This one comes to us from Ryan Alvey.

Like many people I was drawn to Kanye’s album Jesus Is King. Thanks to Spotify I had instant access, and was also tempted to have an instant take. But albums, good or bad, reveal their fruit over time. So I’ve been listening to it most days for a few months.

Several parts of the album are defensive; for example “Hands On”: “What have you been hearing from the Christians? / They be the first ones to judge me. / Make it feel like nobody love me.” An earlier track, “Follow God,” wrestles with the distance between the command and living it out. Kanye runs back and forth between God’s call and arguments with his own father. Behind the lyrics we hear the refrain, “Stretch my hands to you.” Is this praise or throwing up his hands in frustration? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference in our lives. And the song doesn’t resolve. It just ends with him yelling out, “Aaahhh!”

Yet through all of the contradictions and struggle, there is a declarative element to the album as a whole. His second track “Selah” (a mysterious word from the Psalms) is amazingly explicit. He references and quotes John’s Gospel (“whom the son sets free is free indeed”). This truth is made personal in his next words: “He saved a wretch like me.” “On God” takes us through a litany of life, giving credit where it is due. The song that most brings tears to my eyes, though, is “God Is.” Simple and profound, we hear echoes of Jesus’ words when John the Baptist asks if he’s the one: the faithfulness of God, forgiveness, freedom from captivity and addiction, good news for the poor (and the rich). Quite clearly we hear Kanye say, “Listen to the words I’m sayin’.” These aspects of the album draw us away from Kanye as performer, to Kanye as witness. He’s simply telling us what is.

What is unavoidable is that each of us will place Kanye in a box, not because he’s Kanye and somehow a unique martyr, but because this is what people do with each other. He’s the true convert for me to lionize. He’s the political misfit that distracts me from the truth. He’s the money-maker playing games with the masses. He’s mentally unstable, so take it all with a grain of salt. Any of these could be true, but they distract us from what he’s actually saying. Jesus is King. Jesus is Savior. As much as I might want to dismiss his celebrity, I keep coming back to this.

Kanye is of course a public figure and therefore receives public scrutiny. But his confession reminds me that however interior our faith may be, it always has this public dynamic, and therefore a scrutiny from others. I find myself a little ashamed at my hesitance to be found out as a Christian. I’ve served as a pastor for over 10 years, so you’d think sharing faith would come naturally to me. The truth is, I fear being put in a box. I don’t want to be seen as judgy, or holier-than-thou, so I’m hesitant to come right out with my need for Jesus. I can rationalize this in many ways, thinking if I don’t lead with my faith I might get a better hearing. But this album keeps bringing me back to my need, because it keeps making me face Jesus.

The truth is, I don’t know where I would be without the Good News of Christ. It shapes my existence not in some sort of victory march, but in how I am brought face to face with my losses. I need this good news all the time from as many people as possible. Whether it’s a comforting word from other believers or a story in the secular sphere, I am struck by these reflections of grace that find their source in Jesus. I need to keep hearing it, and I feel a strong desire to share. Kanye’s boldness reminds me that I’m free to do it. Whatever else may be said of Kanye and this album, it has been a gift to me. I pray that it has this effect on anyone else crying out, “Somebody pray for me.”

Image credit: Pieter-Jannick Dijkstra (edited).