Creating Reciliency

Origins of Rap

In the summer 1977, New York City experienced economic stagnation and soaring unemployment. It was a summer known for its heat, but New York also experienced a black out. Successive lightning strikes in the area overburdened the power grid and sent the city into the pitch black. With no lights, people took to the streets, and some ransacked stores. Over 1500 businesses had been vandalized, damages totaling at more than $300 million. It was a rough summer.

While many ransacked stores for food, others went into electronic stores and stole equipment, including audio systems. Quickly new DJs started popping up around the city.

While some insist that hip hop music was already starting before the black out, those who lived in NYC at the time credit that the black out for jump starting the early hip hop scene. Creativity bursting forth out of a tough summer situation. Suffering is often a space where creativity bursts forth, not the only place, but when we are struggling as humans, one way of processing our experience is to create.

Gabriel Pham, in his article “Hip Hop, Self-Expression, and Resilience,” writes that “Hip hop music is novel, it’s creative, it’s unconventional, and it is constantly undergoing re-imagination and evolution.”

Notably, Hip hop creatively tells the stories of those who have experienced suffering.

Lyrics to Jungle out there

In the 1982 song, “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five they rap about the experience of poverty and oppression living in New York City in the 80s.

They rap:

My son said, Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school

Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool

And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper

If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper

Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet

Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps

Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a thing funny

You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey

They pushed that girl in front of the train

Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again

Stabbed that man right in his heart

Gave him a transplant for a brand new start

I can’t walk through the park cause it’s crazy after dark

Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run

I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw

Hear them say “You want some more?”

Livin’ on a see-saw

It’s like a jungle sometimes

It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

Hip hop in this context is a tool of survival in a world that is bent on one’s failure. Especially for black youth in New York city in the 80s, during the time of the crack epidemic, the criminalization of drugs, sky high amounts of violence in the city, and Ronald Reagan and Lee Atwater’s southern strategy focusing on switching from explicit racist policies to cutting as many programs that support those in poverty as possible, which in turn would most heavy burden Black Americans.

And so Grandmaster Flash does the thing a person can do in such circumstances – heraps, “It’s like a jungle sometimes, It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under.” The song, “the Message” would go on to bring hip hop from the house parties to the mainstream music scene.

Pham writes that “The lyrical complexity, the emotional intensity, and the melodic ingenuity in production of hip hop music make it an art form uniquely suited to communicating a meaningful life of perseverance and resilience.”

The Lyrics of much of hip hop speak to the authentic struggle of life. Hip hop artists tell stories that people can relate to. And these songs help create resilience for individuals and whole communities.

Joni Sanken, a Mennonite Theologian, writes about how storytelling is crucial for processing trauma and developing resiliency. Storytelling builds compassion, expands our perspectives, establishes a sense of identity and creates a sense of unified purpose. At its best, it can spark energy, rekindle vision, and inspire future action. All things needed when you are experiencing hardships.

Pham writes, “When I listen to hip hop, I feel like someone else not only understands my struggle, but that they are encouraging me to persist in my struggle — that the struggle and the difficulties I have experienced and will continue to experience are what make the journey worthwhile.”

In hip hop, the authentic stories help build resilience out of that hard experience that people face in life. And it is relatable to people who have experienced similar suffering.

To survive in New York City in the 80s, resiliency was desperately needed in the face of so many hardships and systemic oppression.

Paul’s hardships and the Struggle of Faith

The Apostle Paul in our 2 Corinthians passage today, ALSO writes about the hardships he is facing.

See kids, St. Paul is like Hip Hop… Paul must be cool.

No but seriously, I think we can genuinely pull a connection between the suffering that Paul has experienced and the suffering that those who are marginalized have experienced. Paul is demonstrating how faith can help create resilience in the face of his suffering, much like the creative response that hip hop has had globally for marginalized communities.,

Paul’s path in following Jesus has been a tough one. It’s not that in following God he is seeking out these hardships or suffering. Often we read Paul as an all knowing sage, who must have wealth and power. But in actuality, Paul was a poor, traveling preacher, living off of the scraps that these church communities would pull together for him, and is trying to encourage and support the church in its infancy.

Feminist Pauline scholar, Antoinette Clark Wire, writes that “it’s not that Paul is exchanging material wealth for spiritual wealth, or shame for a reward later, but he begins in this letter to recognize in these early communities an alternate structure of mutual care that is superior to the imperial and civic structure because it is sustained by enriching others.”

When Paul writes, “Though they are sorrowful, they are always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything,” he is claiming that the riches of the world, is less than the joy that he is finding with his community, who within their destitution, are enriching each other.

This enrichment of the community is the creation of resilience. When Paul writes, “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger,” he points to how the church is acting resilient in the face of empire.They were survivors and found creative ways of surviving.

Hip Hop Today

This is the experience of much of hip hop today.

Hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 song “Alright” is a song that encapsulates Paul’s theme of joy despite struggle. The song addresses the systemic challenges faced by Black Americans, including police brutality, racial inequality, and personal hardships. Despite these struggles, the chorus of Kendrick repeats the line “We gon’ be alright.” which becomes an anthem of hope and resilience, celebrating the strength and endurance of the Black community. Creativity bursting forth in the face of adversity.

