Not a White Person’s Christian

All I am is a vessel, doing God’s work.

If you watched the National Championship game between Georgia and Alabama, you likely heard words similar to that.

Surely, you heard Alabama freshman quarterback Tua stand before the microphone and cameras and declare that the very first thing he wanted to do was to thank the Lord Jesus Christ?

But he wasn’t the only one giving God the shout-out.

“All I am is a vessel, doing God’s work” are not the words of Tua.

Those are the words of Kendrick Lamar.

Yes, that rapper whose halftime performance compelled so many online critics to declare the provocative performance “awful” “Lewd” and, well, I won’t repeat all the other more racist remarks.

Here’s the thing we white people know about ourselves: We like our Christianity to be sanitized (we call it being sanctified).

Kendrick Lamar is not a white person’s Christian. His is a raw expletive-fuck-filled faith, hard-fought, but no less redemptive than that of his fellow brother Tua Tagovailoa.

“I just want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. With him, all things are possible,” Tua said following that heart-attack inducing OT win.

Tua spoke in language white Christians the world over recognize and applaud. Gratitude is a core principle of the Christian faith. (Actually, it is a core value of nearly every faith persuasion). Even the most hard-core Georgia fans respected the young Alabama quarterback who stole away their Championship because Tua gave all the glory to God.

But some of those same fans took to Facebook and Twitter to call out Kendrick Lamar’s performance as one of the worst ever.

Tua and Lamar both claim that it is their faith in God that has gotten them to where they are – the only difference is that Lamar speaks the language of the street, while Tua speaks the language of the church.

In other words, Tua cleans up nicely, while Lamar is more a John the Baptist version of Christianity. He can be too much for uppity white folks.  Lamar knows exactly who he is, though. He knows his weaknesses and his strengths.

Speaking about the millions of fans he does have, Lamar told a reporter, “I’m the closest thing to a preacher that they have. I know that from being on tour – kids are living by my music. My word will never be as strong as God’s word.”

I’m just a vessel, doing his work, he said.

Lamar’s music carries a message of redemption. It may not be a message that resonates with white people of a certain income level, but that’s okay. There are plenty of Tuas out there there speaking to that demographic already. While Tua’s message resonates with those who already know Jesus personally, Lamar’s message resonates with those who are searching for a deeper meaning in their often ugly existence.

“From my perspective I can only give you the good with the bad,” Lamar said. “It’s bigger than a responsibility, it’s a calling.”

That calling of Kendrick’s is why he rarely drinks or smokes, loathes materialism and Social Media (a distraction, he says, from doing the thing we are called to do).

Lamar Kendrick has been heralded for having a prophetic voice.

His lyrics address the ills of society – things he witnessed as a child growing up on the streets of Compton, California, with a dad who reportedly had dealings in gangs. Lamar had an early gifting. He was the kid who, while never escaping his surroundings, was able to transform those experiences through the power of the written word – and the faith he found in Jesus. Consider the lyrics of one of the songs he performed onstage during halftime, DNA:

I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids
And I wish I was fed forgiveness
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, soldier’s DNA
Born inside the beast
My expertise checked out in second grade
When I was 9, on cell, motel, we didn’t have nowhere to stay
At 29, I’ve done so well, hit cartwheel in my estate
And I’m gon’ shine like I’m supposed to
Antisocial, extrovert
And excellent mean the extra work
And absentness what the fuck you heard
And pessimists never struck my nerve
And that’s a riff, gonna plead this case
The reason my power’s here on earth
Salute the truth, when the prophet say

Let me put some of Lamar’s thoughts into a more suitable form for white folks of faith, shall I?

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind;
Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

It isn’t right or fair to compare the faith of these two young men, both of whom have achieved great successes at tender ages. But perhaps it is never right to compare one person’s faith with another. Living a redemptive life is the only thing that matters. That is never going to look the same, even in the lives of white people of the same economic class.

Who can rightly judge the redemption of our lives other than the one who extended that redemption to us?

Lamar has been called a radical Christian. It is not a title he rejects.

“God put something in my heart to get across, and that’s what I’m going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done.”

Lamar may wrestle with different demons that Tua does, or you or I do, but the fact that he wrestles with them is what matters most.

Like Tua, Lamar realizes exactly who he is in relationship to God. Those who criticize him, might do well to consider first his heart. Or their own:

“Lord God, I come to you a sinner, and I humbly repent for my sins. I believe that Jesus is Lord. I believe that you raised Him from the dead. I will ask that Jesus will come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. I receive Jesus to take control of my life that I may live for Him from this day forth. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me with your precious blood. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” —Intro to Good Kid, m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

27 Comments

David Slater

about 10 months ago

Your article attempting to justify Lamar’s lyrics glasses over tons of material glorifying violence against women, and loveless, illicit sex. Congratulations.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

David: I assume you meant "glosses" over? Writers often write from their own experiences. Lamar is writing to show both the dark and light of his redemptive life. Count yourself lucky if violence toward women and children have not been part of your experience. For far too many it is.

