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
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).