‘Refine’ or ‘re-define’ the church experience?

Published 8:04 pm Friday, September 20, 2019

Kanye West is a chameleon.

Before I go further, “in the interest of full disclosure,” as is sometimes said in the news business, I don’t know the man’s music, follow him on social media, or do a good job of keeping up with his activities.

I do know that he’s begun something called Sunday Service. Its first exposure came in West’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles, and now is making its way around the country: the Coachella Music Festival, Atlanta, even the tiny Chicago suburb of Batesville, Indiana.

At first billed as a ‘concert’, it’s now been re-cast as part musical experience and part religious experience. It comes complete with a choir and has been described as Christian based, including featuring a variety of gospel and hip-hop songs.

The service also includes messages of positivity to youth and adults.

But does hip-hop come to mind with Sunday services?

I guess I’m old school, but a little pew-rockin’, toe tappin’, head noddin’, tambourine slappin’ gospel is more the likes of my “Sunday-go-to-Meeting” tastes.

As for West, while Sunday Service has become more of a private affair looking like a celebrity cult where the latest sightings of Hollywood big-names can be found (i.e., actor Brad Pitt at a service in Watts – yep, the same east-LA Watts! – where Pitt’s post-service greeting with West became a viral photo-op). Add to that milieu the likes of David Letterman, Tyler Perry, Katy Perry, and … well, you get the idea, I hope.

I had a lot of empathy for West following the untimely passing of his mother, Dr. Donda West, over a year ago just as her son’s notoriety was again on the rise. I identified with the devastation he must have been feeling, and from which it sometime takes a modicum of time in order to restore order.

Mingle with that such eye-brow raising incidents as his ‘feud’ with Taylor Swift, marriage to Kim Kardashian and all that entailed, smarmy love affair with Donald Trump, plus, fatherhood, and maybe you’ve got the toxic mix that birthed Sunday Service.

As one minister – the ordained kind – has said, “It gives young people hope; and anything that brings people together in fellowship is a good thing.”

West’s faith has also played a part in the popularity of his music among his legion of devoted fans.

“Religion,” according to the rapper, “just means that you do something over and over. I will say that I’m spiritual. I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. And I will say that I fall short every day.”

All West’s albums, I am told, since 2013 have been sprinkled with gospel messaging. One of his music tracks is even titled “I am God”.

Somehow, I feel that West’s somewhat disastrous foray into politics may have been the impetus for this, from the “slavery was a choice”, to White House visits with selfies wearing a MAGA cap (Whoa, this from the same guy who once said during a Hurricane Katrina relief telethon that then-President George Bush didn’t care about black people!).

Maybe Sunday Service is West’s attempt at redeeming himself from all of this: a return to religion implying a want for forgiveness, and the cultish air of the services promotes that without any explanation necessary.

Will Sunday Service last beyond this year? I don’t know, nor care to speculate. Sometimes Sunday Service steps beyond the bounds of conventional, as in not following any specific denomination and even omitting sermons.

But without a homily or sermon,is Sunday Service really a religious service at all?

Maybe this is all a precursor for a larger idea West has in mind. Maybe it’s not. But Sunday Service is undoubtedly West’s latest iteration of his relationship with faith, and just another journey shrouded in mystery, but maybe it’s just provocative and unsettling enough to fit West’s somewhat subversive personality.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at: gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.