Tag Archives: gospel


Mary Mary Launches Reality Show to Add Third Mary

They’re known as sisters.

And they’ve since become mothers.

How fitting, then, that they would seek to find another sister — named after the most well-known mother of all.

As a follow up to their popular Mother’s Day promotion with Colgate, Tina and Erica Atkins-Campbell, commonly known as superstar gospel duo Mary Mary, have agreed to star in a reality-TV vehicle to discover a third singing partner. The twist? She’ll be a Mary, alright. All the eligible contestants will be Catholic nuns.

Tina says the inspiration came from an unlikely source.

“We had just come from a long studio session, and Teddy had already put the girls to bed, and I just couldn’t sleep yet, so I turned on the TV. And there was Lauryn, just tearing it up again.”

“I’ll never forget that night,” piped in Erica.

They’re referring to a rebroadcast of Sister Act 2, part of a November Whoopi Goldberg marathon on TNT. The 1993 sequel, directed by Bill Duke, featured a breakout performance from then undiscovered Lauryn Hill, who went on to become an accomplished singer and rapper with The Fugees.

“Just watching her sing the open to ‘Joyful Joyful’ got my heart racing,” says Tina. “Pretty soon, I had to get on the phone.”

“Tina called me at 12:30 at night, talkin’ ’bout ‘Girl, turn on TNT… remember this?!'”

They both watched the rest of the song, completely spellbound in nostalgic reverie. By the time it was over, they knew something was brewing.

“Erica said, ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but Lauryn Hill’s not in the industry anymore.'”

“My sister, she didn’t quite get it,” laughs Erica. “So me and Warryn did some brainstorming the next day, and a few months later, here we are.”

Their brainstorming led them to contact Whoopi Goldberg directly, who thought the idea was splendid. Ms. Goldberg’s advocacy on their behalf helped them gain the rights to record a remake of “Ms. Celia’s Blues (Sister),” which will function as the show’s theme song, albeit with reworked lyrics:

“Sister, you can jump the line
Sister, we’re three of a kind, oh,

Sister, have I got some news… for you!”

The three day miniseries, entitled, “Sister, May I?” will be broadcast on the BET network, in anticipation of their fourth album to be released in August. It’s their hope that the third Mary will be able to tour with Tina and Erica, and maybe even contribute in the songwriting process for the fifth album, slated for a release sometime in late 2010.

“It’ll require an adjustment period for all three of us,” admits Tina. “But whichever sister joins the group, we don’t want her to change on our behalf. She can still wear the habit and everything.”

“Black is always stylish,” chimes in Erica.

Still, the bold reality-TV concept wasn’t exactly greeted with enthusiasm by representatives of parent label Columbia Records.

“Even if she can sing, I’m not sure how it’s going to work,” said industry analyst Nathan Trimble.

“I’ve never seen any nuns with sex appeal.”

When reminded that Mary Mary was a gospel duo with a large Christian audience, Trimble was undeterred.

“Christians have sex too,” he said. “I mean, isn’t that how R. Kelly got so popular?”

Local convents have welcomed the news, as scores of musically talented African-American women have filled their ranks in the weeks following the announcement.

“They’re coming in droves,” said sister Mary Francis of Santa Sabinet, a religious order of women in southern California. “The days of banquet fund-raising is over. From now on, it’s choir concerts and braiding hair.”

One of the hopeful contestants is former Sister, Sister star Tamera Mowry.

“Call me greedy, but I always wanted more than one sister,” Mowry laments. “And ever since Tia got married, it’s like I don’t even have her anymore.” Beaming in front of the camera, she continued.

“That’s why I was so excited about this show. I wanted to be an unofficial member of Out of Eden for awhile, and that didn’t work out. Maybe Tina and Erica can become my newest sisters instead. If not… well, aren’t the ladies in Point of Grace related?”

Still, the newest BET reality vehicle is earning its share of controversy, despite its wholesome premise. The Vatican has since issued an advisory warning about the series, citing the tenuous connection with Lauryn Hill, whose 2003 Vatican concert offended many, including the Pope. As a result, several local Catholic advocacy groups have organized a boycott.

“I think they’re a little confused about their theology,” said spokesman Jason Card. “I mean, the doctrine of the trinity has nothing to do with the virgin Mary.”

When the show’s operating budget was announced, Card backtracked a bit.

