welcome, ghosts.

This morning, I handed in my keys to the administrative assistant’s office, humorously nodding my head to our high school pastor, but knowing that this transaction symbolizes the passing of an era in my life. My internship is over. The last two years of transformation as a young man looks into a mirror adorned with a couple of cracks around the edges and even a few small pieces missing (given that I am still a work in progress), but ultimately when I meditate on the reflection I see, that person is unrecognizable in the best way possible. It reminds me of how Jesus’ brother, James, cogitates a similar yet opposite thought when he says that a man whose faith doesn’t follow with action is like someone who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like when he returns to it (James 1:23). I’d like to think after all this time, the last two years have shown me the art of living that exhortation, because the word of God truly transforms its reader upon further investigation (2nd Timothy 3:16) and the people I’ve encountered have given me God-ordained moments to practically apply those truths – never with every opportunity taken or followed through, but always with conviction and always greater grace. I could not have thought of a better landscape than Celebrate Recovery to let God grow gardens where we all blossomed as a whole. For two years I saw beauty and tragedy come together in the same room, reconcile, divide, bring together, split, and ultimately live under God’s control. For two years, I saw and felt victory, defeat, joy, grief, and the whole spectrum of human emotion. I truly lived and led in a place where we let ourselves air out on the line for the world to see, warts and all. And I would never trade any of the experiences this internship provided for any salary that a corporate position could have otherwise afforded me, never done differently. Everything in between emotional poles allowed for God to grow my character and something of a call in my life.

The malaise of transition feels very real in a way I wasn’t expecting. As one chapter is closing, another one is beginning with God, the architect, author, and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2) putting pen to paper in a language of sovereignty I don’t understand. Commenting on Pastor Mark Driscoll’s truncated pastoral leadership at Mars Hill Church, theologian John Piper, made a point to recognize that above and beyond circumstance is, YHWH – the kind of general who is not taken aback or shaken by changing landscapes on the battlefield, and the king who is still on the throne. The power of such analogy translates well in this phase of my life where the blueprints of my future feel like an outline. As an analytic, critical thinker, the shadowy open ended-ness of the next year and a half makes me bristle, because I find security in the details. Starving this hunger for knowledge and loosening a death grip on this life that’s in transition (as appropriately observed by Relient K’s, Matt Thiessen) is admittedly not easy for someone like me to do. But if traversing Proverbs has taught me anything, the counsel of many like my parents, mentor figures, roommates, and close friends are all channels that the Lord communicates through in the foray of static like a shepherd whispering to its sheep amidst the world orbiting into tomorrow. Jesus had choice words in Matthew 6 about what tomorrow holds and how no one can add a single hour to their lives by worrying about the ephemeral (Matthew 6:27) – clothing, food, other basic provisions, or best laid plans that aren’t a guarantee in the arena of God’s ultimate plan. Many of my decisions about finances, employment, and even what I decide to do in my spare time are all adjuvant to and influence what comes next for me…

Graduate school.

I tentatively begin Bethel Seminary’s Marriage and Family Therapy program in Minneapolis in September 2018 in the pursuit of licensure and wanting to counsel young men, couples, and families through the throes of reverberating sexual addiction issues in a family system. I am excited to turnover a new page, absorb God’s word, theory, practice, and let Jesus usher in a new phase of life in the world of tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

As I’m experiencing, “tomorrow” can feel like an unwelcome ghost when it overstays its welcome in our daily schedules, reprioritized responsibilities, the shifting cadence of social rhythms, and eclipses the demands of today. In writing this, I revisited through Explosions In the Sky’s 2007 release, All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone – a nod to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, rich with post rock bravado on a more cinematic scale than its predecessor – The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. By contrast to the latter, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone instrumentally belabors at drawing out a different set of emotions that feel more urgent by virtue of how the music sky rockets into catharsis, slows down, and (for lack of a better term) explodes into those same twinkled tremolos. I hear songs like Welcome Ghosts and feel the parallels of emotions that swell as I think of what is around the corner in my life and calm when I remember to be content and at peace with my identity in Jesus.

