I recently watched Straight Outta Compton, the story of the short lived but wildly influential rap group N.W.A.
I thought it was disturbing. And that’s the feeling so many experienced after listening to that cassette tape or just catching wind of their lyrics 25 years ago. Their music explosively exposed the reality of the urban ghetto that made white middle-class families like mine lock our car doors and anxiously speed toward the "safer" suburb.
The reason I was disturbed after the movie was due to thinking through the very nature and necessity of disturbance. I wasn’t raised to be a disturbing person. I don’t think I’ve ever been identified as such. But over the years in my work among the poor and my work in introducing the non-poor to friends living on the street I’ve recognized the necessity and gift of disturbing the ruts and routines of comfortable cultural christians.
Disturbance is what our morning alarms do to wake us up and get us moving each day.
In order for deep change and redemption to occur disturbance is a necessary part of the program.
Ice Cube disturbed the powers by lines like F#*k the police.
One of Jesus' most radically disturbing messages went like this,
"unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
Can you imagine being one of Jesus' disciples trying to process this wild message in literal terms? The gospel of John tells us that this particular teaching was so shockingly offensive many of his first followers gave up on the revolution and went back home.
From the ancient time to the present the tension that Jesus' life and teaching surfaces within us feels offensive and impossible to hold.
Another message of Jesus that sparks controversy to this day comes from Matthew 10: 34
(And for fun just imagine this scripture being rapped by Ice Cube)
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
How often is this message mishandled today? Many current day conservatives love to prooftext this teaching as a divine endorsement for violence. Those who refuse to see the brilliant use of metaphor would rather jump to the conclusion that this use of the word sword proves the disciple Peter's initial hope of Jesus - that he would be a violent warrior rather than the Prince of Peace.
Jesus' metaphoric use of the word sword reveals just how controversial he knew his teachings and life would be for those stuck seeing the world through the lens of primal competitive violence. The type of sword Jesus brings is one he knew would bring turmoil and division between families and communities.
So, in regards to kicking up dust and creating cultural/religious disturbance and division... N.W.A. ain't got nothing on Jesus.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
You read that in Eazy - E's voice, didn't you?
It's almost always disturbing to be offered a new thing. Straight Outta Compton reiterated just how much our world is evolving and becoming more complex. The world is also becoming increasingly unified. For most of us this new thing is greatly disorienting and God takes the holy risk of shaking us and disorienting us in order to make way for a whole new orientation - a new way of justice and non-violent relationship to the other.
Is it a stretch to place the work of N.W.A. and Jesus together? Probably, but what I'm struck by is the commonality of new ground being broken open through the element of radical disturbance.