“If they need a publicist, however, I can be available.”

A sampling of Mary Mary fans polled online have favorable expectations for the program, although a few comments on their message boards revealed concerns about the move.

User JeZusLUVSM3 wondered if they’ll have to change the name of the group to accommodate the new member.

“How about ‘Mary! Mari! Maré!’ I mean, you know, it worked for Raphael and them, you never know.”

“Feels good to me,” she added.

Other anonymous users wondered if the duo is simply trying to cash in on the reality TV trend.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Columbia A&R representative Lisa Redmond. “All of our acts are committed to the highest standards of artistic integrity.”

At that, she couldn’t resist one more plug.

“So don’t forget to tune into BET next Friday, where we’ll have a live release party concert from our newest trio in the Columbia gospel family, Trilogy 6:8.”

* * *

[STANDARD DISCLAIMER — this is satire. Otherwise known as humor. No, it’s not true. It’s a joke. But I had you going, didn’t I? You know I did.]


Israel Houghton Signs Endorsement Deal With New Seasons Markets

New Seasons Market


Israel and New Breed, New Seasons

PORTLAND, OR. — Citing both his desire to reach a severely unchurched population bloc and his appreciation for organic fruits and vegetables, singer/songwriter Israel Houghton has entered into a commercial agreement with New Seasons Markets, a grocery chain in the Portland area.

Terms of the agreement have not been officially disclosed, but Houghton’s distinctive tenor can be heard singing the newest jingle for the high-end, specialty grocer, a remake of his first radio hit “New Season”:

It’s at New Seasons / They have it today / fresh cilantro / for your soufflé / At New Seasons there’s flour / and red and green tea / It’s at New Seasons / Come in with me

Fans of Houghton, frontman of the Grammy-winning powerhouse ensemble Israel and New Breed, were taken aback by the unusual career move, so Houghton recently took the step to explain himself.

“It actually started when we did a worship concert a few years back in the Portland area. I had just finished rehearsing, and was on my way to the hotel for a few hours of rest. And while I was in the car, I was just sensing this deep thirst inside of me. It was like an incredible longing for something that would satisfy, something to help me through this dry spell that I was in.

“Right then, the Spirit of God spoke to me,” Houghton said. “He told me, ‘take a left at the light.’ And there it was.”

Houghton claims it was divine appointment that led him into a New Seasons market that day, where they had just slashed prices on bottled water with echinacea.

“A 4-pack for $3.99? That stuff saved my voice. Do you know how high I sing?”

Ever since his great experience with the cheerful, friendly staffers — who also pointed out a new breed of hybrid apple-pears — he made it a point to return during every tour through the Pacific Northwest.

“Everybody else, on their downtime, was like ‘let me catch a movie’ or something. Aaron tried to get me to go to Powell’s — I guess there’s this bookstore everybody’s into — but I was like, ‘Naw, I gotta get back to New Seasons!'”

Now that Houghton has taken such a bold step, he’s hoping the unconventional alliance will spark a revolution among Christians in the supermarket aisle.

“There’s a new generation of believers out there, who are taking a stand. They are not satisfied with oranges with no flavor that sit on trucks for weeks at a time. And they are looking to take back their grocery stores for God.

I’m telling you, they’re taking it back, they’re taking it back.”

In lieu of payment, Houghton has requested sales floor space for his latest book, A Deeper Level of Food, a cookbook/devotional title.

So far, most of his fans have greeted the move with enthusiasm.

“My pastor wanted me to do a Daniel fast, where you eat only fruits and vegetables,” said Janice Hansbrough, a mother of three. “I wasn’t really into it until my husband bought me Israel’s new book. Now my favorite snack is snap peas with mint leaves.

“Even my husband eats it,” she added.

Even local New Seasons employees are pleased with the new arrangement. Cashier Grace McKay has noticed a difference in the checkout line. “Since we started playing that ‘With Long Life’ song, I’m pretty sure our geriatric vitamins have gone through the roof.”

Not everyone is happy with the arrangement, however.

“We’re running out of space as it is, shoot,” complained general manager Elaine Simpson. “If Israel wants a deeper level, he’s gonna have to renovate the basement.”

* * *

(In case you couldn’t figure this out… this is a joke, folks. It’s satire. Just like this post about a gospel workout instructor. I’m actually a fan of Israel Houghton and his music. I’m just a sucker for a parody song, and I made up the “It’s At New Seasons” song the first time I saw these markets open up in the Portland area.)