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about 10 months ago

First of calling names to white Christians is racist and uppity whites cmon no one could understand him and first I ve ever heard of him Im 47 years old he s for the younger genration, and when a crowd cant undetstand what is being said what do you expect! We re watching on TV thank you very much so dont make this a racisit thing maybe yall should get him some better sound systems sonwe cpuld ve heard it more clearly ! Amd comparing what his lyrics say to what Tua said is absurd! GOD BLESS! ALSO IVE SEEN POVERTY MYSELF BUT I AM A CHRISTIAN...

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

I don't respond to anonymous posters.

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Susan Batastini

about 10 months ago

Karen, Thank you. I did not, could not watch nor listen to Lamar Kendrick last night because all I heard was noise. All I saw was just more of the same posturing and twisting and grabbing that I’ve seen in other performers acts.. So I made an immediate assumption and hit mute and busied myself for the time he was on screen. So I saw and heard about 15 seconds. I couldn’t hear a word he said, well I could hear it, it was loud enough , but I couldnt listen because he was unintelligible and the only clues about what the heck he was singing about came from his choreography. I had NO idea what he was trying to say. I was not prepared for the barrage of sight and sound of his delivery and when it came it was so overwhelming I ran for cover. I so totally dismissed him that I didn’t do what I normally do when I don’t understand, I’ll go . “Look it up”..but he did not register at all and I totally dismissed it. Done. I didn’t know anything about him before his performance and no questions about him simmered in the back of my mind afterward. What you have just explained is so far from my contextual understanding ..I’m speechless. Totally without words. ( I am never speechless) the dawn of understanding just sucker punched the breath out of me. Thank you for this translation. It would totally and completely be an impossible task for me to “get” this guy with out your synthesis. Wow.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Susan: I am so glad you found something of worth in this essay, that perhaps this essay helped you see something from a different POV. That's always my goal. To get people to think in ways that they may not have prior. Thank you for reading, and for sharing your own thoughts.

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J B

about 10 months ago

I downloaded Kendrick's new album this summer and eagerly listened while sitting next to my 16 year old who loves his music. I am a 47 white woman who is into all sorts of music and am a music enthusiast. He's talented. I hear he's a good human but When I hear :Girl, I can buy yo' ass the world with my paystub Ooh, that pussy good, won't you sit it on my taste bloods? I get way too petty once you let me do the extras" I AM OUT. Why in the hell does a young man of any color want to put those words so degrading to women in one of his songs. A song that has a great beat, some good lyrics and would have sold just as many copies without being so nasty and de grading to women. These are not the words of someone of any race or gender who is looking up to GOD. Comparing him to what Tua said is not reasonable. Also, why did he have to grab himself over and over and over and over and over again. We get it, you think this is a black thing. Well? The people who I watched with who happened to be black are disgusted by it too. We don't want to see anyone white or black grab their junk for 10 minutes. Make a gesture here or there if you feel you must for emphasis but for GOD's sake man LET YOUR JUNK GO..... Here are some other lovely lyrics by Kendrick. Calling women a HOE? super christian, No faith condones this type of crap. [Kendrick Lamar:] Oh, what up hoe? Oh, what up? I said, oh, what up hoe? Oh, what up? I said, oh, what up hoe? Oh, what up? Well alright [Chorus x2: Kendrick Lamar] I'm going through something with life Where pussy and Patron make you feel alright Pussy and Patron make you feel alright Pussy and Patron, that's some great advice

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

As a writer, I understand a couple of imperatives: - You write from the context of your own experiences - You write to connect with an audience. Kendrick Lamar's audience is not a white teen growing up in Bend, Oregon. His audience is primarily an urban black audience. He uses language that an urban black teen hears every single day. You don't have to get it. You don't have to like it. You can have your issues, but to say that Tua's faith is better than Lamar's faith is to not understand redemption at all. God needs all kinds of voices to reach all kinds of people. God gets Lamar whether we white folks do or not. God gets him. God redeems him the same way he redeems Tua. That's the point. And you should listen to Keisha's Song, and look up the lyrics to that.

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Kayra

about 10 months ago

It's also worth noting that Humble, the song from which that lyric came from, is meant to be parody of the things that other rappers glorify.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Thank you for that.

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Gwen Newton

about 10 months ago

I must admit. I cried when I read those lyrics. I feel deeply for any person, especially children, who have to live under those circumstances. I've seen it in black families and in white families. But I must ask you. Where in those lyrics does "O Lamb, of God I come" come in? What, exactly, are the lyrics telling these children? Because if he's not leading children to God, then he's not doing it right. Maybe I don't know enough of this language to see that but I don't see it. Another thing is, what is the song that they hear directly after that one. Based on what I've read, it could be a message that says sex and drugs is the answer. Try some Michael Tait rap or some of the the other Christian rap artists that really bring the right message. Thank for enlightening me on the fact that he does love God. I just wish he would drop the profanity and talk more about the Lord.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Gwen: I encourage you to do your own research. I've only posted a small portion of the lyrics of one song. There are many songs. His lyrics are not straightforward the way a hymn would be. But the point is, let's not judge the redemptive work of God in another.