Despite all of these hardships, Kendrick Lamar, with dancers on top of police cars in the music video, is preaching a similar gospel to Paul. Kendrick Lamar raps;

Wouldn’t you know

We been hurt, been down before

When our pride was low

Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”

And we hate po-po

Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure

I’m at the preacher’s door

My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow

But we gon’ be alright

we gon’ be alright

we gon’ be alright

And trust me, when you hear the line “we gon’ be alright” with the music, you believe it.

This is faith.

It’s the Faith that African Americans have mustered up despite 400 years of suffering in the Americas. Faith that, despite slavery being made illegal in 1863, many African Americans had to hold onto for 2 more years until news reached all the areas in Texas, which is what we celebrated this last Wednesday on Juneteenth. Faith that has provided resilience in the face of ongoing oppression. Kendrick Lamar tells the story and experiences of racism in America. And reminds Black Americans, in the face off all of this, “we gon’ be alright.”

The song “Alright” was an anthem in the Black Lives Matter movement, which sought to bring awareness and change to the American legal system that has justified the police murdering of Black Americans again and again.

And if you watch the music video of “Alright” on Youtube and if you make your way past all the comments about how terrible the rapper Drake is, you will find gem comments such as,

“Saw Kendrick perform this song live and it was arguably the best performance I’ve seen at a concert. Just hearing the entire stadium screaming “WE GON BE ALRIGHT.” made me feel a powerful sense of positive energy.”


“Great art speaks unapologetically for the culture, loudly for the voiceless, and honestly to posterity. This classic will never die. Kendrick is our national treasure.”

This song has helped build resilience amidst suffering for so many.

The song, “Alright” is a masterpiece. I both highly suggest watching the music video, because it is powerful, but also for those who have sensitive ears, there is a lot of language. This song is resiliency created from a place of suffering. And in this case, finding faith that despite everything, “we are going to be alright.”

Ye of Little Faith

It is the faith that was completely lacking when the disciples go to Jesus down in the stern of the ship while storm winds blow, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?”

He turns to them, “Why are you so afraid, Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were not exclaiming “We are going to be alright.”

Faith in this sense, is not about correct beliefs. It is not about believing the right doctrine. Faith is not about following a set of rules.

Faith in this sense is a deep trust in God, that resilience can be created despite the suffering that the world puts you through. To keep on going.

I am preaching all of this having not experienced this level of suffering. I don’t have a racist system watching my every move. I haven’t experienced poverty.

However, we all experience suffering at some level. We all need music, and art and storytelling to help us create resilience in light of our suffering. Creativity is crucial to this resilience. And this community has developed resilience as a result of years of singing and storytelling. We have found ways to be a beloved community, like Paul’s community, that has found joy despite the pain.

Yesterday, at Michael’s funeral I felt this mixture of joy and pain, as we gathered together to find ways to cope with the grief and invite the holy to tend to it.

But, to truly feel the joy that exists in Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and the joy that Paul experienced in his hardship, you cannot be married to power. To wealth, to whiteness, to reliance on systems that justify the killing of black Americans. The message “we gon be alright” is not what those with power want to hear, because it is a song about the resilience of Black Americans, who are not backing down. And as a result, our systems will need to change.

This ongoing resiliency means that despite everything those in power try to do to stomp out marginalized groups, oppressed peoples will continue to bounce back again, exposing the evils of the oppression, and telling the truth that no one in power wants to hear.

Julia Camron, the author of the book “The Artist’s Way,” that the elective Sunday School Class is going through, writes, “The act of Making art exposes a society to itself. Art brings things to light. It illuminates us. It sheds light on our lingering darkness. It casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says, “See?”

This is often why Hip Hop has been casted in a negative light in white Christian circles, because it is a creative act that exposes white Chrisitan supremacy. To listen to Kendrick Lamar is to have your worldview, morals, beliefs, and racism questioned. So often White Christians have lept to, “but listen to the language his or she is using,” in order to ignore the message of resilience, the stories of struggle, and powerful messages like “We gon be alright.” A beautiful message that implicitly questions the lie that white people need to rely on their whiteness and policies that harm colored folks, so that white folks can have safety and joy.

Similarly, Paul was also seeking to have the world view of the Corinthian Christians Challenged, proclaiming his community has joy despite their suffering. He closes this passage writing, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.”

Open your hearts to a different way of being. One that promotes creativity and resilience and a community of enriching each other.

This is not a message that everything is going to be alright, so don’t do anything about the systems that create suffering. We must work towards change. But it is a message of resilience that there is joy despite the evil that has been done. Joy that those in power will never have or understand. The Joy that is clear as you listen to Kendrick Lamar’s music.

For those of us with power and privilege, it is in letting go of our reliance on Power and Privilege, letting art expose the issues at hand, so that we can start to live by the faith that Paul, and Kendrick Lamar are calling us to. We simultaneously let go of our reliance on whiteness and work towards justice and liberation for all. In doing so we will find ourselves in solidarity with people who have already walked these paths of suffering, who know how to survive despite hardships, who know the joy that exists in community, and the creativity, faith, and resilience that helps people thrive.

For those of us who have experienced violence, or racism, or suffering, it’s about creating faith and resilience in the face of empire. Finding a community that enriches and helps you find joy. Because resilience is crucial for surviving, and the work of creating change.

This is where the kingdom of God is.

May we continue to sing, to tell our stories, question our systems, with the God who nurtures the faith and resilience Paul and Kendrick Lamar’ speak of. May we find joy as we enrich each other along the way.