Believe For It: A Look at CeCe Winans’ new book

Believe For It: A Look at CeCe Winans’ new book

Cece Winans is one of the most celebrated Gospel music artists of all time. She has won fifteen Grammys in addition to Dove Awards, Stellar Awards, and many others. As she surpasses the achievements of some of the great artists and exemplars of the faith she looks up to such as Andre Crouch and continues to push her contemporaries and fellow Detroit natives the Clark Sisters, you would think her most important legacy would be music. However for CeCe Winans, the greatest legacy any believer can have is passing on their faith to the next generation. CeCe Winans explores her journey of lifelong faith and her pursuit pass it on to the next generation in her new book Believe For It. 

CeCe Winans had an upbringing that most people could not imagine. She was raised in a home with ten siblings who formed multiple musical groups with faith in Jesus Christ at the center of their lives. She was raised in the Church of God in Christ, and like many of her contemporaries brought up in a strict but loving Christian home. She highlights that it was a very intentional decision by her parents to create a home filled with love and faith after neither of them had grown up that way. CeCe contends that it is the intentionality alongside the handwork of raising children to be strong believers that can make a difference for young believers today. 

In her book she does not simply tell stories of singing and success. She provides practical principles that she is applying in her own home and church today to ensure her faith in Christ is passed down. Each chapter is broken into easily digestible principles and interlaced with testimonies and stories from Winans’ life. True to her Sunday School roots she ties everything back to scripture as she talks about the importance of starting with faith in the home that translates into the world. 

What is fascinating about CeCe Winans sharing this testimony now is that she is the co-pastor of Nashville Life Church that her and her husband started in her living room that is filled with young adults. Churches across the country are struggling today with how to pass on faith to the next generation, how to do multigenerational ministry, and how to preserve the traditions that have preserved us for generations while remaining relevant. And through this book CeCe Winans gives simple and practical keys on how her and her family are doing it. She regularly engages in these topics on her  YouTube show Generations, but through the book we get the depth, structure, and narrative that helps us apply the lessons to our lives. 

One of the most important keys is relationships. CeCe Winans was shaped by her relationships with her family, church family, and community as a child. Her relationship with Jesus was profoundly shaped by her relationships with other believers. As we embrace new technologies, strategies, and demographics we cannot forget the value of relationships in helping us grow and persevere in faith. I love this book of wisdom. Wisdom is gained from experience and discernment, and as I read it I was able to do both as I consider the impact I have on my own children’s faith. Her legacy for music is also a legacy of sharing faith in God. There are many more keys CeCe shares and her voice through this book is wisdom the Church needs today as we share our faith with the next generation. You can find the book everywhere books are sold this week and check out her latest award winning music video below! 

Brainwashed: An Interview with Manny Arango

Brainwashed: An Interview with Manny Arango

Manny Arango believes we are all brainwashed. Our thoughts are shaped daily by positive and negative influences whether online, in our social circles, in our workplaces, in our schools, or in our churches. The enemy of our souls desires for us to live in mental bondage, unable to walk in the freedom Christ has purchased for us. But we can choose whether to be brainwashed by the world or have our brains washed by blood of Jesus Christ. Pastor, author, youth ministry expert Manny Arango shares his insights on how to renew our minds and take on the mind of Christ in his new book Brainwashed: Overcome Toxic Thoughts and Take Back Control of Your Mind. UrbanFaith sat down with Pastor Manny to discuss the book and his journey to maintaining mental and spiritual health. More information about Pastor Manny and the book are below.

 

You can either take your thoughts captive or be held captive by them. The choice is yours. Scripture declares we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Manny Arango, preacher, storyteller, and self-proclaimed Bible nerd, describes this process as God cleansing our brains. It is the surest way to overcome anxious thoughts, self-doubt, bitterness, and other mental struggles. But how can we experience this healing power?

Brain Washed: Overcome Toxic Thoughts and Take Back Control of Your Mind is a biblical roadmap for winning the battles in your mind. Readers will identify faulty ways of thinking and learn how to take every thought captive under the authority of Christ.

