Written by Myron J. Clifton
Notice from the author: This short series about Jamaal and his struggles with his local family church – which was written last year – was so well received that it remains one of the most popular series on Dear Dean. At the request of numerous readers I have decided to revisit Jamaal and his church friends, preachers, and colorful church members.
Before I continue the story, I am re-running the original story so you may reacquaint yourself with Jamaal and his Church Stories. The new material will immediately follow the conclusion of this original series.
“You are Altogether Beautiful, My Darling” – Song of Songs 4:7
Jamaal had to be to church early for choir practice. Jamaal wasn’t in the choir, but on Sunday, the last day of the revival, the choir director mandated that all “young people sing in the choir to show the (loud mouth) evangelist the power of God in our voices.”
Great, Jamaal thought. He could not sing, but more importantly, he really disliked the choir director. The choir director, a twenty-seven year old hustler who “got saved and found God” was still just a hustler. He was also a liar, thief, whore, smoker, drinker, weed smoker, and dabbler in cocaine and crack.
Jamaal knew these things because for a time over the past year Jamaal and few other young folk joined the choir and followed the choir around, and the choir director, to different churches and events. During the trips to, or after church while they were at restaurants, the choir director would regale Jamaal and the others with his stories of sex, drinking, smoking, drugs, and more.
And all his stories were current events. Things happening right now. The choir director, who called himself “Bishop” was proud of his conquests and didn’t care that his new wife was embarrassed, ashamed, and always crying in church over his escapades. The one time Jamaal’s grandfather got angry with Bishop is when he didn’t show up to church on time – because he’d been arrested on a Friday afternoon for disorderly behavior, possession of a controlled substance – crack, and DUI. His grandfather had to use his political capital to get Bishop out of jail and to church in time for Sunday morning service.
The only scolding Bishop got was: “So many of your women called me looking for you, I need to see what you got in your pants to see why they want you so much!” And they both laughed before walking into church.
“Jamaal! Boy, wake up!” Jamaal was caught daydreaming and Bishop was yelling at him.
“Yeah, okay, sorry. Was thinking about homework,” was all Jamaal could quickly lie about.
“Sure. Go outside and get Sandy and Felicia and tell them to come in right now so we can work on this last song. We were terrible the other night and when we sing again on Sunday, we need to bring the shi…the stuff,” Bishop finished with, and the other choir members laughed.
Jamaal went outside and looked around but didn’t see the girls. He went around back of the church. Nothing. So he walked to the liquor store just down the street.
As he walked up he saw Felicia handing money to the corner weed seller.
“It’s time to practice and Bishop says come inside. Where’s Sandy? Let’s go”. Jamaal said all at once, hoping to get back to the church and away from a weed deal.
“Okay, let’s go. Don’t you say nothing, Jamaal. Especially to your grandfather”.
“Okay,” is all Jamaal said. Then: “What about Bishop? Should I tell him?” Jamaal was teasing. Or maybe he was flirting. He wasn’t sure why he said anything at all.
Felicia was seventeen, almost as tall as Jamaal, with dark hair, and a very pretty voice. She was the lead singer on many choir songs and on the Sundays when she sang, Jamaal always felt a little better about God and himself. He liked her but he didn’t tell her or let her know.
“Boy, he’s who I’ll be smoking this with and he’s who sent me down here. I don’t care if you tell him,” Felicia said, breaking Jamaal’s daydreaming about her.
Just then, Sandy exited the store and she had a bottle of vodka in her hands and she was smiling.
“We gon’ party tonight after stupid choir rehearsal,” Sandy said excitedly. “I got Bishop’s favorite brand. You get the weed, Felicia?”
“Yep, Felicia said, looking over at Jamaal. I Spent all my money but we can fire it up later. Jamaal, you should come with us after choir rehearsal. It’s time for you to learn how to get high and party. You have your cherry popped yet?”
“I don’t know. No. I don’t know.” Jamaal didn’t know what that meant, but he thought it had something to do with drinking or smoking weed for the first time.
The girls laughed and each grabbed one of Jamaal’s arms and they walked to church. Jamaal thought that Felicia was squeezing him tighter than Sandy and that made him feel something.
This was really weird, Jamaal thought. The evangelist smelled funny.
The loud mouth evangelist was preaching – screaming more like it – and then he just stopped. The church was on its feet, the choir had sang earlier and they were much better than the other night, and Bishop, who also was the church organist was helping helping the loud mouth evangelist “tune up,” as it was called. It just meant he was playing organ music that supported the preaching and tapped into the emotions of the members in a swirling frenzy of music, clapping, dancing/shouting, and crying. All those competing yet complementary expressions of religious emotions cascading and reached a crescendo of unified praise of God.
The loud mouth evangelist was now sweating more than he had all week. Jamaal decided that the loud mouth evangelist didn’t smell funny; he stunk of alcohol. He was hungover and sweating it out, Jamaal thought. Jamaal had seen Bishop in the exact same state more than a few times.
The loud mouth evangelist was mixing up his bible verses, stuttering, and losing his train of thought. It was awkward and the members sensed something was not quite right. But no one would dare saying anything against the man of God while he was up preaching.
Jamaal watched and thought maybe he should say something. Maybe pull the microphone out of his hands, hit him on the head with it, and then push his loud mouth out of the pulpit and out of the church. It was a happy thought and Jamaal felt better just thinking it.
Just then his grandfather got up, took the microphone out of the loud mouth evangelist’s hand and said, very loudly in a voice and tone that made it sound like his grandfather had already been preaching:
“I HEAR YOU PREACHER AND I CAN’T KEEP MY SEAT GOD IS CALLING ME TO PREACH AND I GOT A MESSAGE FOR YOU.”
The members went crazy and Bishop on the organ turned it up even higher.
Jamaal’s grandfather had taken control and moved the loud mouth evangelist out of the way. He continued preaching:
“GOD IS A GOOD GOD! HE WALKS WITH ME! HE TALKS WITH ME! HE KNOWS WHEN I NEED HIS HELP! HE KNOWS WHEN I AM BROKEN AND NEED A BLESSING! HE KNOWS BECAUSE HE IS A GOOD AND RIGHTEOUS GOD AND I AM NOTHING BUT A SINNER! HE KNOWSSSSSSSS!!!
Everyone was on their feet, screaming, clapping, dancing and shouting, as Jamaal’s grandfather “brought the Holy Ghost into the revival finally!”
The loud mouth preacher just sat there, red-eyed, and sweating.
On the drive home, after a stop at the donut shop again, Jamaal’s grandfather said:
“He drank all night, screwed all night, and thought he could get up there and preach the word of God. He’s a young man who is showing himself to be a dummy. When I was a young man, I could do all those things for week’s on end. I had stamina in bed and the pulpit. But the difference was, I didn’t drink. Never did. Drinking is sinful and can ruin a man. He had better learn his lesson. He’s got three more nights here and he needs his money so he’s gonna straighten up while he’s here. He can do whatever he wants when he leaves.”
Jamaal was quiet.
His grandfather finished with: Besides, since I had to preach, I took the entire offering tonight – one-thousand, two-hundred. He learned an expensive lesson: Don’t mess over my church.
“Yep,” Jamaal said, as another night ended with no homework completed.
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