Canton Jones Launches His Own Line of Christian Rims

ATLANTA, GA. — Devout Christian and hip-hop/R&B crooner Canton Jones held a press conference from inside his luxury SUV to announce the establishment of a new frontier in the CAJO International empire: CAJO Automotive, dealing exclusively high-end custom automotive accessories, including designer rims festooned with Christian symbols.

“Kingdom Rim-Ness is about taking the time to show off what you got,” said Jones, referring to his new line of rims slated to reach dealers later this month. “Provided, of course, that you point them back to the Source.”

When pressed to elaborate, Jones clarified his stance.

“I mean God, not the magazine.”

“Though they did give my album three stars, though,” he added.

Resplendent in a tailored suit and a diamond-encrusted Bluetooth earpiece, Jones held court for nearly an hour from the driver’s seat of his black H2 Hummer, answering questions and blasting music from his latest album, Matthew 22’s.

The five points represent the Trinity, CJ, and, uh, his wife. Or maybe the Five Horsemen. Definitely something Christian, though.

CAJO Automotive also has reached a tentative partnership with the Georgia Department of Driver Services, marketing license plates and covers with bling-friendly slogans like “ROLLWJC,” “ICY XIAN,” and “RIMS4HIM.”

Not only will such automotive products be available to consumers worldwide, but through a work-release program at World Changers Church International, former drug offenders will be allowed to assist in their manufacture, provided that they meet all of the customary parole requirements and promise to bump that new CaJo joint whenever possible.

Though critics have assailed his flamboyant style, Jones seems to be taking his success in stride.

“The Bible says the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Well I guarantee you, if you’re sittin’ on these every day, you gon’ have some folks try to take ’em by force.”

When later asked to clarify his comments, Jones backtracked.

“Of course I would never advocate that kind of behavior. I’m just saying, brothas like the rims, nah mean? You know what, let me just quit now. I’m gonna stay saved on that one.”

* * *

[The previous article was a work of satire. You know, a joke. Because I think Canton Jones talks about rims too much. But just because I’m a good sport, here’s the video to my favorite song of his, “Stay Saved.”]


Love it? Hate it? Above all, learn and discern.

I am convinced that discernment is one of the most important skills we as Christians (especially “professional Christians” as I call those of us in vocational ministry) need in our toolkit.

Because every critical flashpoint in our overall evangelical culture is a learning opportunity, but I fear that most of us are missing out because we’re too busy taking sides.

First, let me define what I’m talking about.

When I talk about a flashpoint, I’m talking about any meme, person, project, or event that sparks either a large following, significant controversy, or both. Where anytime you mention it, either in small conversation, in a blog, or from the pulpit, you’re guaranteed to get a response. In the broader American pop culture, there are too many to even mention.

They can be TV shows (“Lost,” “The Office,” “24,” “Sex in the City”).
Or celebrities (Hannah Montana, Britney Spears, Kanye West).
Or movies (“Juno,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “The Matrix”).
Or funny websites (The Onion, Homestar Runner, StuffWhitePeopleLike).
Or politicians (Dubya, Hillary, Obama).

Even a simple catchphrase like “I drink your milkshake!” can provoke either laughs or jeers, depending on the audience.

(Or the year… like, is anyone still saying “jump the shark“?)

But for Christians, these critical flashpoints also exist in our evangelical culture. Brian McLaren, Mark Driscoll, Donald Miller, or anything related to the emerging/Emergent church. Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring. Megachurches and their charismatic leaders.

Often the question that I find myself both asking and answering in my conversations about these is, “what do you think about it?”

And this question, I’m sad to say, is often a probing question, designed to get the respondent to reveal their position on the subject of controversy. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Are you for it or against it?

Even when I’m not trying to do this, I do this. Like last week, when I asked my mentor what he thought of The Shack, by William P. Young. We got into a discussion, and he forwarded me a review by a prominent conservative blogger, one that he agrees with, by and large. The review, in a nutshell, says that The Shack is an interesting story and it says some good things, but poor theology makes it not worth reading.

And this got me thinking.

