Hustle, Hustle, Hustle…Hard

Ace Hood is a rapper with a trendy tune whose hook or chorus champions the following counsel: "Hustle, hustle, hustle...hard!" To hustle or not to hustle? That is the question. If asked to describe people that we know who hustle I suspect that the bulk of our responses might fit the drug dealing, gun toting hoodlum imagery that has become so familiar to us. Please believe, the hustle is alive and well, but it has no relation to that 70s dance craze of the same name. A hustler is thought of as a miscreant, the unscrupulous type, right? Think the Grinch, Mojo Jojo, or Skeletor, but thugged out. Think Frank Lucas whose life as a heroin kingpin was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the film American Gangster. Think the gangs of Harlem's St. Nicholas or Chicago's Cabrini-Green public housing projects.

Of course, there are also hustlers like Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone and Pablo Escobar, but they no longer represent the most dominant caricatures. Due to racism, socioeconomic and other biases, our minds don't travel as quickly to classify so-called "white collar" criminals as hustlers. Frank Abagnale's deceptive abilities are legendary[1] as is James Perry Johnston's 1905 swindler's anthem in literary form, How to Hustle. We hardly can forget the unabashed hustler's mentality that led to Enron's demise and more recently Goldman Sachs' struggles, as well as the busts of our real estate and automotive markets.

Still, we ought to be quite familiar with various forms of hustling. For example, Pete Rose's well-chronicled hustle as a major league baseball player[2] or even our country's hustle. You know, manifest destiny, slavery, internment camps, the economic terrorism of the poor, etc.? In the end, isn't it all much of the same thing--underhanded dealings wherein one party ruthlessly manipulates another?

The bigger indictment isn't historical representations of hustling, however. You and I are the biggest hustlers of them all. Of course, coaches constantly challenge their players to hustle during practices and games, but it would be irresponsible to suggest that the dominant rhetoric in our society surrounding one's charge "to hustle" simply implies working hard within the rules. That would bring us to debate a host of quandaries. Who sets the rules? If the consequences for breaking the rules aren't a major deterrent, then what purposes do they really serve?

We can act like our hustles are somehow nobler because they are barely legal. Who cares if they are unethical and unbiblical? We can act like our good 'ol entrepreneurial fortitude is simply mistaken for hustling. We can act like it is sheer moxy, savy and grit that propel our hustles forward, producing no or at least minor casualties along the way. We can act all that we want, but God is not fooled.

Two of the biggest hustlers in Scripture that I know of are David and Abram. Abram actually sold his wife, Sarai, like chattel to the Egyptian pharaoh in a selfish attempt to save his own hide.[3] He did this not once but twice; the second time to king Abimelech.[4] And, both times Abram walked away unscathed, his wife returned to him alongside assorted gifts of sheep, donkeys, camels, oxen and servants that each king provided, which turned him into a wealthy man. For sure, David worked hard to achieve his status as Israel's most credentialed ruler, but he also had Uriah, a faithful soldier in his own army, killed.[5] And, it was all just to cover up his having taken advantage of[6] and subsequently impregnated Uriah's wife Bathsheba, who would later become David's queen. Though, it isn't like she had much choice.

Therefore, I contend that to hustle is to exploit others and oneself, which never is good before the Lord. Created in the image of God, we are human beings not human doings whose worth is measured by their ability to accumulate.[7] Instead of demonizing distinctly secular artistry perhaps we should allow it to help hold us, as believers, accountable to the Gospel that we claim to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help us God!

Ace Hood's ditty is entertainment, although admittedly not the most refined type. Yet, unfortunately it is also brash, celebrative and prescriptive in a certain sense. Thankfully, however, for the Christian it is a prescription that the Ultimate Physician insists that we must reject. Whether you are a 20something trying to make ends meet, lawyer well-positioned to make partner or parent desperately journeying to make sense out of unfulfilled dreams, to hustle is to choose death. And, choosing death is the opposite of God's desires for anyone.

I implore you, please don't hustle. And, although the beat of Ace Hood's track and the explicit lyrics of our lives may be intoxicating, don't hustle hard even. It isn't worth it. There is no pot of gold at the end of that imitation rainbow. Instead of hustling, try to embrace hope and help. Hope in Christ's redemptive power and help that God provides in not swindling ourselves or others.

Indeed, the Doxology is as great a place to begin as any: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen." 

[1] See Frank W. Abagnale, Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake (New York: Broadway, 2000). This was turned into the film Catch Me If You Can in 2002, which featured Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

[2] See Michael Sokolove, Hustle: Myth, Life and Lies of Pete Rose (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).

[3] Genesis 12:7-20.

[4] Genesis 20:1-18.

[5] 2 Samuel 10-11.

[6] Some scholars believe that Bathsheba was raped by David rather than seduced by her, which for so many years was the dominant-and I think incorrect-interpretation. For more see Alice Ogden Bellis, Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women's Stories in the Hebrew Bible (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 2007), 130-133.

[7] See M. Craig Barnes, Hustling God: Why We Work So Hard For What God Wants To Give (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), David E. Garland, Diana R. Garland, Flawed Families of the Bible: How God's Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2007), and John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).