Why I Decided To Join A Church (And Get Baptized)

(The Champ’s latest at EBONY on his recent decision to join a church.) 

I didn’t grow up in church, but I was surrounded by it. My parents weren’t regular attendees, so I wasn’t a regular attendee. But, I attended a Catholic middle school and college, and this combination of experiences—religion classes, mass attendance, playing Pontius Pilate in school plays, etc.—allowed me to learn about Christianity without being indoctrinated into it. Let me put it this way: I learned more about the last days of Jesus from watching Jesus Christ: Superstar (still one of my favorite movies) than from reading the Bible.

These experiences also set the foundation for the way I’ve come to be a believer. Although I “believed” in God as a child and young adult, this belief was theoretical. I believed in the idea of God, but not necessarily in God Himself, as I just wasn’t able to completely wrap my mind around the existence of a supreme, supernatural being.

I also realize that much of this belief was more do to familiarity than faith. Believing in God and being a Christian was just what people around me did. So, although I didn’t fully embrace it, I accepted it the same way little kids accept their parent’s explanations for why you need to do well in school before they’re even able to grasp why you need to do well in school.

Yet, as I grew older, smarter, met more people, read more books, traveled more places, tasted more foods, felt more pain, loved more women, breathed more air, and saw more things, it started to make sense for me. The Earth is too vast, varied, scary and, well, perfect for it not to have been created without a purpose. And, it took me knowing, seeing, and experiencing more to realize that I didn’t need to understand everything. More specifically, I didn’t need to understand why certain things happened (or didn’t happen) and why other things happened (or didn’t happen).

I realize this might seem like a strange and semantic way to come to a spiritual understanding, but this is how it had to work for me. It had to make intellectual sense before it made spiritual sense. And, while I recognize there’s no way of knowing God’s ultimate plan, a glance outside my window lets me know a plan exists.

This understanding has not been easy. For instance, last year I blacked out during a completely irresponsible, reckless, stupid, and dangerous attempt to drive while drunk. I also had two friends in the car with me. We’d been drinking at a club, and we decided to hit a 24 hour diner afterwards. The next morning, the memory of the drive was completely gone. Today, almost a year and a half later, it’s still not there.

We all could have very easily died that night. While I’m (obviously) glad we all made it home alive, it didn’t make any logical sense that I’d make it out unscathed while people in much less dangerous situations regularly meet tragic ends. I eventually stopped trying to make sense of it when I came to understand that it won’t make any literal sense, and this process of accepting that some things will just be beyond my comprehension has been a struggle.

(Read the rest at EBONY)

What’s Your Religion?

jesusFor the record, and before we begin, “Jerry, let the record refleck…” that I’m not using the term religion in the Bible/Torah/Talmud/Qu’ran, Holy Trinity and you’re out, type of way.

Naw, we’re going to use it in a different way. Allow me to explain.

Can I kick it?

Yes you can.

Can I kick it?

Yes you can.

Can I kick it?

Yes you can.

Well I’m gone.

For years and years, eons even, religion has been the source of more conflict than a Chris Brown interview. It’s gotten to the point where people have to write articles about the difficulty of interfaith relationships. On Love & Hip-Hop: NY we see how Consequence, his teeth, and Jen the Pen can’t seem to live happily ever after because he has turned his religion into an immovable object. She is not a Muslim. He is. He refuses to allow their mixtie son to even observe non-Muslim holidays, etc. Like Christmas. Because that’s his word.

See it’s not enough that two people have religion. Religion has to be shared. For the record, I understand this. I get why folks wouldn’t want to cross their God-sabers. Different faiths come with different rules and guidelines. Shucks, one religion says don’t eat that swine, one says don’t eat that lamb, one says don’t eat that monkey. I’m paraphrasing. In fact, it seems we only all agree on chicken. And I’m pretty sure I’m making that up. Eat mor chikin.

I’m losing my religion here. Back to the lecture at hand. The point is, two folks can have that old timmmmmme religion, but if it doesn’t match, well, you get chaos. I think at times its almost better (should this interfaith or faith-and-not situation arise) that one person has it and the other doesn’t give a flying f*ck. But people always give f*cks. It’s what people do.

So as Jesus said to the guy he was asking, “what’s your religion?” (that doesn’t have to be religion)??

Well for me, it’s music. Music is my religion. You know, when I’m not being religious. How does this work? Or what brought this to my attention?

Have you ever, ever, ever in your long legged life seen a long legged sailor with a long legged wife? No? Me neither.

