Is the Devil in the Music?

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Is the Devil in the Music

Ezekiel 28: 12-19

Music affects me tremendously. I remember after I broke up with my college boyfriend, I couldn’t listen to music at all.  Because every song reminded me of him. Every song made me cry. So I just sat in silence for a year. Yesterday, I was running errands all day with a friend and she was listening to hip hop on the radio. By the time we returned home in the evening she looked over at me and asked,

“what’s wrong?”

“It’s the music,” I replied. “All the violence. All of the misogyny.  It’s literally making me sick.”

Now hear me out, I like Drake, and Lil’ Wayne, and Nicki Minaj, and Meek Mill (… well Meek Mill not so much) as much as the next millennial. But when you listen to the music for 6, 8, 12 hours it does something to you.  Do you know what I mean?

There are many Christians who will respond that there is a reason for that. They say that hip hop makes me feel this way because hip hop is demonic. There is a popular argument that suggests that the Devil uses music to turn people away from God and there is Biblical evidence to prove it.

My Bible study class and I had a debate one the subject and they insisted that I present our arguments to you today and so here I am. Now I confess, I have played the role of the devil’s advocate (almost literally) but I promised to present a neutral discussion, as the one’s who disagree with me don’t get the opportunity to preach. So here goes:

Is the devil in the music?

Let’s begin with a brief history of music in the Western world. So from about the 1200’s to about the 1700’s music what we call “classical.” It was the music of the Renaissance era, the Romantic era, the Enlightenment era, it was the symphonies of Bach and Beethoven… you know… the music that puts us all to sleep. That’s what music sounded like for a long time in the Western world.

And then in the late 1600’s, early 1700’s there was that peculiar institution that brought African bodies bound for America. And there, deep in the mud and muck of the southern plantations and African slave labor camps was born two new forms of music: the Spirituals and the Blues.

We know the Spirituals, we still sing them today.

“Don’t you let nobody turn you round,'”

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,”

“Wade in the water… God’s gonna’ trouble the water.”

They were songs about God.  They gave rise to the contemporary Gospel that we sing today, the songs that we sang this morning. It all started with the Spirituals.

And then there was the Blues.

It was the music that “ached so good.” It was music that wasn’t about God, it was about life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt when your woman walked out of your life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt to be poor and not have a penny to your name.

I want you to know that even in slavery this debate went on among Christians, the Spirituals were good and the Blues were sinful. But for some reason our ancestors couldn’t let the Blues go. So even after slavery and well into the reconstruction era and beyond, there were places called Juke joints where people would sing, gamble, and grind on each other- places that were called the den of sin, the den of the devil- and then the very they would be up early for church on Sunday. And people began to notice that the same musicians who were performing on Saturday night were the same church musicians on Sunday morning. And everyone loved the music all the same.

As the Blues began to grow and develop it gave rise to Jazz, and rock and roll, and r&b, and finally in the 1980’s, in the mean streets of New York City, something entirely new was born… hip hop.

Hip hop is but poetry with a beat, poetry set to a rhythm.

In defense of hip-hop, it is the music of African American intrepidation and defiance. In a culture that has for centuries attempted to control, imprison, oppress, and kill the black race, hip-hop is the voice of a people who refuse to die. And when the young black boy who hasn’t eaten in three days walks to school with shoes that have holes through and through, as he puts his headphones on and turns Jay-Z up he is saying to the world, “despite it all. I am still here. I am still alive.” That’s what hip-hop is.

On the other hand, hip-hop is marked by it’s negative themes:

Gang violence- the “us vs. them” rhetoric.

Drug use and distribution- getting high and getting rich getting others high.

Sexually explicit content- have you noticed that every rap song lately is about strippers?

If I had the time I could identify for you where in history these elements came from, the rising of gangs in the 80’s, the introduction of crack-cocaine in poor black communities in the late 70’s, the sexual revolution in the 60’s- but I don’t have time to break it down for you… you should have come to Bible study. Suffice it to say, hip hop has some pretty violent imagery and get’s blamed for the ills in the black community:

Hip hop is the reason that teenage girls are getting pregnant at 15.