Honoring God And Sharing Your Gift: Wisdom from Otis Kemp

Honoring God And Sharing Your Gift: Wisdom from Otis Kemp

UrbanFaith had the opportunity to sit down with artist Otis Kemp to talk about how he is able honor God while sharing His musical gifts. His hit single “The Reason” has gone viral and his music is being played all across the Southern United States. But his impact on his community and his journey to success have been anything but overnight. Otis Kemp shared a few key nuggets of authentic wisdom for people trying to be a blessing while being blessed.

Our Gifts Should Honor God

You want to share your gift. You want to share the message that God has given you. The music that I represent is life music. I don’t look at a particular genre, like gospel or anything, because anybody can say they are gospel and live like whatever. I believe life music is a testimony of who you are. When you when you see me, you should see some residue or some characteristics of the one Savior.

What Inspires You to Share Your Gift

I mean, to be honest [The Reason] was a song God gave me a couple of years ago, and it was at a dark time in my life. I began to prophesy over my life. I began to declare things that I was taught [since I was] a little boy. The God that my father taught me about [is why I live the way I do] even though at the time I didn’t understand what he was instilling in me. I’m a preacher’s kid and my family prayed.

You know, the Bible says you train up a child in the way they should go, and when they get older, they won’t depart from it. That is a true scripture. I’m evidence of that. I wanted to share with people when I say the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jabez [in my song] I’m talking the one and only true God. I’m talking about the God that you can actually talk to that you can have a relationship with. This ain’t no fake. It’s a real thing that he saved me. Like, I come from the streets. I’m from Miami, Florida, it’s rough. And down here, only the strong survive. God snatched me out of the darkness, snatched me out of the enemy’s camp, and brought me to his side.

 

How Can You Use Your Gift to Bless Others?

I would say the first thing that they should do is build a relationship with the Most High. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s not. I’m a living testimony. I got kicked out of every school in Miami and South Florida. And now I own three private schools within two and a half years. [It doesn’t] take 30 years; God judges you and he positions you by your heart. If your heart posture is correct, whatever passion you have, he will lead and guide you into all truth. The word of God is true.

If you want success, the only success you will have is with the Lord and in His Kingdom. Anything else is going to tear you down, going to destroy you, going to suck you dry. You become successful when it’s benefiting other people. Everything you do [with your gifts] should benefit someone else. That’s how you know it is from the Most High God. Jesus never did anything for Himself. Everything He did was for someone else. Now [He has] the highest name in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth. When you begin to lay down your life for the kingdom, your desires, your passion, or whatever it is, you can find out what God has already planned out for you. When you follow with Him you will have success. It’s just going to come with obedience.

 

Is Kanye West’s “Donda” a Gospel Album?

Is Kanye West’s “Donda” a Gospel Album?

Kanye West is an internationally known Grammy award winning artist. His politics, public life, and his self-promotion have stirred up controversy and interest in many circles. 

His recent return to Christian themes in his music and beyond leaves his audience inside and outside of the church consistently confused and curious. Kanye West’s tenth album “Donda” honors his late mother Donda West, who was chair of the English Department at Chicago State University. It debuted in late August to mixed reviews, some celebrating the album as a show of Kanye’s continued musical genius and others hearing the 27-track album as an incoherent and exhausting tribute that actually focuses on Kanye himself. 

Donda” is now one of the highest-grossing albums of all time in the gospel/Christian category, and the most-streamed album ever in both categories, according to Billboard. In response to its success, some Christian public figures gave kudos acknowledging their work with or appreciation for West. Others expressed disdain at his dominance in Christian art spaces when his music is still deeply secular. The album features some very popular secular artists, accused criminals, gang members, and even a known atheist alongside choirs and Christian artist writers. But many believers are still asking: is Kanye West’s “Donda” album a gospel album? To answer, we have to consider several other factors.

Is it a commercial genre question?

If what makes music “gospel” is what the most established and profitable record labels, music hosting sites, and awards say, then “Donda” is gospel music and Kanye West is now a gospel artist. In one sense, this would be brilliant and expected on Kanye’s part. He has claimed that he is the greatest artist of all time, period, and he has been breaking and bending genres throughout his musical career. He has sampled, collaborated, and made music that fits comfortably in multiple genres, gaining fans from pop, electronic, dance, hip hop, R&B, rock, and now gospel circles. Kanye West now has won Grammys in the rap, contemporary Christian, R&B, and “Song of the Year” categories, which means he is recognized as one of the best artists and producers in several genres. But many Christians don’t take the music industry’s word as gospel on the subject.

