Monday, July 25, 2016

My Loser Is Better Than Your Loser

I'm having a really hard time this election year. Now that we're down to the last two, I don't see anyone who represents me as a Christian, or who represents my mixed family, or who represents virtually any of the core character traits that I value. I've been voting for about twenty-four years now,  all the way back to my first presidential vote in 1992. Maybe some of my readers can remember that one, but in case you don't, it was nuts. That year it was incumbent George "Big Daddy" Bush versus Bill "Mack Daddy" Clinton, and it was already tight. Then out of nowhere came this little crazy businessman from Texas, who was confusing the heck out of everyone by actually winning votes and getting on ballots. He had said some racist things in the past, and was selling himself as an outsider, a successful businessman who could get the country's finances under control. Both the Republicans and the Democrats had to tighten up their campaigns and clearly state their platforms, because they couldn't just rely on name recognition this time. With a loud and unpredictable third party winning hearts, they had to differentiate themselves from him, as well as from each other.

I remember then feeling that I wasn't sure who to vote for. We had an incumbent president who had broken promises, and a Democratic challenger who seemed a little too like a rock star. That plus the crazy Texan guy. I remember really having to think about who I wanted to give my first presidential vote.

This time it's not like that. This time I know I can't vote for either one. I can't, in good conscience, endorse either candidate, and I'm not seeing any dark horse, any third party with any alternatives, coming to rescue me. Apparently, a no-vote is a vote for Trump, or maybe a vote for Clinton, depending on whose Facebook page you're on. But, really, for the first time in twenty-four voting years, I think I don't really care.

I have all the regular kooks on my Facebook page who think that their passionate beliefs give them some ownership over my vote giving me all kinds of reasons why I'm less of a Christian if I vote this way, or less of a thinker if I vote that way. I feel like I've become the official investigator, fact-checker, and watchdog of the Internet, because of all of the reposted lies I find myself exposing, even though it doesn't make any difference, because the propaganda, ignorance, and outright hatred just keeps on rolling, as if the truth is more of a stumbling block to these arguments, rather than a building block.

And while I'm on the subject, I'd like to remind my fellow Christians on the internet that the ninth commandment definitely applies to reposting things on Facebook. I can't even imagine a better example of "bearing false witness against your neighbor than reposting some doctored picture or fake quote that you didn't take the time to verify before spreading falsehoods. I've come to the conclusion that people don't research these things, not even because they don't care if the information is true or not, but more because it feeds their political ideas so well that they don't want to know if it's false.

I look at the huge mess that the Republican convention was, and the huge mess that the Democratic convention is shaping up to be, and I really do fear for the country. Again, I remember feeling uncertain about which candidate to choose, but I don't ever remember feeling so adamantly against both candidates, that I start to wonder how either of them got through their primaries. On the Republican side, there's a candidate who says awfully racist things, and sometimes even announces plans to make them policy, who makes foolish promises like building a wall between borders with our nearest neighbor. Or, to be more precise, our nearest neighbor of color. Canadians pass the bag test, so they can still come and go as they please, I guess. On the Democratic side, we have a candidate who has apparently either engineered, or simply accepted and profited from, a rigged primary system that shut out any other viable candidates. Already I've got serious moral and ethical problems with both candidates, and I haven't even analyzed their platforms or a single issue yet. In fact, with that level of inconsistency and deceit, what does it matter what they say about the issues, anyway?

What bothers me more about this election is that I'm still expected to choose one of these losers. I keep hearing about the lesser of two evils, and about Supreme Court vacancies, and about the moral issues attached to each party, and, again, I'm starting to feel like I just don't care anymore. Whenever I have one of these discussions with anyone from either side, I'm just too focused on the fact that the person seems to be so at peace with the corruption on both sides that they can still talk about appointing judges or comparing flaws, instead of throwing up their hands in despair and cursing the entire system. I hate talking to these people, frankly. It's like trying to convince someone that the house is burning down around them, and all they can do is shove color wheels in your face and force you to choose a shade for the living room.

I promise I'm not running to Canada or Sweden, though. I might run to Mexico, only because I can speak decent Spanish and I'm training for an obstacle run, so a wall climb should be easy for me in a couple of months. Also, tacos. Always also tacos. Instead of running, the plan is to keep reading what smart people are saying about the election, people like Thabiti Anyabwile, for one. I'm going to keep blocking people on FaceBook so that I don't immediately get angry every time I log in to see pictures of people's kids or cats or video game achievements. I'm also going to keep visiting those same people's profiles after I've blocked them, because I just know they posted another racist, propagandistic falsehood that I need to squash with my research skills and rhetoric. Why? Because I can. I'm like the Batman of FaceBook. I'm going to keep praying for this country and my people, all of them, that their eyes will be opened, and that they will do what they can about this corruption, rather than simply pretend it's not there and maneuver around it, like eating around the rotten part of the apple. Whether that means writing, voting, speaking, reading, emailing, calling, protesting, or just complaining, I pray that people will use whatever tools they have to work against this system, instead of working with it.

And, yes, I'm sure I'll vote, although it won't be for either one of the major party candidates. I'm still holding out hope that viable third party candidate will show up at the final hour, like a superhero, to save me. In fact, if it doesn't happen, I'll probably just write someone in, like maybe Steve Rogers. Where's Captain America at a time like this. Oh, right. He's Hydra now. Crap.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Hip Hop Is Dead, Almost

I'm seeing all of these challenges going around on social media - push-up challenges, love your spouse challenges, some of them more like try-to-get-yourself-killed-doing-something-stupid challenges. I have a challenge for all of my hip-hop lovers out there, and anyone else who wants to join in, that I want to call the Hip-hop Diet Challenge.

