The Reverend Dr. Charles E. Goodman, Jr. serves as the Senior Pastor/Teacher of The Historic Tabernacle Baptist Church of Augusta, GA. but don’t get it twisted this Gen X Hip-Hop leaning preacher knows exactly what is cracking in these streets. Voted Gospel Today as one of “America’s Most Loved Pastors” and consistently popping owt on the Outreach Magazine‘s top “Youngest Mega-Church Pastors” list, this accomplished author of four books (all that concentrate on Christian development for the church including the millennial truth-seeker) breaks down in very candid terms the impact of Juice WRLD’s death… offering reason and hope for his fans and the bereaved rap world.
Are you familiar with Juice WRLD’s music and the tragic end of his life?
Yes. Juice WRLD as an artist represents a new school of Hip-Hop that is somewhat hybrid with Emo culture. Juice WRLD represents an artist who has intellectually and socially monetized themselves through personal transparency and social media. I think it is a reoccurring issue that we see happening more and more in Hip-Hop. At some level, people become more acquainted with the music and the personality posthumously due to the connectivity of social media.
I personally became familiar with Juice through his song “Lucid Dreams.”
After his passing, a friend of mine recalled reading a wonderful reflection on his life and music in the New Yorker entitled “The Beautiful Vulnerability of Juice WRLD.” My friend remarked that in this meditation, the author sought to give voice to the vast range of complexities captured in the life of one young and gifted artist. One of the most moving lines—and there were many—was when she noted that the world often speaks of Black boys and their anger… but rarely on their sadness; Juice forced us to see that.
As an artist, Juice WRLD poured out his anxiety and fears with candor as he articulated his heart out in his lyrics. He rapped about things that people normally numb themselves to and try to avoid. Like pills, lean, or alcohol, “the romances that absorbed him were just another way to disappear, another way to feel something else.” His sincerity and authenticity spoke deeply to a generation who have been raised to believe that vulnerability was the next thing to death and that transparency was not bravery but cowardice.
The artist talks about the struggles that he had with addiction often, however he never wanted to stop and believed his recreational use of it was fine. What is the message you have for his fans?
If I was to sit down with one of his fans—many of whom are in our homes, our schools and definitely in our churches—I think the first thing I would say is that it’s okay to cry and express emotions.
Though that sounds paradoxical as it relates to giving practical advice for moving on, it is the place that I would start. Lament is helpful in the process of grief. Too often we have moved too quickly pass the pain. In any situation of trauma, which many addictions tell the deeper story of trauma, there is the presence of some area where healing is not taking place. There is a story of alienation and disenfranchisement, whether it be personal, social, religious, etc., that is searching for a place to disappear and become invisible.
Being able to cry is first and foremost an invitation to feel and release. Too many young people are growing up conditioned not to feel or heal. To cry is to allow oneself the freedom of feeling that does not lean toward triumph or despair, answered questions or misguided hopes, but simply to be in the moment and allow yourself to tell the truth of what has happened, is happening and what can happen.
I would also say, drug use, on the other hand, is dangerous and self-medicating as a coping mechanism can have deadly results. Talking about drugs is not enough without introducing help to people’s lives. Therapy and a focus on mental health are important, and temporary fixes, like drugs, can do permanent damage. Hip-Hop has shifted from the soundtrack of the drug dealers to the psalms of the drug users. This narrative has to be stopped.
So, for me, the goal should be to allow space for transparency as I talk with a young fan. It should also point in the direction of healing and wholeness in such a way that the fan really asks the question: Does this way to healing work for the total me?
We need to reflect on the ways that we have been taught to grieve or to heal and dive deep into the best path forward that honors our humanity as well as pushes us into deeper ways of loving ourselves, our neighbors, and our God.
Does your church do outreach to young people that are similar to Juice that seem to not get that recreational drugs are dangerous or is it a wait until there is a crisis?
Our church tries to attract people from all walks of life, not with a specific and targeted evangelistic campaign, but with a commitment to intentionally creating safe spaces of worship and conversation. The struggle is knowing that no matter what approaches we experiment with, we will not reach all those we intend to. If one young person is passing away in our community from drug overdose then it is obviously not enough. It seems as if some of the anti-drug campaigns of previous generations may need to be re-introduced and re-imagined. The church has to provide holistic ministry and mental health support for the people that we are called to minister to and reach.
Why should the church care and why should Hip-Hop care about the church things?
I think the church should care because the reality is that Jesus cares about EVERYBODY. So much is at stake for many of the people who are like Juice and who resonate with Juice. If we look at the ministry and the message of Jesus, there is a thread that runs through His life that identifies with those who are socially “other” or religious “outcasts” as the crux of what the Kingdom of God should be about and the embodiment of what it means to move from stranger and enemy to family and friend.
In a great conversation with a bright brother, Dante Stewart, we discussed the church and Hip-Hop culture. Jesus did not simply tolerate people, but he sought to be a loving, liberating, healthy, and whole alternative to the ways human life took form. To use the language of Paul Lehmann, Jesus came to “make human life more human.” This means that the ways that humanity has been constructed and who counts as human became a spiritual, moral, and political problem. So to become human for Jesus meant the healing of the destruction and displacement of humanity; to put things right with our relation to ourselves, our neighbor (human and nonhuman), and our God.
The church and Hip-Hop are both vital threads that make up the beautiful fabric of African-American culture. The church and Hip-Hop live and intersect on the avenue of influence and identity. It does the African-American culture well for these two incredibly powerful entities to collaborate, cooperate and complement as opposed to clashing. Hip-Hop comes to the church for their funerals, Hip-Hop comes to the church for their weddings, Hip-Hop comes to church for their counseling. The church has leaned on Hip-Hop financially, the church has been greatly influenced by Hip-Hop. Some of the greatest Hip-Hop artists of all time have roots from substantial time and tutelage in church. We cannot disassociate from what we are most intrinsically intertwined with.
Too often young people who resonate deeply with Hip-Hop also find some incongruencies with the life of the church when it comes to their lives and witness in the world. Of course, there are many reasons for this, all of which do not fall to blame on either the church or the young. But one of the biggest reasons is that many young people do not see Black churches as real agents of social justice, emotional health, deep spiritual awareness and experience, and a family to belong to.
Why would a successful person like Juice – fall into addiction and why does it look so fun?
I don’t think Juice WRLD is different from many people that we encounter every day who struggle and succumb to the dangers of addiction and drug use. We see the reoccurring theme that coping with pressure in unhealthy ways has dangerous physical pressures and results. It looks fun because we see the use and seemingly euphoric experience but rarely do we see the after impact.
Moments like this are sobering because we always assume that the use is fun without pausing to consider the consequences. People are followers, we typically try and fix our problems in the way we see others fix their problems which are not necessarily always the best result.
Another angle is that people use drugs to mimic an artist who is using the same drug as a form of idolization.
Jesus had fun too? Luke 7:34 and Matthew 11:19 what’s the difference?
Yes, Jesus did have fun, however, His fun was always within context and moderation.
Even the fun that Jesus is referring to in these passages is in the context of the fun that John the Baptist did not have. The passage here states the “fun” that Jesus had was a ministry tool in order to reach a certain demographic. Fun within itself is not a sin, however, fun does have to be defined and put into proper context and perspective. Fun should not lead to destructive.