Jesus A La Carte
December 21, 2004

The spiritual history of the black community is deep and wide. In black music especially, there has always been a connection with the church. Today, your average multi-platinum black vocalist (booty shakers included), grew up singing in their local church. Nearly every single one. These people will generally be the first admit this and give all the credit to God for their talent. And while very few individuals have chosen to honor God with their lives, there is yet a certain degree of respect for Jesus Christ that is fairly common among those in the black community.

For this reason, it was no surprise to me that rapper Kanye West's song "Jesus Walks" has gained much hype over the last couple of months. The song was recently nominated for "Best Rap Song" and "Song of the Year". If you're not familiar with the song, lyrics can be found here.

The two Grammy nominations were heaped on top of the pile of acclaim and praise the song received from half of the Western Hemisphere. As though Kanye West is the first person on the entire planet to invoke the name of Jesus in a song. Although I can share in the sentiments of his album title "The College Drop Out", I'm not at all fond of West's song.

The Sun-Herald reports:

Moral values are turning up in the strangest places these days. Among the songs most honored in this year's Grammy nominations is a rap tribute to Jesus Christ -

a catchy, beat-driven rhyme that has garnered unexpected critical and commercial success in a genre best known for its profane promotion of sex, money, drugs and lawlessness.

Music critics are hailing the author of "Jesus Walks," songwriter and producer Kanye West, as the hottest new voice in rap and suggesting that his in-your-face embrace of religion signifies a break with tradition and the maturation of a musical form that has been narrowly defined by its outlaw culture.

The "Personal Jesus" trend is not new, it's just repackaged every couple of years for comfortable consumption. On the most fundamental level, West's song speaks to the universal need for Jesus. The chorus is a simple lament (not exactly Davidic, but a lament nonetheless), asking for God's strength, protection, and guidance. All of those statements are true. Things get murky around West's definiting of walking with Jesus. The medium has changed, but the "live like you want and Jesus will still endorse you" message will always be accepted as long as it's easy to swallow.

The flowery message goes as such:

To the hustlas, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers
To the victims of Welfare for we living in hell here hell yeah
Now hear ye hear ye want to see Thee more clearly
I know he hear me when my feet get weary
Cuz we're the almost nearly extinct
We rappers are role models we rap we don't think
I ain't here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way yall need Jesus
So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won't get played Huh?
Well let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I'm dreaming about
Next time I'm in the club everybody screaming out
There has been much respect given to West for pinpointing the ills of the music industry which considers the word "Jesus" to be profane and offensive while all other lewd and inappropriate language is permissible. This is the spot on truth and it needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Proving himself the "trailblazer" West's song has done tremendously well in spite of its content. I even read recently that "people" have compared Kanye West to Mel Gibson in that West fronted $1 million of his own money to produce three music videos for the song in order to generate more popularity. I suppose that infers that West is spreading the message of Christ through his song. My next question is, what message would that be?

When the small start-up company "Teenage Millionaire" came out with the infamous "Jesus is My Homeboy" t-shirts, they were all the rage. While these t-shirts were less popular among young hip hoppers than they were among urban hipsters, it is certain that few if any donners took great personal and spiritual connection with the suggestion Jesus was anything more than a regular man in the Bible. The agnostic young adult population in particular took such a liking to them that the shirts became one of the hottest items of the year. Even celebrities were spotted wearing the shirts right along with their hip Kabbalah bracelets (to further add to the confusion).

Whereas I too once defended the concept behind the t-shirts and the etymology of the word "homeboy", on a grander scale of things, my tune may be slightly changing in light of the fact that we must examine such things against the backdrop of a culture that is hostile and arrogant towards God and what it means to serve him. The "agnostic young adult population", are those, many of whom are my peers, whose actions clearly dictate that they exist in some state of limbo as to whether or not their life is their own. There is a certain degree of action that comes along with the belief that God is who He says He is. That "belief" is severely hindered by a watering-down of the identity of God (and subsequently, our own identities). One of the manifestations of this takes place in the music industry.

