Monday, September 5, 2016

"Unashamed" by Lecrae: A Review

In the front of my mind was a verse from Romans that God gave me in solitary confinement while reading that little Gideon Bible: For I am not Ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

A lot of people puff up when they recite this verse like it's some sort of Christian bragging right. They think this verse is a way to declare how strong you are, how tough you are, how brave you are. But that is the opposite of what this verse means. Instead, it is a manifesto for the broken. For the needy. For the helpless. For the ones who are stumbling more than they are stepping. For the ones who are willing to admit that they aren't brave enough, tough enough, or strong enough.

I can't save myself through my own strength through pretending. By working harder or pulling myself up by my boot straps. There's no woman that can save me. No drug that can save me. No program or clinic that can save me. I no longer thought I was a Christian because I was strong and had it all together; I now knew I was a Christian because I"m weak and admitted I need a Savior. There was no other power that could save me outside of the power of God.

All my life, I'd been hiding pieces of myself and putting up a front. I'd been hiding my weakness so everyone would think I was hard. So that people would like me. I finally let go of all that and surrender. Now I refused to hide my struggles and imperfections, my temptations and my problems. I refused to exhaust myself trying to conform to others' expectations or fit in their boxes. For the first time in my life, I was free to live. Unashamed. (122)

One of the primary means God sustained my soul during my childhood and teenage years was through music - Christian music specifically. One of my favorite styles was hip hop and I will be the first to admit it was difficult to discover attractive Christian rap that was not cheesy or poorly produced. By the time I was an upper classman in high school and through most of college I had largely taken a break from the genre. Some of my favorite artists had ceased producing new music and much of the new artists were as poor as their predecessors.

All of that changed with the rise of Reach Records with Lecrae at the helm. It is not a stretch to say that Lecrae has radically changed the Christian hip hop scene and has, finally, given it the credibility it deserved and even saved it from itself. Christian rap was suffering from poor hip hop for a long time and Reach Records, along with a host of similar labels and artists (like Humble Beast for example) have in recent years revived the genre. I believe this development ought to be celebrated. Some of the riches and "realist" lyrics available today are coming from rappers.

Therefore, I was eager to read Lecrae's memoir simply entitled Unashamed which has become the battle cry of his and his fans. I was already familiar with much of Lecrae's story, but no doubt I was surprised (and blessed) to read the whole narrative.

The book fits in a long line of similar books. An artist (or some other celebrity or politician) finds success and writes a "tell-all" book that explains their side of the story which in the end seeks to "clear the air" while managing to make a few extra dollars along the way. Some such books are actually worth the investment (I would recommend Scott Stapp's book), but most are largely a waste. Lecrae tells his story, from birth to today much in unforgettable and heartbreaking detail. Yet his is different - a blessed different.

Lecrae is an African-American man who has grown up fatherless in the inner city context. From the very beginning, the artists suggests that much of his struggles in life are found in not knowing who his father is. Even after his conversion, he confesses the difficulty of referring to his Creator as God the Father. Such a term was the product of so much pain, not comfort, in his life. I have no doubt that Lecrae is correct that fatherlessness lies at the root of much of his pain and I pray that God will continue to use his story to help other fatherless children to find healing. Lecrae's story, right from the beginning, is a painful reminder of why the nuclear family is crucial to the well-being of children, future generations, and society as a whole.

The author grew up in a world looking for an identity and yet could never find one. He never really fit in. He was never a gangster, a hustler, a pimp, or an athlete. He saw himself as more of an artist, but such desires were labeled soft and weak and so he avoided it. Therefore, he was a perpetual outsider and in this role he would pursue salvation in "the things of this world" - from drugs, to music, to sex, to violence, to crime. All of it, both King Solomon and young Lecrae learned, was vanity.

Lecrae was converted at a conference in Atlanta, but still struggled with his many demons and temptations. The reader will have to read the rest to discover that part of the story. What fascinated me most about his conversation story wasn't the sermon he heard or the prayer he uttered, but his first impression of Christians in college. Lecrae came from the streets of the inner city where everyone belonged to a certain group. The Christians on campus, however, were different. Whether one was artistic, into hip hop, country, male or female, grew up in the church or still seeking, you were welcomed. Lecrae notes how the Christians he met weren't defined by barriers, but by Christ and this attracted him to Christianity. This was the context that allowed him to hear the good news of Jesus.

For those who are fans of Lecrae or hip hop in general, this will be a fascinating read. This is not a autobiography of sorts where the author explains in detail what it was like to write, produce, and tour each album. He barely mentions a number of his records (Gravity is my personal favorite). Instead, it is a spiritual memoir from one broken soul to another. Lecrae is confessing that he has a broken past (don't we all) and he is still broken (aren't we all) and wants the reader to find healing in Christ.

You don't have to be like hip hop to celebrate that.

For more:
"Sinner's Creed" by Scott Stapp: A Review
Lecrae's Ted Talk
Worship Wednesday: "Background" by Lecrae
Lecrae at Passion 2013
Listen To & Download Lecrae's "Church Clothes" For Free
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