I Don’t Know Who My Real Father Is

[Word count: 922. Approximate read time: 4-5 minutes]

IDontKnow

Father’s Day is always weird for me. I never met my father. He died before I was born. My sister and I used to debate which is worse: a bad dad or none at all. I would argue, “At least you have one!” She would counter by reminding me hers was a lying, abusive, philandering absentee. And really, that won the argument. But I would still smirk to myself, “At least you know.” I hate not knowing.

In a way, I know my father well. I’ve studied everything about him. I have his personal items. Old records, military effects, and photos from infancy to adulthood. I know the sound of his voice from audio letters he sent while stationed in Okinawa.

I’ve interviewed countless family, friends, and co-workers about him. Cousins told me of his wicked sense of humor. An aunt said he was always kind. My mother said he was even-tempered and accepting. Former co-workers lauded his intelligence. Friends told me he had a way with the ladies.

I know him as well as one knows the complex flavor of a truffle when they’re too expensive to afford to taste. I know him as well as one knows brain surgery after having read about it and passed the written exam. I am fully an expert. Also, I know nothing.

Like my mother’s advice on taking tests: “Don’t leave the answer blank. If you don’t know, just make something up. It might be right.” So I spent my life making my father up. I even got help once.

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Super Christian Superstition

StevieSuperstition
[Word count: 988. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]

When I was growing up, I often had déjà vu. I’d walk into new places and distinctly feel I’d been there before. My mother’s mother held many superstitions, so when she found out I was “having visions,” it spooked her. I was no longer allowed in her house after 6pm. Who knows what that was about?

The list goes on. Throw salt over your shoulder. Knock on wood. Don’t split the pole. If you dream about fish, it means somebody’s pregnant. If a bird flies into your house, then somebody’s gonna die. None of these things made sense then and they’re still crazy now. They seeped into the groundwater of our family’s faith though. It only made sense that when they were taught to live by the Bible, they lived it out superstitiously.

There’s a name for that: Syncretism. It’s the combining of different, and even contradictory beliefs. For instance, Voodoo is the syncretism of West African Vodun with Catholicism and other beliefs. Personally, I think my family mixes Christianity with any number of things, but they still only call it Christanity. This irks.

Memory Foam faith

Once I asked my Mom if she enjoyed Minnie Riperton back in the 70s. She said, “yeah, but I stopped listening after she died.” When I inquired why, she said with a nod to how silly it sounded, “I guess I didn’t want to die.”

Of course that’s ridiculous, but I understood the association. When I pack for a flight, I purposely exclude Aaliyah from my iPod playlist. Ridiculous, but still— no Aaliyah music on plane trips. It’s as if science had proven “Rock The Boat” causes crashes.

Yet, if I was a fan of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, or The Big Bopper, I’d have no problem playing them from L.A. to New York and back. Superstition is subjective: solid where we need support, flexible where we need comfort. It’s the Memory Foam of belief systems.

What is superstition?

Superstition is a pejorative term for belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any physical process linking the two events, such as astrology, religion, omens, witchcraft, etc., that contradicts natural science.

Stevie Wonder sang, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, you suffer.” If you embrace a belief without even Googling it, you should at least feel a little uneasy. We run into problems when we do things without questioning them. If we do so for too long, we get “used to” that and a tradition is born.

Tradition is a belief or behavior with symbolic meaning or significance that has been passed down within a group of society. Traditions aren’t bad; they mark our history and give our cultures identity. But when we pass them on without knowing their origins, we may pass them past their expiration date. “We’ve been doing it like this forever. Why stop now?” People are creatures of habit and will keep doing things because they’re comfortable and familiar, even if they stop being functional or sensible.

Iyanla, fix my faith

My faith was once rooted in superstition and tradition. Though I know the fear in those practices is not biblical, it still persists. I’m now tasked with the work of rooting out those old habits out in order to have a purer faith.

