Psalm 73 is a Rap Song

Psalm 73 is a rap song. Let me explain...

This semester in Bible study we’ve been asking the question, “Who is God?” That question—and our search for answers—has taken us on a journey through the Old Testament and New. Last week we found ourselves in the psalter.

One of my favorite questions to ask students when studying the psalms is, “If you heard this song on the radio, what would it sound like?” After kicking around some ideas, students unanimously agreed— “Psalm 73 is a rap song.”

“It’s written by a guy named Asaph,” said one of them. “That even sounds like a rapper’s name! Just write it A$APH.” I laughed.

I pointed out that Asaph was writing at a time of real political and cultural upheaval and that a lot of his songs deal with many of the same issues hip-hop artists rap about today. In an article on the relationship between hip-hop and politics, David Love writes that hip-hop has long been “a medium to express the hopes and frustrations of a disenfranchised community. “Hip-hop speaks up for the underdog.” It draws on current events and inserts political commentary. It speaks truth to power. Hip-hop does all of the above. Psalm 73 does too.

The psalms are songs you can imagine hearing on the radio. Their lyrics are poetic; they're very visual, rich in imagery. As an artistic medium—combining sights and sounds—the psalms have a lot in common with today's music videos.

As we worked our way through Psalm 73, students began describing the ways they might direct Psalm 73 as a music video. When Asaph describes the arrogant and wicked (“bodies are fat and sleek… not in pangs as others are…pride is their necklace…loftily they threaten oppression, etc.”) the students described scenes featuring balding white men smoking cigars in a cushy office overlooking a factory floor; drug-dealers driving through ghettos in limousines, bling dangling from their necks; rich politicians sending America’s poor to fight its wars; etc.

I asked the students, “Where does Asaph fit in this music video?” “He’s the limousine driver,” they said. “He’s working the factory floor. He’s waiting tables at the fancy DC restaurant. He’s sitting at an empty kitchen table with his wife; there is a solitary light bulb hanging over the kitchen table; Asaph and his wife are sitting near the shadows, alone, head in hands, trying to decide if they pay the electricity bill or groceries this month.”

“This is good! This is good!” I tell them. Keep going!”

Asaph storms off the factory floor, or he slams his hand on the kitchen table and storms out: “I’ve had it! ‘All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.’ Here I am—trying to be faithful, trying to do the right thing, not cutting corners—and for what? For what! Stupid! Pointless! I quit!”

Up to this point, Asaph’s rap has had a steady, pounding beat, his voice slowly getting louder and louder. But then, the rap stops. The song gets real quiet, and the screen goes dark.

Asaph’s faith is hanging on by a thread…just like that light bulb in the kitchen.

And then a whisper is heard: “If I had said thus, I would have betrayed the generation of your children.”

The screen lightens up. The beat starts up again. Asaph is sitting in the back pew of a church. It too is dimly lit—but light is penetrating the darkness. Asaph’s faith has been pushed to the limits; he’s about to go over the edge; he’s ready to let go, but God is not letting go of him: “I was like a beast toward you. But I am continually with you, and you are continually with me. You hold my right hand.”

There, in the back pew, Asaph sees God afresh and his own life from God’s perspective. Asaph, who once was envious of the arrogant and wicked—who wanted what they had and was ready to trade it all in—raps now, at the very end, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.”

“Who is God in this psalm?” I ask the students. He is present. He is powerful. But my favorite answer that day: “He is Asaph’s friend.” Indeed he is. He is ours too.

John Meinen, Campus Minister at University of Vermont
December 2, 2016

Breaking the Barrier

At University of Delaware, students who are not Christians don't tend to come to Christian group events. That's for "them" not for "us." There is a bit of a feeling among Christians students that their non-Christian friends would not even be interested in coming to something hosted by a campus ministry. This dynamic between Christian and non-Christian students creates a barrier. Through RUF that barrier is slowly crumbling. We regularly have social events that are great avenues for believing students and non-believing students to have a good time, often in our house. We open our home, show love, care, hospitality to students and watch as they go from skeptical and wary of this RUF pastor and his wife, to faces that smile when they see me on campus because they know that we care about this campus and love students. We recently had a Halloween party at our house and of the 20-25 students present, probably about 10 or so were non-Christians. We pray that God would use these small but consistent efforts to sound forth the gracious welcome of the gospel to students who desperately need to come home spiritually and find the loving embrace of the God who welcomes us in and through Christ.

Nick Owens, Campus Minister at University of Delaware
November 10, 2016

To Care and Not to Care

In T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday,” he offers a prayer for us sinners struggling in the world, and one of his specific prayers reads: “Teach us to care and not to care.” As one ministering on a campus full of high-achieving students, this paradox keeps me grounded.

On the one hand, Harvard students live lives focused on the future. They keep a break-neck pace, and they’re all incredibly gifted. They will leave Harvard, and shape the future of our culture. Even now they tend to think about their involvements as investments – items to be weighed by opportunity-costs. As a ministry of the gospel, we want to equip and encourage them to bring the gospel to bear in their current and future endeavors. We want them to care, and to care in the way that Christ cares!

