The recent rumination over what some have dubbed “the cult of Kanye West” is the culmination of a trajectory that by some estimations has been moving for 20 or 30 years now. It has been marked by the de-sacralization of Christian worship, coupled with the dilution of its depth, breadth and political (real-world-here-and-now) implications.
By many accounts, what Kanye is doing is having a concert on a Sunday and calling it a “service” in order to lend moral credibility to his events. Some will cynically say “so what?” and point to the struggles of the Church with internal corruption, its hypocritical institutional judgment of some sins (while giving a blatant pass to others) and its seeming unwillingness to engage the world as it is and find a way to speak eternal life into that world so that it that resonates with current conditions.
“Our continued collective crookedness is killing us.”
Those who would level such critiques are right; but Kanye’s cult reminds us again that so many of the answers to those critiques have been wrong. So many of the alternatives to “traditional Christianity” that have emerged have either (a) betrayed the politics of Jesus (as clearly related in the “red letters” of the King James Version of the Bible); (b) made Christian worship into an informal experience that reduces the majesty of God to the comfort of an afternoon break at your local coffeehouse; or (c) combined a and b with an overtly regressive and theologically simplistic message that pushes its adherents to excuse the basest elements of human thought and behavior, which has resulted in this Trumpian season that so many of us are trying desperately to survive.
Meanwhile, the moral reckoning that I have written about before continues unabated, and it only becomes more entrenched by the day. By its very nature, a reckoning calls us to account for the deep and destructive shortcomings of our past, and it demands that we make amends with the present brokenness (that is a result of our deep and destructive past shortcomings) and plot a future path that departs from its past and present waywardness. It’s the sort of thing that the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he called upon God’s people “to prepare the way of the Lord” and “make paths straight.”
Our continued collective crookedness is killing us. That “killing” is sometimes most manifest in the sort of spiritual and psychological madness that anchors the spectacle of Kanye West; but at other times it is physical and material – and it is terrifying and traumatizing to witness. From the controversial hugs that Amber Guyger received to the recent murder of another black woman by a Texas police officer, we are constantly reminded of just how much is at stake for communities who are most vulnerable to the broken behavior of people in positions of privilege and power.
“Things are changing, and they are moving in the moral direction that they should. And we absolutely cannot and must not lose sight of this.”
The good news is that we are making progress because the reckoning is resonating and the needle of cultural change is moving. The vitriol over black people hugging white killers in the case of Guyger violently obscured the reality that just three years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a white woman police officer would have been fired and convicted and actually given a double-digit sentence for gunning down an unarmed black man. Somehow, someway, her tears, her badge and her privileged friends would have found a way to help her escape any accountability whatsoever – like they have done for literally 400 years in this country.
The Fort Worth police officer who killed the young black woman resigned immediately because he knew he was about to be fired, and now he has been charged with murder. We will have to wait to see if he suffers the same fate as Guyger – hugs or not – and if perhaps he receives a sentence that moves from the lowest double digits to one that is meaningful (which would be a further sign of progress). But things are changing, and they are moving in the moral direction that they should. And we absolutely cannot and must not lose sight of this in the midst of our impatience with and indignation at the justice that remains deferred.
I for one, have begun to question whether or not it is true that “justice delayed is justice denied,” because the moral truth of justice is absolute, and moral truth can never ultimately be defeated or repressed.
What is true is that some of us may not live long enough to see justice made manifest (in the context of one situation or another).
What is true is that those who remain in any way complacent in the face of injustice must be challenged – always and with unyielding fervor.
“We are constantly reminded of just how much is at stake for communities who are most vulnerable to the broken behavior of people in positions of privilege and power.”
What is true is that those who appear more interested in protecting their own privilege at the expense of those who are victimized by the excesses of that privilege must be defeated at the polls, booted off of the boards where they sit, and isolated into spaces where they can no longer do harm to those who have been harmed for so long.
The moral truths of Christian scripture – the fierce, faithful and steadfast nature of love, the requirement that we seek every possible manner of reconciliation with each other, and God’s preferential option for the poor in a world that opts to prefer their poverty – these moral truths are not contingent on nor determined by the current context, past history or present circumstances that we face. Instead, they are meant to inform the way that we evaluate those circumstances, they are meant to be our guide as we interpret that history, and they are designed to lead us as we interact with our current context.
These truths are more enduring than even our personal heartbreak at the brokenness of the world, and the power of these truths must be the instrument that we use to gain leverage over that which enrages us the most.
I am convinced that the deep and abiding anger that we harbor at the world as it is today will kill us in greater numbers than the actions of crooked cops, Trump-loving white nationalists or mass shooters. We must commit to practices that do not inadvertently help the Enemy to do its work. As elusive as it may seem, seeking the peace that surpasses all understanding must be our daily work, so that we will be healthy enough to press on for that justice that may or may not be made manifest while we are alive to see the view.
I believe that there is hope for us, and that hope is embodied in the moving needle of cultural change and the ways in which the reckoning is resonating and compelling us to make paths straight(er) than they were before. God IS doing a new thing, God’s truth IS marching on, and we would do well to perceive it and to make the most of it.