So why would a hardcore, best-selling rapper announce that he has found God? There’s been a lot of sensational reports about Kanye West’s conversion to Christianity recently. The press have had a field day on his new found faith: some think it’s a press stunt while others are dumbfounded by his sincerity. Everyone is lining up to interview him, and even James Corden made a beeline to film a segment for Airpool Karaoke with the Gold Digger rap star. His latest album release, Jesus Is King has shocked both music industry and the general public. It seems some people don’t know what to make of the situation. 

Some of the controversy is over whether his faith is genuine or a passing phase, and to be fair we have to ask this question of our own faith and belief before pointing the finger at others. There are some Christian believers who are dubious and unconvinced, yet how would they feel if someone questioned their own faith? We should be rejoicing over the one who has come to God, not asking whether God’s miracle of new faith is good enough to satisfy our own curiosity. When the prodigal son returned, his brother was less than pleased about it. People have found Kanye’s sudden conversion difficult, however there are many Christians who came to faith overnight. Whether we come to God slowly or quickly, the important part is that we accepted God in his timing. 

Some time ago, a revival in Hollywood was prophesied and many have been eagerly waiting to see it. A revival starts with one person; that’s all it takes to bring to good news to people. Kanye is a high profile rapper with a huge following. His example, no matter how different to our own, shines out to his colleagues, fan base and the entertainment industry. His first album The College Dropout indicated his rebellious nature against his middle class, well educated background. Who better to rebel against an industry that has seen religion as a unfashionable and a waste of time? God always chooses unexpected people to fulfil his will. 

This is the time for people to support Kanye in his journey with God. There will be plenty of naysayers who want him to steer off course. It is our responsibility to look after new believers. It is not our place to test whether his faith is genuine, that test belongs to God. Kanye’s walk with God started some time ago, and his Jesus Walks single in 2004 was indication of the journey we are seeing today. The artistic journey often ruffles feathers as the artist represents the world as they see it. Audiences often react quickly when the finished article isn’t what they expect, explicit or not in line with church culture. There needs to be graciousness and a willingness to try and understand a different point of view. Growing in faith takes time and encouragement; no one becomes a saint overnight. 

Whatever your feelings about Kanye’s realisation of faith, his dedication is admirable. If anything it has made me re-evaluate my own circumstances and reflect on how I represent my faith to the world. Kanye’s courage to announce his conversion reminds us that following Jesus isn’t for wimps. Those who cling to God’s call need support and unity, and as Christians that’s what we’re called to provide. Maybe it is time to stop freaking out, and show a bit of love…

The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on. 

Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity. 

Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do. 

Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it. 

So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make. 

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gmOn Christmas Day, the last thing I wanted to hear was that George Michael had died. In a year where we have lost so many well loved and exciting musicians, this seemed like the last straw. It’s no secret that I was a massive Wham fan when I was growing up, and that I followed his solo career closely. It’s taken me awhile to write a tribute to him, mainly because I just needed to go off and be a miserable git about the whole thing for awhile. My musings have led me to this  realisation though: the press have often portrayed his life as tragic yet over the years I’ve garnered hope from his watching his life and career.

In the last month, I’ve pondered on what George’s legacy might be for artists and music makers in general. His artistic progression from bubblegum pop to jazz and dance, shows his ability to compose without limitations. I have wondered that if he had not died, where his art would take him next. Over the years I’ve had many an industry professional struggle with the fact that I produce music from a variety of genres; to them it’s not marketable and they “can’t work out who I am”, but in George’s case, it was his strength and give his career and work depth and credibility. Surely we want to see the artists we love grow and develop? So if George can do this, there’s possibility for the rest of us.

His courage and tenacity were demonstrated during the early 1990s, when he fought an industry that treated him unfairly. He stood up for what he believed in and was prepared to see it through whatever the consequences. It was a classic case of art and business colliding; where there is talent, there are people who want to capitalise on it. Though he did not win his court case, a precedent was set that encouraged other artists to speak out in a difficult industry where “fairness” isn’t high in the agenda. Through all of this he kept going. Even the incident in a Beverly Hills toilet didn’t hold him back; he turned a faux pas into a hit record.

After his death, we have also learnt of George’s spiritual development and philanthropy. For years I prayed that he would have an encounter with Jesus, and in the last few weeks we have learnt that he was in regular contact with Christians and that they would pray with him before shows. His financial generosity has shown us that he loved to help others and see them fulfil their dreams. He understood the responsibility that comes with wealth and the opportunities it creates to change lives. In the short time since his death, we have learnt more about George Michael as a person that we had in the previous thirty years.

I’m so glad that I had the opportunity of seeing George live in November 2006 at Earls Court on the Twenty Five Live tour. I discovered that his live performance was far greater than his recorded performances and that despite his protestations that he is not a natural performer, his performance was in fact mesmerising. Though George was generally shy of public life, and admitted that he lacked confidence about his music, his legacy proves that he was a man who grew and matured creatively, spiritually and emotionally. If we can learn anything from George’s life, it’s that we should throw off the past and keep moving forward, after all, it’s something that he did time and time again. Setbacks and knocks, don’t cripple us, they help to reinvent who we are and make us stronger.

How I helped to change the life of a 90s pop star…

In 1993, I was 16 (yes do the maths and work out hold I am…) and obsessed with music. There was one particular single that I was desperate to hear. I can remember going to Woolworths in the seaside town where I lived to buy it and then running at full pelt to my friend’s house the other end of town to play it. My friend greeted me at the door with a copy of Smash Hits in her hand (for those of you under 20, this was the magazine you bought to get song lyrics long before Google was ever invented); she showed me an interview with the very same pop star… The interview was sad. This singer was in trouble. It was distressing. Then my friend piped up “we should pray for her!”. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew about the power of prayer but at 16 I thought I was too cool for all of that. However, being young I thought “OK what’s the harm? Let’s go for it.” I had no idea what we had started…

A few years later that same pop star became a Christian and her life changed for the better. I can remember reading an interview at the time and being amazed; I had no idea that the tiny prayer I prayed with my friend would change someone’s life so dramatically. I’m not claiming that we were the only people who prayed for her, I’m sure there were many others, I just didn’t realise how powerful the effect of our actions was.

In 2012 I got to meet this 90s pop star and I decided to pluck up some courage and tell her what my friend and I had done. To be honest, I thought that she would be nonchalant and thank me politely and walk away thinking “Helen is a total looney”. I had no idea what was coming next… She threw her arms around me and burst into tears, shouting “thank you, thank you, I knew someone was praying for me when things were so bad!” I was shocked and so was she; she couldn’t believe that two teenagers cared enough to pray for her. The moral of the story is people always need our prayers no matter how small.

Recently I’ve had some moments where I’ve felt my prayers are ineffective and God isn’t listening.  Maybe God is out, maybe his voicemail is on, maybe He thinks I’m insignificant. And when I was moaning at God about this, he reminded me of this story and that He is always listening and interested in what is on our hearts. So be encouraged: prayer changes everything!