“You can’t change the world”, I told the Jr. High students of St. Matthew’s yesterday at their Mini We Day rally.  Not exactly what I was brought in to say, but you’re about to find out why I made that statement.

There are three things a hip hop cypher teach me about “changing the world”.  Before we begin, let’s start by defining “cypher” shall we?

Cypher: “the term refers to something like a jam session in which everyone contributes to the creative experience. Be they DJs, dancers, rappers or graffiti writers, all the different artists that collectively make up the culture of hip-hop can have their own cypher. When dancers cypher, you’ll see each taking a turn in the center of a circle, contributing a unique style, then resting. The center of circle is never empty and the energy of the cypher grows as the dancers push themselves into increasing levels of athleticism.” 

1. The number one thing I learn about the concept of changing the world from a hip hop cypher is that in order to do it you need FOUNDATION.

I’ll never forget my first cypher in Calgary.  I had just moved from Vancouver, where the majority of hip hop classes I took consisted of choreography; 8 counts of me copying a choreographer.  After attending my first workshop in Calgary (consisting of foundational movements rather than the familiar 8 counts of choreography) they formed a cypher at the conclusion of the class, where we all had a turn to go in to freestyle.  I watched in amazement as everyone around me entered the centre with confidence and crazy skill!  It was getting close to my turn and I had no idea what I was going to do.  When my turn came, I can’t remember what move I did exactly, all I know is that it was super lame.  There were no more cheers, only stares of confusion.  I left that workshop feeling discouraged and defeated.  However, in the last six years I have learned foundation movements that have given me confidence and movement I can cypher freely.

When seeking to change the world, it’s not much different.  If we try to do good and give back without any foundation deep inside our hearts, then we’re going to fail.  Good intentions and ideas aren’t good enough, especially when it gets hard.  There will be moments when you’ll give with all the joy and goodness in your heart, only to be hit with heartache.  Some take the idea of “karma” so seriously, they think doing good to others guarantees a life of ease.  There has to be a greater foundation that motivates and stirs us to want to bring change to the world.  For me, that foundation is my faith in Christ.  He is the one who keeps me passionate to keep giving when I get nothing in return.  He gives me faith to believe for things that seem impossible.  Without deep foundation, I’m not sure the concept “giving back” is going to be sustainable enough.


2. The second concept the cypher enlightens me to when it comes to changing the world is that I can’t do it alone.

There are two kinds of cyphers: one that’s just practice – say after a class or with my buddies, and one for battle.  When I’m just practicing in the cypher, I’m learning how my foundational moves link together.  I’m learning how to groove my unique style into the moves.  I often mess up, get stuck and fall down.  At this point, the community forming the circle around me becomes key.  They are there encouraging me to keep going, challenging me to “do it again” when I don’t get it right the first time, and telling me to “get up” when I fall.  They do something very significant inside of me: they give me courage; courage to venture out in ways I would never do on my own.  I want to bring back to attention one sentence from the cypher definition mentioned at the beginning of this post:  “The center of circle is never empty and the energy of the cypher grows as the dancers push themselves into increasing levels of athleticism.”  This could never happen unless I have a community around me pushing me, and I, them.

If I am going to even think about making an impact around me, I’m going to need to do that in community with others.


3. The final thought I glean from the cypher about changing the world is this: When I engage in cypher activity, I am not just a part of the small cypher happening in the moment; I’m a part of a movement. Somewhere in the world, another cypher is happening.  I’m engaged in something that’s far greater than myself and even my small community around me. “Everyone contributes to the creative experience”. I play an important part, but not the star role.  I can’t begin to grasp the expanse the movement reaches.  It’s a new day for world changers.  Those who change their world do so in collaboration with others who are alike in mission.  They are ok with not being the one who gets the credit and glory.  They’re ok with the simple task of offering their unique contribution.  Why? They know that together we can create movements of change.  Even further, by joining with something greater than myself, I become a player in a divine design.  Heaven will only tell me what difference my part played.  When I can step down from wanting to play the lead role to serve the mission – I become useful.


I said you can’t change the world, but with foundation, with others and joining something greater than yourself… perhaps you can.