There is the general belief among many artists that it's okay to live one way and drop in the name of Jesus al a carte. We've all heard the award acceptance speeches over the years:

"Yes I know I just took most of my clothes off and shook my butt on the stage while singing and simulating dry sex on the dance floor, but thank you God, the head of my life for allowing me to make this album and blessing me with my talents."
Then there's my personal favorite which goes a little something like this:
"First I want to give honor to God for helping me to make this album which diametrically opposes everything moral or righteous and allowing me to continue to make money in spite of my filthy lifestyle, DUIs, arrests, and complete and utter disregard for human life. I love you Jesus."
Meanwhile, we sit on the sidelines and applaud these people like they're doing big things for the name of Jesus. The Stellar Awards nomination committee didn't think so. They pulled "Jesus Walks" off the list of songs nominated for a gospel music award when they found the rest of West's album objectionable in content.

There is a fundamental problem with "Jesus Walks" and "Jesus is My Homeboy" and every other pop culture fad that attempts to water down the person of Jesus Christ. The message is faulty in that the Jesus presented requires nothing of the individual. It takes little effort on our part to acknowledge that Jesus is our friend, our homeboy, and walking with us every day. That is a given. If it weren't so, we'd all be dead by now. But Jesus never told us to wait for him to come walk with us. Instead, He asked us to walk with Him. Big difference.

Tastes more like cough syrup next to the sugar-coated message that's so popular in a song like "Jesus Walks".

Walking with Jesus requires something of the individual. No one in the Bible ever encountered Jesus Christ and remained the same. Their countenance and their lifestyle changed drastically. I know mine did. We continue to spread a misleading message to a dying culture when we make it seem as though Jesus is just another concept at the "Pick 'n Grab Store". Jesusfreak one day, bedroom freak the next. Jesus at the club? Jesus on the side? Jesus on the half shell? Baked, fried or broiled? This choose your own Jesus recipe stuff is killing people off.

I'm sorry, but this fluffy stuff is not going to be what gets this generation from where we are to where God needs us to be. Does Jesus love the world? Absolutely. He loves pimps, hos, prostitutes, corporate extortionists, murders, liars, thieves, adulterers, and even I. But God's intention was that we would recognize His love, repent (change our way of thinking), and live our lives in a way that pleases Him. We crucify Jesus every day when we fail to properly acknowledge His sacrifice. This isn't a game. People are dying and it's going to take more than some shallow messages of Jesus that stroke us and make us feel better about our sin and lack of obedience.

Yeah Jesus walks, but will we walk with him?

Posted by Ambra at December 21, 2004 1:14 PM in Theocracy
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I can agree with most of your points. I'm just not sure anyone is going around saying Kanye Saves because he released "Jesus Walks." It's a very middle of the road single, and that's pretty obvious to both sides (Christian and non-Christian). People are really saying Kanye is spreading the Word like Mel Gibson? I do think they're both similar in taking something pop and putting a Jesus spin to it, as well as footing the bill for it....but I sincerely doubt Kanye is trying to spread Christ's message. If anything, I gather he is trying to make a point that he can release a successful single by rapping about something that's generally untouched. That's Kanye in a nutshell: doing something different from the next guy; making your own path. Jesus really has nothing to do with it.

Funny thing, this religious stuff. Breaks out at the most interesting times. Witness massive Grammy recognition for Mr. West. Interesting response to the response of Average Secular White Libs to The Black Church- keep at arm's length, nod nervously in recognition, look awkward when it's time to link arms during the MLK Day ceremony, use these institutions in the African-American community to promote their candidates on Sunday mornings before Election Day, undercut it in every way shape and form at all other occasions. Like Mark Steyn noting that in spite of constant efforts to keep managers out of City Hall and traditional hymns from public school concerts, more radio stations than ever pumping All Christmas Music All The Time. And his ominous note that they'll have to decide what's more important- a victory over the kindergarten teacher, or taking back Congress and the White House. Long way of saying congrats to Kanye.

