Up until the 7th grade, the most hardcore music I had ever encountered was DC Talk and Carman’s Yo Kids albums. That innocence was shattered when I was introduced to gangsta rap—by three white classmates at my Christian private school. My ears curiously perked up as they recited lyrics from Coolio’s, Gangstas Paradise.
I was in awe; I had died and gone to Compton.
So naturally, I began to embrace my destiny--to be a ruthless gangster. But the odds were against me. And by odds, I’m referring my affluent neighborhood, my coke-bottle eyeglasses, my out-of-fashion no-fade flat-top haircut... and the fact that everyone I knew called me ‘Steve Erkel’.
Even people I didn’t know called me Steve Erkel!
But then I got a fresh start. My family and I moved from the suburbs of Dallas, to the suburbs of Los Angeles. This was my chance to re-brand myself--to get rid of the Erkel-esque resemblance. “I was a new creation, old things are passed away!”
But going from a clumsy nerd to a cold-blooded gangsta wasn’t overnight—and the first thing that had to go was my 2 inch thick (practically bullet-proof) eye-glasses. Shout out to Acuvue!
Next, I began to dress like a gangsta—blue chucks, thick blue laces, blue Dickies, blue shirt, blue bandana! But my glorious transformation only became complete when I got my hair corn-rowed. Granted, the latter was a short lived endeavor… as my mother practically spanked the braids out me.
Nonetheless, in my heart, I was an honorary Gangsta Crip. Why crip? Because Snoop Dogg was a crip. In fact, most of my favorite rappers either ‘claimed crip’ or were crip-affiliated. And I wanted to resemble my idols.
The one thing I didn’t wanna be, was a wanna-be gangster. So I decided that I would prove to myself to myself—once and for all, by robbing a liquor store.
Ok, it was a donut store. But I still intended to rob it!
So I packed my .357 magnum… ok, it was a pellet gun. But who could tell with the red safety tip broken off?
Then I cruised up to the donut store… on my bike. Yes, I intended to flee from an armed robbery on a 6-gear Mongoose. Teenage genius! But as I kicked up my kickstand, I began to have second thoughts. I was 17, and if caught, the courts could have me tried as an adult.
“Stop being a lil punk,” I told myself. Real gangstas don’t get scared. Go get this money!
I didn’t need this money. I lived in the nicest, newest, most affluent neighborhood in Riverside. But what I needed was to resemble the rappers I idolized--the rappers I had made gods.
As I began to walk into the donut store, everything shifted into slow motion… like a movie. I made eye contact with the cashier and began to reach for my waist. But then, for some reason, I looked back.
A cop was driving by… and he looked at me dead in my eyes.
My heart was thumping so loud I could barely hear the cashier… asking me what kind of donut I wanted. I hopped on my get-away-vehicle and began to repent as I pedaled through of all the scenarios in which this self-imposed gang initiation could’ve ended.
I could’ve been arrested at best, killed at worst… and I doubt Snoop Dogg or any of those rappers whose music I had glorified would’ve attended my funeral. This ‘gangsta’s paradise’ I was reaching for, wasn’t worth the cost.
Nowadays, I’m a bit more mature. And as a Christian, my desire is to resemble Christ. And the one thing I don’t wanna be, is a wanna-be. But when it comes to really carrying my cross, crucifying the flesh, and abiding by the Spirit… I’ve found myself to be just as phony a Christian, as I was a gangsta.
Once again, the odds are against me. And these are the same odds that many Christians today are facing. The odds I’m referring to are:
1) Environments in which we’re pressed to compromise. Instead of producing fruits of the Spirit—to spread light to our friends—we become a product of our surroundings.
2) The music/media that uninterruptedly pump our minds with a hedonistic message--sexual deviance, lust for possessions, and self-glorification. Instead of thinking about ‘whatever is pure’ (Phil. 4:8), we entertain the thought of sin all day, every day.
3) But the worst of them all is the third. In fact, this odd is so great, that if we could overcome it, the rest of the odds would fall like dominos. It’s the fact that we’re spiritually starving. Christ said, “Man shall not live by break alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). But instead, we’ve made physical bread our main concern. In fact, we’re concerned about it multiple times a day… but of course, it is a necessity to life.
Is not God’s word a necessity to spiritual life?
So many of us are caught in the middle. Will we ever reach our paradise, or is ‘death to self’ too much? Perhaps we’ll shrug off the conviction and sheepishly pedal back to our comfort zones.