I Don’t Want No Sun

[Word count: 603. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Broken Mirror Sunset by Bing Wright -- http://www.photographytuts.com/impressive-sunset-photos-captured-broken-mirrors/

“I can’t see another day.
I can’t face another hour.
Let the night rain down around me.
I’m done.
I don’t want no sun.”

I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t stop playing this song. It spoke to me, singing my life, shaking its tambourine, amening along with every weary sentiment. I haven’t been able to write anything for this faith blog for months. Truthfully, I feared I was becoming agnostic. And I might still be.

These lyrics come from “Sun,” a soulful ballad by Lalah Hathaway from the film For Colored Girls. I personally identify with them because they describe someone who’s been broken… one time too many. It’s not that I don’t want sunshine, rainbows, bacon, and everything else good in life. I just don’t want false hope. I’m so much against false hope that I’m willing to abandon all hope if it guarantees I won’t be disappointed. Continue reading

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The Difficulty of Opening One’s Hands

hand
[Word count: 489. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

My mother grew up poor. Because she knew the extremes of sometimes having nothing, she learned how to save, preserve, extend, prolong, conserve. She’s the last to throw something away because “you never know when you might have a need.”

In her cabinet, I found an old Sony CD player whose door would not close. I offered to throw it away for her. “Oh no, honey, don’t throw that away. I wanna give it to the Goodwill. Maybe somebody can fix it and use it.”

I groused. “Ma, this thing is done. It has no more value. It’s a CD player that won’t play CDs. No one wants to work to fix it. You can buy a new one for $50 or less. Why do you hold on to these things? They’re just taking up space and making more clutter for you to look at. This don’t make no sense. Forget it. I’m throwing it away.” All of this I told her—in my head—as I put the CD player back where she told me to.

I used to be quite a packrat. But when I got older and started making enough money to lean back and smile a bit, I didn’t stockpile so religiously. My confidence was such that if I needed something, I could get it whenever I wanted it. Continue reading

Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

[Word count: 405. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Introduction

In Deuces, I stated reasons I left the church I co-founded after 8 years. A big part of that was due to bad experiences in music ministry. I either played piano or sang in a vocal ensemble. We’d perform 3-5 songs per service, to set an atmosphere for people to optimally receive the sermon preached. I loved it. I grew immensely, formed lifelong friendships, and gained confidence on stage and in myself overall. But there were serious side effects.

Music was my love. And because of everything I thought had to accompany my music, it became my burden. It just got stolen from me. I said, ‘What is this? How did this thing that I love so much so easily and so quickly become something I loathe and hate?” —Lauryn Hill

A friend told me “I hate you” sometimes just means “I used to love you.” It was too painful to talk about this stuff, but to get healthy, I have to. Some cuts don’t heal until you take the Band-Aid off. It’s too much to cover in one post, so I broke it into parts. This is an introduction to the series. Here’s a quick break down on the rest of the series:

Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

  • PART 1: The Miseducation of the Worship Leader

    Whatever worship is, I thought it was more powerful than it actually is. When I found out how mystical it wasn’t, I could not deal. I wish someone would have done a better job warning me worship wouldn’t protect me from life happening.

  • PART 2: Church Superstars: You Ain’t Got It

    Music was one thing I was sure I was good at, so to hear that I wasn’t good enough was crushing. It left me unsure of “my calling,” and doubting whether I was good at anything.

  • PART 3: More Than You Know What To Do With

    Help. I don’t fit in with my church, but I don’t know how to get outside of it. What do I do now?

  • PART 4: Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong

    The act of worshipping in front of an audience blurred the lines between what was for God and what was for people.

  • PART 5: So You Think You Can Worship?

    The hokey-pokey dance of trying to understand what worship is and isn’t left me confused. I’m still not sure what it is right now.

The Miseducation of the Worship Leader [1/5]

The Miseducation of the Worship Leader
[Word count: 653. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

I guess I thought worship was “magical.” A strong talisman to ward off evil spirits. Friends’ divorces. Death and disease. Organizational discord. As long as I lifted my hands and gave reverence and deference to God, everything was supposed to be okay.

“Life is not always what it seems. Even the best will fall.”
—Crystal Lewis

Not quite so. Several of my most worshipping, most Jesus-believing friends all caught divorce like a common cold. Robin developed a brain tumor and didn’t survive. Gossip and distrust tore at the fabric of our friendships. I thought worship and prayer would protect us from that. When it didn’t, I was stunned… like “which one of y’all kicked me?”

 

When the structure of this music ministry collapsed on top of me, my healthy relationship with Jesus got trapped under the rubble. I used to be passionate about this stuff. Then disappointments broke me. Church culture frustrated me. Hurt changed me. I started to hate everything about gospel music… about church… about God… and even my own talents. Continue reading

Church Superstars: You Ain’t Got It [2/5]

Simon Cowell is unimpressed.

[Word count: 723. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

“’Cause if you ain’t got it…
Think about it—wait—erase your rhyme.
Forget it, and don’t waste your time.
‘Cause I’ll be in the crowd if you ain’t controllin’ it.
Drop the mic.
You shouldn’t be holdin’ it.
Rakim

While at a rehearsal where members of the worship ensemble were trying their hand at singing lead. I heard a pastor remark quietly, “They ain’t got it.” This struck me as odd because it’s what you expect to hear on American Idol, not at church.

I auditioned for American Idol once. My performance was great, but they passed on me. It was the best rejection I ever got because they rejected even better singers and accepted some really bad ones, proving it wasn’t about talent. They were casting a TV show. They needed someone with an “it factor”—a charismatic personality and a look that would entertain their audience.