Much like the music and much like the book of Psalms (a timely an primary source of scripture in recent months), our emotions can swell and crash on the shores in these flush, orchestral-like narratives that are ultimately under the control of our ultimate conductor and Heavenly Father. He keeps count of our tossings (Psalm 56:8), and keeps us in the shadow of His wings as we navigate the unknown (Psalm 17:8). When I remember those truths, I can remember to welcome the ghost of tomorrow’s challenges as I meditate and live in the today.

I’m learning to take in the ordinary, understanding that though my life is coming about on a turn at a break in the wood, there is still life to be lived within this next year and a half in the here and now. So much of it is to be celebrated: Putting my shoulder into my faith all the more, transitioning leadership, keeping my feet planted in my current community, working full time, financially investing well (adulting), pouring into the lives of cherished friends, and vice versa being poured into. Allowing myself as Gandalf the White commented, a deep breath before the plunge. The challenge is keeping hands open to the changes, feet planted in the security of my identity, and my head looking up towards my Creator in what Tom Eccleshall of Kings Cross Worship calls, the state of flux.

A previous post I wrote in observance of the calendar year still reminds me to sing into the storm when skies blacken and tides shift. Clouds aren’t foreboding on the horizon, but the tides are shifting and the winds ahead are signaling change, so my prayer is that my simple song will remain and sustain with a more maturing tone as I exist in this pocket for the time being.

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nervosa.

I remember rising early last Saturday – eyes bloodshot, rocking serious bed-head, bags above sunken cheek lines, all encased in an exhausted expression. Emblazoned in a blurred shade of red, the clock across the room read just after 7am and everyone was still asleep after a late night of worship, small groups, snowboarding (for me at least), and being spiritually awoken by a series of messages calling us to rise above discontent faith that drowns our identity in our work. I was there with our church’s college ministry to retreat and rest for the first time in a long while, and to be honest, it took a bit to unwind. So much was happening and there was a lot for the Lord to air out in my head space as I took a break from the frontlines of leadership. It was an encouraging, rejuvenating weekend that connected spiritual waypoints God had pinpointed throughout the last couple of months. They culminated into a constellation painted on a bigger canvas and it truly brought peace. In between drinking from a spiritual fire hose and wiping out on the black diamond of the snowboarding hill, I felt something unexpected as I woke up from that early morning slumber and then traveled home…

I encountered multiple people who openly discussed their struggle with food. Their testimonies brought me back to an experience I had last December, but I’ll kick on fourth down and return to that later. Something about their stories enveloped me in a wet blanket that made my heart heavy for them. I didn’t know them well, had no other explicable reason to feel this way, and yet I found myself mourning with those two and rejoicing in their victory for every day they embrace an identity that lies in what scripture tells them rather than the lies of a nutrition facts label that doesn’t know their inmost parts, who formed them in their mothers womb, or keeps their tears in a bottle [Psalm 56]. Absorbing information about the neurochemistry and epidemiology (the patterns and causes of diseases in populations) of addiction in the last year has shown parallels about my struggles with pornography and others’ struggles with food. Between the bulimic patterns of binging/purging and/or anorexic characteristics, guilt and shame associated, and even the root causes of such struggles, there is a battery of commonalities between the two. Perhaps the most revealing commonality is best described through the lead singer of Silent Planet, Garrett Russell, in this interview below. [Here are the first few yards of that kick return]. This video is part of a series that breaks down Silent Planet’s second album, Everything Was Sound. Well esteemed by fans and critics alike, Everything Was Sound, is an aggressive tapestry that navigates the spectrum of mental illness through the eyes of a Christian, sharp, progressive songwriting, and absolute genius lyricism.

