There is a common feature among every hero known to humanity. It shows up in the face of adversity, in a watershed moment. There is a choice to make: to cave into fear, anger, and despair or to persevere in love, joy, and hope. In this moment the weak go low, but the hero goes high.
Chance the Rapper ventures into this pivotal decision in “We Go High,” one track of twenty-two from his expansive new album The Big Day. The title echoes Michelle Obama’s line from her 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.” Whereas Michelle was referring to Donald Trump’s curt, disrespectful political discourse, the enemy in Chance’s song is not another person but rather a voice within himself.
The song is about past mistakes he made with his wife Kirstin. He wasn’t faithful to her, or else he was drinking away his youth instead of caring for her and their child, and he is sorry. Sitting in and praying about these feelings, two voices emerge. There is an internal bully, his “ego,” which tells him, “There he go, prayin’ again, again, the same ol’ thang.” This voice tries to convince him that his prayer is in vain, that his relationship with God won’t make him a better person, that he will always be a good-for-nothing who can’t get his priorities straight. However, when the chorus erupts with “But he go high / And we go high / They go low, we go… / Higher higher,” the listener realizes that Chance is fighting off the devil on his shoulder and trying to choose a nobler path. He does not want to cave into despair. He wants to hope.
Chance’s desire to pursue what is good despite his failings reflects one of Pope Francis’ consistent messages. From the first year of his pontificate, he has urged people to “bet on hope.” Just as Chance feels the frequent need to repent of his errors and start again with a renewed sense of hope, Pope Francis advises, “The journey is never finished. In each of our own lives, there is always a need to restart, to rise again, to recover a sense of the goal of one’s own existence.” We fail to love, yet we are called to love. Love is the goal of our existence even if we sin against love. Our goal does not change when we negate it ourselves, in the case of Chance, or when others around us negate it, in the case of Michelle Obama. We must persevere in doing good.
Jesus is the model for this loving response to trials. Satan tempted him in the desert, yet he chose what was right. His murderers tempted him to despair, yet he forgave them from the very cross on which he was crucified. Chance recognizes Christ’s pattern of “going high.” The “he” to which he refers when he says “but he go high” is Jesus. Following this verse, he says, “And we go high.” What Jesus has done, we must do. He is the way. Whether temptations come from inside or outside, we should go high as Jesus did. Love is the goal, and nothing should take our eyes off of it.
When we realize that love is our goal and that God forgives us even when we fail to love, our natural response is joy. For this reason, the tone of the lyrics shifts considerably in the second half of the song, where he enters into straight up praise:
We give the glory to You, God
One livin’ true God, He make us booyah
And throw up the Wu like U-God
They prop up statues and stones, try to make a new God
I don’t need a EGOT, as long as I got You, God.
The measure of Chance’s life is neither EGOT (the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar or Tony awards he may win) nor the failings of his past. His relationships with God and with his family are worth more than his accomplishments. And, even though he has not cared for these relationships previously, God forgives him and gives him strength to pick himself up, made amends, and recommit to what he really loves.
When they go low, Chance goes high. Let’s do the same.
Going high brings good out of evil, joy out of pain, peace out of turmoil. Going high means courage, a courage that inspires us to choose what is right for ourselves and that inspires others to do the same. Let’s face it: the world is crying out for both humility and integrity. We desperately need to learn to be humble enough to admit that we are wrong and yet brave enough to never stop pursuing what is good. We can be this sort of person that Chance inspires us to be in “We Go High,” and, as we do it, we can “give the glory to…God” for saving us and lifting us up along the way.
Image courtesy FlickrCC user Julio Enriquez.