"My Coloring Book for His Greatness": A devotional based on Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book"
Over the last year Chance the Rapper has been my youth pastor (I didn’t come up with that… like most things I think I stole it). Since May 13th, Chance’s “Coloring Book” has been a record that has helped me through a difficult year. Whether it was/is the political tumult, or a year which had profoundly low lows and exceedingly high highs both professionally and personally, Chance’s “Coloring Book” was a record which functioned liked a good youth pastor by helping navigate hard year.
How Chance became my 2016 Youth Pastor was rooted in the incredible aesthetic he put together in "Coloring Book." If the album wasn't a good listen, there is no way I would have made it through more than once or twice. This was not the case, however. From the fist moment I began playing "Coloring Book" in my office, I fell in love with how it sounds. I am not a music critic but the fact that it made pretty much every 2016 top 10 list at least proves that I am not alone in this. I remember my brain exploding when "How Great" came on the first time. The rhyme structure on the 2nd verse of “Blessings” still throws me for a loop every time I hear it. I can’t listen to “No Problem” with out my head bobbing uncontrollably. And the number of “Hook” illusions in “Same Drugs” makes my inner 12 year old want to dye my hair red and black and scream “BANGARANG!” Being a beautiful record is a feat in of itself, but for me the profundity of the record was found beyond how enjoyable it was to listen to.
The record came out in, what would become, one of the most difficult professional years I have had in my last 10 years of ministry. I remember a day last July, while in the thick of some really hard decisions at work, feeling like every option was a failure. I put on the record as I pulled out of my drive way and starting to pray. I recall the sun shinning brightly and by the time Auto-tuned Kanye was singing “Music is all we Got” during the pinnacle of the first track, tears were streaming down my face. I remember God impressing on me that he was holding all of those failures together. And He was going to make it all work out in a way that is as beautiful as the song I happened to be blasting at levels I am going to regret when I am 80. As far as I can see, God has been faithful to His promise. In this moment where I felt lost, “Coloring Book” helped facilitate a space that pointed me to take refuge in the God who gives every blessing. On that sunny day in July, Chance pastored me well.
On a Monday in mid-December, the cultural and political tension seemed to be reaching breaking point levels (little did I know it could get worse). My social media feeds were a war of articles and talking points, tweets and sub-tweets. The profound division that was just below the surface of our countries political culture was erupting onto what seemed like every page of the internet. My staff and I sat in our weekly meeting this particular morning, wresting with how this chasm was upending our faith community. We were at a loss of words. We didn’t know how to direct our community to process the cultural maelstrom we were all being sucked into. As we continued to wallow in our unknowing, one of my staff Julie said, “Did you guys see Chance this weekend on SNL?”
I instinctively google “Chance the Rapper SNL,” connected it to the bluetooth speaker, full screened the youtube and blasted it. As the lights come up on Chance wearing the most incredible looking red Mario looking overalls, he began singing “Jesus its your Birthday, Happy birthday Jesus.” I could see the tension all of us were holding begin to melt away. By the time Noname and Chance began singing “And all that was left was his Love,” which transitioned into a Gospel choir singing, “the water may be deeper than its ever been - Never Drown,” I was reminded of something I had forgotten. In a few days our church would be celebrating Christmas. It is the day we celebrate Jesus, God in flesh, entering the world. I was confronted with a realization that I had placed too much faith in the systems of the world and forgot the Christian confession is that Jesus and Jesus alone is the hope of the world. Chance reminded me, the powers and the principalities, which are trying to drown us, are about to be confronted by the Christ child born in Bethlehem. In the midst of a world that seemed to be turned upside down, his performance reoriented me that to see that it was was this way. And Christmas is the time where the church celebrates that God, in Christ, started to put it right side up. Like a good pastor, in the midst of cultural turmoil, Chance reminded my staff and me what is true, good, beautiful and real.
After this Christmas experience I started a thought experiment. I began looking at Chance’s "Coloring Book" like it was a devotional. If the album had indirectly created a space for me to encounter the Lord and be reminded what is important, what would happen if I looked at the record as if it was always intentionally attempting this goal. What if “Coloring Book” was a hip-hop version of Oswald Chamber’s “My Upmost for His Highest. So, for the past couple of months I have been going through, what I can only describe as, an exegesis of the Coloring Book and using it as my daily devotional. I read through all the lyrics and annotations over on genius, pulled out bars I thought intersected with scriptural themes and placed the two side by side. This became my overly spiritualized version of a “Girl Talk” record.
I enjoyed this experience so much that I wanted to do it again. This time, however, I want to invite others to join me. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. For those who don’t come from a liturgical tradition, Lent is the 40 day period preceding Easter Week (called Holy Week in the liturgical calendar). And it is a time that Christians all over the world begin a period of self reflection in order to prepare themselves to celebrate Easter. So starting tomorrow through Easter Sunday, I am going to be blogging a Lenten/Easter devotional inspired by the Coloring Book to help me prepare. And I want to invite anyone and everyone to join me.
So this is how it will work. I have divided the 47 day Lent/Easter season into seven week long themes based around ideas from the record and stories from the scriptures.
- Week 1 (3/1-3/5): Nostalgia (Self Reflection)
- Week 2 (3/6 - 3/12): Origins
- Week 3 (3/13 -19): Promise and Blessing
- Week 4 (3/20 - 3/26): Principalities and Witness
- Week 5 (3/27-4/2): Binding Wounds
- Week 6 (4/3 - 4/9): Longing
- Week 7 (4/10 - 4/17): Repentance and Reconciliation
A devotional will come out daily (except for a "Day of Rest" on Sundays) every morning. And each blog is designed to take you no longer than than 30 minutes (But it can be longer if you want). A devotion will consist of 4 parts:
- A passage of scripture you will read from your bible.
- Some bars from "Coloring Book" I think expand on the passage.
- A brief devotional on the intersection of those two texts.
- And here is my favorite part, a coloring book page to color while you meditate on another short passage of scripture.
I figured that since this was based on the “Coloring Book," why not use coloring to aid in self reflection. To quote Chance, “I am Getting Artsy Fartsy” and partnering with some graphic design friends who, each week, have designed a coloring sheet based on that weeks lyrics, scripture and theme to print out and use in the devotion. So, starting tomorrow I will post a free coloring sheet to print and color during the meditation portions of the next weeks devotional. I played with idea of releasing a coloring sheet every day. But I realized that I don’t have enough time to color an entire page daily, so I am guessing other people won't have that much time. I decided, however, I could color a few minutes daily and have a fully colored page by the end of each week. So I went with that. I would love as many people as possible to print out the page at the start of every week, stick it in their bible, pack some markers, and post their progress with #mycoloringbookforhisgreatness and tag Chance the Rapper in it.
Feel free to download this picture and share it out to invite other in on the journey.
I am excited about this adventure. So grab some friends, lets do this together and I will see you tomorrow.