But in the midst of a conversation recently with a person who is a music head/snob like I can be at times, I discovered that while we both were extremely fond of music as a whole, our tastes varied so widely that it was eye opening. For one, I discovered that this friend is one of those mainstream-rap-is-not-hip-hop people, a camp I’m staunchly not in. Then came the kicker. In the midst of a convo about Kid Cudi and my assertion that he is the best accessory rapper (you know makes everything sound better by virtue of his presence) in hip-hop and citing Kanye West’s beautiful masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, she posited that she wasn’t even familiar with it or his work for real.

Sccccccrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Say heffa say wha?

Say heffa say wha?

Oh no she didn’t.

Oh no she didn’t.

It was totally amazing to me to think that somebody could be unfamiliar with one of the biggest artists in hip-hop critically lauded albums…as a fan of the artform. Even hip-hop heads respect Kanye’s artistry. Not this one. Nope. She gave no f*cks. And for me, it seems like willful ignorance. It’s like people who buy Zune’s (do they still exist?) because they don’t want to purchase Apple products. It’s impossible to not be familiar with Jay-Z. It just is. But to specifically not pay attention to Kanyeeevel. I ain’t even say you had to like him, but to not pay attention or even know songs on one of the most lauded albums in years, hate it or love it?

#cmonson

While that’s all well and good, it made me realize that music could be just as divisive a force as regular religion for me. I’m the kind of person who can appreciate and love pop music. Cobra Starship “You Make Me Feel” is just as dope as any underground song. Same with Rihanna’s “We Found Love”. I siiiiiiiiiiiiiiing, because I’m haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaappy. But I can’t discriminate because I’ll miss out on too much.

But…but…I have to respect other people’s views and means for listening. And try not to judge. Lord knows when it comes to music there isn’t an argument I’m not willing to have. And girl I’ll house you. And judge your tastes. I’m like a Dilla Donut, workinonit. It’s hard though. You can’t send me some crap that’s hot because its not mainstream. Ya bish. Just because 12 people know it doesn’t make it exclusive. It probably makes it trash.

Hashtag gospel.

Hashtag yeah I said it.

That was harsh. I apologize. See what music made me do? Plant a flag. Iron Flag. Two people with vastly different tastes in the same thing can get along. Clearly. If Mary Matalin and James Carville can get along and be married then its possible. But it also helps if you just agree to never discuss those things at home over dinner. Or in a boat. On a moat. In a chair. Over there. But people who are passionate need to outlet their passion. It ain’t passion if you ain’t passionate.

Message. Knowledge my brother, use it or lose it.

So music is my religion. Clearly. It’s uplifting and encouraging and can be as divisive as North Korea making the quadratic formula the official language of Mongolia.

What?

Also notice I never said anybody was wrong or right. It’s religion, we’ll all find out when we’re dead. Word to Father Abraham.

It’s Friday. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night.

What’s your religion?

Talk to me.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. GET YO SH*T AND GET OUT BUT LEAVE MY D’ANGELO VOODOO ALBUM aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

 

My Problem With Prayer

Really? You prayed for me so I can come back to this?

Aside from Tony Soprano, some serial killers and most Deltas, everyone loves their mom. In fact, you can hate any and every thing from kittens to your own kids, but nothing would garner the type of response a person would get when admitting they hate their own mother.

Anyway, everyone loves their mom. But, not everyone has a mom who everyone loves, and I happen to be one of the people who do. I was aware of this even before she first fell ill—I’ve (half)jokingly mentioned many times that my friends like my parents more than they like me—and the avalanche of love and support she’s received has reminded me.

Much of this love and support has come in the form of prayer. People praying for her, praying with her, and even suggesting special prayers for situations like this. In fact, tonight I searched for “mom” in Gmail and looked at emails and Gchats I received around the time people first found out she was ill. Every single person who contacted me mentioned something about prayer.

While this has definitely—definitely—been appreciated by my mother and the rest of my family, this situation has reinforced the disconnect I’ve always had with prayer in general and prayer specifically for ill people in particular.

Now, I’m (obviously) not a theological scholar. But, I do know that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all offer their true believers some form of an afterlife. And, in each case, the afterlife is a much, much, much better version of Earth.

If Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe this to be true, why pray for a sick person’s health to get better? I understand praying for their souls and salvation if they do happen to pass away, but if whatever comes after Earth is an unfathomably awesome version of all the best things we experience here, why would you want someone to get better so that they have to stay on shitty ole Earth a second longer than they have to?

Interestingly enough, this disconnect hasn’t altered my prayers in any way. I’m a Christian, and I believe in Heaven. I also want my mom to get better, and I’ll continue to do what I can to make sure that happens. This includes prayer, which may or may not help—the murky waters of God’s will is another theoretical pickle, but that’s another topic for another day—but what’s the harm in doing it anyway?

