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

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Cast Away II: Life After Leaving Church

Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in Cast Away

[Word count: 1026. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]

Since my blog entry Cast Away supposed Christianity without church, it’s become the third most viewed post on Junkyard Salvation. (These are #1 and #2.) On several occasions, people asked, “So how is that going?” It’s been 3 summers since I left the church I co-founded. So I thought I’d revisit the topic by answering some of the questions I posed.

Are you a Christian?

Yes?       …I say yes with a question mark because as usual, I am awash in doubt and second guessing the efficacy of faith. The realness of faith. I still don’t feel like I really “know.” And G.I. Joe says knowing is half the battle.

Do you go to church?

Usually not.     I sometimes visit small ministries (“fits in a living room” small). The bigger the church, the less I’m amused. They’re like kids. They’re cute when they’re small. But they get bigger, taller, and hairier, their voices deepen, and they think they know more than you about everything… at which point they must immediately be socked in the face.

Without the constant support of people who believe what you believe, have your beliefs changed?

My beliefs haven’t been changed… only revealed.     I’ve become more honest about them. The people who support those beliefs have changed though. New people—help I never expected—met me in the middle of the ocean. Some people from my old church never stopped supporting me on this journey. Others… never started. Continue reading

Hopsin’s Song of Lost Faith Hits Close To Home

[Word count: 464. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Rapper Hopsin in "Ill Mind of Hopsin 7"

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”

—Psalm 139:1-4

In a post on JFuzion.com, I discovered a music video for the recently released “Ill Mind of Hopsin 7” from former Ruthless Records rapper Hopsin. The Los Angeles native became a born again Christian 2 years ago, but now finds himself doubting his beliefs. With its starkly honest lyrics, a video set against a barren desert panorama is only appropriate.

If you can wade through the expletive-heavy verses without grimacing from offense, you’ll find the song is essentially a mournful prayer. Similar expressions of disappointment and lost faith might be found in Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, or Lamentations.

An orthodox Christian might declare this irreverent and unacceptable, but if Psalm 139:1-4 is true and you’ve ever prayed while in anguish, your distressed prayer probably sounded to God much like Hopsin’s may sound to us. Beneath the bared teeth of his words is a heartbreaking expression of hurt. Continue reading

[Status Update 7/6/2014 – Write The Ugly]

WriteTheUgly

[Word count: 303. Approximate read time: 1 minute]

In Christianity, one tends to clean up before going on stage. You want to make people proud. Be encouraging. Make sure your story ends with “but that’s when God came and saved the day.” Tell testimonies that end in redemption because you gotta give people something to clap for, right?

I have to do no such thing. In fact, I wrote a reminder on my dry erase board to WRITE THE UGLY because it’s necessary. If you don’t talk about failure and tragedy, you think all the victories came easily. If you don’t know the lowest points I swing through, then my high points have no value, perspective, or impact. If I don’t “write the ugly,” someone may read the published highlights of my life and think resolution, penitence, and clarity are how every day ends. Not so.

EMOTIONALLY:
Today, I am depressed, melancholy, and isolated. The feeling has been increasing for the last 2 weeks. I don’t know why it started. I am extremely irritable and have cursed and snapped at friends and acquaintances. There is a long list of apologies to give. I am not ready to give any of them.

SPIRITUALLY:
Today, I am not full of faith. Today, I believe God is going to do neither the wonderful things he promised nor the awful things he threatened. I don’t know where God is. And I hate when people say “you have to seek God.” This makes me angry because I don’t think he should be hiding. Why isn’t he seeking me? Whatever happened to going out and leaving the 99 sheep to find the 1 that’s lost?

This is not the first time I’ve felt like this. I hate being angry and lost, and I hope it changes. I feel ugly. But for what it’s worth… at least today, it is written.

***

Am I Still a Christian?

[Word count: 561. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you— unless indeed you fail the test.” —2 Corinthians 13:3-5

Remember when I told my mom I wasn’t going to church or looking for a new one, and she asked, “Are you still a Christian?” I was annoyed at the question, but I need to revisit it. My adopted grandma says, “You don’t have to go to my church, but you do have to go to my god.” So I ask: Have I gone to God recently? Is my heart still there? Is there a Google Maps app that can tell you how far away you are from God? (First person to say The Bible gets punched in the face.)

From what I told you I believe, things get cold sometimes. Things get dry. But the relationship is not dead. Living things have been frozen solid, but cold does not mean dead. Anyone who didn’t know my background might look at my relationship… frosted, unmoving, and deathly still… and deduce with good reason that it is dead.

