The Gospel According To Tupac Shakur     

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2/10/2004 10:48:14 AM
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The Gospel According To Tupac Shakur
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Alex Gee is co-author of a new book titled, Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets, published by InterVarsity. Alex is a pastor, and his co-author, John Teter, is an area director for InterVarsity in south central LA. Gee picked up his first Tupac Shakur album to learn what the young people in his church listened to, and he discovered why they related better to it than his preaching. Since then, Gee said, more and more young people have attended the church to hear the pastor who listens to rap.

Any missionary will tell you that when you go to another culture, you've got to learn their language. Why is what you did so rare among pastors?

Historically pop culture has had such a negative image. To dive into that and to appreciate it and talk about it and bring it to the pulpit was really sacrilege. I think we have that stigma to overcome. But we don't think of people in our own homeland as being from other cultures. That's for people overseas. Looking at someone who likes rock and roll or hip-hop music, that's not another culture, that's just people going wild.

What are you learning about sorting through what's useful and the recognition that there are elements of it that are just not-not supposed to be part of your life?

I'll use the example of the evening news or newspapers. I don't read it because I enjoy everything that's in the paper, nor is it edifying when you read about murders or obituaries, but it's a part of the news. It's what's happening in society and you want to be informed. When I listen to hip-hop music, there are things that they say that touches my heart, because they're so artistically astute. Then they say some things that are just ugly and raunchy and reeks of misogyny. But I realize that, like other artists, they are merely a barometer of what's happening in society. As a pastor and as a Christian, my job is to understand the culture. I mean God becoming incarnate is not just about getting a body so he could go to the cross. It really is embracing the human experience, including culture.

The parts of the music that's not edifying is educational. So that means I have to ask myself, Okay, where is the misogyny coming from? Where's the materialism coming from? Because you know, materialism and misogyny are much older than gangster rap.

What are you discovering about Jesus by connecting to the hip-hop lyrics?

Tupac wasn't in anyone's pocket so he earned money, he had his listenership, so he could say whatever he wanted to say. He could speak his heart. His thing was, "I'm going to communicate truth." And so sometimes I think in Christian culture and as church leaders we want to placate so many things, we want to say the nice things so as to not ruffle feathers or rock the boat but he covers things like racism. I have so many friends white colleagues who will say to me, they will lament the fact, Alex, "I've never preached that racism is sin." But they believe in family values and so they'll talk about sexual orientation, but have never gotten in the pulpit and said that racism goes against family values. It's a sin. And yet you get these rappers talking about glass ceilings. God needs someone speaking out on these issues because, as pastors, we don't want to.

In a chapter you guys wrote, "Dear Mama," Tupac talks about his relationship with his mother. Why do some listeners resonance with those lyrics of Tupac and with the gospel.

In this song Tupac serenades his mother and he says, "When I was young you took the brunt of my anger and frustration because my father, the coward, wasn't there. I didn't understand you, I was angry with you. But then as I grew up I realized you were the one always there for me, you came to visit me in jail, you always cooked for me, and I realized you we

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