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about 10 months ago

Absolutely! I would like to encourage Mr. Lamar to use his God-given gift to not not only relate to his peers but to also encourage them, letting them know where their redemption lies, in Jesus Christ our Lord. It's true that only someone like him may be the only one who can reach some of these kids. He doesn't need to fall short of that goal. I want to say one more tying. I know there are lots of "uppity white Christians" who fall short, I surely fall short, but the bottom line is, God is the only answer. Thank you for this conversation. I appreciate your accepting my comments.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

What makes you think he is falling short of that goal? Maybe Lamar is honoring God more than any of us.

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Mary Cooke

about 10 months ago

Okay - I don't follow football and was totally unaware of the controversy. It's a little like politics - I need to escape now and then. But this posting was good and the recorded interview portrays Kendrick as a really nice person. He is obviously trying hard to get a message out to people who come from a completely different environment. I wonder if he is trying to shock his listeners to make a point or just speaking their language. I think when tensions build up you almost feel that need to get it all out - raw and crude, just listen to me. I also remember when my Irish father thought how disgusting Elvis was - my sister took the heat from him on that! I don't know if I would like my grandchildren liking his music but I also know I wouldn't like them sitting around some ignorant white men making lewd jokes. I don't want to say they are all Christians because I'm not sure I am one. He says he doesn't want to preach and he recognizes that not everyone would understand on the music - maybe we have to just be open to it. And "not being afraid to touch different people"....good words. Thanks Karen. I now want to go and listen to Reagan - what is that rap about it!

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Thanks Mary. I think for far too long we have been about the business of judging others by our own religious conventions, instead of allowing that the language of the church may not resonate with those who have grown up in an environment that required them to be survivors. As I noted on FB, you learn that there is a place for vulgarity. There is a place for pushing back against those conventions. We want people to reflect back to us who we are and what we believe and to act in ways we consider "right." We never stop to wonder: Does God really expect us all to speak the language of the church? The Bible is pretty vulgar. I think Lamar likely speaks the language that Peter would have used. Paul, the scholar, however, would likely have been bugged by Peter's use of such strong language.

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Debbie Coggins

about 10 months ago

You are entitled to your opinion. However, I ask you this: Would you be willing to repeat any of the aforesaid lyrics in the presence of the KING? Is he playing to his audience or playing to the King? I cannot see how one could possibly believe that the lyrics (regardless of where or by whom they are heard) could glorify God.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Debbie: Why would I not be willing to say those things in front of God? He, above all others, would be the one I'd be most likely to say it to. Do you think God is more put off by vulgarity than by the tendency of Believers to condemn each other? The Bible itself is pretty vulgar in parts. And I'd suggest to you that the reason you cannot understand how Lamar's lyrics are used by God because you are white and evangelical and likely spend all your time with others who think like you. If you were an urban black who had grown up everyday worrying about your safety, I bet Lamar's lyrics would resonate with you. At any rate, I'm not asking you to like Lamar's lyrics. I'm just suggesting to you that you not do the very thing you have done here - use your own experiences by which to judge & condemn others.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Do you not worry about the judgement embedded in your comment? Who are you to determine what another artist should or should not do? Do you not trust that God is at work in your life? Can you not trust that God is at work in both lives of these young men?

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Tai Anderson

about 10 months ago

I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for using your voice to highlight Lamar’s faith that can easily be misunderstood in our cultural constructs.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Thank you for reading it and sharing your thoughts.

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AFRoger

about 10 months ago

Just came from a fascinating seminar with Amy E. Herman (www.artfulperception.com). We gained some firsthand experience of how much we see that we don't see. She uses artwork to illustrate her points, but the same could be said of words. She gave us these few memorable ones to take home: "We mostly listen to respond, not to understand". The entire gospel according to John is about seeing, more than with eyes, but with heart and mind. A good exercise is to simply look at the first four chapters (or chapter 9, or chapter 20) for how often the verb "to see" comes up, but how much more it conveys than eyesight. When something is said, what's really being said? Is our aim to respond or first to understand?

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Most excellent response, Roger. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Yes, listening matters.

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Scatt

about 10 months ago

Using the vulgar language of a lost generation in order to reach them? Some how I don't think Jesus used such tactics nor do I think John the Baptist used vulgar language. Mr. Lamar is no John the Baptist. Not even close.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 10 months ago

Apparently you read a more sanitized version of the Bible.

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Rusty

about 7 months ago

I’m just coming across this article and I think it’s so beautifully well said. Thanks for the bravery to write it knowing the push back it would get. And thanks for the artfulness of your words to help bring understanding.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 7 months ago

Thank you for reading it and for your kind words.

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