Is it a format question?

Kanye West did not use curse words or explicit content in “Donda.” He even censored his guest artists. The album is “clean” for that reason–it doesn’t have any content that has solicited a parental advisory warning as his past albums have. But is the lack of explicit content what makes an album “gospel?” Most people would answer this question with a resounding no.

Is it a thematic content question?

This is where the rubber meets the road. What makes an album “gospel” should have something to do with its content. And Kanye surely titles tracks with references to God, the Lord, and Jesus on the album. He uses Christian language of forgiveness, mercy, grace, Holy Spirit, miracle, Lord, pray, sin, angels, demons, heaven, and hell. He talks about Christian themes such as redemption, grace, love, and judgment. But he also talks a lot about himself: his struggles, his success, his opponents, his view of the world, and his life in general. These themes could be labeled “inspirational” and not Christian if it weren’t for the mentions of Jesus. It could be said that not much has changed in that regard. He always talked about those same themes, but his previous albums were labeled rap or hip-hop. Music fans remember “Jesus Walks” from his first album “The College Dropout,” which won him a Grammy and stirred the secular/gospel conversation then. Was Kanye always a gospel artist? Was he a gospel artist when he did wrote “Jesus Walks” but not when he did wrote “Yeezus” or “Father I Stretch My Hands?” Is he on a long faith journey, or did he just have a recent conversion experience?  If theology matters, a gospel album should share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

A Gospel album should lead people to Jesus. “Donda” is not focused on that. Jesus is clearly present, but as a savior from Kanye’s problems, not necessarily as the Lord trying to reach all people.

So why is Donda not categorized with Hip-Hop or Rap albums as all his previous albums were? The question is hard to answer. Christian Hip-Hop artists from Lecrae to Andy Mineo, Verbal Kwest to Cross Movement, KB to Da’Truth, Canton Jones to others have also found themselves categorized with Gospel and Contemporary Christian instead of Hip Hop. But their music is usually Biblically grounded or an effort to talk about Christian life. Is Kanye West in the same category? If we compare what Kanye has done on Donda with late 1990s or early 2000s Christian Rap we could easily say no. Many Christian Rap albums during that period were explicitly quoting scripture, referencing theology, and focused on sharing faith in Christ through Hip-Hop. But in recent years, Christian rappers have had more songs about life that pivot back to faith than songs about their faith, and Kanye is doing something closer to that with Donda.

Is it a theological question?

“Donda” has no clear biblical narratives shared, even though the Bible is referenced multiple times and tracks are named after biblical figures. In almost every instance where God is mentioned on the album, it is a prayer for saving Kanye, or an affirmation that God helps Kanye beat sin and the devil. But Kanye also spends much of the time talking about his own greatness. It is hard to tell what is irony, what is genuine, and what is an artistic tool. That is what gives me pause on whether this is a gospel album. But as a modern complex personal narrative of redemption by God, I think Kanye’s album works. 

It is as hard to tell if Kanye West’s “Donda ” is gospel album as it is to determine if Kanye West’s desire to share his Christian faith is genuine. But he has been authentic although conflicted while sharing his thoughts throughout his career. When he spoke at Lakewood Church in Houston in 2019 alongside the pastor Joel Osteen, he said “I know that God’s been calling me for a long time and the devil has been distracting me for a long time. When I was at my lowest points, God was there with me. Inspiring me and sending me visions.” He followed that with, “Following the Bible can free us all. Jesus can set you free.” This seems to be a fair encapsulation of his theology at this point in his Christian walk. Kanye knows Jesus as a Savior but seems to be unsure or unaware of what it means to follow Him, even though he knows it’s in the Bible.

What makes sharing the Gospel authentic?

So what makes sharing the Gospel authentic? Those questions have plagued Christians for centuries. We read the leaders of the early Church warning against false preachers, prophets, and teachers in the scriptures. We hear them clarifying doctrine that defines authentic Christianity. Were the false teachers in the early church Christians or just self-promoters? We get clear answers in scripture for that. 