Much like the externalized manifestation of anorexia or, Anna, as it is described, sexual addictions are haunted by a similar ghost. I don’t have name for it, but this pixelated vixen comforts us in our insecurity and loves us when we feel unlovable. Yet, it hates everything we are and mimics the thief that comes seeks to steal, kill, and destroy in John 10… but, we worship it. Culture asks us to pay into this system of bartering that teaches men and women to give themselves away to a backwards system of relationships in the same way we can count calories to the cadence of our culture’s death march towards a synthetic and unattainable standard of beauty. We try to please it, we try to bargain, reason, sometimes physically pay into it and we squander friendships, marriages, and jobs as currency. As we sink further and become consumed by it, we look in the mirror and increasingly stare through the hollow shells of our silence and secrecy, only to reflect on how easy it breaks. Much like Garrett’s belief about anorexia and eating disorders being a theological issue, so is porn, but that’s another series of posts. #endrant

All of us have issues that casts a shadow and feels phantom-like, but it doesn’t need to have the teeth of an addiction. The jealousy we carry towards the person sitting next to us in class or in the cubicle across the way that lives where the grass is supposedly greener; bitterness we hold towards someone close to us; pride (one I know all too well)… For me, it can be work. My job in recovery ministry means I play it close to the chest. I can easily conflate my work and identity when I don’t keep myself accountable, or as I’ve learned… to embrace a child-like faith that doesn’t sacrifice spiritual maturity. As John Piper said echoing Mark 10, “Trust like a child, think like a man.”

Here’s the rest of the yardage on that kick return… This previous December, I saw For Today play up in Minneapolis on their farewell tour – hanging the hat on their sixth and final record, Wake. With them were “The almighty” Norma Jean, My Epic, and Silent Planet. Through several chance interactions both inside and outside the venue, my group of friends and I got to meet Garrett – the ultimate fan moment for a few of us! But understanding the nuances of songs like Nervosa made them even more powerful to hear, live, and furthermore, a good friend of mine found some semblance of healing in their struggle with similar issues upon discovery of songs like this. Words carry power and Jesus’ brother, James, could tell you all about that one in his letter. Getting to hear my friend from that show and those from last weekend say they’re walking in the light through their own struggles proved how powerful of a caliber words can pack. It broke me in ways that I’m convinced Jesus broke for those who were sick, imprisoned, outcasted, and deemed as unlovable.

LOOK STRAIGHT THROUGH ME : LOOK AT THE NIGHTMARE – the bristling opening line in Nervosa that proceeds an eerie instrumental introduction. Garrett follows this up with a hauntingly articulate three and a half minute diary entry from the point of view of someone in the foray of struggle with Anorexia, so this first line sounds like a funeral procession in contrast. But, after those interactions over the last couple months and the power in that declaration of victory gained so far it sounds like something else to me. I think that line fits the mold of Psalm 139 :

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Whether it’s food, porn, work, or fill in the blank, everyone’s story discussed in this post began with this prologue of taking the posture of those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 5:3]. Our continuing story is written by the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12:2] one moment, day, season, victory, and chapter at a time. Without that foundation, there isn’t a program, counseling regimen, or even a small group that will ever hold up as second, third, and forth floors of a house we’re trying to restore. I feel like I’m reaching in a thousand different directions with all of this, but I will conclude by challenging ourselves to hold fast to the courage to look at our reflections and dare to say…

Lord, look straight through me.

tragedy will find us.

After a couple good naps, lunch breaks with coworkers, and plenty of Settlers of Catan throwdowns, the first couples of days of a new year are over. I’ve been one for resolutions before, but not in a triumphant way. Many of them were epithets about “this being the year” I would shed the skin of my addiction for good but doing so by avoiding the pain of putting my life under the surgical knife of the Great Physician in John 5. I made few unsubstantial goals since then to preserve the guilt of not following through on them, but as I have been blessed by God’s grace to be in a time of my life where I have enjoyed the fruits of sobriety, recovery, and transformation, the new year shines in different shades, now. Small, measurable goals seem to be the most logical of any resolutions I’ve seen people be successful with, but even those are still subject to some kind of failure in a calendar year. As a result, I figured it’s meaningless to even try. But, this is where grace is key.