Though any faith can be categorized as superstition, the goal is not to eradicate it, but reevaluate it when it gives rise to fearful practices like these:

  • Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The scripture is ketchup in my family. It gets slathered on everything. I wouldn’t object had it not overgrown into such a trip-line to communication. “Honey, don’t say you are tired. Say you feel tired. We don’t want to declare that over ourselves.” Ironically, hearing this correction makes me tired. That’s what’s taught at their church, but I reject it for myself. It hinders more than it helps.
  • A pastor at the family’s church recounted an example of some unfortunate happening. He began, “If my kids were to—“ and stopped, “no, I don’t want to give the devil a foothold.” If you look at Ephesians where that’s mentioned, its use here is out of context. It’s equivalent to saying, “Don’t say that. It’s bad luck.” I hate that no one recognizes this.
  • An uneasy premonition made me think playing Stevie Wonder’s “Too High,” a cautionary tale about drug use, would cause a relapse in my best friend’s addiction. That’s neither sensible nor biblical. My friend’s been clean for years now. He’s a successful father with a promising medical career. Much like the irrational Aaliyah fear, Stevie’s music didn’t send my guy’s life down in flames either.

Conclusion

One useful scripture my mother drilled into me was: “In all thy getting, get an understanding.” If not for that foundation, I might not have the courage to challenge these interpretations of the Bible. In 2011, I left my church. Two weeks later, I lost my job. If I believed God was spiteful and vindictive, I’d have run back to church cowering. But I know God’s grace doesn’t work like that.

As the Bible says, “work out your own faith with fear and trembling.” Even people from the same religious denomination may have drastically differing rules they live by, though they all affirm these rules come from the Bible.

How about you?

  • How do you decide how far is too far to stretch for a belief?
  • Where do you draw the line between what is “walking in faith” vs. what is absolute lunacy?
  • Were you taught any practices or beliefs as a child that you’ve had to abandon in your adulthood for sanity’s sake?

Please share your experience in the comments below!

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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

Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong [4/5]

[Word count: 635. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]
Wrong1

“Here we are now. Entertain us.” —Kurt Cobain

In music ministry, we’re instructed that our worship should be extensions of our authentic relationship with God. However, your authentic expression may be to fall to your knees and cry uncontrollably for 15 minutes at a time. When on stage in front of people, this becomes unacceptable.

As I understand it, worship is about genuinely loving your god and expressing that love in song, dance or whatever. But… there is an element of performance to it. God requires sincerity, but if the presentation isn’t right, people will turn their noses up.

ideal (adj)
1. conceived as constituting a standard of perfection or excellence.
2. existing only in the imagination; not real or actual.

We set an ideal example so people will join in. We are cheerleaders. And we are actors. Our worship on-stage is not unlike a TV dramatization. What’s being portrayed actually happened, but we only want to show the best scenes. Wait. I thought it was supposed to be authentic though? Continue reading

Do Christians Have To Be Mad At “Black Jesus”?

[Word count: 734. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

BlackJesusWhen Joan Osbourne’s hit song asked what if God was a slob like one of us, I was outraged. She was making a point about humanity, but I stopped at the surface of my offense. “God is not a SLOB,” I shot back. By the time I saw the good in it, the opportunity was gone.

20 years later, there’s a new threat. From the creator of the always respectful and family-friendly The Boondocks comes Black Jesus. In this, the titular character lives in Compton, CA, curses heavily, smokes weed, and runs with a ragged posse of pseudo-disciples. Because you can’t tell if Black Jesus is supposed to be real or just some crazy who just thinks he’s Jesus, you really don’t know how offended to be. Continue reading

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.

***

Maya Angelou Taught Me Too

[Word count: 429. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

master-class-maya-angelou

“I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me with me. Black, White, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American, gay, straight, everybody. I say, ‘Come with me. I’m going on the stage. Come with me. I need you now.’ Long dead, you see? So, I don’t ever feel I have no help.

I’ve had rainbows in my clouds. And the thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you, may not call God the same name you call God, if they call God at all!  You see? And may not eat the same dishes prepared the way you do. May not dance your dances. Or speak your language. But be a blessing… to somebody. That’s what I think.”

—Dr. Maya Angelou
(April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

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