The war isn’t over – it’s inside

“I’m trained in poetry and rap; it’s all about brevity,” said Shad.

His formal contribution to the Slater Maguire lecture series at St Margaret’s was probably the shortest speech one of their presenters had ever given, but it left much time for questions and a bit of a relaxing evening left over. No need to belabour the matter.

Brevity may have also led Shad to his catchy title for the talk...which he confessed to having later realized may have sounded threatening.

“What are you afraid of?” wasn’t mean to be a belligerent challenge but a gentle call to examine whether the things we fear will kill us or disappear as illusion.

After offering the answer “everything” to the first question, “mostly imagination, to be sure,” is my answer to the second. But that doesn’t make the fears any more surmountable.

It’ll either kill you or free you, he says.

Cold comfort. Sometimes freedom is as frightening as death. The safety of shackled mundanity does not easily relinquish its grip.

Shad’s hopeful vision just felt more depressing to me. If the various faceless factions of his dream sequence of bullets flying, people crying and fools plying* are all representatives of the war inside each of us... There is hope in that the threat is not external, but hope is dashed for my suspicion that I am my own worst enemy is confirmed, and there is thus no longer any expectation that the war could ever possibly be over. It shall never be won. Where is the freedom in that?

Shad was lauded as an Old Testament prophet, but he shook off the honour, disdaining the sterling reputation of his namesake and more seriously saying he doesn’t face enough opposition to wear a genuine prophet’s mantle.

He did adamantly affirm hip hop as a vehicle for protest however. Frank, declarative and bold. It’s tailor-made to speak truth to power. (But does it?)

The packed to the gills church was an embarrassing display of stuffwhitepeoplelike. Hipsters and academics who think they’re cool. And yes, I was there too, so what my scorn must be self-directed. I was embarrassed for all of us and curious what Shad, with his roots tracing back to Africa, thought of this very white and skinny-jeaned crowd. (Bike rack was packed and poles up and down the street were bedecked with two-wheelers.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, what resonated most with me in the whole evening (other than the title question, which has plagued me with a growing, unvanquished list for a year or more) amid the poetry fans and the music devotees was his answer about French.

Language. Of course.

“Do you write rap in other languages?” Poet Sally asked. [Aside: I love French rap! I wanted him to say yes, because I don’t care much for English rap, but there’s something about the art form in French I rather take a shine to.]

Shad’s answer was quick and decisive. Nope. Though he’s schooled in French immersion, that language is just English words with other sounds to him. It’s not just about translating the concepts into another language, he said. Another language is a whole different way of being. He couldn’t rap in French because “I don’t know how to be in French,” he said.

That’s profound.

To wrap it up? How to live well amid tension. That’s the challenge. Our greatest threat is the fear itself. The war will go on inside and out regardless. So the task is to live well despite it all. That’s a bit challenge for a Nine whose most primal and powerful impulse is first and always to avoid everything.

*This wannabe got caught up in the rap and left behind this nonsensical half thought since it had such a nice ring to it. Maybe I can think of something better later. What’s the fool plying? Advice – No, platitudes! Plying platitudes! I’m on a roll! 😉 

Aside: I loved how he described Communion – the ancient ritual of trying to put the life of Christ in us. Communion has always stirred up a lot of complex thoughts and feelings for me, much of it having to do with worthiness, most of it driving me to avoid it. This description casts it in a better light, one where I can imagine an eagerness to partake, a desperation to find that sustenance week after week, a desire to be filled with goodness despite our failures, rather than the dread of millstones and condemnation.

*Edited 11-09-2018


I seem to have missed this post. Nice summary, thank you for the thoughts. I'm sad to have missed it. I enjoy his rap and the worldview portrayed therein.

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