Finding the Words

If it brings me to my knees// It’s a bad religion – Frank Ocean[1]

I’m a deadbeat cousin, I hate family reunions//Fuck the church up by drinkin after communion// Spillin’ free wine, now my tux is ruined – Kanye West[2]

Here it is not the creativity of the fatwa that matters, but rather its capacity to enable a self to stay and advance upon an already defined path toward an ideal Muslim self. And that capacity is found not in reforming them to fit modern times, but in the skill of using them discerningly to “say the right words at the right time” for the person who seeks guidance… – Hussein Agrama[3]


I’m not terribly pious these days. And it is for that reason, that I have a growing respect for the Catholics who only cross themselves when the bulls are down by three and there are only seven left on the clock. This strikes me as an honest way of living, because it proceeds from within the practices at hand without attempting to supersede their fictional character. It’s all in the act. But there are two ways things can go: Are we working with the material or is it working on us and moulding us? Or perhaps there is a third way (no theobro), could it be the case that it is both? No, it is not both. And I’m not going to elaborate on that.

It turns out that the taxi driver knows very little about unrequited love, and the kinds of ‘bad religion’ that try to redeem it, and sometimes the communion wine is not enough to drown out debt or police sirens. Can I have a bottle to myself, please? And yes, I will drink from a chalice and I would like to see you try and stop me. With that said, it is still the case that we are just trying to discern how to say the right things at the right time. It would be nice if there were mufti’s who cared for all of us, but the wilderness is pretty remote and sometimes it is hard to stay in touch.

On his latest album The Life of Pablo, it seems like Kanye is exploring the hard work of discernment and guidance. This is a gospel album, but in what sense? Where exactly is the good news of this album? It is in no particular place. It makes its appearance on no particular song. If you are looking for some kind of ‘event’ (truth or otherwise) you will not find it here. Instead, you will find the sounds and textures of the extended present, and if you listen carefully you can hear some good news. The good news is that there is still news to be told. The rights words to say, have not been discerned, but thankfully there are still words to be said. And thankfully, there is still a Kanye West to say things amidst the ongoing failures at saying the right things at the right time. The scattered nature of Kanye’s latest runs against the grain of other artists attempts to retrieve ‘purpose’ and reach a state of stability. The gospel of Purpose vs. The gospel of ongoing discernment and making of life. Bieber has found a gospel or a “purpose” that acts upon him. Kanye has found nothing, and is trying to slog through the material at hand, and occasionally say a prayer or two.

The Life of Pablo is not that far from ‘no church in the wild’. There really is no church in the wild, but all is not lost. There is still the sounds of our attempts to organize, to say the right things at the right time. This might not be church in the wild, but I think it works for now. Like Buzzer-beater prayers, it is a fiction that I can live with.



[1] Frank Ocean “Bad Religion” Channel Orange (Def Jam, 2012).

[2] Kanye West “Real Friends” The Life of Pablo (GOOD music, 2016).

[3] Agrama, Hussein Ali. Questioning Secularism, P.182


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