Profane Faith

I’m sure you’re wondering, what is profane faith? What is a faith that is profane? And, shouldn’t faith NOT be profane? C’mon now!

Well, check out a chapter from my latest book, Hip Hop’s Hostile Gospel, on the hostility of the “gospel.”

It was the rap artist Talib Kweli who asserted that even a Gospel was hostile to begin with. In his song titled “Hostile Gospel,” he begins by asserting that there are double standards and major issues which are being ignored in mainstream American society:

Hip-Hop’s the new WWF

What do you rap or do you wrestle? Niggaz love to forget

We got til it’s gone, you think you on, you still hustling backwards

Your topical norm a tropical storm, it’s a fuckin disaster

Back to the topic we on, it all started at Rawkus

They couldn’t find the words to describe me so they resort to the shortcuts

Is he a backpacker? Is he a mad rapper?

An entertainer or the author of the last chapter

We living in these times of love and cholera

Synonymous with the apocalypse, look up the clouds is ominous

We got maybe ten years left say meteorologists, shit

We still waitin for the Congress to acknowledge this![1]

Here Kweli describes some of the current issues and the attitude of ignorance from dominant society. Kweli even argues that Hip Hop is the new “WWF.” In other words, the commercialization of Hip Hop has created a type of hostility even from within the Hip Hop community which is then compounded with the fact that issues in the urban context continue to be ignored. The song goes on to say:

In these tryin days and times

All I need is to be free

I can’t do it on my own

Lord can you deliver me?

There are trials still to come

It’s salvation that I need

So I’m reachin to the sky

Lord can you deliver me?

Deliver us…

The asking for deliverance is fundamental in the face of hostility and suffering. Kweli asks the higher power of God to deliver not only himself, but also the community (notice that the song ends with the word “us”).

How does one deal with God in the face of such hostility? How, as rapper Tupac Shakur asks, does one act like an angel when surrounded by devils? Yet, in the same sense, the question can be asked:  how can hostility be found in “good news?” The rapper and Hip Hopper living in the hostile urban context would rephrase and state that even in “good times” there are hostile elements to life; even in the midst of good days, there is still the chance of being killed; even with a loving God, shit still happens on a daily basis. Yet, can God, devoid of White dominant societal theology, deliver me in my messy and hostile context? Further, where can I find God in the hostility of life? Ralph Watkins tells us that, “the heaven-and-hell debate drives this song—the premise being that hell is right here on earth. Do you know hell? Do you know what hell feels like and looks like? Kweli says, ‘if you ever walked through any ghetto then you know it well.’ Living in the ghetto is hell” (2011, 109). This type of theology is rooted in the reality of the now, today, the pragmatic daily life existence—the ghetto reality.

In part two of the song Hostile Gospel, Kweli asks for God’s deliverance from this hostile context of economic, social, and theological inequality:

Die on my feet before I live on my knees Lord

Deliver me from point A to B like livery

Nothin is free, you got to be a hero to save

They got you working like a slave from the crib to the grave

A minimum wage can barely keep a job for a home

A car or a phone, forget about gettin a loan

You starting to moan, your bank account is getting withdrawn

It’s pitiful how we becomin slaves to things that we own

They en-slavin the brains with the whips and the chains

End up in the coffin chasing the fortune, chasing the fame

Slave to the rhythm, slave to the night, slave to the day

They hop aboard the Underground Railroad and run away

Pray for the day niggas don’t get taken away

For makin a way to stop their baby’s stomach aching today

I sip a whiskey straight, no chase

It’s hard to take a man away from the sin when it’s inside of him

Please[2]

Hip Hop theology is about engaging this hostility and tension head on. Watkins once again says, “The God of hip-hop is a God who is found inside those who follow this God [the God of justice, equality and freedom]” ( 2011: 110).

What makes this hostile is 1) the nefarious social and living conditions of the urban context 2) oppressive living and social conditions within urban areas that breed frustration and hostility within the Hip Hop community such that 3) Hip Hop creates a hostile form of theology which not only engages these issues, but also demands a voice at the theological table while it brings its frustration and hostility paired with a “good news” to get out of the current situation. Kweli might also suggest that his point is less sophisticated and more blunt—a Hip Hop mantra of being direct. The Christian Gospel is hostile to people.

Carter Heyward has a statement which captures the essence of this hostile Gospel in relation to Jesus Christ. Heyward states:

Most Christians expect Jesus to be all good, completely good, perfect, “without sin,” as the tradition has taught us. Either we overlook and ignore things that he did and said about which, if it were anyone but Jesus, we might complain (cursing and killing a fig tree?), we learn to rationalize away the biblical record (he didn’t really do this), or we find positive ways of looking at what only appear to be negative images (he’s not really belittling his mother at the wedding; he’s just trying to stretch and re-image his friends’ understandings of “family”). We cannot seem to bear the notion of a Jesus who didn’t always do or say the right thing (1999, 144-145).

In other words, if one of the central figures of the Christian faith has hostility in their own life, is it not fair to say that Hip Hop can have this same mix with its approach to God?

To look at it in yet another way, the Gospel in its root meaning—aside from the Protestant meaning of the message of Jesus Christ—is ‘good news.’[3] This good news is part of what Hip Hop is attempting to bring to its community and culture. This good news is not based in Christian values and theologies, but in a much broader view of social justice, social awareness, social consciousness, community mindedness, personal consciousness, and a journey to a God who can help and will provide shelter. Moreover, this gospel within the Hip Hop community is not always a sacred quest; the secular and profane are intertwined with weed, alcohol, sexuality, and ‘living a good life/being successful.’ These are all domains that seem to be anti-God and to appear ‘sinful’ in nature. Yet, Hip Hoppers say, we must also hold these areas in tension as part of the ‘good news’ for survival, and to rise above the current situation. There might actually be a spiritual presence within these domains which can uplift the person into a transcendental force; a spiritual presence in those domains which are often touted as sin, secular, and evil; a God in those spaces is good news for Hip Hoppers. If one is to examine truly the religious and theological meanings within a culture then we cannot ignore or overlook those areas labeled as “sinful” and “wicked” for in that sin and wickedness, Hip Hoppers are searching for a theology. As Spencer (1991) argues, Black secular music such as Hip Hop can masquerade as sinful, sexual, and sonically evil yet represent a spiritualty for the everyday (1991b, 9-10). Further, in some regards, this book (Chapters Three and Five) will demonstrate that certain artists such as Tupac offer a theological hermeneutic and ecclesiology that is “enough” for Hip Hoppers and the Hip Hop community theologically. In other words, Hip Hop actually becomes the “word” and “truth” through its artists and culture—an aspect KRS-One is also attempting to do in some respects (One 2009).

[1] Ear Drum (2007), “Hostile Gospel, Pt 1.”

[2] Ear Drum (2007), “Hostile Gospel, Pt 2.”

[3] Taken from an etymological study in the Oxford English dictionary database, 2013.

Well, no and yes.  In one sense

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