Unlearn week challenges assumptions about hip hop, the church

Photo courtesy calvin.edu
Photo courtesy calvin.edu

“Jesus is hip hop. He had baby-mama drama, he had Tamar in his lineage, he hung out with the niggers of his day and one of his boys did him in and one denied him three times,” said Daniel White Hodge, director of youth ministry studies at North Park University and Unlearn week guest speaker.

Jesus is not often associated with hip hop; celebrities, like Kanye West and Jay-Z more often come to mind. However, in a lecture Wednesday night, “Hip Hop Theology,” students were challenged to rethink their assumptions about theology and hip hop.

“Hip hop is an urban subculture that rejects dominant culture,” said Hodge. “Rap is the main medium that brings definition, value, understanding and appreciation to social isolation.”

As part of his ministry, Hodge uses hip hop to connect with people who wouldn’t have made a connection to Jesus otherwise.

“Hip hop is all about creating God in the context of suffering,” said Hodge. “As well as the post soul music questioning of authority, it creates a community where common struggles are discussed, where problems can be solved with rapping, and where there is a common distrust of hegemonic systems. Basically it creates a place where people are the same, with the same struggles.”

Unlearn week staff challenges students to think about breaking down the barriers that we set up between ourselves, whether that is between different races, different cultures or ones based on stereotypes.

“I believe [Unlearn week] is important because we feel discomfort and in that we grow,” said Multicultural Student Advisory Board Coordinator Ebonie Atkins. “We try to be intentional in our relations to others and their culture. I encourage people to sit in that discomfort and learn from people.”

Another goal of Unlearn week challenging assumptions and giving a voice to the minority of students at Calvin.

“At Calvin there is this assumption that students aren’t interested in hip hop,” said Atkins. “But here are the students that are interested. There are a lot of assumptions with this and they aren’t always true.”

The students in attendance were intrigued and impressed with the presentation, as well as impressed with Hodge’s honesty.

“I thought it was raw and authentic and he didn’t tip toe around it,” said freshman Katie Cook. “In Christian circles a lot of people are afraid of hip hop and afraid to look for the beauty in the harsh places.”

Judgments made based on inaccurate or inadequate information are some of the biggest issues with hip hop, as well as many of the other topics discussed during Unlearn week.

“The challenge with criticism is when people can’t grasp it [hip hop theology],” said Hodge. “I can help people think about it as a narrative, and think about it in context. I try to help people find their story in Christ and I try to do that through culture of hip hop.”

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