Assuming, just for the sake of discussion, that Tim Challies is right, and that The Shack does have a strain of universalism running through it, why should that automatically disqualify it from being read by Christians and nonbelievers alike?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not a proponent of universalism. I think those ideas are dangerous and wrong. But most Christians are comfortable using their discernment to watch (and evaluate) movies that don’t have the best theology. Why not books, too? Even if you think it might be wrong, why not see for yourself and find out?

We do ourselves a disservice by focusing only on whether something is simply right or wrong. Not because there is no right or wrong — there definitely is — but because most critical flashpoints receive attention precisely because there is right mixed with wrong, a combination of the orthodox and the profane.

Show me a cult classic, and I’ll show you an opportunity learn something.

People are drawn to The Shack because of the emotional arc of the main character, whose transformation is prompted by an encounter with a triune God that he initially regarded as distant but who turns out to be anything but.

And that reflects a truth about God, that in addition to being holy and omnipotent, he is a personal God. He wants not merely our compliance, but a relationship with Him. That The Shack is a runaway commercial success testifies to the need for people in our culture to connect with God in this way. And even if Young veers into errancy in his depiction of God’s relationship with himself (claiming, for example, that there is no hierarchy in the holy trinity) that doesn’t necessarily negate the parts that are true.

I think what happens more often is that people are confronted with ideas that run counter to their preconceived notions, so they reject those ideas outright without taking the time and energy to find out how much truth exists therein.

This was definitely the case with the controversy surrounding Senator Barack Obama and Dr. Jeremiah Wright. The firestorm of controversy over his greatest hits on Youtube stemmed, in my opinion, largely from two factors:

1.) Christians were shocked by his hyperbolic use of the phrase “God d@mn” in reference to The United States of America. (Because, you know, good pastors don’t cuss.)

2.) White people were shocked — shocked! — that racism is still an issue in this country.

As a result, what could’ve been a catalyst for honest discussion about race, faith, and politics became conflated into a whirlwind of accusations and name-calling.

This is why so many of Wright’s allies were mortified by his treatment by “the media” (a ridiculous but convenient term), because it was obvious from the beginning that certain news-gathering entities were more interested in framing the story to fit their ideas rather than trying to examine both sides of the controversy. (See this clip of a Fox News reporter trying to get a quote from Father Michael Pfleger of Chicago.)

Now again, hear me out here. I do think Wright has been out of line as of late, and I definitely don’t advocate droppin’ the G-D bomb from the pulpit. But demonizing Wright for his rough edges and lack of diplomacy is taking the easy way out. Stephen L. Carter, in his book Integrity, defines the virtue in three steps: a) doing the work of determining what is right, b) taking a stance on the matter, and c) communicating that stance and living with the consequences. You don’t have integrity if you skip the first step in favor of the latter two.

So I’m hoping that as Christians, we’ll walk with integrity when it comes to evaluating the work of our leaders and peers.

I’m thinking now of a controversy that hasn’t really happened yet, but probably will in the next few years.

I’m thinking of Israel Houghton and his group, loosely known as “Israel and New Breed.”

I’ve been a huge fan of his since I first heard New Season in 2001. I use a lot of his music at the church where I lead worship. I have been influenced by his songwriting and the musicianship of his longtime music director, Aaron Lindsey.

But I was having a conversation with a young church planter recently, and he revealed that he does not use Houghton’s music, in part because of his being on staff at Joel Osteen’s church. Osteen is known to be a proponent of what is known as the prosperity gospel, which tends to be self-centered and disproportionately focused around material wealth.

I think it’s true that there is a theological imbalance in a lot of the messages in Israel’s music, but that doesn’t mean that it’s therefore bad and shouldn’t be heard. There is a lot to celebrate in Houghton’s music — a commitment to cultural diversity, a groundbreaking sense of musicality, and an emphasis on the holiness of God, to name three. For someone to exclude all of the great music by Israel and New Breed just because of Joel Osteen strikes me as overly simplistic and reactionary.

What ever happened to using your discernment on a case by case basis?

Because it’s worth repeating, I’ll say it again:

Show me a cultural flashpoint, and I’ll show you an opportunity to learn something.


Much love to the SPU fam at Night of Beats!

So me and my boy Jaamar — a.k.a J-MAC had the opportunity to take the stage and rock mics at the Night of Beats at Seattle Pacific University last night.

