You might not know this about me, but I had a rap phase.
I’m serious – I was really into it!
My Rap Phase
When I got to college, I got really into rap music. I didn’t perform it, but I listened to a lot. If you were to turn on the music of Nelly, Usher, Ludacris, Eminem or Jay-Z from the early 2000s, I’d know a lot of their lyrics from memory. A friend of mine and I once drove home from a late-night cram session during finals, rapping every word to Nelly’s Must Be the Money and Ride Wit Me. We must have been quite a sight in my beige-colored Buick Century at 3 AM in West Phoenix!
Now, before you ask, the answer is no! No, I will not demonstrate my knowledge. I’m sure an uncoordinated white guy rapping now would be just as awkward as it was then. My wife appreciates this decision, as she has requested I restrict my singing to Sundays at church and the shower.
While I’m not into rap anymore (nor do I think many of these lyrics reflect my personal values), I have found some benefits to that phase. One of those benefits involves Eminem.
What Eminem and 8 Mile Showed Me
Recently, I was reminded of a scene from a movie I watched during that phase. In 2003, Eminem starred in a semi-autobiographical movie entitled 8 Mile. The movie has more F-bombs than any I had ever seen. As such, the scene I’m about to describe has a lot of that kind of language, but the essence of it is extremely profound. (It’s on YouTube if you want to search for it.)
In the final climactic scene (spoiler alert), Eminem’s character, Rabbit, is making a second attempt at winning a public “rap battle.” The first attempt ended with him freezing with nothing to say, departing the stage in shame. The second attempt comes at the end of the film and just by looking in his eyes, the audience knows something has changed in the hero.
Eminem ends up in the final round against the primary villain of the film, Pappa-Doc. Pappa-Doc allows Rabbit to go first, as he believes he’ll freeze again. Instead, Eminem begins hyping the crowd and launches into the battle. His spontaneous rap is filled with unexpected content.
In these battles, each rapper typically fills his lyrics with insults, demeaning every part of their opponent (and their mom and their friends) in order to win the crowd and contest.
Rabbit takes a different approach, beginning with all of his weaknesses. He robs Pappa-Doc of his material by spotlighting all of his personal flaws and the brokenness of his family. He then turns the tables on Pappa-Doc by highlighting the lies he is hiding about his own family. Rabbit ends by throwing the mic into Pappa-Doc’s chest, saying, “Tell these people something about me they don’t already know.”
To the shock of the crowd and Rabbit, Pappa-Doc freezes and cannot get any lyrics out, as Rabbit once did. The crowd explodes with celebration as Pappa-Doc walks off the stage in shame, leaving Rabbit victorious.
In the theater that night, Eminem taught me an important lesson. Our weaknesses don’t have to be liabilities; they can be a source of strength.
[callout] During this month, I’ll be sharing a series of posts on the theme of weakness. We live in a culture which seeks to minimize weakness, maximize strength, hide deficiencies, and augment imperfections. However, what if we’ve lost something in running from or trying to fix all of our weaknesses? If you’d like to receive these articles or future hopeful posts in your inbox, enter your email address in the box below. [/callout]
The Way of Rappers and Pastors?
Despite the rough language, this scene has always stuck with me. And it came to mind again as I listened to Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin share during the book tour for their newest release, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path to Power in a Church That Has Abandoned It.
Strobel and Goggin shared how their careers began with grand dreams of public success. For Strobel, it was academia. For Goggin, it was pastoring. Each of them grew up around successful parents. (Strobel’s dad, Lee, is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. Goggin married the daughter of pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren.)
Yet, each of them experienced massive disappointment. Strobel couldn’t get hired after finishing his doctorate, forced to move back into his parents’ house with his wife. Goggin was let go from his church and unemployed for two years.
During their remarks, they shared how they became disillusioned with their grandiose dreams and realized the path they were pursuing ran counter to the way of Jesus, the center of their common faith. For the last several years, they’ve traveled across North America, interviewing seven sages of the Christian faith. They researched how weakness, not strength, is the path to power for a follower of Jesus. “This is a power known through death and resurrection – moving through our weakness to a new kind of strength – strength in abiding, submitting and resting in God alone.”
