We need to talk about Kanye’s Sunday Service

We need to talk about Kanye’s Sunday Service

From the songs ‘Jesus Walks’ to ‘Ultra-Light Beam’, Kanye West has a fraught relationship with religion or at least the way he presents his faith to the world.

With most of his songs filled with ego, overtly sexual or sometimes derogatory to women, Kanye’s music encompasses the complex relationship hip hop and rap lovers have with the genre, especially listeners who are Christian. And that’s not even mentioning the controversial comments Kanye makes in public.

Where artists Lecrae and Chance the Rapper manage to rap about their faith consistently and keep contradictory messaging to a minimum, Kanye runs far from the path before seemingly snapping back to his Christian roots.

So it wasn’t surprising when it was reported that Kanye wanted to start a church. On one hand this move could be seen as the epitome of Kanye’s ego. On the other hand, we could be witnessing an interesting faith journey. When asked about Kanye’s Sunday Services gospel star Kirk Franklin said “let the music heal him.”   

Since January 2019 Kanye’s Sunday Services have been popping up online via his wife Kim Kardashian’s Instagram.

“I had the idea of making a church before but I really was sketching it out. Then in 2019, I was like I’m not letting a Sunday go by without making this,” explained Kanye during a recent episode of Keeping Up with The Kardashians.

The format of the Sunday Service is mainly music led by Kanye and a gospel choir singing a mix of gospel songs and renditions of Kanye’s own music repertoire. There is the occasional guest preacher or prayer but the music is the central worship.

Kanye recently said that the services will start to include more traditional elements of church and he is also encouraging people to bring their Bibles.

Just another celebrity church?

The services attract A-listers including DMX, Courtney Love and even pop star Sia who lead worship with the Sunday Service gospel choir. Sia changed the words of her hit song, ‘Elastic Heart’ to sing the words, “Lift up your voices now, sing praises to our God for all the things that He has done.”

These Sunday Services, first took place in a studio in Calabasas. The dome-like worship space, keeps the choir in the middle of the circle of attendees, while immersed in ultraviolet lighting. This initial design of the room was inspired by one of Kanye’s favourite artist’s James Turrell who is a leading light and space artist.

People who experience Turrell’s immersive art pieces often describe a sense of spiritual and light healing. In an 2013 interview with Art News, Turrell his own experience with religion and the influence it has on his artworks.

“I am interested in the dynamics of inner vision and religious traditions dealing with light, including the Quaker faith I grew up with. But I’m mostly interested in what I know.

“It’s not that I keep a lid on what I believe, but I want to have my believing kept very close to the knowing.

“I think most of us recognize that light filling a void can be a very powerful experience—a reminder that segregating the literal and what we call the ‘spiritual’ can sometimes be a meaningless distinction,” said Turrell.

Turrell’s concepts of light, space and time gives another small insight into what Kanye is trying to create with his Sunday Services. Not religious, but a spiritual experience.

The Sunday Services have since outgrown the studio with it now taking place mostly outdoors with the exact location varying each week. Then on 21 April, Kanye, his team and gospel choir took over Coachella for an Easter Sunday Service, indicating that these services may be here to stay.

In his interview with David Letterman (a must watch), Kanye delves deeper into the work in progress these Sunday Services are. He also speaks on his parents inspiration, his 2016 hospitalisation, dealing with bipolar and what point he is trying to make about MAGA and Trump even though he has never voted.

When Letterman asked Kanye when he knew this Sunday service would be complete, Kanye’s response was, “when there will be world peace.”

Will these Sunday Services move people to explore their own faith? Maybe, maybe not— only time will tell as we watch what Kanye’s Sunday Service will morph into. 

How do we define worship?

In the Hold That Thought episode below Rev. Rebecca Lindsay talks about worship and how God turns up when we gather in his name.

Image: Kanye West (Source: AAP)

Melissa Stewart

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