Because Jaamar was standing in for Sahaan (his brother), a.k.a. Sir-1, the other official half of The Iccsters, who were featured performers. And when we get to do our thing, it’s usually a good time for all parties involved.

But still… last night was straight up ridonckulous. (Yeah, I made that word up, but trust me, it fits.)

We’ve had appreciative crowds before, but these cats were just off-the-hook loud and crazy.


I thought having the rafters like 50 feet away from the stage would make everyone quiet and withdrawn, but it was like having the opposite effect… it’s like folks were cheering even louder to make up for the difference. Consequently, that was just about the most fun I’ve had rockin’ mics in a good long while.

Big ups to Bel Aldrett for taking care of us, to Paul Comrie for the interview for The Falcon (check the site for publication next week!) and for Nikkita Oliver for inviting us. And my friend Darrell (and his brother Eric) for comin’ out just to support us. Ya gotta love a friend who does that.

And for those who asked about when our CD is coming out… I’m sorry we’re not done yet!

But I have good news.

I just saved fifteen percent on my car insurance by switching to GEICO!

No, for real this time…

The good news is that you can sign up to be on my emailing list, and that way you’ll be among the first to know when we finally do get our album out. And if you really want to help us out, you’ll tell all your friends who saw us to do the same.

Just go to the The Iccsters’ Tunewidget window on the front page. Along the top right side is a small grey box that says “mailing list.” Click it, and then input your email address. And if you wanna be a real dedicated fan, you can be on our street team!

As Just.Live sez,

“bolla atcha hoy.”

UPDATE: The Falcon story is up, and somehow Rapzilla picked it up. Very satisfying.

(Ummm…. I mean… all glory to God.)


PANIYM: The Presence of God

Is God in the house, or not?

As my friend Cole would say, it’s foolish to assume that God is present just because you experience a certain emotional reaction. It could be God, or it could be the skill with which the saxophonist is playing. There are times when God has been present and those on the scene were blissfully unaware until after the fact. And, in my opinion, there have been plenty of times where church folk have gone through the motions, acting like God was all up in what was going on, and He wasn’t … at least not in the way they thought He was.

Such tricky philosophical terrain becomes hard to manage with any sort of clarity, because who’s to say that God isn’t in the music itself, whether we’re aware or not? Colossians 1:17 says that in Him all things hold together. And Matthew 18:20 says that wherever two or three gather in Jesus’ name, that He is there taking part.

So maybe there’s a difference between having a general understanding of God’s omnipresence, and actually encountering the face of God, in a worship context.

Because that’s what the Hebrew word paniym means — face.

Maybe there’s a difference between simply invoking God’s name, and passionately giving your all to experience His presence on a visceral level.

And maybe it makes a difference when God’s people who are musically gifted can express that passion in their music.

And maybe it would make a difference if those musicians in the kingdom had a sense of community and relationship, so that there was less of a sense of competition, and more of a sense of cooperative synergy.

And what if one of those musicians was also a pastor, someone with decades of experience leading others into the presence of God? And what if being a pastor didn’t stop him from being a good musician, but in fact enhanced his musicianship because of the strength of the anointing of the Spirit of God in his life and on his ministry?

Well then in that case, you’d be talking about Paul Greenidge.

And this is my long-winded way of telling you that such passionate praise and worship events do happen, and one of them is happening soon, right here in Portland.

Paul Greenidge, one of the finest gospel pianists the world has ever seen (don’t think that’s hyperbole — trust me, it’s not) is finally… after years and years of waiting, having a live concert recording.

And it’s called… what else?

PANIYM: The Presence of God.

I’ll be posting links when the recording is available for purchase, but those of you in the Portland area can experience this firsthand, Saturday May 10th, at 7pm, at Irvington Covenant Church.


Jelani Greenidge, Live at George Fox University

For all the homies who might want to make the trek down to Newberg at lunchtime (and both of you know who you are), you might wanna know about this. (And in case you’re having a browser problem with the embedded flyer, the details are as follows: Monday April 14th, 1pm, Cap & Gown A-B.)

Read this doc on Scribd: Jelani Greenidge – Live at George Fox
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Gospel singer moonlights as exercise instructor

[DISCLAIMER: the following story is intentionally satirical in nature, and should no way be construed as an attack on any particular person or ministry.]

* * *

DETROIT, MI – Maurice Patterson never intended to become a leading face of the billion-dollar fitness industry. He was just trying to stir up some passion in his people.

