On Kesha (and Truth Proclaimed in Unexpected Places)

I wonder: If we open our eyes, what truth might we see around us? What truth is being told by unexpected voices in unexpected places?

My Spotify playlists are organized by the seasons of the church calendar. There’s Lent, Advent, Epiphany, and Pentecost. My playlist “Common Time” happens to be almost exclusively made up of female artists. They’re mostly pop stars with something to say to the patriarchy: Misterwives, Solange, and Kesha.

I grew up with Kesha. I came of age to Kesha. My basketball team in high school would warm up to “Tik Tok,” singing proudly that we “brush our teeth with a bottle of Jack” without truly understanding what that meant.

About a year ago, Kesha released her album Rainbow, her first music since I was a teenager. When I heard the inaugural single of the album, “Praying,” for the first time, I felt as if I had been gut-punched (in the best way). I pulled up the music video on YouTube and watched it on my small iPhone screen probably 16 times in a row, screenshotting the scenes that felt especially significant and beautiful.

Vulnerable piano ballads are not usually groundbreaking. Many pop stars have written them. Many pop stars have performed them. But for an artist I knew only for her glittery, superficial club bangers to open up about meaningful topics and pain—this felt profound.

One of the screenshots I took from the “Praying” video freezes Kesha standing on a giant, colorfully painted rock formation. Bright paint spells the words “God is love” in enormous letters behind her, and you can see Kesha walking upward to the word “God.”

I should say here that Kesha’s spirituality, in the context of mainstream Christianity, is unorthodox. She’s a bisexual, platinum-selling pop star recovering from sexual and emotional abuse and an eating disorder, so I’d guess her life experience itself is somewhat unorthodox. So when I watched this video, I was shocked to see “God is love”—a core Christian truth—blatantly proclaimed in the video of a song on the Billboard Top 100.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked. Culture—all aspects of it—has been proclaiming truths by tucking them into song, literature, and theater for a long time. In Acts 17, Paul quotes pagan poets to the Athenians (the specific line was “We are God’s offspring”), showing that their religiosity was authentic but just needed guidance. The Athenians could name and identify truths; they just needed to root them in the narrative of the God who became flesh.

So I wonder: If we open our eyes, what truth might we see around us? What truth is being told by unexpected voices in unexpected places? Maybe a pop star whose songs are popular in clubs understands who God is better than we do. Maybe the pizza delivery guy has something for us to learn in our two-minute interaction with him. Maybe the men and women behind the pulpit don’t have a monopoly on proclaiming hope and grace. And maybe bisexual, platinum-selling pop stars recovering from sexual and emotional abuse and an eating disorder are actually the perfect people for the job.

About the Author

Maaike Mudde grew up attending Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is a recent graduate of Calvin College. She currently works as a college adviser and cross country coach at Montague High School in Montague, Mich., where s

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     Thanks, Maaike, for your interesting take on the ways many people (even apart from Christianity) see the revelation of God in and around them through the created order.  Many people, such as Kesha, sense God’s activity in our world, even in their lives.  So Kesha is able to proclaim through song, “God is love.”  Many Christians will discount such sentiment as being insufficient for salvation.  Others don’t.
      In our Reformed theology, we talk of a “common grace” of God that is common to all of humankind.  There are many ways that all of humanity can perceive, experience and appreciate the creator God.  The creation is God’s own revelation of himself.  David of the Old Testament often rejoiced in the God of creation, and this was prior to the advent of Christ.  And the Bible attests that David was a man after God’s own heart, even though his sins were dark and damaging.  Many, today, believe God looks at the inward person rather than outward actions, and with David find acceptance with God.  He is, after all, a God of love.
     In our Reformed background, we believe and teach that there is no other name by which one can be saved other than Jesus.  Apart from him, the outlook is not good, in fact one’s destiny is hell, as determined by God. We say God is a God of grace, but only for those being saved.  For the rest he is a God of justice.  There is not much room for the likes of Kesha (as long as she remains unrepentant).  So as you suggest, Maaike,  perhaps there are those who understand who God is better than we do.  Maybe we don’t have a monopoly on proclaiming hope and grace (as you suggest).  We can only hope you are right. Thanks for an interesting article.

Thank you for making me cry dear friend :)

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