Author: Nicole Speer
By your endurance you will gain your souls. – Luke 21:19
We living our lives to eternal our soul – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads*”
Not surprisingly, living in a global pandemic has me thinking a lot about death. Although I’ve lost relatives and friends on my life journey, this is the first time I am experiencing constant fear for the lives of everyone I know and love. No one in my life is safe right now, and not knowing when or where someone I care about will contract this life-threatening virus is unsettling. To cope, I’ve been seeking solace in the Gospels … and in rap and hip-hop music.
As a middle-aged white woman, death has never been a constant presence in my life. It comes and goes with old age and disease, but it is not ever-present. My kids can walk down the street and play outside without fear of getting caught in crossfire. I don’t have to worry that my husband will be murdered in a traffic stop. When I was pregnant it hardly crossed my mind that birthing children posed a risk to my life.
My entire existence prior to this pandemic has been one in which I was free to live my life without constant fear of death. Black Americans and other people of color in the United States have never had this privilege. Genocide, slavery, Jim Crow laws, our (in)justice system, and hundreds of years of systemic oppression have made fear and death constant companions for Black and brown Americans. What is new for me is simply “life in the United States” for people of color.
From my white perspective, rap and hip-hop tell the story of people forced to live under the deadly pandemic of racism. The narratives are different from anything in my lived experience but their themes of injustice and death normalize my current fear for my loved ones’ lives, and my anger at leaders who uphold a system that ignores and even welcomes the chaos this virus brings to our communities. Like the Gospels, rap and hip hop also show me a way to persevere when forced to walk side-by-side with death: by fighting harder for community, friendship, celebration, and love.
Each Gospel narrator recounts Jesus’ warning that when our world is challenged many of us will lose sight of our mandate to love. Jesus made it clear that simply enduring times of trial isn’t enough to save our souls; our salvation lies in our enduring commitment to amplify God’s love. Scarcity and fear of death lure us into focusing on our own needs, but the Gospels – and my favorite rap and hip-hop artists – remind us to keep our focus on others.
God, help us let go of our fears in this challenging time so that we may lean more deeply into your love. Amen.
*Bone Thugs-N-Harmony released “Tha Crossroads” almost 25 years ago as a tribute to friends and family members who had died from gun violence and HIV/AIDS — epidemics that still disproportionately affect Black communities. Like many rap and hip-hop songs, “Tha Crossroads” is a testimony of faith and love amid death and persecution.