A Few Important Reminders

One day, I will offend you. It may be intentional, unintentional, partly intentional, or perhaps something I do will disappoint you, especially if you have admired me for so long, especially if you have done so from afar. In fact, that day may have come for you already, or it may be today. I may offend/ may have offended you in my writing, in my poetry, with my clothes, with my faith or with my existence. All I ask is that you be prepared for it – because Jesus knows I’m trying to be, if and when it happens on a grand scale.

Kindly do not “queen” me or “goddess” me or make me your role model. I am none of these things and I do not want to be – especially not if these attributes are ascribed to me because of physical features or a nationality I had no say in choosing. Do not ascribe these attributes to me because of things I actually have achieved myself, or will in the future either. Refrain from regarding me as anything more or less than human, no matter how renowned – or infamous – I ever happen to get.

When the Day of Great Offense comes (and there might be multiple), I need you to remember your ideals, if you have them, and continuously question your capacity for forgiveness and love, despite your disappointment, because I will certainly be questioning these things about myself and everyone around me. Before you ruthlessly “cancel” me, I want you to evaluate the gravity of my misstep and what you think should be done if you had made a similar one. But I also want you to think about what you would do if the action had been done by a stranger on the street rather than me – assuming I had a platform influential enough for more people than yourself to know my name and be affected by my words and actions. I need you to ask yourself if your standards are fair enough to judge me with the same criteria you would judge any human being (that is, if you had to judge at all). As yourself if you see the human in me and in yourself. [Human: simultaneously intrinsically flawed and intrinsically capable of compassion and virtue.]

If I retract my speech or action, in genuine repentance, I need you not to already have written me off completely, with zero shot at redemption in your eyes. I have seen things I have done, thought or said a few years ago – or ten minutes ago – that disgust me now. That’s okay. I allow myself license to change because I make myself acutely aware of my humanity. When the Day of Great Offense comes, I aspire to maintain the same attitude. I want you to forgive me because I am learning to forgive myself, and I think if you forgive me, it will be easier for you to forgive yourself whenever you need to.

If I do not retract my speech or action because I genuinely believe in what I said or did, please still do not write me off completely. We may disagree. We may possibly never agree. But as I am determined to treat everyone with whom I unfortunately must disagree with as much respect as I am humanly capable of (even if I have not done so in the past), I desire the same kind of respect to be applied to me. I do not expect respect. (It would be highly egotistical to expect to believe anything I have done with my life merits automatic respect.) But I do desire it. If we have disagreed and I do not retract my speech or action, it is not because I expect you or the rest of the world to agree with my eventually. Nevertheless, I highly doubt an avalanche of online slander directed at me (that I may or may not ever see) will help me solve the problems you believe I have. And with regards to these problems, I hope you never think that I am too far out of redemption’s reach. If you cannot love me through this incident, I would at least ask that you try to tolerate our differences.

I know – in fact, it would be more accurate to say that I hope – that there are some things in which I shall remain steadfast all my life, despite the societal pressure against them. One of these things is my faith, which will offend someone somewhere whether I am being actively offensive or merely being – and I must learn to be okay with this. And so if it is for any of those reasons that I do not retract my speech or action, I genuinely hope that you will be able to live without hating me. If you can’t – and I am sorry for you if you can’t – I pray the animosity neither kills nor breaks me.

In all this, though, I would like us all to continue to keep in mind that no ordinary human being is above fault or mistake and that neither stupidity nor ignorance have age limits. I am stupid and ignorant now, as I write this at eighteen years old, about a lot of things. Depending on how long I live, I know I will be stupid sometimes, ignorant about some things and occasionally both at the same time when I am twenty-one or seventy-seven. I stopped believing in the myth of the direct correlation between age and how good a person is (at anything, including wisdom) a long time ago, and perhaps you should too. I hope I never let myself off the hook for being “too young”, or punish myself too hard for believing I am “too old” to have done something. I hope I always, always show myself – and am shown – grace, in every circumstance.

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Fun fact, I didn’t write this recently. I found it in a notebook from about a year ago. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for ages. Recent events only reminded me of it.

I suppose when you heard that no girl’s job was to make people like her, that she should never be afraid of offending people, you applauded the speaker’s fearlessness – and you never considered that you could be “people,” did you?

-Akotowaa

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