“You ain’t got it” was said about other rejects, so I‘m sure it was also said about me. They certainly acted like I didn’t have enough anointing to lead. It felt like a popularity contest… that I lost. And being rejected at church is pretty demoralizing. Be honest. That bar is low. Church folk will clap politely for some truly awful shit. If I didn’t have enough personality and charm to get on TV, that’s fine. But worship isn’t a TV show… is it? Continue reading

Dreams and False Alarms

[Word count: 630. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Joni Mitchell's Hejira album featuring "Amelia"

“Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

A friend once told me, “Mark, you’re emotionally unavailable.” I resented both the remark and its laser accuracy. I would meet a girl who piqued my interest, but it would die out like doused fireworks. I started to believe I was emotionally defective, and incapable of falling in love. It seemed to closely mirror my difficulty walking in faith.

“The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you.”

And then something awesome happened. A girl flew in from nowhere and descended over me with her soft skin the color of strong coffee. Smiled like she brushed her teeth with sunshine. Moved like a ray of light, electric, blinding, jittery, and larger than life. I couldn’t take her all in, but I didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t fall in love readily, but this girl got to me faster than I was ready to get got.

“And looking down on everything
I crashed into [her] arms…

Continue reading

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

People Get Ready… Chaka Is Coming

[Word count: 650. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Chaka Monochrome

I am a huge Chaka Khan fan. Really big. I’ve met a lot of the artists I respect, but Chaka has eluded me like a ghost for nearly 15 years.

Back when the internet was young, I built a comprehensive website called Chaka’s House. It attracted a core of fans and established an internet presence for the fiery-haired songstress during an important time. Her management team, headed by her sister Tammy, caught wind of it and contacted me. I was thrilled! I would’ve gladly turned the site over to them to carry forward, but Chaka did not want to commercialize it.

Ain’t nothin’ but a maybe

As a consolation prize, Tammy invited me to the video shoot for “Don’t Talk To Strangers.” This was before the age of cell phones, so I had them call me at work. In a comedy of errors, my bungling co-workers didn’t pass me her message until the day after the shoot happened.

So Tammy tried again. She scored me an invitation to a scientology benefit held by Kirstie Alley featuring Chaka as the mainstage entertainer. I received the invitation in the mail the day after the event happened.

Third time’s the charm, right? Tammy called to invite me to a Prince concert Chaka was opening at The Forum. I would have loved to meet them both; however, as a struggling college student, I couldn’t afford the tickets.

Pretty frustrating. I still love her though. Something about the frequencies and vibrations she generates stirs my soul in all the best ways, but I unofficially resigned that maybe it wasn’t meant for me to meet her.

Continue reading

Love at First Sight, but Not Second

[Word count: 408. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

While trolling through a clearance CD rack, I flipped past an album I’d always been interested in. Not so much because of its music reviews, but because the album cover was absolutely beautiful to me. The purpose of good art is to attract attention to good artists, and everything about the packaging just got me excited! Soft, warm fleshy browns contrasted with icy pale turquoise under white minimalist type. I opened up the jewel case to find a classy, translucent frosted disc adorned with a cute, flirty icon to match the front. Flipping through the booklet, there’s only page after page of eye-pleasing photos of the beautiful woman on the cover. I fell in love with that alone.

Biding until the perfect moment to see what the music sounded like, I just popped the disc in today. The first track wasn’t too bad, so I kept listening. The second track was so-so, until the end. I couldn’t identify with the lyrics and then the vamp really started grating on me. The third track was mostly forgettable. The fourth whiny and angry. Midway through, I rolled my eyes and skipped it. The fifth sounded like it was going in a nice direction, but turned out to be just a spoken interlude. The next few tracks used some great samples, but after not too long, it was hard to ignore the singer’s drifting pitch.

By the second half of the album, I went from listening to full songs, to listening to half-songs, to scanning each for a minute. As each song seemed to compound the previous one’s disappointment, my attention span got shorter and shorter. Ultimately, there were a few pleasant surprises, but overall, it really fell flat. It doesn’t even look as good now that I’ve listened to it.

I sat for a moment in silence pondering how such a beautiful cover could be wrapped around such lackluster work. They couldn’t have spent some of that packaging money on improving the actual content? Better producers, writers, or even a talented engineer to AutoTune it all could’ve helped dramatically. Talk about the epitome of anticlimactic.

I couldn’t believe something that looked so good could disappoint so badly. I spent money getting this. I spent time listening to it looking for something of value. It was kind of a waste, except for one thing. In a moment of clarity, I thought: “I really need to stop picking my women this way.”

Wreckage

[Word count: 359. Approximate read time: 1.5 minutes]

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Here’s the scenario. My “salvation” is a car.

Not long ago, it was as smooth a ride as it ever was. Suddenly I find myself in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that has spun out, hit several objects, and flipped upside down. It all seemed to go in slow motion. Something sent me careening. Brakes ground. Tires squealed and slid. Airbags deployed as glass shattered and rained down. I couldn’t stop it.

Once I confirm my body physically unharmed, my attention turns to the inverted faces of bewildered onlookers whose expressions beg for an explanation I’m too shaken up to give. I imagine they assume I’m either a bad driver, or worse, a drunk one. But before the weight of blame can fold in on me, a heavier thought lands with a cold thud…

“My car is totaled and I have no idea how to fix it.”

Continue reading