But after biblical times, things get fuzzier. What about Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor? Were the people who were subjected to Christianity by their rulers really Christians? What about the slave owners? Traders who colonized Africa and Asia? What about people who are racist or bigoted? People who have theologies built on fear? People who commit crimes?  Are people who say they are Christian but don’t engage in Christian behavior actually Christians?  Does anyone get to decide the truth of someone else’s faith? Is sharing a personal testimony of redemption by Jesus the same as sharing the Gospel?

Kanye West offers a message of redemption from sin answer in the song “Jail,” one of the most compelling on the album. He says: 

“I’ll be honest, we’re all liars. 

I’m pulled over and I got priors

Guess we goin’ down, guess who’s goin’ to jail?

Guess who’s goin’ to jail tonight?

God gon’ post my bail tonight.”

In conclusion, is “Donda” a true “gospel” album? Although the commercial genre labels say yes, from a theological standpoint, I have to say no. It is not an album about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, nor His ministry. 

But that doesn’t keep it from being a “Christian” album. Kanye West certainly presents himself as a Christian struggling with life and faith throughout the album. He tells the story of his redemption and even His ongoing dependence on God’s help. Can we call Kanye West a Christian artist? We may have to answer for ourselves individually, but in reality, only the Lord may know.

RESPECT: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

RESPECT: An Interview with Jennifer Hudson

RESPECT is the film adaptation of the life story of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin is known by many as the one of the greatest singers  and artists who ever lived. Her career spanned decades, crossed and dominated multiple genres, and garnered the most prestigious awards and honors. Her personal life was deeply complex, but her ability to articulate the depth of human experiences through music could not be clearer.  RESPECT tells the story of Aretha Franklin’s journey of faith and finding her voice. UrbanFaith sat down with Jennifer Hudson, the star of the film who portrays Ms. Franklin to discuss the themes of faith, Gospel, and how to find our voices from the film. Full audio interview is linked above, the text of the interview below has been edited for clarity.

Allen
My first question for you after seeing the movie is about faith. Of course, it has so much faith in it. And a lot of the movie is about Aretha’s faith. What role did you see faith playing in that movie, and in your work with it?

Jennifer
Oh, it was mandatory. So that was the main thing, I was determined to make sure this was present. If my executive producer credit counts for anything, if I could add one thing, it was the Gospel. and I was like, we got to have a Gospel, you gotta have a thing. You gotta have faith. I don’t care what she’s singing or what’s happened in her life, THAT has always got to be present. It’s the same for me as well. For Aretha as well as for me.

 

Allen

And it seemed like it was really well presented as a story of redemption, you know? And why do you think that’s important for people to see, especially in a time like this, where there’s so much chaos, to hear these stories of hope out of that?

Jennifer

I think it’s even more impactful and powerful when it comes from someone like a legend and icon. But people don’t think that they go through real life things. And I look at it almost as if this is kind of like her testimony in a way; to see her struggle, go through life, be human, and still prevail. That’s a testimony. You know what I mean? And it inspired me. Yeah. And I think it would inspire so many others, because it’s to me misleading to let people think you just get what you want, or nothing’s going to happen, you’re not going to face anything. So when you get to see the life, the human, the person, you know, it kind of puts it in perspective, you know, and I don’t know how anyone would not find that inspiring.

(ctr) Marlon Wayans stars as Ted White and Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert

Allen

Yeah, I really appreciated how complex all the characters were. I mean, you did a phenomenal job bringing Aretha and all her complexity out. But I thought that was the case across the board for the cast, how did you prepare to try to embody all that complexity over years? 

Jennifer

That was another challenge, because it’s kind of overwhelming. When you think of Aretha, like she has decades and decades of a career. And it’s like, just trying to condense the music alone, eight albums before a hit. Okay? That’s one thing. Then you think of the life. Then you think of the people that were in her life. Then you think about what was going on in her life. What part of the story do you tell? But I think that was more of a challenge for Tracy, and the writer, I’m like, how are they gonna be able to… I don’t want to say condense…but get it all in? Because it’s such a powerful story in every capacity. 

