What happens when one of the most successful and influential artists of our time experiences a deep and fairly public heartbreak? She takes those lemons and makes them into Lemonade. Beyonce’s “visual album” was released on April 23rd and already it’s made history with every track appearing on the Top 100 charts. In her hour-long film that accompanies the majority of the tracks, she tells the story of a broken relationship and the process one goes through when one’s life falls apart.
This story appears to be about her 8-year marriage to Jay-Z and a possible affair that he pursued. This “power couple” that are at the top of their game and possess great popularity and acclaim are telling us that they are flawed. They hurt each other and are both feeling that hurt. The Queen B is saying that she is like every other woman who has been wronged by a man. With remarkable honesty and transparency (especially for a couple that is typically very private) Beyonce invites us to explore a shared story of wounded pasts and being prisoners of our histories. (Alyssa Wilkinson wrote a thorough and insightful piece on the composition and content for Christianity Today which I recommend for greater detail and viewer discretion guidelines.)
The film is stunning and is an incredible work of art. I personally found it very haunting. I loved that she had such a wide variety of women in the video. I loved that she was both broken and powerful. It totally drew me in and I felt like I was part of it with her. She used her own vulnerability to elevate an important conversation about the way women, and particularly women of color, are treated and what we’ve been raised to expect as normal. She asks the question, what happens when you thought you had made it and then you’re just like the thing you were trying to avoid?
The question comes to us through the images of multiple generations of women, and it comes through the set locations of plantations and modern poverty. We get the visual sense that time moves on but some circumstances don’t change. Then we hear it most pointedly midway through the album on the track “Daddy Lessons.” This was the pivot point song for me when I realized that this wasn’t just about one woman hurt by one man, but a vicious cycle of reenacting the worst parts of our family histories and the patterns handed down to us. As Beyonce sings about her father teaching her to be strong and take care of her family, it’s all because:
My daddy warned me about men like you
He said baby girl he’s playing you
He’s playing you
Cause when trouble comes in town
And men like me come around
Oh, my daddy said shoot
Oh, my daddy said shoot
There’s the implicit longing to be different, to be the exception. And the deeper heartbreak, not just of personal betrayal, but of falling prey to the thing that you’re supposed to know better to escape. The humiliation of vowing, “never”, and of experiencing “again.”
In my own extended family I only have to go back three generations to find addiction, domestic violence, divorce and infidelity, depression, suicide and tragedy. Am I doomed to repeat the sins and heartache of my predecessors?
The good news is that Beyonce and the rest of us are in very good company. God understands people who are trapped in generational sin and continues to use them in powerful ways. Abraham and Isaac both follow nearly identical paths of going to a foreign land (Gen. 12:10-20, Gen. 26:6-11), being afraid that they would be killed because their wives were beautiful, and passing Sarah and Rebekah off as their sisters in order to protect themselves. Both of these women were left vulnerable to marriage and adultery had not God himself intervened on their behalf. Then Jacob deceives his father and cheats his brother (Gen. 27), only to have his sons do the same to their brother (Gen. 37:12-36). David engages in adultery and murder to try to cover his tracks (2 Sam. 11), and the son of that relationship leads Israel down a path of disobedience that they would never fully turn back from through his promiscuity and sexual sin (1 Kings 11).
And yet those families are part of God’s story of redemption and each contributed in important ways to what God was doing in the world. Jesus enters into that family history (Matt. 1) and takes on their patterns and scars. He doesn’t try to distance himself from them but chooses to identify with very flawed people in order to demonstrate the kind of fresh start and freedom that He offers.
And that’s the place where Lemonade turns hopeful. Not in distancing and hiding from our pasts but in confronting them in order to find something new. In “All Night Long” she sees the healing in the pain
With every tear came redemption
And my torturer became a remedy
We don’t break the cycles of those who came before us by believing we’re better; we break them by confessing that we are the same. We are all cut from the same cloth of humanity, all capable of failure and betrayal and blindness. But we serve a Christ who specializes in proclaiming freedom to captives and sight to the blind (Luke 4:17-19). A God who created a national economy that would prevent generational poverty (Lev. 25). When we invite the Lord to help us rewrite our stories and redirect our trajectories, then we’re not just relying on our own resolve and personal wisdom to create something new for ourselves.
We can share our experiences of deep pain and despair knowing that they are not what define us or indict us, and in fact can become our entry point into living more fearlessly and fully. We join with the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead to breathe life into the scars and wounds that hold us prisoner, and to raise something new to life in their place. To experience a freedom that transcends history, circumstances, race, and gender, and invites all people into an eternal inheritance from our Heavenly Father.