The Hip-Hop-Opatamus and a Big Statistic
One of the curiosities of my life is that I love hip-hop, rap, and R&B. While I am mainly attracted to the beats and rhyming artistry, it’s impossible to ignore the content. Typical rap songs revolve around getting money, chasing girls (porn stars and strippers, preferably), and basically letting everyone know how much better you are than everyone else. It is this last subject I’m interested in today.
I keep saying this, but in the coming months (assuming I live that long), you’re going to hear more about what I am planning to do with my life. At base, it involves working with the urban poor. And while not all urban poor are into rap music, many are.
Did you know that violent crime in America has been decreasing for about the past decade? One notable exception to this trend are black males aged 14-24. Among this demographic, violent crime has risen 52% from 2002 to 2006. Rap music may have some kind of influence, but it is also true that poverty, lack of fathers/male role models, and other factors contribute to the trend. None of that is the ultimate cause. To me, at base, this is a spiritual problem. All of these other things (music, poverty, parents) help to build the spirit of the boys/men committing these crimes. And when you’re inputs are bad, so, too will your outputs. Garbage in, garbage out. This is NOT about bashing rap music, though.
Dead and Gone
One of the most incredible things to me is just how little it takes to set people off – myself included. About two months ago, the rapper T.I. (the self-proclaimed King), came out with a new album called Paper Trail (“paper” is a slang term for money in case you didn’t know). The final track is a song called Dead and Gone, featuring Justin Timberlake. Check out these lyrics (forgive the language if you’re offended by that kind of thing)…
Every had one of them days wish you would have stayed home?
Run into a group of niggas who gettin their hate on,
You walk by – they get wrong,
You reply then shit get blown,
Way out of proportion way passed discussion,
Just you against them pick one then rush them,
Figure you get jumped here – that’s next,
They don’t wanna stop there now they bustin,
Now you gushin, ambulance rushin
You to the hospital with a bad concussion,
Plus you hit four times, bullet hit your spine,
Paralyzed waist down and ya wheelchair bound,
Never mind that now you lucky to be alive,
Just think it all started you fussin with three guys,
Nigga pride in the way but your pride is the way you can f**k
around get shot down anyday,
Niggas die everyday,
All over bullshit, dope money, dice games, ordinary hood shit…
“You reply then shit get blown.”
How many times is this happening in our country in this age 14-24 demographic? A reply – maybe as simple as two words – f*** you – and someone ends up hurt or dead. T.I. sums up the whole thing with some sense of clarity: “Your pride is the way you can…get shot down any day.”
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
As I thought about this verse over the last two days, I remembered Jesus’ brother, James, wrote this:
…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
But do our tongues really set the whole course of our lives on fire? And are they really set on fire by hell? That seems a little melodramatic.
Verses like these are one reason the bible impresses me so much and why I can believe, practically, that God inspired it. On page after page, there are notes about what it means to be human. Since God made us, He knows how we’re wired. Violence in urban areas is a great example. When people speak harsh words, anger is stirred up.
What if, instead of mouthing off, people were able to restrain themselves and either give a gentle answer or no answer at all? Well, that’s the real deal sealer for the bible.
Walk up to someone and tell them to give a gentle answer and what response will you get 90% of the time. “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am.” In other words, they don’t have control over themselves. James points out just how the tongue can control us:
…take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire…
There are 14-24 year-old males killing each other because the whole course of their lives is set on fire by their tongues. Was James really so melodramatic in saying the “[tongue] is itself set on fire by hell?” I don’t think so. Because Satan and hell, in general, are interested in one thing – destruction. The more discord and jealousy and anger and, even killing they can influence, the better. This T.I. song is a real life example: if you control your tongue you literally control your life. And if you lose control of your tongue, you may well lose your life.
The Suburban Din
For 5 minutes this afternoon, I totally trashed on a person with a couple co-workers.
In situations like this, we justify ourselves by saying, “Well, they’re super annoying, of course I’m going to talk trash about them with friends. It’s fun because they’re crazy.” But something more is going on. Our tongue is steering our lives. In the midst of the conversation today, I didn’t feel right, but I didn’t stop. My tongue was in control. And I wonder if we’re not, in some small way, losing our lives when our tongue is controlling us.
As I wrote about the urban violence above, I thought about how some (or all) of it would be curbed if everyone living there could just remember that we’re all made in God’s image. Why try to take someone’s life who’s made in God’s image? Oh, but soul, why gossip about someone who is made in God’s image? But hell doesn’t think like that. And if my tongue is set on fire by hell, why should I imagine I can control it?
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
And here is an insight. The righteous “think” with their heart. Answers are weighed and carefully considered. Not so the wicked. They gush evil. Can you imagine that? Their mouths are like a fountain of evil just constantly bubbling. Jesus said this:
…out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
What is stored up inside us? Today, I was shown a good bit of evil is in my heart. And that really bothers me. I want to be like Jesus, not like Satan. I don’t want Satan setting my tongue on fire. So I end with what I hope will be my increasing appeal – Jesus. That He would help me store good up in my heart.
The stakes of most of our lives are not so high that an ill-spoken word will cost us our life, but we are paying a high price. Think hard about this. If we are not able to reign in our tongues, how can we ever expect that anyone else will be able to? Why should we think that an urban landscape so dominated by the fire of the tongue can be quenched with righteous speech when we can’t even stop ourselves from gossiping? In simpler terms: how will I EVER be able to help someone practically walk with Jesus if I can’t walk with Him myself?
The matter of our tongues is no small issue, suburbanites! The stakes are higher than we think.