Discussing
Beyoncé’s spiritual Formation

Austin Channing

Austin Channing
February 10, 2016

Beyoncé's "Formation" asks, "Does anything good come out of Nazareth?" and answers, "I slay. We slay.” I think that’s a yes.

Stel Pontikes
February 10, 2016

Seriously? "Formation” is being hailed as a political anthem for African Americans? With lyrics like this? "When he f*** me good, I take his a** to Red Lobster, cause I slay. When he f*** me good, I take his a** to Red Lobster, cause I slay." And the world applauds her? I don't agree. But that's just me. :-)

Beano
February 10, 2016

Read all the lyrics of the non "clean" version next time before you write something like this

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 11, 2016

In Reply to Stel Pontikes (comment #27859)
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Hi Stel - Just curious: what is it about that line - amidst everything else that is going on in the song and video, including the many things Austin discusses above - that makes you single it out as a focal point?

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 11, 2016

In Reply to Beano (comment #27860)
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Beano, would you say that the "uncleanliness" of some of the lyrics means that we shouldn't consider what the song and video might mean or what Beyoncé may be trying to express?

Bethanykj
February 11, 2016

Thanks for covering this Austin. I agree that there is a lot to process in this song and appreciate you thinking out loud for us. I was intrigued by the way the repeated line "get in formation" could mean what the video seems to support and you point out -- join with others like a military or dance formation, but it could also mean "be formed" as in allow yourself to be shaped wisely and "get information." Seems like there's a lot going on here. I disagree with other commenters here that seem to want to reduce the whole song to a reference to (married) sexuality.

JKana
February 11, 2016

In Reply to Josh Larsen (comment #27862)
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Full disclosure...I haven't listened to the song, watched the video, or read the complete lyrics. My comment is purely philosophical.

I think what Stel and Beano are attempting to express is not necessarily that the CONTENT of the message is suspect so much as the means of disclosure--and that the means of disclosure is inseparable from the messaging process. If you intend to communicate a message, you have to take due consideration for the stumbling blocks of the audience with whom you're communicating, or else you risk the message getting lost in transmission, and effective communication hasn't taken place. For those for whom obscene language is a serious stumbling block (keeping in mind, of course, that the very notion of obscenity is subjective), Beyoncé's message comes across distorted. For those able to "read between the lines" as it were, the message is loud and clear--and a worthy expression of something that people need to hear right now.

(Incidentally, I think this discussion actually has very strong implications for how we share the gospel, too. The kerygma--the essence of the Good News--is unchanging, but the mode and language and circumstances of its transmission through people like us can make a big difference in whether and how that message is received and responded to.)

Arguably, Beyoncé's intent wasn't to communicate with evangelical Christian mainstream audiences here, though. A more "general popular" audience is highly tolerant of such language, and I think that's who Beyoncé is trying to reach. Whether she's doing so in a "Christian way" or not is up for dispute, but as one who identifies as an evangelical Christian, I find myself in deep sympathy with both sides of this matter. I think Austin's observations are on point with the kerygma of Beyoncé's message--which is available to Christians who are willing to risk being offended in order to hear a message not necessarily intended directly for them. But I also sympathize with the objectors who worry that exposure to an objectionable means of communication may not only garble the message, but also injure the moral sensibility of its hearers.

It may be that there are those of us who have the spiritual gift of objectivity, as it were, who are called as Austin is to shake the wheat from the chaff in popular culture that might otherwise make a dyspeptic diet for many of us. And that's my point of agreement with you on this. I think it shows spiritual maturity to be able to let the gifted among us sift the wheat from the chaff, and to then treasure the wheat they offer without rejecting it simply because it was culled from among the chaff. Sometimes there's more chaff than wheat; but, as in this case, it seems to be just the opposite.

Dan Evans
February 11, 2016

This was a well written, thoughtful article, but I would not have gone in your direction in reviewing this song. To know Beyonce's heart and intent is to know her body of work, and by looking at it for the last 10 years, she has gone from a single woman scorned, to feeling loved, and not only loved as a wife and mother, but loving herself. And, in her own way, is using her new acquired higher self esteem to empower other women. Take off the makeup, the perm, the extensions, the costumes, she's just like everybody else, comes from where they come from. Beyonce is a pop culture icon because she documents her life through her music so well. So what does my work and deeds say about me? Does it tell the story of someone who has been with Christ? Beyonce may have Christian roots, but the hypocrisy in her life, especially with her father, and her lack of trust in people, especially men, may have led her to other influences and that does come across in her music.

