“Or Should I Reprogram the Programming and Get Down?”: A Lesson from Janelle Monaé (A Seminarian’s Perspective)

Kyra BrownKyra Brown is a native of East Palo Alto, California and a first-generation college student.  She is pursuing her Master’s of Divinity, with an emphasis in Social Justice from Howard University.  Her ultimate goal is to work with the oppressed, and advocate for community-restoring justice and equality in both ecclesiastical and political realms.  She is a lover of art (dance, music, murals, poetry etc.), and seeks to integrate it into her healing work in the world.

[Kyra’s use of Hip Hop, faith, and God take us on a lyrical journey full of insight and wit. Check it out below!]

I have just completed my second year of seminary.  This is what some refer to as the “muddy middle” year.

The year that many students buckle under the pressure of reformulating a self-identity that was once anchored in waters of religious traditions, doctrines and denominations.

The year that many of us struggle to find balance on a theological tightrope of sorts, swaying between a space where old ways of thinking no longer suffice and new theologies have yet to be constructed. 

During my time of reflection, something lead me to read an email I received about two years earlier from a colleague who had also gone to seminary.  He asked, “Are you in seminary to be trained for a calling or clarify your calling?”  Looking back, I think it is a little of both.

During dead week this past semester, I came across a song called “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae, featuring Erykah Badu.  I believe that she has some pertinent theological advice for everyone, especially those of us in seminary.  Her song, laden with religious imagery, explores themes such as: the price of pursuing one’s passion, the correlation between sin and sexuality (if there is one), the concepts of salvation, heaven, and human acceptance, sexual identity (to include same-gender loving people) and salvation, and God’s acceptance of who we are, just the way we are—in our true authenticity.  She writes:

Hey brother, can you save my soul from the devil?
Say is it weird to like the way she wear her tights?
And is it rude to wear my shades?
Am I a freak because I love watching Mary? (Maybe)

Hey sister, am I good enough for your heaven?
Say will your God accept me in my black and white?
Will he approve the way I’m made?
Or should I reprogram the programming and get down?

Amidst the message-ridden lyrics, thought-provoking images and the funky beat, this question would not escape me!  It is my interpretation that, “programming” is a synonym for religious teaching/indoctrination.  “Reprogramming” means reevaluating and recreating these teachings.  “Getting down” then, is a metaphor for discovering personal freedom/living in true authenticity.

As a major part of our culture and socialization, we have been taught many religious principles.  This process (with due respect) has shaped much of who we are.  However, there comes a time where we have the option of reexamining what we believe, discarding beliefs, theologies, doctrines and traditions that no longer promote our growth and embracing those that do.  In my view, Janelle Monaé is encouraging all of us not to be afraid of this creative process of re-drawing boundary lines (freeing ourselves) in all areas of our lives.

On the road to self-discovery and living in true authenticity, (finding this place has been the crux of my seminary experience), I concur with Janelle Monae that we should… “Reprogram the programming and get doooown!” 

Perhaps THIS is where we will meet God.

–Kyra Brown

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9 thoughts on ““Or Should I Reprogram the Programming and Get Down?”: A Lesson from Janelle Monaé (A Seminarian’s Perspective)

  1. joshmcdaniel says:

    This is great. Do “Oh Maker” next!

  2. Kelly Dotson says:

    Great words. It reminds me if my first go at seminary 22 years ago. I remember a friend asking me when I was going to quit rewinding the tape others had made for me and start recording my own stuff over it. (You would have to know about cassette tapes to understand that analogy. I show my age.).

  3. Catrina Marshall says:

    Nice Sis! 🙂

  4. Aunt Bev says:

    Kyra, there are no words to express how proud I am of you. You have taken on a challenge that many only dream of. I support you , even if sometimes from a distance . I truly feel that you are a chosen one . You were meant to share your voice, compassion and intellect. I love you with all my heart and , “of course “brag “,as any Aunt that has a Niece as special as you would . Keep on pushing baby. (
    God Speed)

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