I hear a lot of commentary about God’s grace, but I’m going to pull at this string and say we don’t understand the depth of its definition on a cultural level. It’s not like we can fully comprehend it to begin with (hence, the scandal of grace), but there’s always two sides to every coin. I think it’s easy and moving to lift our hands in praise to God for the incomprehensible mystery of His unending grace, but how often do we understand that it’s built on something to be given grace from? I get caught in this current time and time again. Without acknowledging the inevitability of personal suffering down the corridor of a week, a month, or when we pen new year’s resolutions, grace is devalued and cheapened. The apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 6 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? New years resolutions are made to be broken. It’s not a matter of if we will break a resolution, but when. It’s not a matter if there will be difficulty, but how. It’s not a matter of if we will unintentionally hurt someone relationally, but whom. The difference is how we respond to it when our faith is tossed and fro by the winds as said by Jesus’ brother James (1:1-6). Grace is anti venom for hurting hearts, wounded emotions, frail spiritual devotions, and those broken resolutions. But, should we stop making resolutions to preserve ourselves from feeling bad about it? By no means!

In 2015, Canadian hardcore vanguards, Counterparts, released their most commercially successful and emotionally revealing body of work yet, Tragedy Will Find Us. Soldering the melodic veracity of post-hardcore from the early 2000’s, modern metal, and a dash of punk grit, Counterparts have a handful of powerful albums that prove themselves to have gusto in a scene that lead singer, Brendan Murphy, himself coins as a “congregation of outcasts” – the amalgam of a socially conscious, dissatisfied vector of young people, searching for something bigger and outside of themselves. I have power stomped and screamed my way through the bridge of songs like, Outlier, probably half a million times when my roommates have been gone. I have air drummed my way through supercharged passages on songs like Withdrawal and have head banged through the melodic haze of Tragedy countless times as well. I’ve reviewed them on this blog before, but they’ve ascended the ranks in my favorites list after a couple years of taking in their last two records. Tragedy Will Find Us is a half hour burn book that illustrates a crestfallen period of the lead singer’s life coming off tour between their previous record, The Difference Between Hell and Home. Murphy’s lyrical content has always been kind of standoff-ish, but this new record is way more uncompromising. The underlying themes of despair and brokenness have silver linings of some sort. Because, according to Murphy, the ten songs on Tragedy Will Find Us is a collective recognition that difficulty is unavoidable and we have to find some kind of strength to move learn and move past such circumstances. On this album, Murphy muses the existence of God and His role in suffering. Going back to the idea of grace, I believe God works in suffering to produce something that we cannot see with the tunnel vision we often have in trials as further reflected through Paul – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4). Pastor John Piper says it well…

Not only is your affliction momentary, not only is your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all if it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism… slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something… of course you can’t see what it’s doing.

This new-year, I have a new resolution echoed by Switchfoot’s lead singer, Jon Foreman…

Sing into the storm.

Face trials as they come along and see them as learning opportunities that sharpen me like iron on iron in Proverbs 27:17.

Though, this sounds morbid and fatalistic, we should remember that in darkness, light pierces through with even more power and luminescence. I look forward to future plans unfolding prepared by God’s work in the previous year, the gift of continuing to invest in friendships both here and far, growing in sobriety, leadership, and even to the storm clouds on horizons I can’t see right now. By intentionally sailing into and not spiritually circumventing them in my cocoon, the Holy Spirit will never put wind in our sails to serve others, to invest in others, to sacrificially love others.

Though tragedy will find us, Jesus will meet us there to pick us up, put wind back in our sails, and inspire us to keep loving and serving when storm clouds blacken.

of dust & nations.

