I got a text a few days ago from a friend I used to pastor a few years back. We'll call him Rob. Rob was texting to say, "Happy New Year!"
The thing is, it was one of those mass messages that he sent to his entire inner circle. I wasn’t even paying close attention, but before I realized it, I had replied to all ten people in the message feed. A few seconds later, my phone rang. I knew it was someone from the recipient list because it had the same area code and I didn’t recognize it. So out of sheer curiosity, I answered. It was his mother.
She was either inebriated, hung-over, or possibly it’s just this is the result of decades of drug abuse. She was cussin and fussin about nothin. I was at a loss for words. I was forced to sit and decipher this endless barrage of F-bombs, Bs, MFs, and so on and so on. She talked about how she and her girlfriend were looking for someone with a truck to help them move some stuff. Then she talked about how much she hated Rob’s ex-wife. She did mention Rob’s new baby on the way, but that brought her right back to his ex-wife who (judging by the profanity) she doesn’t like at all. I bet if she saw her in the street it’s be on. No questions asked.
It reminded me of the first and only time I spoke to her face to face. It was on Christmas day about five years ago. I dropped by Rob’s house early in the morning. I suppose this could count as a pastoral visit, but it was really just one friend swingin by to holla. He surprised me saying, “Let’s go by my mom’s.” It’s Christmas. Why not? The visit was a lot like the phone conversation only live and in living color. It was kinda awkward too because as soon as we got there Rob went upstairs. And so there I was left to hold the profanity punching bag for her and her girlfriend while they went in. It was your typical Bs, MFs, and F-bombs. She talked about the crazy party they had the night before. Then she asked to borrow ten dollars to get some liquor for the day’s adventure, and so on and so on.
I remembered that he told me that she struggled with drug abuse for most of his life. And then, it was because of the drugs and her legal troubles he and his siblings were practically taken from her and raised by a family friend. When we left, Rob told me that his mom was allowing these brothas from around the way sell drugs out of her house. I guess that’s why he went upstairs; to check and see if they were still there. They were. I was at a loss for words.
I thought about my mom. She always worked really hard to keep a roof over our head and provide for our needs. I never saw her drink or smoke (although I do remember hearing a few cuss words here and there). She did everything she could to keep us in church and keep us on the straight and narrow. I remember one time she bought my brother and I this cassette tape called “Rappin Rabbit.” It was corny as can be, but we thought it was cool. And those same corny rhymes convicted me of obedience and helped me to commit the Old Testament books of the Bible to memory. The truth is, I had a rough childhood but I knew it was nothing compared to what Rob had to contend with as a yung’n.
The more I think about it, I realize that I’m not the only one that’s at a loss for words. The church is too. We like to think and act like our one-size fits all approach to ministry and evangelism is the end-all, be-all, save-all solution to every soul, but when we really get to know Rob and his circumstances we are faced with the sad reality that we have no framework for effectively addressing the issues that compass his life. I mean just think about this. Rob has: splintered family ties, practically no substantive (biological) parental bonds, no diploma, inconsistent work history, a criminal record, a failed marriage, five kids from three different women, constant drama with child support, totally surrounded by drug culture and drug abuse, friends and family member who are dying around him everyday, a depraved community, and a deep suspicion of illuminati, American imperialism, and so much more.
This is the context that Hip-Hop calls home. I keep hearing the voice of Lester Collins who said, “This is not about music, it’s about people.” One of the most compelling aspects of Hip-Hop culture is that it has embraced and embodied the voice of oppressed people like Rob. People who are surrounded by degradation and looking for answers, release and relief. They might get baptized, but they’ll probably be gone after a year. For many reasons, but in short: the church on the hill isn’t speaking clearly to them. They need a church in the trenches. They need a framework for faith and a faith community that is acquainted with and designed to address the issues and challenges that they face on a regular basis.
Rob did get baptized and he used to come to church on a regular basis. He doesn’t go anymore. Why? He is still a deeply spiritual person, but maybe it’s because the church just isn’t relevant to his everyday life.
And here’s the clincher, while we’re at a loss for words Rob’s mom has a mouth full. And While we’re busy sputtering and stuttering about what’s appropriate for church and ministry methodology, Rob’s got his hands full. While we deliberate over theory and bureaucracy, there is no shortage of depression, desperation, degradation and people are dying. I wonder when will the people of God speak up?
By the way, his name’s not Rob, and he gave me permission to tell his story.