If my mom sees someone call themselves a Christian while living below the expected standard, she’ll say, “But they’re not a real Christian though.” Ma might snatch that membership card away quick if you don’t pay your dues. Continue reading

Low Self-Esteem and One Other Option

Neo in The Matrix Revolutions
[Word count: 597. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Having low self-esteem isn’t so bad. It’s no worse than sharing a bedroom with your worst enemy. If you don’t mind a sadistic killer trying to dissolve you from the inside all day long with acidic mind chatter, it’s a fine life. I had a minor disagreement with co-workers over where to have lunch and here’s what happened.

The negative voice started out slight:

  • “They don’t like you.”
  • “They don’t want you around.”
  • “You’re so difficult.”
  • “Why can’t you go with the flow?”

But if left unchecked, that trickles to a flood of:

  • “You’re always the problem.”
  • “Nobody wants you.”
  • “Nobody likes you.”
  • “That’s why your girl left you.”
  • “Who could love you when you act like that?”
  • “You’re going to be alone for the rest of your life. And that’s what you deserve.”

Isn’t that a little over the top? In fact, it’s ridiculous. But that’s what I’m dealing with—a constant stream of hateration and holleration in my dancerie. The problem is… it’s not all untrue. Sometimes I am difficult. And I usually won’t just go with the flow. The voice isn’t a total liar, but—like a tabloid—it exaggerates so much, I don’t know WHAT to believe. Continue reading

Let Them Eat Cake: How to Fail at Christianity

MinistryFail
[Word count: 651. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

“Alone in a room
It’s just me and you
I feel so lost
’Cause I don’t know what to do…”

Initially, when my mom heard this opening line from Yolanda Adams’ “Open My Heart,” it turned her off. Apparently Yolanda’s confession wasn’t positive enough. Having weathered enough trouble for two lifetimes, I understand the aversion. But I disagree with dismissing someone’s truth as “negativity.”

“So I need to talk to You
And ask You for your guidance…
That’s why I open up my heart to You.”

Had she stuck around for the rest, she would’ve noticed ministry happening. But it didn’t sound positive, so it got passed up. The preoccupation with positive confessions is a byproduct of the Word of Faith doctrine, which since its 1980’s prominence has come under fire. I’d like to fire a couple rounds into it myself. Continue reading

The Devil Made You Do It?

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

kronk-shoulder-devil

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

In Case of Fire

[Word count: 2042. Approximate read time: 7-8 minutes]
DISCLAIMER: After nearly 9 months, I decided to uncensor this post on February 16, 2013. You’ll see indelicate language sitting right beside scripture. If this offends you, then my half-hearted grawlix probably weren’t going to appease you either way.

Amen, brothers and sisters. This morning, the text is coming from the book of Marvin Gaye in the 1,978th year of our Lord Jesus Christ. Turn your gatefold double LP to the first disc of Here, My Dear. Now, if one saint would volunteer to read “Anger”:

“Up and down my back
In my spine, in my brain
It injures me
Anger can make you old (yes, it can)

I said anger can make you sick, children
Anger will destroy your soul

Rage
There’s no room for rage in here
There’s no room for rage in here
Where is the place to go to be mad?”

May God add a blessing to the reading of Marvin’s lyrics. I know what that kind of anger feels like. It’s like the entirety of your being is on fire, a walking state of emergency. Your emotions, your coping mechanisms, the steadiness of your perception, all covered in heat from tip to toe. Malfunctioning. You can’t think about anything but finding the quickest way to put out the flames. So can anyone tell me what is the proper Christian way to be angry? Continue reading

Like a Child

[Word count: 620. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

“Here’s my plea
I want to see your face, feel your warm embrace,
And lay here like a child
In your loving arms, where I’m safe from harm,
And the sorrow fades away.”
—Crystal Lewis, “Like a Child

Just woke up from a bad dream where I had to relive when my Papa told me he was dying. A friend suggested I re-read the blog I wrote about it. In that story I remember how, from a place of ignorance, God swept in and rescued me before calamity could crash in on top of me. That all took place when I was still 19.

I turn 33 on Tuesday. A lot changes in 13 years. I’m more skeptical than I was as a young adult, a little world weary in places. I believe less readily than I once did. My once-shiny faith is a little dog-eared and yellowish now. It’s like a sun-beaten rubber band, dried and showing cracks. I fear if I stretch it to believe, it may snap.

Continue reading