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Hello, fellow wayfarers … What the Kendrick Lamar / Drake rappers’ feud can show us about real life turning into fandom … What I want my son to know about life after high school graduation … Why I hate the word hospitality … a Desert Island Bookshelf from Sweet Home Mississippi … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Russell Moore

Reality Is Now a Diss Track

Not since Tupac died have we seen the country quite as fixated on a feud between rappers. Over the past several weeks, artists Drake and Kendrick Lamar kept the news cycle abuzz with their dueling diss tracks—ridiculing each other in trivial matters of height and weight and popularity before getting nastier with implications of secret love children and the possible grooming of minors.

As the lyrics amped up, police even investigated whether the argument was related to a shooting of a security guard outside Drake’s home in Toronto. For most people, though, the feud didn’t seem dangerous; it just seemed fun. And that’s what worries me.

I am far from qualified to judge who the better artist is between Drake and Lamar. My dogs were named Waylon and Willie, but, come to think of it, the Outlaws wrote a diss track or two themselves. Even so, if this were just a story about musicians’ egos battling, it could be quickly forgotten. The greater concern is not that these two artists have diss tracks, but that we are all living in one ourselves.

Drake and Lamar obviously do have some genuine dislike of each other. I share sarcastic barbs with a good friend sometimes, but I’ve never accused him of being a pedophile or of neglecting his child support. And yet, it also seems that much of this feud is theatrical—meant to mutually benefit them both.

After all, the question in the music industry press right now is not whether restraining orders will be sought but whose tracks are beating whose on the charts. The truth is, no matter who is “winning” or “losing” in that competition, both are winning. People are listening, if only to see which one will hit lyrically lower, jab more personally.

And the consuming audience wins too. It’s one thing to be a fan. It gives fandom an extra hit of adrenaline, though, to move that fandom from liking someone’s work to liking someone’s work while hating someone else’s. That transcends genres and platforms. Not long ago, some fans were enraged by DC Comics writer Tom Taylor’s musings that he would like to revisit some aspects of the backstory of the character Batgirl. They showed it by posting pictures of them burning photographs of Taylor’s face. He responded by posting, “I write COMIC BOOKS.”

This would be one thing if it were limited to fandoms vicariously living out virtual feuds, posing their favorite artists / movie franchises / characters / video game avatars / restaurant chains as imaginary gladiators at war with one another. The problem is that, as with so much else, these online realities are becoming real world realities. And they are affecting every part of life, including that of the church.

Texas Monthly recently highlighted the way that many Eastern Orthodox church communities in the United States are disturbed by the phenomenon of “Ortho Bros” tearing apart their communions. These are usually young men, almost always somewhere on the spectrum of white nationalist/Putinist/neo-Confederate. They are perhaps disproportionately “incel” (involuntarily celibate), but almost always with a view of women that confuses misogyny with masculinity.

And in their churches, they take the tactics of online troll discourse—complete with “I was only joking” when caught in one-step-too-far indefensible behavior—into the actual life of the congregation. These are usually, the Orthodox say, un-discipled young men, often with “father issues,” who aren’t drawn by the spirituality or liturgy of Orthodoxy but by being able to use it like a gamer would a “skin”—an identity from which to identify enemies and to fight them, “safely” and from a distance.

We, of course, have seen a much, much larger phenomenon like this in our own evangelical circles. The theology differs, but not the vibe—and, after a while, one realizes that the vibe is what matters, when one is bored of following Jesus and learning the Bible.

Decades ago, there was an evangelical trope that one should be a disciple of Jesus, not a fan. That’s true, but perhaps we should recognize what particular kind of fandom is infecting our religions communities: the kind that finds belonging by a shared hatred rather than a shared love.

This damages not just the witness of the church but the souls of the “reverse fans” who use it as a place to spike their adrenaline with a constant craving for controversy. It also hides what’s really damaged and hurting, in need of the repair that can come only from grace.

Long before hip-hop, one unbelieving philosopher launched what one might call a “diss track” against another (by then long dead) anti-theist philosopher that almost predicted the reverse fandom we would see now—especially with the theatrical pseudo-masculinity that denigrates women. In his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell dismantled Friedrich Nietzsche’s tough-guy portrait of himself as a woman-hating nihilist who valorizes the strong and abhors “weakness.”

