly be expected to rely on my messed-up self to be my own savior, no matter what 21st-century rhetoric you throw at me. This is consistently what keeps me grounded.

I think everyone should read this book, because it’s extremely relevant. If it doesn’t speak to at least one misconception in your life or mind, I will be genuinely surprised.

-Akotowaa

My thoughts: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman (who, by the way, has a very cool sense of humour, as I saw in the Cast of Characters) section.

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I erased all doubt that I was a mindless book-trend obsessive after I read Eragon. I didn’t actually hate that series until after Eldest, but I can’t say I enjoyed Eragon much, whereas the other common Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans were all over it… But that is not the point I am making.

Seraphina happens to be yet another dragon book, and I know Christopher Paolini (author of Eragon) endorsed it. Obviously, that’s not why I read it. I read it because of Rick Riordan, who is, by the way, how I find new books 50% of the time.

I really like Seraphina! I know the problem with writing these kinds of books is the fear of being so cliché with the medieval-type themes and the high fantasy that so many authors have already done, but I haven’t seen this (by “this”, I am encompassing the essence of the book as a whole) before, which is great!

I was actually confused and a bit bored at first, because it’s usually disorienting for me to suddenly plunge down into yet another entire world compressed into a book, but I managed it and got to love it. There’s one thing though (I say “thing” because I’m not certain if it is good or bad) which is the romance that inevitably shows up in the novel. Just as I was anticipating a book without baseless romance, Seraphina goes and falls in love with —BOOM— a Prince! But I really don’t want to object because I’m secretly a romantic and not-so-secretly a fairytale-lover. Do not be deceived: this is no fairytale.

On the whole, I do believe this is the first book in which I have actually liked dragons, so kudos to Rachel Hartman! And kudos still for having a long enough imagination in this new world to reach far enough back into pre-tech times and pull them into your book. And it’s a beautifully-written book; linguistically artistic.

Favourite quotes:

There are melodies that speak as eloquently as words, that flow logically and inevitably from a single, pure emotion.

Isn’t that poetic? I love music.

My own survival required me to counterbalance interesting with invisible.

I like this because as an introvert who still needs friends to survive, I feel this way unbelievably often.

Let the one who seeks justice be just.

No explanation needed.

Heaven has fashioned a knife of irony to stab me with.

Isn’t that almost Shakespearean? It’s something that’s likely to pop out of my mouth when I’m in a ridiculous situation.

The borderlands of madness used to have so much sterner signage around them than they do now.

If the rate at which otherwise perfectly ordinary people are pronounced “mad” for a single peculiarity is any indication…

Everyone gawps at you for something you can’t help and did nothing to deserve.

In the book, this was referring to bastardry, but I take it our of context and relate it to certain overly large parts of my body…

Sometimes, the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs. A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through more easily.

Happy Reading,
Akotowaa.

On John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars.”

I am not, just to confirm, a fan of hype. The Fault In Our Stars, people, is a greatly hyped book.

I was reluctant, at first to read it, because if everybody hypes it to be so great, it probably isn’t. And besides. I’d never heard of John Green until one of my cousins mentioned his name. My cousin, by the way, though well-informed on what’s up in the modern literary world, only manages to find the weirdest books.

But I had a chance to visit Barnes & Noble (for a book-lover who has lived her whole life in Ghana, a place where a bookstore is hardly bigger than a moderately-wealthy person’s living room, a beautiful place) and I saw on display, ta-da! The Fault In Our Stars. And I said to myself, “Ah, why not?”

So I picked it up. And I fell in love with John Green before the book started. His author’s note alone got me hooked.

“This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.

Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.

I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”

Seriously. What more can I say? I love this guy.

And I loved his book.

This book caused me a lot of emotional conflict and pain. It is also now my favourite book.

And I wonder, about the people who like this book, why exactly they like it, and how much they were forced to think profoundly after it. I refuse to share what I learned from this book. It’s kind of personal. I don’t think anyone should ever share what they learned from this book. I believe it to be something that should stay personal and intimate. But I do think that it’s a must-read novel. Forgive me for being cliché, and for indulging in the hype that I honestly do dislike, but I think this is worth it.

Cool fan art I found online of Augustus and Hazel.
Cool fan art I found online of Augustus and Hazel.
Hazel and Augustus again. I think the whole "okay" thing is very cute.
Hazel and Augustus again. I think the whole “okay” thing is very cute.

Yours truly,

Ivana Akoto.

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One African Man’s Dream

This post was inspired by a book I just read, called The African Agenda. I wasn’t too keen to read it at first because it was big, had a boring cover and didn’t sound like my type of book.

My copy of The African Agenda by Camynta Baezie
My copy of The African Agenda by Camynta Baezie

I was right about that last one. It isn’t the type of book I would normally read, but once I got far enough into it, I was simply engrossed.

Over here, I won’t go into too much detail about how much I love the book, but let me just say that Camynta Baezie is a great writer and I admire his ability to combine may complex sub-plots into one story.

Anyway. The main substance of the book is about a Ghanaian man who came up with the idea of African unification after witnessing some really brutal violent acts. He was a visionary. With the help of some African friends, not all of whom made it to the end of the book, they managed to do something impossible.

It got me thinking. What at all is it that is stopping us Africans from achieving our dreams? Is it the lack of passion? Is it that we just don’t care enough about our dreams? Or is it our selfishness – our desire to build ourselves rather than build our countries or our continents? What is stopping us from thinking for ourselves and taking risks?

We all want to go abroad. But when you go, will you come back? These characters created by Camynta Baezie managed to achieve everything they did with a Ghanaian education, and even a Ghanaian university! None of them went abroad before they had graduated. And even while abroad, their thoughts were still on their country. The main character himself, went to live in the UK directly after his graduation.

Even though some things may be lacking from our education, curiosity and passion alone can make up for it. After all, there are endless ways to get information, the most open being the internet. Then there are people. And there are books.

Why, really should you be wasting your broadband watching stupid videos on Youtube all day long when you can be finding ways to change the world for the better?

Every good idea starts with one man’s dream. Anybody at all can dream, but what would it take to make one African man’s dream come true?

Yours truly,

Ivana.

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