On the other hand, Harvard students can easily buy into a narrative that is not only potentially misguided in life, but also spiritually toxic. That narrative begins with the mythology of merit – the belief that you are what you do. Your value as a person derives from your accomplishments. This narrative has no place for limitations or contingencies, for failure, or for the Providence of God. It is has no place for an identity forged by another – namely, Christ. That narrative ends with a mythology of access – the belief that when you achieve enough you will enter into ever more wonderful benefits. Those benefits may be material or social, but the hope is always that you will move to some new plain. This portion of the narrative has no place for the mundane aspects of life, and feeds on an inherent elitism. It has no place for the spiritual-leveling of the church. We do not want them to care about this narrative – but to care about who their identity in Christ with the church.

The challenge of college ministry everywhere – but especially at high-achieving universities – is to teach this paradox: “To care and not to care.” Pray for student to learn a different animating narrative that overwhelms that self-driven narrative – the Christian story that really is more beautiful, powerful, compelling than any other! But pray that it will animate them to care in an even more powerful way!

Jeremy M. Mullen, Campus Minister at Harvard University
October 31, 2016

RUF Supper Club is making an impact!

I just wanted to give you a brief update 4 weeks into our new year and give the Lord praise for what we are seeing. We have had four straight weeks of consistent numbers in the 40-50 range at our weekly RUF Supper Club (Wednesday nights 6:00 pm). This is the new format for our Large Group meeting with a free dinner, worship and message from 6 to about 7:10 pm. Demographics and understanding the specific factors of the Maryland campus and schedule brought this new change. We are seeing commuter students (a big part of UMD student body) stay on campus a little later and join us for dinner and fellowship. We are seeing overwhelmed Engineering and STEM students come consistently because 'ya gotta eat" and the meeting is not so long that they feel their night is spent and they can't study for that calculus exam. We are seeing new students and freshmen come and enjoy the night and connect with existing students in the dinner table fellowship. Overall it's been a real shot in the arm and I'm basically doing back flips in my mind as I preach through some Gospel stories. My series this semester is "Conversations with Jesus: Ultimate Questions."

Chris Garriott, Campus Minister at University of Maryland
September 28, 2016

Sticky Fellowship

Like so many other RUF chapters across the country, RUF at Boston University will be promoting our organization to incoming freshmen and transfer students once school begins the week of Labor Day. BU has 500 + student clubs and organizations, so it is easy to imagine RUF’s voice getting lost in the noise. (This is the first time RUF has done freshmen outreach at BU.)

What I pray for (and would ask you to pray for) is that RUF would be a sticky fellowship. What I mean by that is that when we hand out free bottled water, a Koozie, or an icy popsicle in two weeks that something about that interaction would stick with the student—a friendly greeting, a conversation, a warm invitation to our first event. Pray that RUF will be a place where people find friends that stick, that share the generous love of God with each other, that have fun together.

RUF is about fellowship and building relationships with fellow students, but lots of other student clubs can claim that purpose. But RUF is also about fellowship with God. So, most importantly, we pray for RUF to be a fellowship where people can meet the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Nathan Dicks, Campus Minister at Boston University
August 29, 2016

Gathering New Sheep

A new school year is just around the bend. First-year students are moving into their dorms on Friday; classes start on Monday. The first six weeks of college are a critical time in these students' lives. The decisions they make (e.g., will you stay out late and party or will you finish your homework?) and the friends they choose will set the tone/course for the next four years. With that in mind, we want to meet as many students as possible so that they know:
  1. They are welcome here (at RUF and UVM);
  2. They are not alone (a lot of people share the same fears, anxieties, doubts, concerns);
  3. They are loved by God;
  4. They are loved by us (RUF staff and students);
  5. They have a purpose (God is redeeming the world, and they have a part to play).
How do we meet students these first six weeks? Putting up posters, handing out free donuts, organizing hikes, hosting BBQs, meeting students for coffee—it all seems so ordinary, and yet, behind the scenes, something extraordinary is happening: the Good Shepherd is gathering his sheep. Please pray for His and our efforts to reach students for Christ and equip them to serve. Thanks!

John Meinen, Campus Minister at University of Vermont
August 22, 2016

From Birmingham to the Big Apple

When Megan and I started seminary many years ago one of the things we longed for in ministry was to serve in a place where Christians and the Gospel are hard to find. Six weeks ago my family and I moved from a city where Christians are plentiful (Birmingham, AL) to a city Christians are an oddity (New York, NY). Why on earth would we move to a tiny apartment in NYC with three children 4 years old and under!? Well, here in New York there are nearly 1 million college students and fewer than 5% of them have any meaningful connection to Jesus and his church. The RUF ministry here, called City Campus, is a city-wide ministry seeking to reach these students with the Good News of the risen Jesus.

In the short time we’ve been here I’ve noticed that students here feel immense pressure to be extraordinary. Most of them came from communities where they were exceptional, but when they arrived in New York they realized there are thousands of other people just as talented and gifted as them in their area of expertise. For many students here, RUF City Campus has become a different kind of community, a community where they are not defined by what they achieve but by what Jesus has achieved on their behalf. This frees them to be honest about their weaknesses without fear and celebrate their successes without self-promotion. I am thrilled to begin leading this ministry and walking with these students as we learn together how to rest in Jesus more fully every day.

Matthew Terrell, Campus Minister at City Campus (NYC)
July 21, 2016

RUF and the Church

RUF at General Assembly
June 2016

Students from MIT at the New England RUF Fall Conference

Supper Club at the University of Maryland

Welcome Week at University of Delaware

Welcome Week at Millersville University

Welcome Week at University of Maryland

Welcome Week at Lehigh University

RUF PITT students celebrate victory after a little beach volleyball

Millersville students hanging out by the pool • 610-691-0988 • 631 Fourth Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18018