Is the Devil in the Music?

devil

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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Good Sex Part 3: Driver Roll Up the Partition, Please! And other Good Sex.

Song of Solomon 1:1-16

 

Sisters and Brothers, this is a manifesto, a treatise, a great opus to that glorious activity that we like to call

Knocking boots 

Slapping skins

Getting it on

Having Relations

Doing the Nasty

Scoring!

That glorious act that we call sex. 

This sermon begins, as all great sermons do, with a personal narrative. The other day, I had. 

A conversation with my friend about Beyoncé (gotcha!). My friend said that she didn’t listen to Beyoncé, especially not her latest album, because it was explicit, provocative, encouraging of promiscuity, and ultimately unchristian. Firstly, I don’t let anyone talk about Beyoncé in front of me like that. But secondly, I realized that the real problem was not what she thought of Beyoncé, the real problem was what she thought about the Christian view on sex.

“Yes,” I replied to her. “Her music is, especially of late, absolutely explicit. And since you don’t listen to her music, let me tell you about one of the most explicit songs on the album. It’s called Partition.” I began to tell her about the song in which Beyoncé is singing to her driver to raise the partition between the driver and her and her lover because she is having sex in the back of a limo. She sings about how her lover has smeared her lipstick and torn her blouse. She sings about the handprints and footprints on the glass. And on and on it goes.

The song is nasty.

It’s provocative.

It’s deeply deeply sexual.

And it’s deeply deeply Christian.

I realized that the Puritanical aversion to sexuality- based on the Puritan’s theological belief of a dualism between the soul and the body that really bordered on heresy- still has its choke-hold on American Christianity and our views on sex and intimacy. This aversion is exacerbated in the Black Church because the narrative of the black bodies of the slaves was that their bodies were hyper-sexual and over-sexed, a narrative that still lingers today. As a reaction to this narrative, the Black Church tried to completely divorce itself from all notions of sexuality, creating a stark dichotomy between holiness and sexuality- they become absolutely mutually exclusive.[1] As a result, Christians – black Christians in particular- have a tendency to believe that sex is bad.

Talking about sex is bad.

Having it is bad. 

Wanting to have it is bad.

When in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sex is good. Like all things in the cosmos, God created sex and called it good. Moreover, there is a strong connection between the soul and the sexual self. This connection is most beautifully illustrated in the Song of Solomon. If you put the lyrics of Beyoncé’s song Partition next to the text, you would think that Beyoncé is plagiarizing because there are so many similarities and allusions. Take a look at Chapter 1:

Verse 1- Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth- for your love is more delightful than wine.

Verse 4- Take me away with you- let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his bed chambers.

Verse 13- My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts. 

This sounds pretty provocative to me.

Look at verse 9- I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses. Here is a quick lesson on history and horses. A mare is a female horse. The Pharaoh’s chariots were not pulled by mares, they were pulled by stallions- uncastrated male horses. Once when Pharaoh was battling the King of Quidash, the enemy put a mare in heat among the chariots and the chariot horses went crazy (brilliant tactical move on their part).[2] The text here is saying this: you make me feel wild, crazy, like how a stallion feels around a mare in heat.

That sounds pretty provocative to me.

Look how the lover responds in verse 16- How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant. Verdant means rich, lush, like a vibrant and beautiful forest. In other words, what is going on in the bedroom is vibrant and lush. 

This sounds pretty provocative to me.

Traditionally, we believe that the Song of Solomon is the wedding song of God and God’s beloved, Israel. This text is about God’s ardent, passionate longing and eternal love for Israel, for the Church, and for us. This song shows us that our response to God’s love should be passionate as well. This text is about God. But if we are too quick to over-spiritualize the text, we may miss a few things. We may miss the very fact that this deeply sexual manuscript can be used as the truest metaphor for God’s ardent love exemplifies how great sex is in the mind of God. If we are too quick to over-spiritualize this text, we may miss the great celebration of human sexuality that is plainly present before us. It states clearly that sex is beautiful. That is a theological assertion that the text is making- sex is beautiful. Therefore, the beauty and goodness of sex fits squarely into our faith and Christian understanding: 

Sex is nasty.

It’s provocative.

It makes your pulse race.

It raises your blood pressure.

It makes you sweat.

