DON'T KNOCK THE (NIPSEY) HUSSLE
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." Roman 8:19
Three days after the death of Nipsey Hussle the city of Angels is still hurting from the senseless untimely death of rapper, entrepreneur and hip hop west coast icon Nipsey Hussle. When I first saw the news my heart sank as if I was close friends with him and rode his wave daily. This brought up old feelings that are still present in my body. It was like I was reliving the time when I heard the news of Biggie and Tupac when they were murdered. The first time I heard Nipsey Hussle's music I was riding in the car and a local radio station began playing "Last time that I checc'd." I was bobbing my head wondering who this was. Beyond that I didn't know much about his music life and legacy until a magazine did a feature on him and Lauren London. It showed him standing in the middle of a typical Los Angeles street with a white horse with the familiar California palm trees on each side. This article talked about Nipsey's business ventures and aspirations of "buying back the block." He was truly inspirational. One who I believe John Perkins would say was living out the Community Development Principles (CCDA) of Relocation, Reconciliation and a just Redistribution of resources in the city. A local hometown man who decided to stay put and not "get out" the hood for a "better life."
In the past few days I have been struggling with how to process what my city is feeling, even what I am feeling. The pain, the hurt, the suffering, the anger, the confusion, and sense of hope all at the same time. My role as a pastor also pushes me to think theologically and practically how to move and address this in my church to the people both young, and old who heard about the news. The question that I keep coming back to is "What is the response of the church?" Before I can answer that question I have had to wrestle with if in fact the church is even relevant or will be listened to in this day and time.
How this might seem like a common occurrence in urban neighborhoods where poverty exists, this is NOT normal. This is not an issue of black-on-black crime. This is not the time to blame black people and black life. This is not even the time to blame black religious leaders or the local church. I think our first reaction though is to do that very thing. Instead let's step back and look for a moment at a larger narrative taking place here in Los Angeles.
I believe that if the church does not deal with the systems and structures of evil in the city, then it will not transform the lives of individuals in the city. I have been grieving over what has happened to Nipsey and the ripple effect is has had on his family and this city. This event has caused me to look at my theology and to recognize that my understanding of evil in the city was inadequate for ministering in Los Angeles in an effective way.
If we are going to understand the nature of evil in the city we must understand the primary systems in which a city operates. There is an order and a structure in which the way our world has been set up from the beginning. This order is cosmic in nature and social in practice. What I mean by that is that God has a created order in which the Spirit operates. That order is cosmic in nature. The world in which we live and the systems in which we operate are ordered as well. These primary systems under which we operate are political, economic, and religious. All the other social institutions (education, social services, healthcare, the arts) are all subsystems of the greater systems of a city. What our city needs is a liberated way of living apart from the evil forces that control and run these primary systems. I'm not one for "hocus pocus" theology, but what I have found was that our theology and action-oriented justice movements have been lacking clarity around the demonic forces (principalities, powers, and authorities ) that sit in high places.
Nipsey's killer was known to him. Reports have said, there was an argument and Eric Holder returned and shot Nipsey dead. Anger and confusion ensued and its lead to conspiracy theories about government involvement and a widely unfounded connection to the life of Dr. Sebi. Black people in the city are blaming other black people in the city and churches are blaming each other. I am hurting with this internal hate that we have heaped upon ourselves, for things that we are not addressing at the root. To kill a weed growing among the wheat you have got to get it at its root. I would argue the root of the issues we have in our city are spiritual forces at war. The city of Angles is the City of God which forces are fighting against the forces who are trying to make it the City of Satan.
In the same sense though, we do have a responsibility. We are responsible for our actions in our city. In the Old Testament God used Moses who took a group of slaves and liberated them and God made them a nation. That is what the life and legacy of Nipsey Hussle was as a modern day liberator for black youth. He had a past, he benefited from the underbelly of Pharaohs stuff, but transformed his thinking and came back to the city and told the gods of Pharaoh to let black people go!
The God of Isreal demands individual responsibility and social justice. The forces we face are not flesh and blood. The battles we fight in our city are not flesh and blood. These forces lie at the heart of every city. These forces permeate every structure and system of the city. Its permeates from the courtroom to the classroom, from politician podiums to preacher's pulpits. In addition these forces battle within US (Jordan Peele movie reference).
Finally, our liberation just as Nipsey's found liberation must include the task of community building. Whether it's liberating our families, ourselves, our churches, our businesses, our city of Los Angeles our nation or the world, we must do it under God living a new way of life as liberated people. I leave you with the words of the prophet Jeremiah 29:7
"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
Pete Watts is the Senior Pastor as The Rock Church in Los Angeles California and a Catalyst for Gospel Ventures Network.