AMEN to this! I loved your last paragraph... I couldn't have said it better myself. There is a lady I know who thought it was dumb that more than half of Americans voted for President Bush because of his spiritual beliefs. (Frankly, I don't think every Bush supporter supported him for that reason alone.) She said that voters should not have voted for him, thinking that Bush was more favored by God. She said that God loves everybody. This is true... but He wants us to recognize our sinfulness... repent... and walk with Him. This is the difference between Christians and non-Christians. There are tons of people who believe in God but do not walk with Him. President Bush's faith was/is one of many reasons why I support him.

I don't have a lot to say, but this is good stuff. Keep it up.

It is funny that Ethel brought up Mel Gibson. Reading your post, I kept thinking of that movie.

I kept thinking, He shouldn't have had to go through all of that punishment. It is I who should have been up there.

*applause* This is right on target!!! I am SO glad someone besides me does not see the reasoning behind hailing "Jesus Walks" as some great gospel song. This entry is simply truth. I love it. I will be keeping you posted.

Great article,Ambra. I agree that there is definitely "another Jesus" who is being so widely promoted and adored. It's troubling and sickening to say the least. I just wanted to add that much of this downward spiral has come about because the Church has compromised on the foundational principles of personal holiness & accountability. The Gospel has become in many circles a touchy-feely, God-is-not-mad-and-perfectly-understands-your-sin message, that words like repentance and sacrifice don't factor in. Paradigm shifts such as The Purpose Driven Church method and the Willow Creek or Seeker-Sensitive approaches to ministry have made the priority of church "making the lost comfortable". While I understand the love and compassion of the Lord,it is unbiblical to soothe away the true conviction of the Holy Spirit--regardless of the noble intention. So only when the Church refuses to compromise will the entertainment industry etc. be able to fully benefit from the salt and light that we are commissioned to be. In the mean time, we can only expect more booty-shaking Jesus lovers on the dance floor and at the awards ceremonies--and, for that matter, on our praise teams at church, Selah.

Walking with Jesus requires something of the individual. No one in the Bible ever encountered Jesus Christ and remained the same.

Exactly. The Jesus in the Gospels is not the "Groovy, High-On-Life Jesus Who Affirms Us In Our Okay-ness" (to borrow a turn of phrase from Catholic apologist Mark Shea).

Preach it, sister!

You Go Guuuurlll!
Right - on.
I agree with you.

Good post ... I agree wholeheartedly. In addition, I would say that when the church decided to make the gospel 'seeker friendly' the emphasis is on what Christ can do for you (fix your marriage, cure your addiction, etc.) when in reality, Christ came to save us from the wrath of God, the righteous judge. IF we understood this and the reality of hell we (the church) would take our task with a bit more seriousness.

There is a reason God wants us to regard him as a father: fathers are wonderfully pleased when their toddlers first start to walk, but they are not satisfied with a few stumbling steps. They want their kids to walk well, run, jump, join sports teams and win medals, etc. God wants you to be justified, but also sanctified. Once he's made you holy, he wants you to grow in holiness. I always liked the line "Yes, Jesus loves you just as you are. But he loves you too much to let you stay that way."

Great post, thanks Ambra.

Wow.......that is a great post Ambra.....you surely know Christ to have such insight.....and please do not think I am patronizing you when I say that for someone so young to see so clearly is wonderfully impressive!!

Would my old Holiness Preacher Pastor Risby agree with you on this subject and rightly so!!

The road to life truly is narrow!

Thanks

From Calgary

I'm excited to add you to my blogroll. A sister that understands what Jesus taught us. The mainstream media first attempts to demonize God, and if they don't succeed, to corrupt his teachings by picking and choosing among His words. Amen!

P.S. You got a little blog spam going on there. :P

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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