But, if I truly believe what I say I believe, wanting my mom to get better is a selfish want. An honorable and socially acceptable want, but selfish nonetheless. Perhaps this is where the disconnect occurs. Maybe I’m missing something, but if Heaven exists and if I believe Heaven exists, all this prayer for my mom is just me, in a roundabout way, praying for me.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

God Knows My Struggle, So It’s…Okay?

If you dating Black women I don’t feel bad for you son, but you’ll have 99 problems and God will be one.

Okay, that didn’t work like I wanted it to but what I was trying to say via Jay-Z was that if you’re a man who is dating Black women, there’s a really good chance that God, Jesus, and ‘nem will enter into your relationship at some point. The Holy Trinity has definitely crip walked into nearly every relationship that I’ve had, usually in the form of me being questioned for not going to church. It’s come up time and time again within each relationship I’ve been in. I think I just have a thing for church girls…or at least I did until I realized that I like to date Black women that read, in which case, well, nearly all of them are church girls.

Amen.

This is not really a problem, mind you, though it does present an issue when you hear “ohhhhhh God” as much as I do…wait…what was I saying?

Moving on.

Now dating church girls presents very few issues in terms of religion. Since most of us are reared in church of some sort, dating a woman who would like to pray together and worship together is pretty much par the course. And I’m saying, most of us have that old time religion in our bones. I love the Bible and one of the best gifts I ever received was a Bible. I treasure that thing. I love God and all that jazz.

Here’s where it starts to present an issue and I’m speaking about women here because I’ve never really spoken to any men who (admittedly) go through this same struggle. But it seems like many women struggle with being “Christian” and what that requires and how that can get in the way of (forgive me for putting it that way Jesus, strike somebody else and come back to me later) “relationshipping”. Unless you have two people who are truly on the same page of celibacy, there’s a very good chance that there will be some smanging going on. Obviously, sex can get in the way of getting closer to God, so to speak, since you’re supposed to wait until you’re married for many more reasons than just religious, but most of us tend to realize that while everybody is probably doing it, that doesn’t make it okay to do if you’re truly on a walk with God.

That make sense?

You may not know this about me, but I’m overly cynical and sometimes too logical and contrarian for my own good. It can be a nitrous combination at times. What this all means in laymen’s terms is that I will eventually get into some debate about whether or not sex should actually be taking place. I almost feel at times like I’m enabling somebody’s walk away from God and its unfair for them to put me in that position. I’ve offered to stop engaging in such practice to ensure that my other half could work towards their goal of Godliness. And nearly EVERY time, I’ve been met with four words:

God knows my struggle.

Or it’s kissin’ cousin, God knows my heart.

Scrrrrrrrr.

Or more simply, I like sex and have no intention of stopping this because it brings me joy. I don’t really do anything else wrong so I don’t feel any type of way about this short of the guilt you’re laying on me right now. God made sex and made it so pleasurable so maybe he intended for it to happen this way.

Now, I’m no religious scholar. I mean, I pray (well I say my grace before I eat at least…but I do pray on occasion) and II read my Bible and I love me some praise and worship music. Basically, I’m no expert on religious doctrine or rules, but I’m fairly certain that God knowing your struggle doesn’t make it better. It just means that he knows it exists. But seeing as he knows it exists in you and that you have acknowledged its existence, he would also know that you’d likely have the capacity to work on it. Right?

Which means that the whole, “God knows my struggle” thing is basically a cop out, no? No shade here or anything, but can you really be working on something if your default reaction is that its a struggle you have, therefore you deserve some slack. While I realize that we as human beings have needs, or wants, I do think that for something like sex we also have the ability to put a stop to it. I know…temptation is real and very present. And engaging in pleasures of the flesh is a satisfying dish. However, if you claim to be looking towards getting closer to God, how can you say that you’re trying in the sex regard if you’re still willing to engage in sex? I know its hard to go cold turkey and dispel the advances. And hell, there’s a good chance based on the things you see and read (even here) that not giving up the goodies places one in a space of presumed singledom.

I’m not sure I completely agree with that, but I do understand the logic and get why that would be a concern.

So what’s the solution? Only date people who are on the exact same walk you are on? Even folks in church ain’t on that walk most times. How do I know? Well…aside from the obvious…I’m just saying. Like can you just keep moving along in the ways of the word and all while still copping out by suggesting that you’re good except for that one struggle and you’re “working on it?”

What say you? And here’s a question as this was mostly tailored to women, do men struggle like this or are we just accepted heathens? I’m truly curious.

Does God know your struggle (as you guzzle a 40?)

Love 40.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. GOD KNOWS MY HEART aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3, AMEN

The Curious Case of “Amen”

And no, we’re not talking about Sherman Helmsley, smokin’ that “boat”, or Dee.

