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.
“I Do Not Box as One Beating the Air” -1 Corinthiens 9:26
Saturday’s could be the best day of the week. Most of the time, there was no daytime church, and night church didn’t start until after six or so. Unless there was a fundraiser event, lunch, or choir practice, then Jamaal could be free.
This was one of those Saturdays that Jamaal was free and he was loving every minute. He slept in until about nine or so. Had a big bowl of cereal, and went out to play basketball with a few neighborhood friends.
Half way through the second game, Saturday turned into another horrible day when, Ray, a local kid who had a nose for trouble and who also attended Jamaal’s church, decided he wanted to tease Jamaal about Felicia.
“I know you were mackin’ on her, punk, and you know I was tryna hit that so why you go and do that to ya boy?”
Jamaal was quiet.
Ray was a loud mouth bully who was a year or so younger than Jamaal, but who thought he was the toughest kid around. He was just a punk, Jamaal knew and thought, so Jamaal ignored him.
“You know she just a slut,” Ray said and starting laughing. “She’ll mess with anyone, you little punk.”
Jamaal was still quiet.
“Imma get with her anyway and when I do Imma let you know that I was with yo slut,” Ray ended with.
Jamaal stopped playing and walked over to Ray.
“You need to shut up,” Jamaal said to Ray’s face.
“Boy, don’t you eva walk up on me unless you want to fight”, Ray responded, with his finger just about touching Jamaal’s left eyeball.
Jamaal didn’t blink.
Ray walked away and pretended to laugh.
But he kept walking to the side of the basketball court, where he picked up a baseball bat, and walked back to Jamaal.
Jamaal stood still.
Ray held the baseball bat aloft and pointed the end of the bat at Jamaal’s eye, just like he had with his finger. Ray didn’t say anything and neither did Jamaal.
Then Ray lowered the baseball bat and started laughing as he walked away again.
Jamaal just stood there thinking.
After the last basketball game Jamaal went over to Ray.
“Ray, sorry about what happened. We cool?”
“Yeah man, we good,” Ray answered.
“Okay,” Jamaal said and sat down next to Ray.
“Hey, my friend KK has some weed. I don’t smoke but I know you do, you wanna go get some?” Jamaal asked.
“Sounds good to me. Where he at?” Ray responded hopefully.
“I’m meeting him later at Bancroft Park around six. Come by. We’ll be by the benches,” Jamaal instructed Ray.
“Aiight,” Ray agreed.
“I’ll just beat his ass without any questions as soon as he walks up,” Jamaal’s friend KK said.
KK didn’t go to Jamaal’s church but he was Jamaal’s best friend from his neighborhood. KK also liked to fight, unlike Jamaal. He also smoked weed, like Jamaal told Ray.
“Nah, don’t do it. I want to talk to him first. Then I’m going to kick his butt. He should have hit me with that baseball bat. He will forever regret that.”
They waited for Ray who showed up about twenty minutes later, with a soda in his hand.
“What’sup?” Ray said.
“What’s up,” both Jamaal and KK responded.
“I ain’t got time to talk; you want weed or not? I got nickle and dime bags” KK said with calm urgency.
“Gimme a dime bag but charge me for a nickle bag” Ray said.
KK just looked at him.
“Whatever. Okay. I gotta go. Give your money,” KK said, as he started opening his backpack after Ray put his right hand into his right pocket to retrieve his cash.
The cash never reached KK’s hand. It fell to the ground after Jamaal punched Ray square on the jaw, knocking him sideways so that Ray stumbled.
Before Ray could recover, Jamaal was on top of him, again hitting him in the face and head over and over. Ray was on the ground and now Jamaal was stomping him, then hitting, then stomping him over and over while KK watched. And Ray cried.
After about a minute, Jamaal stopped and, through heavy breathing said: “If you ever threaten me again, I’m gonna really hurt you. Say another bad word about Felicia and I’m gonna really hurt you.”
“And if he don’t, I’ll kill you,” KK added in as he picked up Ray’s money.
“Let’s go KK, I gotta get to church,” Jamaal said as he and KK walked away from the crumbled, crying Ray.
Jamaal walked into church late. KK drove him home where he showered and changed, and then drove him to the church. He was late but it was worth it. KK drove off and they agreed to meet later in the weekend if Jamaal got any free time, which was unlikely.
Walking up the stairs to the church, Felicia was standing midway up the stairs, and said: “I heard what you did mr tough guy. I don’t need you taking up for me. I’ll kick his ass (she whispered “ass”) myself the next time I see him.”
“I know,” Jamaal said as he walked past her, but not before he purposely touched her hand and she grabbed his and said: “They’re waiting for you in your grandfather’s office. Good luck, Jamaal,” and she squeezed his hand before finally letting it go.
“I’m sorry,” Jamaal said, when his grandfather asked him if he had anything to say.
His grandfather lectured him which Jamaal didn’t mind because he really didn’t listen to much these days. He was annoyed though because Ray was there. Ray’s face was swollen and he had band-aids just above both eyes. He looked like he had lost a fight, Jamaal chuckled to himself.
