The first time I heard a rapper by the name of 2pac was watching Yo MTV Raps many many moons ago, and a song came on called "Brenda's Got A Baby", a track about not just another teen mom in the ghetto, but how her situations and choices affected those around her, including and especially the baby. I ended up digging up the album (way back when, we had to go to the record store and actually sift through racks of tapes, then cd's, not just type a name into Amazon. That's a topic for another day, though) The album had some typical party it up, shoot em up gangsta rap tracks, but along side the aforementioned "Brenda" were a couple of others, like "Part Time Mother" which lifted the Stevie Wonder song to tell the tale of several people, even an unsuspecting father who find themselves taking care of little ones, and "If My Homies Call" a reminder to people from 2pac's past that he may be breaking out, but not forgetting them. All of these put together a vision, a mindset that the way things are in the community isn't the way they have to be, that there is more to life than gangbanging, that there are consequences to actions that have to be handled. As time went on 2pac got bigger, and for a while there were still some glimmers of that hope and optimism with tracks like "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Ain't Mad At 'Cha". But there also seemed to be a growing disillusionment with the world, a giving up of that hope for a better world, choosing instead to get immersed in the world, with sex, drugs, drink, money, and violence. That immersion led to 2pac's time in jail and eventually to his shooting death.
I admit to not following the hip hop scene like I did back then, but it really seems like since then, the general attitude has skipped over any hopefulness for a better day and jumped straight to that disillusioned state. Criminal charges, jail time, inane material excesses all seem to be even bigger badges of honor then they were in the past.
This is far from a black problem, or a gang problem, or a rap problem, the rap scene and it's evolution just provide a very blunt illustration of a far reaching issue. We seem to be leaping to apathy in too many areas of the world, from our entertainers to our schools (students and teachers) to our work places to our elected officials. It's not a new problem either, rearing it's ugly head in the days of "tune in, turn on, drop out" or Marlon Brando's response in The Wild Ones to "What are you rebelling against?" which was simply "What have you got?"
Taking a step back from the issue, such disillusion is no surprise, simply because it's all based on the world. Whenever we look to the world for fulfillment, we will be disappointed, because the things of the world will either fail to satisfy, or fade away, or both. The new car becomes the old car. The latest model (fill in the blank) becomes outdated. That's the hole in the mindset. We want things to be better, but when we limit our solutions to worldly ones, providing material things to those in need, depending on book education to get them out of generational squalor and violence, we just build a house without a foundation.
I've been working on this one for a while, and was going to put it on the back burner for something more 9/11 oriented, but then I realized that the ten years since that atrocity is a fine example of my point. In the days and weeks immediately following the attacks, there was a unity in the US. We put aside most of our differences and stood as Americans. Then, slowly, but predictably, stuff started getting in the way. Distractions and disagreements chipped away at that unity, that hope for a better day, until now, as dozens of headlines ask "What Has Changed Since The Attacks?", the answer is very little. We're right back where we were, and in some ways, we've slipped down a few pegs. If you've ever read Watchmen, you'll remember the plot to unify the world forever via a tragedy. Evidently, such a vision only works in the comic books, because eventually, that disillusionment still sinks in.
My own worldly mindset tells me that the church should be doing more to instill that missing hope on grander scales, making more big stories of sweeping encouragement. We know that the world's promises are empty, and there is a better goal. But when I do my own stepping back, looking back to the real instruction book, it's not mass hope and change that are the focus. It's the real hope and change granted the believer, the strength to move past the tragedy, past the mundane, and keep heading for the Kingdom. We all like the big splashes, the huge revivals, but history tells us that those fade away or fall apart or sometimes even get corrupted . The individual who learns real joy, real contentment, and lives it out may not make the big splash, but the ripples will travel further than any of us will know on this side.