Phoenix
February 11, 2016

Firstly, I love this blog post and it was helpful to me in understanding "Formation." And I appreciate what Beyonce has done in bringing awareness to the ties between BLM and Katrina - ties that, until her video prompted me to look further, I didn't really get.

As to the offense over the f-word.... All women, but particularly black women, are highly sexualized in our culture even while our sexual experiences and satisfaction are irrelevant. I found her Red Lobster lines a little jarring, but I think they're meant to be. This is regularly how men talk about women. I'm pretty sure there's a rap song that references Red Lobster that is definitely _not_ about female empowerment.

To me, it says to women, "Your role is not to find a man who will treat you to a shopping spree and a nice dinner as payment for his sexual pleasure. In fact, you can flip that." I'm pretty sure of two things: Jay Z can probably afford his own lobster dinner (pretty sure this power couple eats at classier joints than RL, btw) and he can buy himself something pretty if he wants, so I doubt this is about their actual relationship. The man sent her 10,000 roses before her Super Bowl performance - not the actions of a man who feels demeaned. I think her point is that women - particularly black women - can unapologetically seek their own orgasm.

Song of Solomon may not use the equivalent of the f-word, but it perplexes people for much the same reason, I guess. It is the dark skinned woman, beautiful and beloved, who shamelessly pursues her lover. Much of Christianity claims that sex is man's domain, to be given up and endured but not pursued or enjoyed by women. It isn't true and it isn't Biblical.

Nancy
February 11, 2016

Awesome article!
As an avid Beyonce fan, I am so grateful that she is finally starting to use her platform for political activism, in addition to all the great endeavors she has supported in the past. And add the large financial contribution to the BlackLivesMatter movement the day before dropping this video...props to her!

I love how celebrated my black brothers and sisters feel from this video.

Keith
February 11, 2016

Concerning Stel and Beano, that line speaks directly to her identity, which is another major aspect of this song. She is staking her claim as a celebrity who is from the South and identifies fully with that life. The sexual aspect might be more tongue-in-cheek, but the Red Lobster line is a clear marking of her territory. She may be able to afford any restaurant in the world, but she will still go to Red Lobster, it is a specific claim to her specific childhood community.

The deeper point I wanted to make was that you have the right to be offended by this, I think Christians identify "offense" as a clear eject point from which they disengage from an experience or conversation, especially when dealing with art and culture. I have been more regularly offended by what has been said in spiritual settings than I have been in secular (especially in this political climate). The difference is that I stay connected to my community group and church community, I don't just eject when confronted with a truly offensive statement about the refugee crisis, Hollywood, how the latest natural disaster is targeted judgement, etc. I think the least we can do is give Beyonce the decency of examining her whole point which is not just about rewarding her man with Red Lobster after sex. I didn't hear either of you mention the scene of the cops surrendering to the boy, which deserves a post on its own.

I also want to touch on JKana, I largely agree with your points, but why didn't you watch the video before commenting? You had to scroll past it to get to the comment section? Could not your comment have been enriched by actually watching the content your comment addresses? I understand the "philosophical" tag, but as I look back on TC articles addressing "Fun Home" or most of the film reviews, there are countless comments of people prefacing their comment with having not read the book or listened to the album or watched the movie but then feeling like they can still address the ideas of whatever is being discussed. It just seems to support the notion that Christians are a speak first, think and listen last, type of people.

In the end I just wish we could stop moralizing our culture and turn that gaze inward, moralize the next time you hear someone endorse Trump openly at a church event. Don't use "offense" as a way to dodge engagement and thoughtful dialogue, especially when there are clearly better things we could talk about concerning this video and other pieces of art in our culture.

Joy
February 11, 2016

It is Blasphemous to give Beyonce accolades. God does NOT endorse the selling of sexuality(she is almost always half naked or in super tight clothing and talking about sex) She also gave the finger in her video. How can a 'Christian' site allow a post that glorfies this foolishness. It gives her way too much credence, dare I say, idolization.

Christopher Kanas
February 12, 2016

Beyoncé is acting dangerous and invoking her followers to open rebellion. I find nothing Biblical in her material. It's often hard to mix the spiritual life and the worldly life for entertainers. She is definitely not MLK material, however she is stoking the message of X.

Sistersharon
February 27, 2016

In Reply to bethanykj (comment #27864)
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Hi Bethany It been a while since I have seen or talk too you I did not no that you still write on think Christian I do appreciate your comments always... Have a bless evening you and yours Sharon.

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