by Mark Taylor
Editor’s Note: The content of this article was developed in Advanced Studies in Youth, Church and Culture taught by Andrew Zirschky at Memphis Theological Seminary in partnership with CYMT. To learn more about the CYMT graduate residency, visit cymt.org.
With her flashy appearance, brash disposition, and multiple personalities, Nicki Minaj has become an outspoken leader in the world of hip-hop. However, her vulgar lyrics, questionable morals, and arrogant attitude have led many Christians to tune out. What could we possibly learn from a Nicki Minaj song whose chorus focuses on metaphorical defecation? More than you might think.
In “Did it on ‘Em,” Nicki refers to those people who have desired the failure of her career in the hip-hop industry as bitches, hoes, and other variations of these terms. She then insults them time and time again in her lyrics, concluding in the chorus that she has taken a metaphorical dump on them. For proof of her success, Nicki Minaj points to everything she has accomplished. Nicki refers to her driving a Bentley Continental, living where the [expletive] “pools and trees is,” carrying several hundred dollars around with her, buying flawless diamonds, and carrying wet-wipes incase a bum tries to touch her. She has arrived. We can measure success and value in America by what we have accomplished.
Nicki has had to prove herself in a competitive music industry, in a majority male industry. She has had to prove herself to those who have come before her. She takes this personally. Her lyrics spit anger, frustration, and vengeance. But she has achieved, she has arrived, and therefore her self-worth has been defined. Nicki lives in a world that values people based on what they can accomplish; she gains respect by selling albums and breaking chart records. This success then allows her to consume more than other people in her same business. Her worth has been determined.
If one is not accomplishing something, he or she is lazy. This lesson is taught from an early age. We reward for good grades, for skills in athletics, for mastery in music, for excellence in clubs, for participation in clubs, for production in companies, and so on and so on. We can set ourselves apart, distance ourselves from others by what we accomplish. Yet when we come to the communion table on a Sunday morning, these accomplishments don’t seem to matter.
At the communion table, all are invited to remember Christ’s last meal with his disciples before he was betrayed and killed. At the communion table, bankers, teachers, stay-at-home-parents, firefighters, McDonald’s workers, and business executives enter into a reverent ritual where class and accomplishments mean nothing. The communion table is a leveling field. People are not brought down from high positions in society, rather all are brought up to the value and worth each one has intrinsically just as a child of God.
Psalm 139 demonstrates the care given to each individual—we were knit together in our mother’s womb by the hand of God. Communion offers us a reality different from that of society, the reality that our worth is not based on merit or accomplishment. Rather our worth comes from our creator, in the imago dei. Nicki has strived to achieve, accomplish, and prove everyone wrong. She can now hold her achievements in front of her competition and her rivals. But these won’t last forever, and where does her worth go if she fades from the limelight?
Not only does the reality presented by communion change Nicki’s perception of herself, her perception of her rivals, but it also changes our perspective on artists like Nicki who seem to be a show of color, image, and sex. Though we may disagree with the musical content, or the level of talent displayed, underneath we recognize a child of God striving for the love and approval in everyone but the being who can truly give it.
Our own students are overworked and busy beyond belief, and a great deal of this is a result of a production/consumer based society. Our youth ministries even reflect this sometimes. We may unknowingly tend to favor the students who show up at every event, ask the best questions, seem to “get it”—we want our students to produce, if only for their own good. Have we studied our Bible enough, have we served enough times at a soup kitchen, have we been the worship assistant on Sunday mornings, are we involved in enough committees? We may have placed works-based salvation in the grave during the Reformation, but we are reluctant to fill the hole with dirt.
How greatly this contrasts with Ephesians 2: 8-10, which tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” And also Romans 5: 6-8, which says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
God valued us enough to love us when we were in our worst possible state. God’s recognition of our value and worth has nothing to do with what we can accomplish or achieve. Paul counts all his accomplishments as trash when he considers the unbelievable joy found through life in Christ Jesus.(1) This life is found at the communion table, the communion table demonstrating the value placed in our lives from a creator who loves us enough to sacrifice his life for ours.
Bentley Continentals, pools, hundred dollar bills, record labels, platinum albums, musical talent—these things do not change the efficacy of the communion table. A low paying job, a trophy-less shelf, a C average, divorced parents—these things do not change the efficacy of the communion table. When we realize that our worth depends on the Creator who assigned the worth, we are freed from the pressure to perform, to achieve, to succeed. When we realize our worth as the imago dei, we no longer value other people based on what they can or cannot accomplish. Nicki is desperately trying to demonstrate her own value (as many celebrities are), but she is not greater, nor inferior, to anyone else found at the communion table.
Philippians 3:8: Paul lists his accomplishments for his readers and then says that all of these amount to nothing without Jesus as the head of his life.
CYMT is excited about its newest endeavor, Theology Together. Theology Together educates both teenagers and youth workers as they engage in theological reflection, spiritual practice, vital service, and vocational discernment. The Theology Together process produces reflective action that is embedded in the fabric of youth ministry in all of its contexts. We believe strongly that youth are theologians and belong at the center of tough, life-changing dialogue around faith, relationships, and life. We place teenagers in the driver seat alongside their youth pastors and leaders, equipping each individual to think differently about youth ministry, to provoke a sense of awe and wonder: a WOW moment.
Youth theology is theology built upon the simple doctrinal principle of the priesthood of all believers, and takes that principle right down to its natural conclusion: that all believers, including youth, teens, adolescents, etc. are theologians. It is theology that values all youth as theologians. Here we will share with you how to engage with youth theology in your own ministry.
A few weeks ago, we shared the launch of Theology Together 2.0. Today, Dwight (the director of Theology Together) will be sharing with us one experience […]