“It is obvious that in his day-dreams he is a warrior, not a professor; all the men he admires were military,” Russell wrote. “His opinion of women, like every man’s, is an objectification of his own emotions towards them, which is obviously one of fear. ‘Forget not thy whip’—but nine women out of ten would get the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women, and soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks.”

Even as atheistic as he was, Russell also called out the ridiculous nature of Nietzsche’s dismissal of Christianity for its “weakness” and “slave mentality.” He wrote: “He condemns Christian love because he thinks it is an outcome of fear: I am afraid my neighbor may injure me, and so I assure him that I love him.”

“It never occurred to Nietzsche that the lust for power, with which he endows his superman, is itself an outcome of fear,” Russell wrote. “Those who do not fear their neighbors see no necessity to tyrannize over them. Men who have conquered fear have not the frantic quality of Nietzsche’s ‘artist-tyrant’ Neros, who try to enjoy music and massacre while their hearts are filled with dread of the inevitable palace revolution.”

With a few minor tweaks, the same could be written of the kind of trolling we see now—absent Nietzsche’s intellect but with all of his bile—that seems obsessed with putting women in their place and longing for a caesar who can impose a Nietzschean kind of “Christianity” on the rest of the world.

These are often people who are terrified of women and who would rather fantasize about cracking the whip in an imaginary, restored Christendom of the future than leading a prayer group in their own actual church. This kind of soul does not resonate with the psalms of the faithful but only with diss tracks—of whatever genre or denomination or tribe, as long as they channel anger and punish enemies.

The police responding to shots at Drake’s house unnerved those who remember previous “feuds”—not just between musicians but even between Olympic athletes and high school athletes and cheerleaders (or their parents), not to mention rival mob bosses—that ended in blood, not just words. Many remember that what starts as theater often becomes real. Artist rivalries are one thing—competing fandoms usually don’t hurt anybody. The stakes are higher, though, for a neighborhood, for a nation, for a church.

A people who lose truth turn to theater. A people who have given up on mission entertain themselves with feuds. A people who forget how to sing the songs of the redeemed can find that all that’s left are the diss tracks of the enraged.

A Graduation Letter to My Son

Our church asked parents of each graduating senior to write a letter to their child, to be read at the banquet honoring their class. Here is ours.

Dear Samuel,

“And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord’” (1 Sam. 1:20). This passage is the reason you carry your name. Your mother—whose maiden name is Hanna—and I prayed for years for you to be here. Our prayers were answered, and there you were—all five pounds of you on the day you were born.

The name Samuel is possibly a wordplay, meant perhaps to evoke, among other things, the idea that “God has heard” or “God hears.” To hear is important. It’s what God commands of his people in what might be the most important passage of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4).

God heard us—and with more than we could ask or even think (Eph. 3:20). From the moment of your birth, you were not just here, you were really here. You were fast and strong and brimming with energy—all despite your, at the time, small size. All through your growing up, you took on challenges and responsibilities much weightier and much earlier than anyone could expect.

I am not surprised that you—of all my sons—loves fast cars the most. You loved fast tricycles. Everything about you was fast and dynamic—and yet always under your control. You grew, as did the biblical Samuel, “both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man” (1 Sam. 2:26). Your final year of high school was taking college classes. In high school, you didn’t just have a part-time job; you ended up managing the place. Most of the injuries you ever had were not from something happening to you but from you working yourself too much, running too fast—enough to pull a muscle or sprain a leg.

We are proud of your academic and vocational successes, to be sure. But we are much prouder because of your character. In all of those things, you displayed, like the Samuel for whom you were named, humility and attentiveness. In all of your life, the few times I have had to rebuke you for a harsh and judgmental spirit, it was never once directed at others, only at yourself—rooted in all that energy and zeal and responsibility, wanting to go faster and to do better than you already did. 

We have watched you show kindness to those who could do nothing to help you, to bring into communities those who might otherwise be on the outside. We have seen you navigate work and relationships with gentleness and with wisdom. We have noticed your integrity—a conscience strong even on little things, which are the things, of course, on which consciences ultimately stand or fall.