Leading worship in a small nondenominational East Lansing church, Patterson was getting desperate.

The organists’ power chords weren’t working, and neither had any of his previous selections. Faced with a sparsely-attended congregation whose enthusiasm was flagging by the second, Maurice Patterson stepped out in faith, hoping against hope that the flock would follow his lead.

“Touch your neighbor and ask ‘em, ‘Are you ready to praise the Lord, or what?!’”

As the members of the fleeting congregation began to crack themselves up with such a witty remark, Patterson sensed hope. His moment of levity had started to break the ice, but he knew that wisecracks alone wouldn’t get the job done. These people need some movement, he thought.

So as the band cranked out the opening riff of the next tune, Patterson continued.

“Okay now, high-five the people on either side of you, and tell ’em ‘It’s time to get our praise on!'”

As the high-fiving commenced, the crowd began to energize itself.

Maurice was getting pumped. So as the band continued to jam in the background, Patterson capitalized on the momentum by barking out an impressive barrage of commands, not stopping to think or catch breath.

“Lemme see you raise your hands up, and wave ’em all around!”

“Step back and stomp on the devil’s head!”

“Lean down, touch your toes, and thank the Lord for His goodness!”

“Now come on and jump!”

“Get in the Spirit and work it for Jesus!

By this point, Maurice was on a roll — the only thing left to do was just go with it. He led the praise team through a 30-minute medley of exuberant music peppered with what would later become his trademark style: short, staccato calls of exhortation with commands of movement. By the time he was done, not only was the presence of God thick in the sanctuary — but everyone involved had worked up a good sweat.

An outpouring of support for Patterson’s newfound style led to more high-energy worship. Soon, the traditional church couture of designer suits and fancy hats gave way to warm-ups, sweat-suits and headbands. What had started as a desperate ploy to garner support became the catalyst in a revolutionary modern gospel movement known as kinetic worship.

Patterson, 33, is now the head pastor of Praise Jump International, a megachurch in suburban Detroit. PJI is unique, in that they eschew the typical church format for what they say is a more streamlined approach.

“The feedback we were getting was that the whole sermon-after-the-music thing was getting in the way of people truly experiencing the high-energy worship vibe they’re after,” said Patterson in a phone interview.

“So our board got together to meet about it, and we decided ahhh… we don’t need it. So it got axed.”

Shortening their services to 45 minutes (two 20-minute sets and five minutes for an altar-call) made it easier to accommodate the busy lives of people in their target demographic, according to Chico Alfonso, Patterson’s personal assistant and trainer. As a result, they’ve expanded to five services on Sundays, four on Saturdays, and three on Tuesdays through Thursdays. One of the weekday services includes a 6:30am service for those who choose to worship before their workday starts.

“One of the things we’re most excited about,” beams Alfonso, “Is the rollout of our new satellite services.” In an effort to reach nonworshipers outside their immediate geographical region, PJI has secured a number of smaller, strategic venues for worship services in a variety of time slots and locales. Some meet simultaneously and participate by receiving a live satellite feed of PJI services, while others take advantage by showing consecutive installments of the award-winning Praise Jump!™ series of exercise DVDs.

To bolster a sense of connectedness and participation, PJI is in the process of recruiting and training mainstream fitness professionals to become their new satellite kinetic worship leaders.

“Obviously, nobody can do it like Mo does it,” Alfonso admits. “But with the new staff we’re adding every week, more people are gettin’ their praise on every day.”

One such staffer is Rebecca Dean, who leads a Praise Jump! service at the local YMCA. “People are asking me now, ‘What’s it like working for a church?’ And I have to say, I like it.” Dean has a phys-ed degree from the University of Michigan, and she’s held down a variety of fitness-related jobs before becoming a kinetic worship leader for PJI. “I thought people might not be as responsive to me, since I don’t hold their Christian beliefs, but they’ve been very welcoming to me. I think it’s because I’m a pretty spiritual person – after all, I used to be a yoga instructor.”

Johan and Karla Nodanova have been steady attendees of the Sunday service at Praise Jump International’s main suburban campus for well over a year. “At first, it was pretty strange for us,” says Johan. “It wasn’t like anything we were used to, and I guess it took us awhile to adjust.”

“Amen to that,” says Karla, as she sips on a fruity energy drink.

