The Dirtiest Job In Church

Pulpit[Word count: 715. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
—William Shakespeare

My good friend just became pastor of a prominent church in my hometown. Someone joked that his uncle would’ve been a better choice. The uncle barked a loud laugh as we all agreed, “Man, don’t nobody want that job!!” Anyone who intends to guide people into heaven will have to fight all of hell to do it. If you think it’s hard to be a Christian, try being chosen to coach a whole team of them.

The worst church members like to whine, criticize, and play the victim. Some have mental illnesses and think the pastor is a psychologist. Some are power hungry and would manipulate or unseat the pastor to satiate themselves. It’s a lot to fight off. Basically, these mufkas is crazy. And if you want to lead them, you might be crazy too.

Pastors are seen as proxy representatives of God. People look to them to set an ideal example. However, they have to constantly redirect people to Jesus. Everything a pastor does isn’t gonna be right. People always discover this. And when they do, if they don’t know to follow the example the pastor’s following more than the example the pastor’s setting, it’s gon’ be some smoke in the city.

Continue reading

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Breadcrumbs (aka Finding My Way Back)

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[Word count: 221. Approximate read time: 1 minute]

My writing output has dropped to near zero in the last quarter. Around November/December 2013, I was extremely depressed and dealing with heavy family and personal issues. But those resolved nicely just in time for me to meet an exceptional woman in January. I won’t say I “fell in love.” Say I got vacuumed into it. After whirling around inside her turbulent machinery for a couple months, I found myself ejected, scratched up, dizzy, and disoriented. I’m still figuring out which end is up.

The purpose of Junkyard Salvation was to be a proverbial trail of breadcrumbs if I ever got lost—which I currently am. Ideally, it would track my journey away from (and possibly back into) church. But as I look at the trail I’ve left, the words don’t seem to resonate to me. I forgot what I was talking about, and I need to re-focus the scope of this blog.

So if I’ve written anything that spoke to you, illuminated you, angered you, encouraged you, made you double check your facts, or otherwise stuck with you… please leave a comment below letting me know what it was.

It’ll help me find my way back. Please and thanks.

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Other Junkyard Salvation articles:

Misfire and I

[Word count: 627. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Diane Sawyer on failure:
“Sometimes, of course, it just teaches you that this is gonna be the funniest thing in the world… when it stops hurting.”

While recording original music, I got this brilliant idea to cover a song by my favorite artist Crystal Lewis. Although the original was mid-90’s CCM perfection, I was amazed how well my jazzy electronic cover turned out. So I did another, and another, eventually deciding I was gonna do a full album of Crystal Lewis covers and send it to her as a birthday gift! [Famous. Last. Words.]

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and talk myself out of it. I was so inspired though! Every song was a personal victory. I challenged myself to bend tempos, genres, phrasings, arrangements and pay tribute to the songs I felt most connected to. It was my best work as a producer, vocalist, and musician to date.

I was proud, but every time I neared her September 11th birthdate, I’d waffle. “It’s not good enough. I hate it.” Stop. Rework it ‘til you’re back in love again. Unfortunately, this went on for about 5 years. [Bang head against desk.] Continue reading

Gifts Robin Gave Me, Part 2

A faux Essence Magazine cover I created for Robin a few years ago. She loved it so much, she had it printed and framed in her house. We used it as the cover for the program of her memorial service.[Word count: 653. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

In Part 1, I detailed how Robin’s death worked to free me from shackles I didn’t even know I was wearing. That would have been good enough. But there was one more gift… inside a gift inside a gift, like a Russian nesting doll.

1.

It began as a reunion with an estranged friend while at the hospital. Paris* and I hadn’t had a good conversation in years. After her divorce, she left the church we all co-founded together in a cloud of petty rumors, resentment, and hurt. I didn’t know any better, so I let her drift tacitly away.

But the time of reckoning had come for us both. I was at the hospital because of an unspoken promise to Robin. And Paris had a crippling fear of anything to do with death. While sitting around a hospital bed, we caught up, laughed, prayed, worshipped, and watched Robin’s breath go from shallow to imperceptible.

The memorial was beautiful. No casket. Just portraits of Robin proudly perched on easels. It was harrowing though. Afterward, we were emotionally rubbed raw. Paris asked me for a ride home, so we could enjoy a comfortable silence. Continue reading

Gifts Robin Gave Me, Part 1

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Robin Hill and I in 2003

“When you’re little, you adopt survival mechanisms. But then they last too long. They last beyond their usable time and they become impediments to growth.” —Jane Fonda

I used to be horrible at taking compliments. Too often they’d be a bait-and-switch for devastating insults. So I became a ninja at self-deprecation. If I tore myself down sufficiently, no one else could take anything from me. It made me feel safer. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to stop… for decades.

At age 50, my friend Robin Hill was fighting brain cancer. I was fighting a kind of disease too. Mine was that I’d want people to like me. And then they would. I just wouldn’t believe them. Both maladies kill very slowly. Ultimately Robin didn’t survive hers, but she left something to make sure I survived mine. Continue reading

On Feminism, Veganism, Christianity, and Hesitation

[Word count: 670. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

I want to be a better person. But that’s a lot of work. I once told someone, “You know the right thing to do if you really want to solve your problem. But you LIKE your problem.” I hate when my own words ricochet on me.