Hip hop is the reason that the homicide rate is so high in the black community.

Hip hop is the reason that young boys do not mind going to prison.

Hip hop is the reason that drug abuse is ripping families apart.

Hip hop is at fault. Because hip hop is of the devil.

It’s the devil, you see. The devil is using the music to kill, steal, and destroy us. And we have for some time used the Bible to “prove” this argument. We have told this tale about Satan. That he was the head of music in heaven and then he became pretentious and willful and was cast from the sky on to earth. But he still uses his gifts for music to stir us all to sin. And the text we read together this morning is typically used as Biblical evidence for this legend. Ezekiel 28 is the text that is used to back this claim that the devil is in the music:

verse 12, “you were the seal of perfection full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

verse 14, “with an anointed cherub as guardian, I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God.”

Verse 17, “your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.

Verse 19b, “you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever

When we read this text we think that Ezekiel is talking about Satan’s great expulsion from the choir loft in the sky.

But what if I told you that this text is not about Satan at all?

This text and the book of Ezekiel is to and about the kings in and around Israel. This particular text is about the King of Tyre. The prophet is using the ancient rhetoric of the garden of Eden to let the king know that God will expel him from his kingdom in the same way that Adam was expelled from paradise. It’s a political, contextual, specific polemic against a corrupt monarch. It is not about Lucifer at all.

What if I were to tell you that contrary to what we have been saying all this time…what if I said  the devil is not in the music… the devil is in the church.

I said it. The problem is not the music, the problem is the church.

There is no essential power in hip hop music. You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Nicki Minaj talk about her butt all day and there is nothing she could say, no music video she could make that was so compelling that it would make me want to get butt injections.

You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Lil Wayne rap about getting high all day and there is nothing that he could say that would make me want to drink that syrup or whatever it is that makes him crazy as hell.

Why? Because my identity is not formed or shaped by Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. My identity is formed in Christ.

Therein lies the problem. For a whole generation of people, hip hop is providing a sense of identity. Hip hop is providing a sense of hope. Hip hop is offering a world view and perspective…. Hip hop is doing the work of the church.

The problem is that the  Church provides an identity, a world view and a perspective too but it is one that most people do not fit into. At church you are expected to be a “good stand up Christian.” And being a good Christian is a journey, it takes a lifetime. But church members are expected to have it already figured out. And for those who haven’t got it figured out, for those who can’t fake it like they have it figured out, they do not belong at church.

People who are dealing with the mud and muck of life

when things are not right in life.

when life is a mess:

“I love my wife, I do, but I can’t stop cheating on her.” People like that.

“I know I should leave my boyfriend, he hits me. But I love him so deeply.” People like that.

“I want to put the crack pipe down but it’s like fire inside of me. And I hunger for it all of the time.” People like that.”

“I was born a man. But I feel like I was supposed to be a woman.” People like that.

“I can’t find a job so I sell drugs because mamma’s rent still has to get paid.” People like that.

People like that are not welcome in the church.

And so such people just don’t show up to church and  turn to other voices for identity, and hope, and meaning. They turn to hip hop.

And as Christians, as a community of believers, we have to stop blaming the Devil and take a long hard look at our institution. We have the answer. We have the truth. It’s our mission to tell everyone that the provision you are looking for,

the hope that you are looking for,

the love that you have been waiting on,

the answer you have been searching for is not found in Drake,

or Tupac,

or Jay-Z,

the answer is in Jesus.

Jesus is the one you have been waiting on. Jesus is the one who can save you. Jesus is the one who can heal you. Jesus is the one who can free you. It’s not Jay-Z, it’s Jesus.

It is not until we the church stops pointing the finger of blame at the Devil and starts actually being the Church that transformation can ever happen. When we begin to let people who are broken be broken before God in our sanctuaries and find healing with our Lord, transformation will finally happen.

