There’s nothing like bad language to divide opinion. Back in the eighties when American Pastor and Professor of Sociology, Tony Campolo, took to the stage of Spring Harvest his audience were not prepared for what was coming. ‘Tonight,’ he said, ‘thirty thousand children are going to die of starvation, and you don’t give a shit. And more importantly, you are more offended by my use of the word shit than you are of those children who tonight will die.’ Campolo had made his point - but he’d also caused havoc for the organisers of the event!
Last weekend Stormzy, a 25 year old grime artist was the first British black solo artist to headline at Glastonbury. His performance electrified the audience and has gone down as one of the most notable performances in the history of the Festival. He started by saying, ‘We’re going to take this to Church and we’re going to give God all the glory now,’ before singing his hit song, Blinded By Your Grace. The performance has over 1,300.000 views on YouTube and it’s clear he is worshipping God and looking on in wonder as the crowd joins with him. It’s a rare moment in UK Pop Culture - and one that’s captured many emotions.
Later in the set he went onto to sing his latest song, Crown, where he suggests that standing for issues of social justice carries its own burden as the refrain: ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’ suggests. Now all this would be great: standing up for young black men; speaking out about the Grenfell tragedy; challenging institutionalised injustice - if he’d just stop cussing. His language causing him to connect with some and disconnect from others.
But we need to take a step back before rushing in, it's easy to step in and find fault but there were 100,000 people part of his congregation that evening.
Stormzy's music is making a connection with a new generation where many in the Church are not. Speaking as a Pastor I readily acknowledge we are living in a post Christian context and here we have half of Somerset singing:
Lord, I've been broken
Although I'm not worthy
You fixed me, I'm blinded
By your grace
You came and saved me
There in the midst of Popular Culture you have the echoes of grace reverberating across a field full of people. And he's not just dropped there - his platform has been borne out of his craft. The commitment to practising his art, of building his audience, of walking contemporary culture with all its challenges and opportunities. Perhaps in that world were cussing is a normative way of speaking we shouldn't be looking at his F bombs as much as his intentions. For sure the Faith Community to which his God songs align should be praying for this young man. Praying that fame won't spoil him, temptation won't ruin him, and success won't isolate him. What's for certain is we need people who are angry enough to speak up to the injustice around us and this is the role of the social prophet. He has his eye on a bigger goal - of speaking truth to power. Will he get it all right: no. Will his take always be correct: no. But at least he's coming across as some who does give a shit - and in this world of apathy and self-interest that has to be something to applaud.