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On feminism

I prize intelligence. And I’ve noticed some of the smartest men and women I know ascribe to feminism. I had a passionate dialogue with one recently, and what I took away from conversation with her was that (1) I am a misogynistic, sexist jackass, and (2) …well, the rest of the details escape me. But the gist is, I fail as a feminist ally.

As is typical, I withdrew into myself to consider whether she was right. And I have failed to come to the defense of women burdened by patriarchal demands. Their agency is systematically threatened by those who feel they “own” women. It’s mentioned enough that I want to get educated and stop being part of the problem.

So I looked over a list of “101 Everyday Ways for Men to be Allies to Women” and my eyes started to glaze over before I got to double digits. So many things you have to do in order to be right. It seems too much. Maybe White racists felt like this when the civil rights movement said Blacks and other minorities were legitimate human beings. If so, then too much is still not enough. Continue reading

The Devil Made You Do It?

[Word count: 589. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

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My family attended a COGIC church when I was young. One Sunday morning, I saw an old man with peculiar features. Darkish gray, wiry hair that radiated upward like flames leaping from fire. His eyebrows were rugged, metallic and sort of mounded up. He had angular features and a browned, narrow, stern face. He probably didn’t like children. I was about 5 at the time, but I leaned over to the woman next to me and asked, “Is that guy The Devil?”

She laughed heartily. It was an earnest question though. He fit the description, only missing a pitchfork and horns. Maybe Sunday was his day off and he decided to come to church. “The devil is busy.” “Ain’t nobody mad but the devil.” “The devil don’t want me to sing this song.” If that was him, he was sitting in the place where he gets talked about the most.

Who stole the cookie?

Once I was at a family gathering, playing games and we decided to do something for the kids and sing “Who Stole The Cookie From The Cookie Jar?” You sit in a circle, point at someone and accuse jokingly, “You stole the cookie from the cookie jar!” They respond “Who? Me?” “Yes, you!” They say “Couldn’t be!” We shout back “Then who?” and the song starts over again.

We go around the circle singing, smiling, and laughing, and then we get to the littlest baby girl and sing “Crystal stole the cookie from the cookie jar!” Crystal came completely out of the song. She saw 13 people pointing their fingers and accusing her. So she just cried.

No one likes to be at fault. Usually when confronted with wrongdoing, our first instinct is to lie and deny it or accuse someone else. That’s where the devil comes in. Everyone agrees the devil is bad. So if you say he did it, people will believe you and the police will stop dusting your house for fingerprints. Continue reading

Jesus, Why Can’t I Be A Secular Humanist?

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[Word count: 877. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

“I visited a church in the suburbs, and there was this blowhard preacher talking about how television rots your brain. He said that when we are watching television our minds are working no harder than when we are sleeping. I thought that sounded heavenly. I bought one that afternoon.” —Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Wading through currents of social media recently, I came upon a Christian preacher declaring we only pray to God, not the universe. He said, “If you want to address God, don’t talk to his handiwork. Talk to him.”

I felt inclined to counter. (I usually always feel inclined to counter, really.) So I offered, “If God IS all and is in all, then how can anybody but God be The Universe? If instead of calling the name of Jesus, someone calls Yeshua or Emmanuel instead, does God ignore them? ‘The Universe’ is not one of your names for him. But it could be someone else’s for the same God you worship.”

The man responded, “Those are his names: Yeshua, Emmanuel. But God never called himself the universe. Humanists did that. Research Secular Humanism and you’ll see this is not semantics. It’s a human attempt to eliminate GOD.

And so, I did. And the next day, when he asked me what I found in my study, I told him, “What I found was surprising. The surprise was, I think I want to be one!” Continue reading

A Million Epitaphs

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I’m not afraid of death. I’m aware of it. We see each other in the hallways as we take care of our dealings; I with mine, he with his. One might suppose I have faith that God is in control, or I might feel the need to run and hide from death. As of late though, it seems I am very much a fatalist.

I don’t believe death and I will embrace until the precise moment God has prescribed. So if we graze each other in passing, it’s just a graze. I’ve got my misgivings about dying, but death doesn’t worry me much. Death has been a part of my life since it began.

“For all we know
This may only be a dream
We come and we go
Like the ripples of a stream
So love me tonight
tomorrow was made for some
tomorrow may never come
for all we know.”

An uncommon story

My father and I never met. But we have the same name. First, middle, last. Most people probably don’t know exactly when they were conceived, but I do.  July 25, 1978, the morning he died. My mother did not know she was pregnant at the funeral. The date engraved on his headstone marked the end of his life, and the start of mine. Continue reading

4 Ways Christians Can Cope With Gay Marriage

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SameSexCake

The Supreme Court has struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which will allow national recognition of same-sex marriages. This also snatched the rug out from under California’s Prop 8, making gay marriage legal. I just know somebody is gonna lose sleep over it. So I’m here to set your mind at ease.

Losing freedom of religion. Having privacy infringed upon. Being denied the right to vote. These are reasons to lose sleep and file lawsuits. Same-sex marriage isn’t that big a deal. But here’s something you can do about it: Continue reading