Then teenagers will stop getting pregnant.

Then the homicide rate will go down.

Then drug abuse will stop ripping apart families.

Then we will finally reign in the kingdom of God.

The devil is not in the music, my friends. The devil is in here. And it’s time to exorcise our Christian institution of hatred, of judgement, of exclusion, and intolerance in order to make  room for peace and hope, and healing, and love so that God’s people may finally find exactly what they need.

And what they need is Jesus.

Let’s stop blaming the music, let’s stop blaming the devil, and let’s start changing the world.

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Bringing Up the Rear: For Those Troublesome Women Preachers

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I preached this sermon at the North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival. It is part B of a duo preaching presentation in which my sister in Christ, Rev. Kara Slade (coincidentally the coolest Episcopalian Priest you will ever meet in life), gave part A. We followed the Lectionary text for the day and purposefully chose the Pauline Epistle to make the statement that female preachers can and do find liberating and affirming messages in Paul’s writings.

Bringing Up The Rear

I Corinthians 15:1-11

  1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives. (I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG)

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.

There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”

There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.

There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”

And then. And then. And then

There are those troublesome voices who say again and again to women preachers that you do not belong in the pulpit, you do not belong in the episcopacy, you do not belong in leadership in the church. And if you think otherwise then you are are just being troublesome.

That’s why I love this text in I Corinthians 15. Because Paul here is the exemplary model for every preacher but I would argue his words here are an exemplary model for women preachers especially.

why?

For a simple truth, a simple fact that we all know to be true about Paul: Paul was troublesome.

He preached the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. Without license, without approval, without permission. And he was constantly facing resistance from his fellow preachers.

“You little upstart, who do you think you are,” they would declare. “You don’t belong to our good ol’ boy preaching club. You are not an Apostle. Were you there to see Jesus walk on water? Did you see him feed the masses? Where you there when he died on the cross and revealed himself to us in the upper room?”

“Aha!” Paul replies here in this text. “It is just as you say. Jesus presented himself alive  to Peter. To his disciples. To James and to many more.

And then. And then. And then.

he presented himself alive to me! to me! to me!

It was fitting that I bring up the rear (I Corinthians 1:3-9 MSG).”

It was fitting that I, too, join this long legacy of Prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

He goes on to say that it was fitting not because he was so holy. Not because he was so worthy. Not because he had never made any mistakes.  But because God is so gracious. And he says in the text “And I am not about to let his grace go to waste (I Corinthians 10-11 MSG).”

And so he responds I’m sorry if proclaiming the Message is so troublesome to you. I’m sorry if I cause you trouble. But you see, it’s not me it is the troublesome God who is in me. It is the troublesome God who has sent me. It is that troublesome God who presented himself alive to me.

And don’t you see that similar to Paul, a woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

Every time she lifts her voice to preach the Message

she is troubling the still waters of the Church.

She is troubling how things used to be.

She is troubling our understanding of I Timothy and Ephesians.

So it is incumbent upon all female preachers to, like Paul, stand boldly and declare

I know I am a lot of trouble.

But you have to understand that it is not me.

It is the God in me.

It is the God who sent me.

It is the God who presented himself alive to me.

It is exactly as scripture says, Jesus died for our sins.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was buried in the grave.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was raised from the dead.

And it is exactly as scripture says, Jesus revealed himself to Peter,

and James,

and Paul,

And me! And me! And me!

Because it is exactly as scripture says in Joel 2, ” I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28).

And so it is fitting that I bring up the rear.

Not because I am so holy. Not because I am so special. Not because I have never made any mistakes. But because God is so gracious. And I am not about to let that grace go to waste.

And so I admonish you today, you women preachers, to own your space in the long legacy of prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

Do not be afraid to bring up the rear.

What does that mean? Ultimately, that means do not be afraid to be troublesome.

For a woman preacher is a woman in power.

A woman preacher is woman in strength.

A woman preacher is a woman in audacity.

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.