We’re talking about Meek Mill and Drake’s perplexing homage to, well, the same thing they talk about on every other song they write and record – f*cking, living the good life, and being swagged out – entitled “Amen”.

But first, let me say, lord forgive them, they got them dark forces in them.

Amen.

This song perplexes me so much I’ve spent literal hours going back and forth with myself on how I should feel versus how I do feel. Let’s start with the basics, this is only an issue because the beat to this song is so insanely infectious and dope. The producer took us to church with it. On purpose. It’s like that bridge between secular and gospel rap that 100 percent of all gospel rappers have been looking for but couldn’t find. Real talk, put DMX or some other rapper conflicted about his spirituality and likes to talk about it over that beat and you might have your first respectable gospel rap song. Hell, you could even title it “Amen” and it would work perfectly.

More hell, you could have taken the ENTIRE verses spit by Meek and Drake, turned them towards a religious bent and had a significantly dope gospel rap record. I truly believe this. The vast majority of us, whether currently believers, atheists, agnostics, or what have you, began in the church and can immediately identify with that piano riff. If you’re grandmother is Baptist or Pentecostal, she likely crip-walked to it this past Sunday. Meek knew this, probably because he also is insanely familiar with it, immediately heard the beat and knew exactly where to take it…to church.

NEVERMIND THAT HE STARTED IT WITH AN IGNANT NINJA PRAYER!!

So what we get is a 4-minute long sacreligious ode to ignorance that is intentionally geared to play up to our religious histories in a way that would ensure that we’d all need to go to church on Sunday JUST to repent for dancing to it in the club the night before. The hook is a PERFECT call-and-response execution. Meek and Drake are both dope on it…if only they weren’t sending me to hell every time I listened to it. Which, obviously, is the conundrum. In many ways, I feel like they went too damn far. But I’ll admit it’s only because I’m Black and I hold church (even though I rarely, if ever, go) sacred. Which is mostly because despite my imperfect church record (no pun) over the past umpteen years, I’m still god-fearing and recognize blasphemy when I hear it. I believe in being struck by lightning, for heaven’s sake!

Which presents a whole OTHER problem. Ladies, I have issues. For some reason I’m more conflicted about this than about the rampant exploitation I hear in the record. I kind of just want them to change the title and stop saying “amen” and “church”. I know, and I’m working on this. There’s really no defense for it. Though I’ve mostly stopped listening to 90 percent of the “ignorant” stuff. My daughter has COMPLETELY trumped all of my music choices nowadays. Believe it or not (and this might sound ironic) but I pretty much only listen to pop music stations when she’s not with me and gospel when she is. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Annnnnnyway.

Back to just wanting them to change the title and hook. Sure the beat is churchy, but I could live with that as just being creative. Besides, more rappers than you may realize have straight jacked gospel for samples. Shoot, early soul and blues owes its entire lineage to gospel. So gospel tinged secular music isn’t exactly new or troubling. This just feels different.

I hear it and I want to dance, but yelling “amen” after their lines using the terms “b*tches, kill n*ggas, etc” just seems inherently wrong. Perhaps I read too much or have mostly grown up (again, I’m apparently okay with the exploitation and misogyny present…help me) but I wonder why NOBODY thought there would be anything wrong with this record. Granted, its creative as a mug and of course entertaining. Meek does entertaining records and the boy can rap. I’m fairly certain his album would be terrible but his singles are monsters (I’m not sure I could listen to him yell at me for a whole hour…I’m grown, stop that).

Back to the lecture at hand, the record…befuddles me. I’m fairly certain that I shouldn’t like it, but deep down, I do. Because it’s a good record. I just want them to stop being so blasphemous. And I’m not even sure they are. I’m nowhere near the level of ole boy out of Philly, the pastor who found it to be outwardly just damn wrong. But in some small way, I get his point. For the first time ever, d-boys everywhere will be yelling “amen” and “church” ad nauseum and it will be for all of the wrong reasons. Which brings up something else: I know that I’ve DEFINITELY used lots of church references in my everyday speech and things I’ve written that could very well be considered sacrilege. So perhaps there’s a little bit of pot-calling-the-kettle-black here. And perhaps I should reconsider my own choices.

But perhaps, I’ll probably not do that either. And I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

Amen.

Church?

(Couldn’t help myself.)

So good folks, what do you think about the record (video included uptop)? Is anybody else conflicted by this song? Does this record go to far in its sacrelige? Does it even go to far? Does it even matter?

Talk to me.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. TAKE ‘EM TO CHURCH aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Don’t forget about the upcoming panel hosted by VSB P and Raheil T of Urban Cusp in conjunction with the Washington Post on July 26, 2012, from 6-8pm at the WaPo Building. It should be a great interactive conversation about relationships between all of us! Group participation, ninjas! See you there!