I've been lamenting the state of hip-hop so much and so loudly lately that I'm afraid that I'm starting to sound like Snoop's dad in the "Gin and Juice" video. I've been talking about the monotony and lack of depth in the lyrics, and the beats that sound like they were not just created on a computer, but by one. I do see some exceptions, in guys like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, among very few others, but for the most part, I'm disappointed. It would be one thing if they were just rapping about things that were vulgar or self-destructive, but doing it with excellence in the lyric and music. I can't even tell how many songs I could probably quote verbatim that fall into that category, ones that stay in regular rotation in my iTunes. It would be okay with me if the message were positive, or at least intelligent, but the lyrics were less than brilliant, although I tend to have less respect for those songs than for the former, somehow. But too much of what I hear, is both - vulgar and stupid, and at the same time weak lyrically and/or musically. I keep asking the younger hip-hop lovers I know, "Is this song on the radio because you like it? Or do you just like it because it's on the radio, because someone told you it was the next hot thing?"

I feel very vindicated by this fiasco with Rich Homie Quan at the VH1 Hip-hop Honors show. For those that live under the rock where hip-hop doesn't penetrate, the video of it is posted below. Essentially, Quan was meant to honor Biggie by performing his lyrics in a performance of "Get Money," alongside Lil Kim, at that, and didn't seem to know any of the lyrics past the first line. If he had just switched a word or two, I would give him a pass, but it really looked like he had no idea what the lyrics should be, as if he had tried to memorize them on the limo ride to the venue. It was bad enough that you can see audience members rapping the lyrics, like you would for a little five-year-old boy trying to sing the national anthem at a baseball game and forgetting the lyrics. For my money, the highlight of the video is the look on Pun's face when it registers with him. I feel you, Pun.

I know Quan apologized, sort of, and so I don't want to bash him, really, but that type of disrespect and laziness is unconscionable, and represents, I think, a widespread problem of artists who respect only money and vice, and not the art form that they participate in. Again, he did apologize, and he deserves forgiveness, but I have to point out that to blame this on some technical glitch that had him flustered before the performance is a cop-out. Most of the guys, and women, in my squad could recite those lyrics outside in a thunderstorm, underwater, with five pounds of rocks in their pockets. What I expected from any apology was basically, "I'm sorry I didn't bring it." In fact, what I expected was for some of that old Lil Kim to come out, for her to snatch that Coogi sweater off Quan's back and boot him off the stage with those heels. For him to instead blame it on technical glitches makes me wonder what kind of professional performer he is, to get so flustered by a faulty mic or whatever.

This brings me to the Hip-hop Diet Challenge. I've had to do this for my own personal reasons over the last few years, and it's always had a positive effect on me. The challenge goes like this: For thirty days, I will abstain from any form of hip-hop that is does not have a distinctly Christian message. Not just positive - Christian. There are so many great rappers out there that we aren't listening to because they are either labelled as "Christian" or from a Christian label. I have to confess that I used to be the same way. I took this challenge myself when a pastor that I respect talked about purging our lives of sinful voices. I really felt convicted, but I had a hard time imagining my workouts listening to praise music or gospel. I have nothing but respect for those musicians, but their music isn't conducive to creating a workout mindset. Furthermore, when I hear or sing praise music, in church or wherever, I'm aware that this music is meant to bless God more than me. I also need music that is for me, that speaks to me, that instructs and inspires me. I hadn't listened to much Christian hip-hop, just enough to believe that it was all, in a word, wack. And I stand by that belief, at least at the time. But Christian hip-hop has gone through such a transformation in the last ten years, more or less, that I really think that the majority of the fire lyrics and beats are coming from guys like Lecrae Moore, and the majority of what I hear coming from the radio is just substandard, lyrically and musically. After I did the first thirty days, I went back to listening to the full spectrum of music in my library, but I had added several albums and artists that I had never listened to before, some of whom are now in my top ten list.

You could start with Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and basically anyone in the 116 squad. You may not own much of this music, but try plugging any of those names into Pandora and listen for a while to see which artists you like more than others. If you hear something you like, support the artist and buy the track or album. You're going to hear a range of styles from New York to Dirty South to Trap (just without the actual Trap). You're even going to hear a range of topics, from deep theological discussion to praising Christ to just thoughts on love, marriage, and life from a Christian perspective. I can promise you that you won't have to sacrifice the beat for the message, and that if you love hip-hop, you will love this too. These brothers, and a few sisters, are a part of the body of Christ like us, using their talents to educate and sometimes discipline us (and themselves), but doing it without the airplay and money that other rappers, ones who don't even have half of their talent, and if Quan is any indication, their commitment to craft, are getting. We owe it to them to at least give them a spin.

So let me know how it goes. Thirty days of nothing but "Christian" hip-hop. Let me know if you feel differently by the end, if this has the same effect on your spirit that it did on mine. For me, it was like being off junk food for a month and sensing how much better my body moved and felt, but spiritually. Also, let me know what artists particularly struck you as superior talents, and where you would put them on a scale with the rappers you already know.

Here's a Lecrae video to get you started.