A weird thing happened to my generation.
A lot of us grew up thinking of church as strict and fundamentalist and a buzz kill. Christians got a reputation of being hypocritical and close minded and constantly protesting anyone who didn’t agree with them.
You drink beer? Enjoy your fold out couch in hell.
You watch movies that aren’t rated G? Gonna be a hot one in the fiery furnace.
You listen to music that’s not Christian? It starts with “h” and ends in “ades.”
Was everyone’s church experience like this? Not at all. But for me and a large group of people, this was the perception we grew up with of faith. So what did I do in reaction to that?
I boomeranged the other direction. I was so afraid of being labeled judgmental or close-minded or fundamentalist that I over corrected in the other direction.
I realized this while jogging the other day while listening to Kanye West and Jay-Z. I was listening to their song “No Church in the Wild.”
It is a phenomenal song to run to. The beat is ridiculous. The chorus is epic. That song alone took 34 seconds off my average per mile time. Make no mistake, Kanye and Jay-Z are at the top of their game on “Watch the Throne,” and I’ve heard their concert is awesome.
But then I started listening to the lyrics. And, though I chose verses that are free of profanities, if you’ve never read rap lyrics you might want to bail on this post right now. Here’s a sample of what Kanye says:
Coke on her black skin made a stripe like a zebra
I call that jungle fever
You will not control the threesome
Just roll the weed up until I get me some
We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission’
The song continues, as Kanye describes a lady friend he is interested in possibly dating:
Two tattoos, one read “No Apologies”
The other said “Love is cursed by monogamy”
That’s somethin’ that the pastor don’t preach
Now normally, I like to pretend that there’s this grey area that exists for me to put rap and movies I want to watch in. I like to say things like:
I only listen to it because it’s so well-written.
It’s like Switzerland. Neither bad nor good. It’s neutral.
I don’t want to be judgmental. Pull the plank out of your eye before you pull the splinter out of lyrics.
Or I’ll edit Paul’s verse from 1 Corinthians 10:23 into “Everything is permissible.”
And those coping techniques have been pretty awesome to me over the years. But here’s the problem: 1 Corinthians 10:23 is longer than three words. It actually says:
“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.
Stupid Paul and his complete thoughts.
So now I have to figure out how to prove to myself that a rap lyric about cocaine on somebody’s body is a beneficial thing to put in my head. That’s a tough road, my friend.
Here are some possible excuses I could make:
1. Aren’t there more important issues we should be concerned about?
I love this excuse because it’s so ridiculous. “Aren’t there more important things we should be focused on instead of profanity? There are people starving in the world!” What’s funny is that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not like anyone in the history of mankind has ever been on the mission field feeding starving orphans and said “Hold up, did someone just drop the f-bomb? Stop everything. We gotta focus on this instead.” Are there more important problems in the world (and my own heart) than me listening to rap music? Without a doubt. Does their existence mean I can’t be deliberate about what music I listen to? No.
2. It’s just music. It doesn’t impact me.
Nonsense. I’m such a liar with this point. How can I believe that finding the perfect music to run to helps me run faster, and then on the same hand say “music doesn’t impact me?” How can we cry when we hear a certain song come on because it reminds us of a break up and then say, “music doesn’t impact me?” How can we write long blog posts about how a movie like Braveheart changed our lives or say that a book opened our eyes to the world, but then pretend other movies and books don’t have any impact on us? Whether I like it or not, the things I ingest impact me. And I can’t read the book of Proverbs without seeing how critical and powerful words are. Proverbs 12:18 says “Reckless words pierce like a sword …”. The words you say and the words that are said to you.
3. I don’t want to seem like a puritanical dork.
This is the “I want to seem relevant” excuse and is a surprisingly powerful one. Sometimes I still feel like I’m in the seventh grade, wearing a champion sweatshirt and cuffed Bugle Boy jeans and hoping I get to sit at the cool table. I don’t want to seem judgmental or dorky or any other words that mean “not popular.” Sometimes I’ll even throw evangelism in the mix and say, “This is what this new generation listens to. How am I supposed to witness to them if I’m so behind on the times?” Again, ridiculous. No one ever says, “I really appreciate that, as a Christian, you live your life exactly like mine, while at the same time telling me that Christ has a completely different life for me to live. That was not confusing at all. That helped me discover the love of Christ.”
4. Where do you draw the line?
I use this argument to distract myself. Case in point: I heard a Christian radio station once playing the music from a Coldplay song in the background of their show. They’d never play the actual song with the lyrics, but the music itself was fine. So are harmonies Christian and lyrics aren’t? What about the Kanye song “Jesus Walks”? That has the name “Jesus” right in the title? How many swears make a movie “not beneficial?” Is it “3 and you’re free, more than 10 and you’re in sin?” Where do you draw the line? This is a great excuse because what happens is you eventually say, “You’re right, it’s hard to draw a perfect line so let’s not draw any.”
Now some of you are definitely thinking, “Wow, did you really just spend 1,000 words debating whether you should listen to profane rap? Way to dig deep into the complicated theological issues, Acuff. No you shouldn’t. That one was settled years ago.” Some others are thinking, “I love Jay-Z. Why are you being so close-minded and judgmental?”
I think both questions have a place in this conversation. But I’m not judging Kanye’s heart. I’m judging what I put into mine. I don’t know Jay-Z, and the amount of grace I’ve received for my brokenness makes it hard for me to look for splinters in other people’s eyes.
And maybe rap music isn’t where you find a bit of cultural challenge in your own life. Maybe there’s a different issue you’ve been wrestling with. All I know is that I can’t keep pretending that I am immune to the things I spend my time doing, watching and listening to. I can’t keep thinking Proverbs was wrong and it is possible to put coals in your lap without getting burned.
At some point, I’ve got to be honest with myself. And God is making that harder and harder to ignore lately.