It ruins your hair.

It’s nasty.

It’s provocative.

And it’s beautiful. Sex is good.

 Friends, there is such a thing as good sex. Today we are going to allow the Bible to teach us the three defining characteristics of good sex.

1. Good sex is creative. I don’t mean here that good sex requires new and interesting ways of performance (although there are many relationship counselors who would argue that creativity in the bedroom is key to maintaining healthy relationships. We will discuss this more later), I mean good sex is creative in that good sex creates. Good sex is productive, it produces. We find this illustrated for us in Genesis chapter 1. In verse 27 God creates humankind in God’s image. In verse 28, the first, the very first thing that God says to the humans God made was “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). In other words, “Go! Have sex!” Sex is (typically) the prerequisite for child creation. The awe, the wonder, even the miracle of sex is that two bodies can join together in the sexual act and create another body. Creating life, creative and productive sex is one of the most beautiful things you can do with your body.

My end in this sermon series is to give you practical sexual ethics that you can use in your life so here is the first one: only have sex with someone you are willing to procreate with. If you cannot see yourself raising a child with this person- If you think to yourself “this person would be a horrible mother. Or this person would be an awful father!” then keep your underwear on. Baby’s momma/ baby’s daddy drama usually stems from choosing sex partners that you would not choose as family partners. But family is the product of sex. Therefore, it is impossible to call a child a mistake or to call a pregnancy an accident, a failure of birth control or contraception. Because the child is the natural and normal consequence of sex. The mistake was not the pregnancy, the mistake was the sex itself. Good sex does not need contraception (I’m not saying that contraception is bad, I’m saying it doesn’t NEED it). Think of it like this: if you get pregnant and the first thing you think when seeing the positive sign is, “Oh no. Now what am I going to do?” or “How am I going to raise this child alone?” then you are not having good sex. Or if you receive that fateful text message that says “I’m pregnant” and your first response is “are you sure that it’s mine?” or “so uhhhh what are you going to do about that?” You are not having good sex. Good sex is productive. Only have sex with someone you would be willing to produce with. Of course, that assumes that you know your partner well enough to determine whether s/he would be a good reproductive partner. Which brings me to my next point-

 2. Good sex is selective. Do you see my shoes? Aren’t they nice? You don’t have to tell me they are nice, I know they are nice. I bought them. I didn’t spend a lot of money on them but I’m very particular about my shoes. I don’t wear just anyone’s shoe. I don’t wear just any kind of shoe. I’m particular. I’m a particular person. I have all sorts of particularities. On everything. Even toothpaste. You see my teeth? This bright smile is brought to you, not by just any toothpaste, this is Crest Extra Whitening at work here. I’m particular and you are too. How many of you are particular about the food you eat? About cereal? How many of you don’t eat “fun flakes” but you eat Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes? I don’t care how rich or poor you are, 28 years of working in a soup kitchens has taught me that no one is too poor to be particular. I don’t care if you haven’t eaten in three days, if I put a bowl of slop in front of you, you would have some questions for me. You would say “what is this? I don’t eat this!” You’re particular. If I sat down with each of you, I could find out your particularities all the way down to your shoe-strings, many of you. And it makes no sense, brothers and sisters, -it is a vast incongruency- to be particular about the kind of clothes you wear, to be particular about the kind of food you eat, to be particular about the kind of car you will drive or be seen in, to be particular even down to the thread-count in your sheets and then to invite just any ole person to lay on those satin sheets with you! It makes no sense, it is a vast incongruency, to only stay in 4 or 5 star hotels and then to invite just any person to spend the night with you in that expensive hotel room. Be particular. Be selective. Be discriminating. Not everyone deserves what you’ve got. Just because he likes you doesn’t mean he deserves your sex. Just because she is willing doesn’t mean she deserves your sex. Be selective. What you’ve got between your legs is a gift and it’s a gift not for the masses. Jesus said. “Do not throw what is sacred to the dogs, your pearls to the swine (Mat. 7:6). Be particular. Be discriminating. Be selective.