I was at a best friend’s wedding this weekend, sitting down at the head table with three other guys in identical grey tuxedos, black Vans, and beards feasting on a sirloin and mashed potato entrée. Even better? It was in the aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo – there was a seal, whom we affectionately named, Kevin Paul, acrobatically spinning behind us as one of my buddies from back home asked us our favorite cover songs. My answer… a rendition of Of Dust and Nations by Thrice as performed by British modern metal vanguards, Architects. The recent death of their lead guitar player and cofounder, Tom Searle, gives their newest release, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, the tone of a funeral dirge by nailing insane guitar work, apocalyptic production, shredding vocals from Sam Carter, and politically supercharged lyricism into their band mate’s coffin (Also, if you want the nastiest riff-age you’ve EVER heard in your life, go listen to Gravedigger and thank me later). As I began to go through earlier records of theirs, I stumbled upon this Thrice cover on their re-release of Daybreaker. I was totally taken aback by how an already awesome song was given a post hardcore facelift. It’s a lyrically powerful track penned by Dustin Kensrue with vulgar imagery taken straight out of Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 6 where He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” The song is a reminder that our earthly possessions, ambitions, ans personal empires are footnotes from an eternal perspective. In other words, we have to look at life from a different lens. Listening to that song on the heels of being in a season waiting for what God has on the other end of my internship, and breathing in the ashes from incendiary political/cultural conversations, made me think of something…

Perspective is a lovely hand to hold (Side note, there’s a band by this name I found on Spotify. I wonder if they’re as big of fans of Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down as I am, because if so, and their name references that record, they’re now my favorite).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling back and forth to Minneapolis for a seminar put on by Come&Live! ministries and my buddy’s wedding, both of which are somehow connected through my home church in the Twin Cities. I met my now married best friend at its Eden Prairie campus and their new plant in Minneapolis housed the seminar I went to. So, in the time that I’ve sojourned back to Bloomington, I decided to check out this new Minneapolis satellite campus piqued with a curiosity about the racial/income/cultural melting pot it’s serving. The lessons learned on those two Sunday mornings retread territory charted throughout this year in a journey through recovery and yes… this election cycle. The rotation of campus pastors began a new teaching series, Bad Times, Good God – an expositional survey of the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk.

Habakkuk is written in a turbulent time during Israel’s monarchy. With the transitioning of kings that take its own people down a road of pagan worship and neglect of the law handed down by Moses centuries before, God’s chosen people and their prosperity have become truncated by neighboring pagan rival, Babylon, and their military prowess. So, in penance for Israel sinning against each other and to God over the course of generations, He allows Babylon to capture, enslave, and divide the kingdom (as foretold in 1st Samuel when the monarchy is established) before restoring them.

In layman’s terms… Israel is screwed.

Habakkuk then tries to make sense of it all. Throughout its 3 chapters, you see Habakkuk beg God to spare the kingdom from its impending doom and give an answer to a bigger question that percolates thousands of years later…

Why does an all-powerful God allow suffering to continue?

(Pastor Dale’s sermon is below for reference)

I know this is opening a can of worms, but I’m choosing to answer this in the context of Habakkuk’s predicament. I don’t want to try and ubiquitously answer that for things like natural disasters, family members with cancer, and dying children in the Syrian civil war. Pastor Dale proceeded to give an anecdote about being a teenager and hating his parents at points of disagreement or when he was punished for something wrong. He said most of us probably knew what it was like to be that age and bristle at being disciplined. Yet, our parents didn’t kick us out, they still fed us, and loved us. The difference is that they, as parents, understand the big picture. Our parents discipline us, because they know what lies in the peripheries of our decision-making. Their maturity allows them to see consequences of our actions that we can’t in the moment. It translates well to God’s reply to Habakkuk in Chapter 1, verses 5 through 11 which is echoed by Paul in Hebrews 12:7. Pastor Kyle picked up the baton this week by talking about Habakkuk “watching from the ramparts” (Chapter 2, verse 1) as God replies, And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Basically, God says he will reveal that to us in His timing and with the right sentiment that will make perfect sense in its revelation. But, it’s hard when we have tunnel vision and can’t see beyond the current circumstances. Pastor Kyle concluded that we need a broader view “from the ramparts.” We need perspective to understand that bigger picture alluded to by Pastor Dale’s application of this scripture.

