Growing up, I was always enamored with hip hop music and culture. I used to pride myself on my stolen music collection acquired through Napster, Limewire, friends’ collections, and other avenues. I had every album from every remotely mainstream artist and hundreds of underground artists. To be successful, the artist generally had to be able to portray a persona that spoke to the aspirations of the listeners. The general formula for success was through songs about money and what it buys, power and all it allows them to do, and a respect that more resembles fear. The artist also had to portray a backstory of brokenness and poverty. If it was revealed that an artist came from a healthy family or was an honorable person this would harm the artist’s reputation. Though there are exceptions, most artists glamorized selling drugs in their neighborhoods, making money from illegal activity, using women for sex, or owning expensive things. The well-to-do fans of the artist see him or her as someone who is cool like a movie star or celebrity. The fans who relate to the persona the artist portrayed view the artist as a role model. These fans make the things the artist sings about into goals. The more affluent an area is, the greater diversity you will find in music and art while in more impoverished areas the vast majority of the population listen to the same genre of music. The neighborhood I live in would be considered a lower income neighborhood that qualifies for nearly every opportunity zone status there is. Every day I watch people walk up and down the street with headphones on, singing the songs to themselves while imagining they are the artist. I hear them sing about guns, women, sex, selling drugs, using drugs, and money as they walk by. I am reminded of my five-year-old son as he plays one of his imaginary games as I watch them beat their chests, pump their fists, and make their hands into guns as if they were shooting. Then I realize- the imagination of the heart shows what a person treasures. And, wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
If the majority of a demographic of people elevate the same type of people as role models and esteem the same things, those people and things become cultural values. Culture can be great if the culture values things that lead to community, family, and prosperity. But culture is destructive if it elevates high school dropouts, drug dealers, convicts, mistreatment of people, sex with multiple partners, and anything else that doesn’t lead to wholeness within a community; that which is elevated will become reality. There is much talk about systems of oppression that need to be eliminated by politicians and political activists. I watch as people and groups look to political structures to correct all the discrepancies and disparities that we see. One can even look back from a historical perspective and see how past policies have contributed to the systemic poverty we observe today. There are many systems that are blamed like the education system, welfare system, justice system, policing, zoning, housing, and banking. I, too, see the problems in these man-made systems, but none of these problems could ever overcome a culture that is rooted in righteous treasures. The many stories of immigrants from even worse systems who are thriving is a testament to this. In my ‘opportunity zone’ neighborhood there is a large Mexican community and they have a number of businesses that were once only dreams of the heart. The beautiful way they esteem family and support one another is amazing and makes my heart fill with joy and hope.
Counter the Culture
I would like to point out that up until the point of using the Mexican families as an example, I have not spoken from a racial perspective, but only from a socioeconomic perspective. I think it is the job of anyone who recognizes their royal status as kingdom representatives to speak life and demonstrate wholeness to a culture that glamorizes that which leads to death. I believe politicians and political activists give too much credit to ‘white people’ for the ongoing impoverished mindsets and realities we see in culture. A person or group of people is only as hopeless as they believe they are. The peacemaker views the world through the lens of the reality of the finished work of Christ and reconciles worlds. The peacemaker knows that the grace given to him/her is sufficient to complete the task ahead of them. The task ahead is bringing peace, or shalom, on earth. This is done by refusing to agree with anything- any system of thought or practice- that is contrary to truth that leads to life. If the culture around us esteems the very things that breed more impoverished conditions and death, we are to engage the culture in love and demonstrate life and light. When the culture normalizes dehumanizing and talking down to spouses and children, we are to love our wives and husbands as ourselves and allow them to see us speak blessings over our children. When the culture justifies unethical behavior because it brings in money, we are to demonstrate integrity and righteousness in all our dealings even though it may hurt us financially. When the culture elevates selfishness and vanity, we are to love selflessly by regarding others as more important than ourselves. When the culture condemns and ridicules those who are ‘beneath’ them, we are to reach for the lowly in kindness and encourage them. The key in doing all of this is to do it not out of guilt or with any sort of pride but in love. In order to do all this in love, the peacemaker must humble themselves to step into the messy lives of those whose hearts treasure that which leads to death.
Play your Hand
What do you have? What are you gifted in? Where is your influence? What is the immediate issue before you that doesn’t line up with God’s will? Jesus came from a working-class family and was from an area that nothing ‘good’ ever came from. He did not spend much time appealing to the political parties of His day and instead devoted His time to the people society had rejected. He lived entirely within the will of God and refused to agree with anything that didn’t line up with that which is in Heaven. He spent His time speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven and reconciling that kingdom with the one here on earth. He brought peace between the two. He had zero tolerance for sin, but at the same time showed mercy to sinners. He was perfectly just, but broke bread with those who acted unjustly and encouraged them towards their potential. There had been many teachers that came before Jesus, but even in His time the culture knew He was different. His message was one of hope that was demonstrated in love and brought about the faith needed to transform the world. The agents He used for the task ahead of Him were the people He’d met on the streets who had answered His call and endured through everyone trying to make them change their minds. His family thought He was crazy, His treasurer was guilty of embezzlement, and the two major political parties of His time wanted Him dead. Despite the odds and apparent lack of resources, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. (Matthew 11:5)
Thermostat or Thermometer
Jesus commands us now to go and do the same as He did and assures us that He is with us always. He has given us His peace so that we can share it with the world. It doesn’t take much; one must only be willing to answer the call and go. Start using what you have to love the people in your home and then expand to your neighborhood. If you love to cook then ask God how you can use that for kingdom purposes. If you currently lack resources then pick-up trash, beautify the neighborhood, pray for the sick, start a Bible study with neighbors, organize a community project. Do that which reflects Heaven in your immediate reach, inspire those around you, and share the message of hope that transforms lives, even if it is one at a time. As you go forward, never forget who you are and Who is with you. There will always be voices trying to get you to forget the mission or make you stumble, but you are more than a conqueror. You will never be tempted beyond what you are able to handle if you keep your eyes on God Who is faithful. He will always provide an escape from temptation. The peacemaker is a person that recognizes that they are complete in Christ. When we allow God to make us complete in Him, we can suddenly see the opinions and words of that which is incomplete for the empty trash that they are. When we are confident in our wholeness in Christ, then we view the insults and barbs from the incomplete with compassion not offense. Racist remarks and actions are then seen as cries of the broken for that which can make them complete. The peacemaker’s ability to repay evil with good, to love their enemies, to forgive, and put God’s will first gives them the power to change the temperature of the room and eventually transform the heart of an individual. It is only through changed hearts that communities are able to heal.
Next post I will speak to the perspective of the socioeconomically affluent peacemakers (often referred to by SJW as ‘privileged’) in how to engage the hostilities they face and be agents of peace.