We are about to cross a threshold here. Are you ready? Good sex is not just selective. Good sex is ultimately selective. What does that mean? Good sex takes place in the confines of a marriage. In Beyoncé’s Partition, she wasn’t singing about a man she met last night in the club. She wasn’t singing about her on-again off-again boyfriend. She wasn’t singing about the guy she just talks to during cuffing season. She was singing about her husband. That is what makes the song so very Christian. In the beginning f the song she entreats the audience to call her “Hey Mrs. Carter,” she is establishing her marital status. Good sex happens in marriage.

We have a deep misunderstanding about sex because we have a deep misunderstanding about marriage. The problem is that single people have a habit of mimicking in singleness what they think marriage is. And then marriage becomes a caricature of itself. People think “Oh, we live together. We have a couple of kids. We are relatively faithful to one another. We have been together forever. We are basically married.” No. You’re. Not.

Marriage is more than living together.

Marriage is more than having children with each other.

Marriage is more than being exclusive to one another.

Marriage is a covenantal vow between two people and their God. In Genesis we see marriage defined for us (Gen. 2:15-25). God creates Adam. And though God gives Adam everything. Plentiful food. An honorable vocation as a gardener. And all the animals as companions, yet Adam was alone. So God took from Adam’s rib and fashioned Eve. Adam takes one look at her and says, “Finally bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The text goes on to say, “This is why a person leaves their family and cleaves to their spouse (Gen. 2:24). That’s what marriage is. It is a lifetime commitment to take two hearts, two minds with different thoughts, two souls with different experiences and vowing, working, cleaving to become one. It is a vow to give all of yourself to another and to receive all of the other in return. Listen to the vows that two people say when exchanging rings in a United Methodist Wedding:

“I give you this ring

As a sign of my vow

With all the I am

And all that I have

I honor you.” [3]

Marriage is a vow to give everything to each other, all that you are and all that you have.

And when your bodies join together in sex, in the sweat, and the passion, and the heat of the moment, you make these vows again. And again. And again.

That’s good sex.

Sex that happens in a bond of commitment and trust. Sex that is

Unafraid of abandonment.

Unprotected- it doesn’t fear disease or fatal illness.

It is without pain.

It is without shame.

That’s good sex. It’s not something you can have with just anyone. Nor should you want to.

Ok, good sex happens within the confines of marriage but I’ve been brushing up on my formal logic lately so hear me carefully: Good sex happens within the confines of marriage but just because you are married doesn’t mean you are having good sex. I hear people say all the time, “we got married because we were tired of living in sin.” And then surprise, surprise, they bring their sexual sin into the union. Recall the sexual sins that we discussed last week: Sex that is violent- spouses coercing sex from each other. It’s a sin. Prostitution- using sex as a means to an end. “We can only have sex if you do what I say” or using sex as a way to manipulate or control your spouse. It’s a sin. Lust- the root of adultery and addiction that breaks up the union. It’s a sin. So I am not suggesting that sex gets simple or easy once people get married. Good sex is something that you have to work at with your spouse. Which brings me to my final point:

3. Good sex is verdant. It’s lively, it’s lush and plentiful. I hear married people say all the time “Oh, we don’t really have sex anymore.” To which I respond, “That is a sin. And a shame.” If you are married, you should be having sex. A lot. With great regularity. All of the time. In I Corinthians 7:16 Paul tells married couples that they should be having sex. He recommends that they abstain for short periods of time only for the purpose of prayer and fasting, again only for short periods and only if both partners agree (I Corinthians 7:1-6). Sex shouldn’t just happen on birthdays, anniversaries, or vacations, it should happen all of the time. The problem is that when you have been told that you should be ashamed of your sexuality from the time you learn what sex is, then it is quite possible to arrive to the marriage bed and still hear the voices repeating in your head, “Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad.” But friends here me clearly, sex is not bad. Sex is good! When you are married you have the privilege, you have the right, nay the responsibility

To slap skins and knock boots!

To get it on and have relations!

To run, shoot, and score!

Go and have sex that is creative and Productive.

Selective and particular.

Have sex that is bound up in covenant.

Have sex that is sweaty and nasty.

Sex that is explicit and provocative.

The kind of sex that makes you yell from the back of a limo, “Driver, Roll up the partition! Please!

Have Nasty

And X-rated

And Holy

And righteous

And good

And good

And good.

Have Good Sex!

Amen.

[1] For more information on this check out Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglass.

[2] Davis, Ellen. Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2001.

[3] United Methodist Book of Worship