They Discovered What Paul Already Knew
As I drove home from the book tour event, I thought of that scene from 8 Mile. When Rabbit embraced his weaknesses and owned them, he robbed Pappa-Doc of his power and discovered a new source of strength. What could have defeated Rabbit instead led to his victory.
This approach reminded me of one of the Apostle Paul’s most well-known phrases. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul explains how he interprets his weakness. He mentions a struggle he is facing, which God has not removed despite Paul’s requests for deliverance. Paul writes this powerful reflection, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible.
“So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.“
This idea was as counter-intuitive and unexpected then as it is today. Just before these verses in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes in Chapter 11 how the super-apostles (think well-spoken, admired, skilled leaders) in Corinth wowed their audiences with their impressive resumes and impeccable talent. In contrast, Paul lists his sufferings and struggles as a missionary and church planter as his resume and source of pride. He rested his confidence in what he had endured and the strength he found in embracing his weaknesses.
While many of us love Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, I question how many of us have consistently applied them. I wonder if we regularly admit and embrace our weaknesses publicly. I wonder if we recognize the path to power and divine strength is often away from comfort and pride and towards weakness and vulnerability.
Have we overlooked weakness in our culture and discarded it prematurely, without examination?
Following Eminem and Paul
Now, I’m not suggesting Eminem is a role model on the level of the Apostle Paul, but they both taught me important lessons recently. Drawing on the scenes mentioned above, they have outlined a path we can all follow in owning our weaknesses and finding new strength.
1. Choose to Resist Imposter Syndrome
When Rabbit attempted to be what he’s not, he froze and failed on the stage. I know this temptation all too well. Like many of you, I battle Imposter Syndrome.
“Imposter Syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’…Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
If this description feels accurate for you (like it often does for me), then you know how easy it is to be tempted to fake it out of fear that others will discover the “truth about us.” We have convinced ourselves we don’t have what it takes and are just waiting for the other shoe to drop as “they” figure it out.
If we go in the other direction and resist this temptation, our authenticity enables us and those around us to see who we truly are – far more capable and lovable than we once conceived. When we admit our fears and weaknesses, people are often drawn to us, not repeled like our fear deceives us into thinking. Author and leadership expert Craig Groeschel ends his podcast each month with the following reminder,
Author and leadership expert Craig Groeschel ends his podcast each month with the following reminder, “People would rather follow a leader who is always real than a leader who is always right.”
2. Admit and embrace your weaknesses.
What’s funny is that Rabbit didn’t share anything about himself during his rap that the crowd and Pappa-Doc didn’t already know. But when he admitted and embraced his weaknesses, he transformed them.
Most of the people around us are well-aware of our weaknesses. When we admit and embrace them, other people move closer to us because they trust us more. We’ve had the courage to admit something they’ve been waiting for us to own. While we might feel more imperfect than ever before, people around us often trust us now more than ever.
3. Discover God’s grace in your weaknesses.
While Paul pleaded with God to take away his “thorn” (scholars speculate but don’t know what this challenge was for Paul), he discovered the sufficiency of God’s grace in his weakness, not in his strength. In fact, he experienced God’s greatest strength in his place of weakness.
How crazy would it be if you became strongest in the place you feel most weak or ashamed?! Like Pauls suggests and Rabbit embodies, we can boast in our weakness. When we admit and embrace our weakness, we discover a new reservoir of God’s grace.
We cannot receive God’s grace where we refuse to acknowledge our need for it.
What Stands In Your Way?
I never thought I’d pull together Eminem, the Apostle Paul, and a theology book in one blog post. But some experiences have unsettled me, challenging me to re-examine my perspective on weakness. I hope this post has done the same for you too.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What stands in your way when it comes to admitting and embracing your weakness? How has your perspective on weakness been a harmful view to hold?