Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk with out having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping it’s dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared. –Tupac Shakur
It may come as a surprise to some why, out of all the manifold topics relating to the resurrection of the Son of God, I chose to write about the late Tupac Shakur. I mean, how could I dare desecrate the glorious triumph of our Lord by weaving an avowed gangster with a criminal record and a penchant for profanity into the Easter narrative? How could I so easily overlook the drug use, the abrasive lyrics, and all the other adverse aspects of Mr. Shakur’s character while, simultaneously, have the audacity to suggest that there is something burrowed within the man that can shepherd faithful adherents of Christ towards a deeper understanding of the cosmic implications of the resurrection event? What can the godfather and architect of “Thug Life” teach the Church in the 21st century? I contend that such a man can teach us much more than we have ever previously considered, if we would only dare to listen.
No matter how one may personally view Tupac Shakur, it goes without question that urban hamlets around the world have given saint-like status to the slain rapper. Murals depicting the image and likeness of Tupac can be seen on the sides of convenient stores, recreation centers, as well as on the sides of buildings located in so-called developing nations all over the world. But why? Do they not know that he was a felon? Of course they do (many of them probably share the same distinction). Do they not realize that he smoked marijuana as if was a religious rite? Yes, and they probably share the same religious affections for herbs as well.
What the Church must realize, whether we agree with them or not, is that Tupac Shakur is seen as a global ambassador of the ghetto. His lyrics articulate the width and breath of every day ghetto life in the same manner that the literary works of James Baldwin and Richard Wright spoke to urban angst in the mid twentieth century. Though born and raised in some of the most impoverished communities in America, Tupac excelled in his grade school studies and remained a vivacious reader his entire life, being able to quote Shakespearean sonnets and Machiavellian exhortations from memory. It would seem that such a bright, African-American male would go on to teach in the halls of Cambridge or study under the renown professors of Oxford. However, Tupac felt his calling in life was to make music, brash, uncensored, and unfiltered music that spoke directly to impoverished youth in America and spoke directly at the societal ills he felt were root causes of their depravity.
Though we may have ample room to critique his methodology and praxis, as I feel we should, we must not afford to miss the magnitude of his work and how it has enraptured impoverished peoples around the world. Men and women in hamlets and boroughs around the world live by his words as if his lyrics were God-Breathed. Why? The answer is quite simple; Tupac articulated the pains and lamentations of the impoverished before the world. He took upon himself the burden of being the orator of the oppressed. Men and women who had no political representatives to lobby for their concerns could hear Tupac brazenly speak on the intricacies of ghetto life and the dearth of opportunities found amongst those who languished in despair. In Tupac lived the aspirations of many fettered souls. Songs like “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Smile’, “Changes”, and “Dear Mama” enshrouded a people naked with disgrace with honor, dignity, and hope if only for the 3:57 seconds the track lasted. When Tupac Shakur was shot on the Vegas strip on September 7, 1996 one would have thought a prophet was martyred the way urban communities languished in grief. Though I would not go so far as to say that Tupac was a prophet of God, I would say without reservation that he was the emissary of urban, ghetto youth. All things considered, the question still beckons, “What does such a polarized emissary have to do with the Resurrection of Christ?”
I’m glad you asked.
When speaking of Jesus, we have many names. Sometimes we refer to him by his kingly title of Lord. Other times we refer to him by the different roles he plays in our lives such as Redeemer or Savior. However, I feel that many feel uneasy about calling Jesus what many of his followers called him; Jesus of Nazareth. Why do we feign at ascribing his hometown to his first name? I contend that many of us feel that the name Nazareth is beneath Jesus. Nazareth no longer deserve to be mentioned alongside the Lord of the universe! Why would the Master want to be associated with impoverished, uneducated, oppressed Nazarenes? Did the apostles abandon that title as they went across the land preaching the Good News of the resurrected Lord? Not at all! In fact, they embraced it! Recall Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23)
Remember in whose name Peter offered healing to the lame beggar in Acts 3?
“But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)
Even if we go back to the Gospel accounts themselves we find Jesus affirming his Nazarene roots, even at the hour of his earthly demise:
So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He..”(John 18:7-8)
So why did Jesus and His followers embrace the title Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus embraced the title because the title was, in fact, who He was. He was Jesus of Nazareth and He is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus not only embraced the narrative of the impoverished; it was part of His identity. Jesus identified more with the oppressed and impoverished than the plutocrats and oligarchs of Israel. He is not known as Jesus the Aristocrat.
So what does all this have to do with His resurrection, even more so Tupac Shakur? Everything. We as Christians should not fear the lyrics of Tupac or disregard them as a nonsensical assortment of profane madness. Tupac desired to bring change to all those languished in poverty, but could not. Tupac sought to be the advocate of ghetto youth across the world, but could adequately or fully represent them all. While we readily see Jesus as the greater Moses and the greater Job, allow me to submit a new title to the already extensive list of credentials tailoring our Risen King — Jesus is the Greater Tupac.
What Tupac longed to accomplish in his flesh, Jesus accomplished in the victory of his resurrection. Religious people may hold rituals to commemorate the Son of God being raised from the dead, but poor people across the world need to hear that this Son of God was a poor Nazarene, and a Nazarene was raised from the dead. Jesus does not only know about poverty; He lived without much financial stake to claim.
Someone needs to ask the impoverished today, “What’s a ghetto to a man born in a manger?”
Poor people who protest over lack of representation in their local government can rest confidently knowing that they have a Nazarene advocating their cause in the Godhead.
Though many will still say that this revelation is insufficient insofar as the knowledge of the resurrection does not bring economic and political liberation to the millions of individuals around the world who can hardly provide for themselves, let alone their families. Many would say that I am only proselytizing a pie-in-the-sky type of faith that gives the oppressors the right to continue their corruptible and unjust practices.
Far from it!
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was criticized for thinking governmental involvement would aide in the plight for racial reconciliation, Dr. King eloquently replied, “Legislation can not make a man love me, but can stop him from lynching me, and that’s a start.’
In the same vein, though knowledge of the Christ’s roots, in conjunction with his triumphant resurrection will not ,in and of itself, cause oppressive regimes to do justice in the earth immediately, it does free those who languish under the iron yoke of their regimes, which is a wonderful redemptive start.
Tupac marveled at the rose that grew from the concrete, thus proving nature’s laws were wrong. The Greater Tupac implores impoverished people the world over to realize that his crucifixion was the ultimate form of injustice and oppression, making his resurrection was the ultimate triumph, proving the laws of tyrannical dictators and unjust systems of governance wrong. Through the Resurrection, Jesus invites poor people across the world to bask in the fragrance of the Greater Resurrection Rose that springs forth into human history, inviting all to do likewise.
Tupac was on to something after all.