 

Allen

And it did tell this story that ended with Gospel that began with Gospel and her relationship with the church. What is some good news that you feel like the world needs from this film? 

Jennifer

Um, I would say… my God, there are so many things. If I had to narrow it down to one, what would it be? I was gonna go to the base of her trusting her voice, and finding your own [voice], because it wasn’t until she owned hers, that we got our Queen of Soul. You know, to me, if we all took the time to do that within ourselves; what’s in there? [What’s] here to share with the world as our gifts? You know what I mean? So it makes you kind of want to relook at yourself. At least for me, it did. And encouraged me to want to…trust my own voice, path, experiences, and it shows things  will prepare you for [what’s] next. But I kind of see things differently from everyone else. But I do think there’s something in [the movie] for whoever the viewer is, it’s just a matter of what you need, what you’re looking for. 

 

Allen

Finding Her voice was something that really stood out to me as she had to deal with so many people trying to control her voice. And I want to know,  what advice would you give to a young person young woman or a young adult about how to find their voice?

 

Jennifer

Wow. One, not to give it away. Because that can happen. And I think we take our voice for granted. And what I mean by that, is you may have a voice, but are you using it?

You know? And to me, that’s the trickiest part. Because yes, I have a voice. But is it telling my story? It should tell your story. It’s should speak of your experiences. We all have a story to tell. And we can only tell that story through our voice. So that’s what I mean by don’t give it away. Because it can happen unconsciously. It’s like, when I speak what am I speaking for myself? Am I speaking from my truth? Am I speaking from my experiences? Or am I going through the motions of what someone else would have me to do? And you could get confused by that by using your… the sound of your voice. But are you speaking for yourself?  That’s when it gets tricky.

Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin and Forest Whitaker as her father C.L. Franklin in RESPECT A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert

Allen

It does. One of the things that I appreciate, though, is that she had to figure out that people were for her. I want to know, how is it that the community has helped shape you, as you’ve taken this on?

 Jennifer

Oh, my God…wow, that’s a good question. It’s been a… it’s been what is needed to be when it’s needed to be that. You know what I mean? When I need a push it’s there, like right now [there’s] so much love. So much support even when I don’t see things the way…it appears? That encouragement is there. That support is there, that I love is there, which is needed right now.  Or when times are down. There are people are like, come on, keep going, keep pushing. So it varies depending on the situation. But [there are things that are there ] to teach you tough lessons, too. So again, it varies.

 

Allen

Absolutely. And so again, a last word for any young adult, especially young adult faith, trying to figure out how can they get to success. You’ve accomplished so much. What is the advice that you would give trying to figure out how to be successful? 

Jennifer

Well, one, no one knows your potential the way you do. And if people don’t see your dream and your vision, it’s only because they don’t dream as big as you do. And nothing is JUST that. [People say] “oh, that’s just this, this just that.” Well, honey, just singing the tribute got me right here today. You know what I’m saying? So I’m trusting that. And if you keep at something, it has no choice but to give. And NEVER…this is what I told myself after Idol  before Dreamgirls.  After I was eliminated from American Idol…and I really want to share this with this community. When I started out, I was like “I’m gonna win.” And people were like, “Well, what if you don’t? What if you don’t win?” So I started believing them.

And that’s when I started to say, “I’m gonna do it for the experience.”  And I let them talk me out of my faith. I let them interrupt that faith. So when Dreamgirls comes around and someone wants to say something that wasn’t in my train of thought I said, “No, I will not interrupt my faith. This is mine and I’m sticking with it.” And I learned that lesson. That’s what I mean by nothing is “just.” So even when it’s an experience that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to [turn out]…it can still prepare you for the next thing. Because by the time the Dreamgirls opportunity rolled around, I learned from that experience. Allowing people to interrupt my faith? No, no. That’s what went wrong the last time! [Instead I said] I’m ready God, I believe it, I accept it. I’m not concerned with what [anyone else] got to say and [they] will not interrupt my faith. Don’t allow someone to interrupt your faith. I want to leave it with that. 

Allen

Thank you so much!

Jennifer

Thank you for having me!