As you now graduate, you are probably not aware that what is about to come true is what you’ve wanted all your life. Things are about to go by very, very fast. You will make choices now—of what to study, what to do, whom to love, where to live—that will determine the course of all future generations of our family and of lots of other people too.

Before you know it, perhaps you will be someone’s father. You might see that child speed along from a hospital bassinet to a graduation stage and out into life—all in what seems like a blur of time. Maybe you will even be writing him or her a letter—wondering how, despite people telling you, you didn’t imagine it could go so fast, faster than any car you will ever drive.

Your mother and your brothers and I love you. Like Hannah, we have also known from the beginning: “As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:28). What we pray for you is not primarily that you would do well in your studies or your career, or even in your life as a future leader of the church, a husband, a father, a grandfather. We know you will; we’ve watched you.

What we pray for you as you graduate is that you, like your namesake, would hear the call that is given to you—that you might conform yourself to the Christ to whom old Samuel only pointed at from afar (Acts 3:24). Like your namesake, you live in a time in which it could be said, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Sam. 3:1).

You also, though, like him, live in a time in which “the lamp of the Lord had not yet gone out” (v. 3). Like your namesake, you grew up near the ark of the covenant, in the temple of the Lord, by which I mean you were never out of earshot of the Scriptures and of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You have heard—and you will hear again—that inaudible but real voice calling to you, Samuel. We pray that you will continue to respond, “Speak, for your servant hears” (v. 10). We pray that it will always be said of you, “And Samuel grew, and the Lord let none of his words fall to the ground” (v. 19). We pray that you will be the one to build the Ebenezers—the memorials the people around you will need in order to remember, “Till now the Lord has helped us” (7:12).

We know that you will sin and fail, as do we all, that you will fall far short of even your own standards, much less those of the God above and behind all of those standards. Yet, we pray that you would remember the grace and mercy by which you stand, enough that, at the end of this vapor of a life, you can say before God what the prophet Samuel said to the people of Israel: “I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day” (12:2).

The Lord heard us; that’s why you’re “Samuel.” Sometimes things will be so noisy you can barely focus. Sometimes things will be so quiet that you will wonder if you are all alone. All that we ask is that you would keep listening for the sound of your name, that you would keep seeing yourself as a servant to the one who both hears and calls. Sometimes that will mean that even one like you, built for speed, will stand still, and listen.

The days may come when you will forget what matters. You might even forget who you are. We all do. We just pray that when such days come, you will remember your name.

We love you,
Mom and Dad

Music, Meaning, and “Hospitality”

I can admit to y’all that I hate the word hospitality. I suppose that’s because I’ve been in contexts where it usually means how to arrange china, etc. On the podcast this week, though, musician/producer Charlie Peacock and writer Andi Ashworth upend the word and show how a Christian vision of life together is quite different from a tea party. They explain what they’ve learned in years of trying to form community, to help the hurting, and to make good art at the same time.

You can listen to it here.

And, while you’re at it, check out Charlie’s own CT podcast, Music and Meaning.

Desert Island Bookshelf

Every other week, I share a list of books that one of you says you’d want to have on hand if you were stranded on a deserted island. This week’s submission comes from reader Pat Falkner from Tupelo, Mississippi, who writes that the criteria for inclusion are “mostly that they could be re-read as often as needed, or that they could help one figure out how best to live on the island.”

  • This Day by Wendell Berry: These are Berry’s collected Sabbath poems. 

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: I would like to bend the rules to include the whole four-book cycle here. These books expand one’s appreciation of ordinary human beings as they are beheld.

  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West: A thousand-plus pages of deep history and culture in an unfamiliar part of the world, observed by one of the sharpest minds of the 20th century.

Readers, what do y’all think? If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list (or both lists!) to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like, along with the city and state from which you’re writing.

Quote of the Moment

“Well, the Idea became a man and moved in with us. We looked him in the face—the face of an only son whose father is full of kindness and integrity.”

—John 1:14, The Cotton Patch Gospel (Clarence Jordan)

Currently Reading (or Re-Reading)

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore
Editor in Chief

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