Why the Church Needs Kanye West
I am one of the biggest Kanye apologists that exists. I love his music and could list track after track of why I love Kanye and how he creates. If you don’t like him, I generally know why you don’t, from his general personality to those media moments that are constantly brought up (justifiably so) when Kanye is mentioned, so let’s just get those reasons out of the way:
The “George Bush hates black people” statement.
The whole Taylor Swift incident.
The rumor that he was going to name his child North (which I really wanted). Or that he was going to name his kid God. Or the fact that he is dating Kim K, and they are copywriting their soon-to-be-born child’s name.
The way he clings to Jay-Z like a little brother desperately needing approval. “Look Hov, I copywrited (copywrote?) my kid’s name too! Look! Look!”
That his new album is apparently going to be called Yeezus.
The arrogant cocky swagger that he takes everywhere.
I’m not saying we should all be best friends with Kanye West. But I am saying we need him. We need his creativity, the kind of creativity that was put on display with a flourish at this season’s SNL finale.
Are you kidding me? On New Slaves he just stands there, doing his best to be emotionless while his shirtless silhouetted DJ jumps around, losing his mind. Kanye doesn’t move, letting the music and words just hang in the air almost uncomfortably ensuring that everyone has to deal with the lyrics. The screen behind him is a uncomfortable close up of his eyes and nose, making me relieved he trimmed his nose hairs. On Black Skinhead he uses the same one spotlight and adds black hooded imagery in the background. I asked one friend about it and she said “I didn’t get it. It made me feel uncomfortable.” And I think this is exactly the idea.
Kanye’s SNL performances are always the best. Do you remember Power and Runaway? Holy crap, they were perfect. Seriously watch them now. I remember talking about those performances for weeks. I still talk about them. And the reason? Kanye is the master of juxtaposition. He is cripplingly self-aware, from recognizing his own arrogance and the tension that it causes within him, to race issues being the heart of everything he thinks he deals with, Kanye always looks like he is uncomfortable, and that’s why music is his outlet, because it allows him to express this pressure. Kanye keeps pushing his craft forward. He is gritty and misunderstood and arrogant and talented. He lives in a culture that celebrates safe and comfortable songs like Thrift Shop. And if Kanye is anything, he is not safe or predictable.
This screenshot is juxtaposition at it’s finest. The hip hop community is offended. The ballet community is offended. And that is the tension that Kanye creates, the tension that I choose to believe that he lives in everyday. From making beats and no one caring to a 15 year career that has made him more money than he even dreamed of. I honestly think he doesn’t know how to handle it, so he talks about a new form of slavery while driving a maybach. He talks about being worried about buying conflict diamonds but also that even if they are, he still has to wear them.
And this is why the Church needs Kanye.
Every Saturday Night Live musical performance is exactly the same. There are good performances to be sure, but they are few and far between. SNL is a ridiculously tough venue. “Hey, everyone is here to laugh, so go play with no momentum and if you suck, at least it’s live and there are millions watching, and you only get one shot.” So bands play it safe. Some are memorable. Most are stale. Just another band playing on the same stage as everyone else. Kanye comes in and makes it his own. He brings new and creative set designs. He takes what everyone expects and creates tension in it.
At this point in Church culture, we know what to expect on Sunday mornings. Walk in, a high energy song, 2-3 other songs, some sort of welcome/greeting/video combo, teaching, a special song, and then leaving. Sundays are the same. The content is different each week, sure, and you can plug in new songs and new videos but just like the SNL music stage, everyone knows what’s coming.
We need to take notes from Kanye. We need to be willing to not only live within the tension, but be willing to create tension. We need to be willing to call people away from “safe” and “comfortable” and into this life of following Jesus. Jesus wasn’t predictable. Jesus wasn’t safe. Jesus constantly created tension, and he created more questions than he did answers.
A lot of us walking through church doors today are being modeled safety, being modeled predictable, being modeled comfortable, being modeled stale. There is a time for protection, for safety, and the church should be a safe place for people to engage, but we can also wisely create these moments of tension, of giving people an opportunity to wrestle and struggle. We can create moments of unanswered questions.
The Church shouldn’t need Kanye West to remind us of the tension we all live in on a daily basis, that living within grey areas can define who we are and what we believe, but we can be reminded that in these moments of uncertainty, we serve a God who is true and faithful and loving and graceful and present even in the tension.
Let’s create. Let’s call each other deeper. Let’s engage culture and tension. Let’s call each other away from stale and comfortable and toward a Savior who is calling us to follow, regardless of the cost.