As a mother of teens I am learning fast that rap is not an art form for the faint-hearted (I’ve already weathered the metal phase…more on that another time!), but when I came across one Iranian rap video which has been trending through twitter during the course of the last week, it took my understanding of the protest element of rap lyrics to a whole new level. As I listened, I could hear the familiar themes which litter the Biblical Psalms – lament against war, injustice, oppression, tyranny…
Lose your life but do not accept injustice. Can you not hear people begging for help? Why should people be killed with bullets, bombs and tanks? Even if I am drowned in my own blood I will not shut up!
The psalmist speaks of God Himself being the rescuer of the oppressed in Psalm 72
Because he rescues the poor at the first sign of need, the destitute who have run out of luck. He opens a place in his heart for the down-and-out, he restores the wretched of the earth.
He then goes on to say
He frees them from tyranny and torture – when they bleed, he bleeds; when they die, he dies.
Solidarity in suffering and advocacy on behalf of the blighted is a powerful witness to the integrity of the human spirit which recognises that another’s suffering casts a shadow over each of us. When one suffers we all suffer. However distant we are from those who fall under tyranny, their fall is our fall too. However, what sets this solidarity/lament rap apart from the nature of a biblical psalm (musicality aside!) is the very personal feelings of revenge which the rappers have towards the oppressor. Walter Wink points out that revenge defeats the power of genuine resistance against evil by mirroring and perpetuating evil. The psalmist reminds us that revenge belongs to God
O LORD, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth! (Psalm 94:1)
That’s not to say that passivity is all we have in the face of injustice and oppression, resistance can be very active and very passionate without becoming violent, as Martin Luther King Jr. points out in his principles of non-violence:
Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice…The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.
Or, in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 12
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. .. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
John Paul Lederach writes extensively on conflict transformation as an integral part of a reconciling faith. I close this short reflection with his words, hoping and praying that they come to pass for the people of Homs:
To reduce violence requires that we address the presenting issues and content of an episode of conflict, and also its underlying patterns and causes. This requires us to address justice issues. While we do that, we must proceed in an equitable way toward substantive change. People must have access and voice in decisions that affect their lives. In addition, the patterns that create injustice must be addressed and changed at both relational and structural levels. (Lederach 2003,21)