The recovery process reveals the ugliness of sin in Technicolor. The twelve steps give this kaleidoscopic portrait of how corrupted our character is, yet provides a glimpse of all our good qualities these issues steal from us. Through that, I had to come to an arresting conclusion that my tendency to be selfish was beyond control. It drove everything. I took what paid dividends in relationships, work, and with God, neglecting the rest as if it was expendable. Jesus had to perform surgery as The Great Physician (John 5), taking a scalpel to a heart of stone that is now flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), but that process didn’t come easy. It still isn’t. It took days, upon weeks, and now years of daily, conscious decisions to crucify my desires in exchange for trying to understand the person sitting across from me in Celebrate Recovery, small group, leadership meetings, game nights, and dinner outtings with friends.

James uses strong language in his letter when he says, God opposes the proud (James 4:6). The first line in Of Dust and Nations reads, “The towers that shoulder your pride, the words you’ve written in stone… sand will cover them, sand will cover you.” Both serve as sobering reminders that pride and selfishness are tenants of our innate, human fragility. They’re symptoms of a soul virus that can be remedied by humility, which is prescribed through God’s handiwork in Ephesians 2. James ends his stanza in chapter 4 with… “but He gives grace to the humble.” It begins with taking perspective – and perspective is only won in a battle with self, where war must be raged on our own selfishness. It’s a radical shift in mindset to look to the interest of others above our own (Philippians 2:4), but I find that each conversation I have with someone about what makes them laugh, what gets them up every morning, keeps them up late at night, and their journeys in faith produce brick and mortar that builds bridges closer to Jesus. Those bridges create safe passage for the gospel to be discussed in rivers that rage over politics, religion, race, and cultural values (though those conversations are undoubtedly messy).

Furthermore, in this season of waiting on God to sketch in the blueprints of what happens after my internship next June, I’ve been looking from the ramparts having to remember that even if it feels like I’m staring into nothing or waiting on him for an answer, God has a view from 30,000 feet that I don’t from this vantage point. He is slowly placing brushstrokes in the right places that will eventually translate in my life’s canvas and I’m content in knowing that what exists in the here and now makes perfect sense in His perfect will. I’m going to take such a time as opportunity to see what God is teaching me about Him through the hands and feet of His people that are in my life right now – making the perspectives of my (our) friends with different family dynamics, theological convictions, diametric political views, and even the ones who don’t even believe in God all the more valuable (to us all). Pastor Kyle said this comes from, “Praying to get God’s ear and reading to gain God’s heart” as coined by theologian, Charles Spurgeon. Through all those things, Jesus does what Dustin Kensrue and Sam Carter sang about.. “pulling the fangs from my heel“… putting my “faith in more than steel.”

we are all kendrick lamar.

Kendrick_Lamar_-_To_Pimp_a_Butterfly_coverart
To Pimp a Butterfly album cover photo credit: comfortmagazine.com

There’s been a lot of buzz in entertainment circles, the web, and friends of mine about the new Kendrick Lamar record, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Released two weeks ago, this album is considered a prolific genre milestone for hip-hop. Some say this puts Kendric Lamar in line to join the ranks of rap demigods like Tupac with its flagrant social consciousness, diverse sonic influences, and contrast against a generation of mainstream hip-hop.

Kendrick Lamar’s presence as a rapper has sparked conversation among religious circles concerning his music, message, and faith.

Given the controversy, I think this is worth sharing as a way to open to floor to discuss how people express their faith, the art of storytelling, and my thoughts on the debate over his authenticity.

To understand this conversation better, let me provide some context.

Kendrick Lamar is a hip-hop artist native to the rough and tumble concrete jungle of Compton, California. Festooned with drugs, gangs, violence, and economic inequality, Compton is showcased as an example of a place that underpins a myriad of negative influences for young men. Good Kid m.A.A.d. City is an album that paints a vulgar portrait of Lamar’s upbringing. Being raised around gang life, feeding into promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol, the dialogue on this album demonstrates the pull he feels between wanting to fit in and not getting caught up in the negativity. The end of the album marks Kendrick Lamar’s turning point when he publicly professed his faith and was recently baptized while on tour. Throughout GKMC, you hear dispersed voice mail interludes from other family members of Lamar who express their concern and provide silver lining for the sexually provocative, violent, and suggestive imagery. There’s obvious conflict being dramatized. This is where people unsheathe the criticism.