Ray’s step-father was yelling at Jamaal now.
Jamaal didn’t like being yelled at. By anyone. But Ray’s step-father was a huge man so Jamaal stood still and let the man rage at him. He was an ex-convict and he looked really tough and violent. Jamaal wasn’t afraid.
He was terrified.
But he also thought that if needed, he could escape through the door before the big guy caught him.
None of that was needed though, when Jamaal’s grandfather asked Jamaal what he had to say for himself.
Jamaal had learned in school the power of an earnest apology whether he meant it or not. So, he apologized but didn’t mean it, but he sounded earnest he thought.
“Is that all you got?” Ray’s step-father said again, still angry.
“Yes sir. I’m sorry Ray held a bat to my face and I kicked his ass. I won’t do it again,” Jamaal answered. Jamaal knew he didn’t sound earnest at all now. In fact, he sounded like a little snit.
“You sound like you want to fight some more, little boy,” Ray’s step-father said in a very threatening voice that was sort of a rumble and invitation to fight.
“No sir. I don’t want to fight anymore. I already beat his ass,” Jamaal said, further infuriating Ray’s father.
But his grandfather just chuckled. He knew Jamaal’s stubbornness and smart mouth all too well.
“Look, Deacon (Ray’s step-father was a deacon), he said he was sorry. Let it go. Tell your boy don’t go around trying to pick fights if he can’t back up his words and actions. Now, you two shake hands and this is the end of it”, his grandfather finished.
Jamaal walked over to Ray who was now standing and said: “Sorry,” and offered to shake his hand.
“I’m sorry, too.” Ray said. And then under his breathe said: “That I didn’t hit you with that baseball bat.”
They shook and then it was over.
It was time to go into church and as they walked out, Jamaal’s grandfather pulled him back and said: “Deacon ain’t happy and he still wants to beat you. I”ll have him come to the altar for prayer later on because he may be backsliding and I don’t want to see him go back to jail, or you get hurt or worse. So when I call him up, I’m calling you up to, and you’d better come or else I’ll walk right out of my pulpit and drag you myself.”
His grandfather walked away.
Jamaal wondered what would happen if he didn’t go up when his grandfather called him, but ultimately he decided that tonight was not the night to test those waters.
Besides, once he entered the sanctuary what he saw shocked him.
The loud mouth evangelist had started preaching and he was standing on a chair in front of the church zipping and unzipping his pants zipper.
Jamaal, like the rest of the church members were staring in shock. Jamaal looked at his grandfather, who had entered the pulpit and was headed toward the loud mouth evangelist.
“This is how you know a man from a woman, the loud mouth evangelist was saying as he continued to zip and then unzip his pants. Men have these and women don’t. That’s how you know being gay is a sin, and men sleeping with men is an abomination because you can’t both have zippers,” he finished, making absolutely no sense at all.
Jamaal thought the loud mouth evangelist had lost his mind. But even with the craziness going on, some members were agreeing with him. They had been long conditioned to believe and agree with just about anything a preacher said and did, not matter how insane or just plain dumb.
Such was the hold on black church members that black male preachers had on them.
“Preacher. Give me the microphone and take your seat,” Jamaal’s grandfather said sternly.
“I am preaching. I am the MAN OF GOD and I have a message,” the loud mouth evangelist responded sharply.
Jamaal thought back to his fight in the park and how the scene playing out in front of him wasn’t too different.
“This is my church, and you will give me my microphone, or I’ll ask my Deacons to come get it,” Jamaal’s grandfather said as he motioned to the Deacons, who moved closer to the pulpit.
If the Deacons attack him, I’m going to try to get a punch in, too, Jamaal thought to himself.
“You promised me ten-thousand dollars. I want my money if I have to leave,” the loud mouth evangelist said slowly and emphatically.
“You raised what you could. And you were probably going to do well tonight and tomorrow. But no more. You’re revival is over. Leave my church now, I’m losing my patience,” Jamaal’s grandfather said with a certain finality.
The Deacons moved to either side of the loud mouth evangelist and Jamaal prayed for the first time in awhile: “God/Goddess, if you exist, please let a Deacon, any Deacon, punch the loud mouth evangelist in his big fat mouth. InJesusnameI prayamen.”
But Jamaal’s prayer went unanswered. Again.
The loud mouth evangelist dropped the microphone on the floor and stormed out of the church.
The church was silent.
Jamaal’s grandfather then started singing “I shall not be moved,” and the church joined in, and then his grandfather started praying:
“Lord the devil was in here tonight and we call upon you to restore our souls and to protect us from the enemy and keep us free from hurt harm or danger.”
The choir sang for a while and then, Jamaals’s grandfather preached a brief forty-minute sermon before he oversaw the raising of the offering – he pulled in over two-thousand dollars, which was just under two-thousand dollars after Sis Julie took her tax.
Jamaal decided not to go to out after church but instead Jamaal and his grandfather had a quiet ride home and Jamaal might actually have time to start his homework finally.
He didn’t start his homework though because every time he tried to focus his mind drifted to Felicia, then Sis Julie, and then the loud mouth evangelist zipping and unzipping his pants.
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