My latest in The Daily considers why it’s so difficult for Christians to be cool…
Last weekend, I walked into my parents’ living room to find it strewn with home-made DVDs and old VHS tapes. My mother and father were planted firmly in front of the television, and as I got close enough to see — and, worse, hear — what transfixed them, it became clear: My past had come back to haunt me. On the screen, three teenagers wearing baseball hats, sweatshirts with sports logos and sagging, oversized jeans paced back and forth across a church stage, rapping.
There’s no sense in beating around the bush: I am a former Christian rapper. In high school during the 1990s, my friends Ed, Jay and I toured Boston’s inner-city churches as Disturbing Da Peace, spreading our inexplicable brand of West Coast funk-influenced, white boy Gospel rap wherever they would have us — which, surprisingly, was a lot of places. In addition to churches, we played roller skating rinks, public parks and even Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
It’s amazing what Christians will put up with when you call your act a “ministry.” This particular video showed an early performance at a Spanish-speaking church in East Boston. As we rapped, “Give it up to Christ if you want to have life,” the modest crowd bewilderingly stood and cheered after each song. I wondered what had been our appeal. Was it the sheer novelty of three white boys from the outskirts of the city taking themselves, and their message, so seriously?
I soon realized that hadn’t been it. After my 14-year-old self left the stage, a Hispanic youth group called the Christian Clique performed skits in which fights broke out, drugs traded hands and propositions for casual sexual encounters were issued as part of everyday conversations. Welcome to our high school, they seemed to be saying, and the message was decidedly bleak. The church leaders had been so desperate to offer their students an alternative vision of youth culture that they employed any means necessary, including suburban white rappers.
Christianity has long sought to provide a different but equally cachet lifestyle to its youth. The problem is that much of youth culture is often thought “cool” precisely for its inherent rebelliousness — a quality that doesn’t square well with Christianity. Hence, as a substitute to the violent lyrics in many rap songs, my friends and I employed a kind of cheesy, abstracted violence directed not at rival gang members, but at sin and the devil himself.
As a result of such appropriations, Christian popular culture has long been derided as a watered-down version of its secular counterpart. George Costanza put it best in the episode of “Seinfeld” when Elaine discovers that her boyfriend listens to Christian rock. While Elaine considers what this could mean for her relationship, Costanza chimes in, “I like Christian rock. It’s very positive. It’s not like those real musicians who think they’re so cool and hip.” Real musicians or not, Christians, particularly evangelicals, consume Christian pop like crazy.
Consider other, nonmusical examples…
Read the rest here.
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