Things like wearing a MAGA hat and saying “slavery sounds like a choice” are apparently unforgivable. It appears that no matter what happens with Kanye, critics will be first to point to these sins and others because, well, frankly there are plenty to choose from. Kanye has been the laughing stock of superstardom ever since his outburst at the MTV awards with Taylor Swift and has deservedly (and not) received criticism for his manic episodes. And I expect as much even from the church.
The church is a place where we are and cultivate a beloved community. When Kanye says something like “slavery sounds like a choice” (watch his apology for that here) the church in particular has an opportunity to distinguish itself and reject such obvious evil. The racist myth that enslaved Africans were passive or even cooperative in their enslavement is at best false and at worst traumatic. And simply the heft of Kanye’s words, being Kanye West, are enough to open up that space for everybody to talk about it.
There is a perspective on this which is particular sinful against the black community here that I don’t feel I have authority to speak on it, so I won’t. I want to instead focus on that which is so personally offensive to me: “let’s wait and see.” But I’ll say more about that later. I have been tracking with Kanye’s life ever since 2004 with the release of The College Dropout, one of the greatest albums of all time, and feel like I have much more compassion for him than almost everybody I’ve spoken to. I’m not bragging, really. I actually find it strange. His mom dying is an underappreciated moment in affecting Kanye West’s life and mental health. Donda West died on 11/10/07. 808’s and Heartbreak was released almost exactly a year after (11/24/08). I remember when this happened actually, but I didn’t connect the two. I remember riding the high of the Higher Education Triology (The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation) and was met with 808’s after. Like many people, I was mistakenly unimpressed. Listening 11 years later I’ve found appreciation for the deeply emotional album. Pitchfork writes in 2008:
This year, however, was particularly rough: He and his fiancée broke up, and his mother, Donda West– who alone raised Kanye from the age of three– died from complications after cosmetic surgery. Kanye blamed himself for his mother’s death, singling out his own vanity, wealth, and pursuit of glamour and celebrity.by Scott Plagenhoef, 808’s and Heartbreak
Have you heard “Hey Mamma“? How about when he collapsed trying to perform it? The man is a man! He struggled and grieved the guilt of his mother’s death in front of a global audience. While you listen the second time through think about being responsible for that woman’s death. Hell, the real power of empathy is imagining being responsible for your own mother’s death. What would that belief do to you? Coupled with the reality of life as Kanye West. Say what you want about his vanity, Kanye is a genius and a global superstar. I don’t have that kind of power, but he did (does?). Here is the point we could judge him to be something which is also a racist trope against black men: avoid displaying emotion or we’ll think you’re crazy/dangerous. Even Pitchfork acknowledges:
the guy is aiming to be the biggest pop star in the world– he should feel bigger than us; too often, though, we instead ask for artists to be just like us or worse.by Scott Plagenhoef, 808’s and Heartbreak
Kanye comes out with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010, which is another master record. You can hear on this, too, how twisted Kanye is becoming. He has always fit into the Hip Hop character of self-promotion but he takes it to a place many are uncomfortable with, maybe because he does it so well?
Pretty weird, right? He looks like a biblical king of Babylon or something. He looks like a god. This album dropped in 2010, in the same year that Kanye had his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. Three years later (2013) Kanye comes out and answers the question he planted, “yes, I Am a God.” He actually has a song called “I Am a God” on the album called “YEEZUS.” Does it look like he headed in a certain direction? Downward? Yes, I think Kanye started spiraling ever since 07 when he purportedly funded his mother’s death. To be honest with you, as a millionaire pop superstar, I don’t blame Kanye for doing and saying what he did. I guess it’s necessary to say that I don’t condone a lot of his actions, either. I interpret everything post 2007 as Kanye grieving the loss of his mother (at his own hand) and saying “yes” to coping strategies which are not presented to the majority population. Listen to him praise God and talk about that here. It’s not an excuse for his actions, but dammit it offers us all an opportunity to empathize with him. He was right when he said “no one man should have all this power.”
But this kind of empathy doesn’t come easily for everybody, even after hearing so much of his story. I can understand that, too. Maybe I can empathize so easily because Jesus has forgiven me for so much. I can relate a lot with the woman whose being forgiven made room for her great love in Luke 7. I consider myself “the worst of sinners” like Paul from 1 Timothy. If you know my story, maybe you agree with me. I was near or at the bottom of myself when Jesus met me. And when he did I started praying for Kanye. I had this sense that his sin was haunting him, just like mine had to me and I knew Jesus wanted to save him, just like he saved me. I hadn’t even heard Kanye’s “Pinocchio” song to know this, too.
I have been praying for Kanye ever since I converted. And when I hear people say “let’s wait and see if this is genuine” I remember hearing people, who were blood relatives, say this to and about me. Listening to the album I hear a lot of myself early on in faith. Which is a lot the reason why I couldn’t be happier for him and I mean that. I am not entirely sure what the benefit of skepticism is here anyway. Honestly, who cares if it’s genuine? And, honestly, are any of our faith expressions genuine anything? Aren’t they always some holy mixture of skepticism and hope? Of fear and love? Of faith and despair or longing and exasperation? If all the love you have is offering a seed of hope to Kanye, you’ll be better for it. The Lord is within us as a well which never runs dry. As a spring which runs up to eternal life. We have eternity within us; are we afraid of offering a supporting prayer for this soul which we have tortured with our consumerism? He is a human being who was molded and shaped by capitalist structures (and our dollars) who is groping around for God. For goodness sake let’s make space for him at Jesus’ table.
Let’s keep praying the Lord uses whatever faith Kanye is offering here and multiplies it. Isn’t faith hard for all of us at different points in our journey, too?
For the record, I don’t think Jesus needs Kanye because of his celebrity status; I think Jesus loves Kanye and wants him to take part in his kingdom more than anything. I’m rooting for him.