Through recent interviews with the New York Times and XXL Magazine, Kendrick Lamar’s Christianity has become a crux for heated discussion about the credibility of his expressions of faith.

Statistics from David Kinnaman and the Barna research group reveal that millennials are disenchanted with the brand of Christianity that our parents and grandparents were raised by. They’re in search of something that raw, authentic, non-politicized, and accessible. With that comes pastors and modern theologians who raise questions otherwise not questioned by American predecessors. I think people like Kendrick Lamar are the lightning rod for discussion concerning authenticity of newer Christianity.

I’m 22 years old. My age and experiences in the church make me part of this conversation of how do we as Christians openly communicate our doubts, concerns, fears, and shortcomings with dignity and honesty. It’s a hard but necessary discussion to have in house. It’s messy, but is a catalyst for creating tight-knit organic community, growth, and moving forward.

Good Kid m.A.A.d. City album cover photo credit mzshyneka.com
Good Kid m.A.A.d. City album cover photo credit mzshyneka.com

Kendrick is not only conscious of the criticism he receives for the verbiage in his rhymes, but is conscious about the pull he feels between his environment, the temptations of stardom, and his new found faith. I mean, Swimming Pools from GKMC is a perfect example. Underneath the grimy west coast instrumental hypnotism lies a narrative about Kendrick living around alcoholism and his friends tempting him to take part. While it might seem that Kendrick promotes the lifestyle, it’s an undisguised story about peer pressure and how he deals with a very human phenomenon…temptation.

There’s honesty to songs like this in ways that hit me in waves. Tyler Huckabee said it best in an article written for Relevant Magazine… “That might lead some people to call him a hypocrite but then, he’s already beat them to that particular punch.”

It’s a bummer for me to read a sea of Facebook commentary and see people putting Kendrick Lamar and their fellow believers in front of a social media firing squad. People are putting Kendrick Lamar’s character into question and going so far as to saying he’s not really a believer because of his language. Someone did say in this mammoth thread that his story is worth telling, even if he’s not as squeaky clean as Lecrae.

I don’t call out Lecrae to set him as the bar for all others, nor do I encourage Kendrick Lamar to be so vulgar. What I’m saying is that guys like Kendrick Lamar are sharing a testimony in the same language, but in a different dialect.

Kendrick Lamar deserves grace, guidance, and encouragement just like the rest of us do. Our lives aren’t pristine trophies of triumph, joy, and pervasive delight in the Lord. We deal with temptation from the vices of our past and will sometimes feel the pull. It’s how we deal with those temptations and tell that story that matters.

Personally, I can relate to Kendrick Lamar. Not because I grew up around gangs, in an impoverished neighborhood, or was exposed to a lot of violence, but I understand the acute conflict between temptation and searching for God in the midst of coping with my past. It’s not an easy balance and is stressful. When I tell my story it’s not meant to be polished and refined to appeal to a marketable audience. I would rather sit down and be real with someone.

This reminds me a lot of Romans 7:15 where Paul writes, “ I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” That feeling of being caught up in something self-destructive but trying to continue finding meaning in what God has for us.

Loud and clear, I don’t endorse Christians cutting rap albums festooned with explicit imagery and vulgar language, but I don’t think we need to immediately go after Lamar for doing so either, especially because he’s new to the faith. I don’t expect people who have newly accepted this life in Christ to be sterile and unaffected by a life they have lived for so long. I didn’t. I still don’t.

Now that I think of it, all of us as Christians are Kendrick Lamar in a way. We are all in this narrow walk towards Christ, taking the bumps as they come along – sometimes with ease, sometimes with hardship, always with grace. We are all telling a story of restoration that is sometimes painful and is also partially unwritten. We have growth ahead of us, joy to look forward to, rough times to tackle, lessons to learn, and are always striving to be more honest with each other, our neighbors, ourselves, and God.