“Coming to this church really took us out of our comfort zone. But now, with Mo Patterson leading the way every week, it’s great. He really gets us movin’ in the right direction and feelin’ good. Besides, our last church used to have service in a gym, so I guess this is just the next logical step.”

As the throngs of people pack the foam-matted auditorium of Praise Jump International, Maurice Patterson is in rare form. Leading from the center stage, he continues to shout instructions to the believers.

“Get on your knees before the Lord!”

“Get on your face before the Lord!”

“Now squat before the Lord, and feel His presence burn…”

As with any pop culture phenomenon, Praise Jump International has its share of detractors.

Harcourt Bainbridge, author of I Don’t Feel Like Touching My Neighbor, takes issue with Patterson’s brand of Christian spirituality.

“I’m sure he means well,” says Bainbridge, “but I go to church to connect with God, not to jump around in some funky mosh pit.” Bainbridge also contends that his problems with PJI are not only spiritual, but practical as well.

“I love God’s people just like anybody else, but would it be that much trouble to install a couple air fresheners in there?”

When confronted with these issues, Patterson readily admits that there are still kinks in the system, wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Even so, the people keep turning out in droves. On this night, with this crowd, it’s all in the movement.

As Maurice Patterson shows millions of people how it’s done, a generation is moving in a new direction.

“The Lord is calling is to move forward in our worship, so let’s go. Come on now, everybody take a couple steps forward. Okay, now the Lord says let’s take a step back. Okay, now the Lord says move to the right… okay now, move to the left… hey!! – I didn’t say ‘The Lord Says!’”


Subtitles added to latest Kirk Franklin concert video

[WARNING – this post contains explicit sarcasm.]

In the tradition of The Onion and The Lark News, I bring you a news story I’ve longed to see for a long time:

Subtitles added to Kirk Franklin concert video

FT. WORTH – In response to growing concerns about the clarity of his verbal communication, Gospocentric Records has provided narration in the form of subtitles for Kirk Franklin’s latest concert video. Industry sources say its parent distributor Provident has been pressuring Gospocentric for years to make this move, citing consumer confusion among many factors.

“People don’t know what to ask for,” says marketing associate Randall Grayson. “I’ve had stores tell our reps that their customers keep asking for that ‘lemme-hear-you-make-some-Holy-Ghost-crazy-noise’ song.”

Christian bookstore manager George Leonard actually got in an argument about a Franklin tune after a customer insisted on hearing a song she thought was called ‘Friday.’ Said Leonard, “I’m like, ‘lady… trust me. The song is called Brighter Day. That’s what they’re chanting at the end of the song, ‘Brighter Day.’”

Representatives from the Gospel Lyric Transcriptionist Association affirmed the move overall, though with mixed levels of enthusiasm.

“Sure, it’ll help the consumer,” says LaQuisha Richardson, a GLTA staffer. “But I don’t know how we’re going to be able to meet that kind of demand. With Kirk, you’ve got a lot of lyrics to put down. Sure you’ve got the chorus, the verses, the bridge… but then there’s all this other stuff he be sayin, so it’s kinda hard to sort it all out.”

Gospel music archivist Llewellen Hodges is anxiously awaiting the latest videos to arrive with subtitles. “I’m hoping it will help me decipher the ‘Stomp code.’” Hodges has been working on trying to interpret a five-second section of the hit single “Stomp” where Franklin utters, in his trademark style of joyful abandon, a completely incomprehensible combination of words and phrases.

“See here,” he says, rewinding the audio for the umpteenth time, “It’s right before the cameo appearance by [Cheryl] “Salt” [James]… he starts with ‘young people if you don’t mind’ and then I can’t understand the rest.”

Hodges hopes he can use the subtitles to plug into his linguistic analysis software, in the hopes that he could form a composite interpolation of what Franklin intended to say.

Industry speculation has it that if the subtitles prove to boost enough sales, Gospocentric will reissue a special-edition DVD boxed set of his previous concerts with subtitles added. And if Hodges proves to be successful with his software, one insider said, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen with Fred Hammond or John P. Kee.”


Whatever You Do, Don’t Blame God

Ladies and gentlemen, the hip-hop oracles have spoken, and the overall decree rings out with thunderous swiftness:

“The defendant is guilty of not knowing what fraud is.”

With overwhelming barbarity and lecherous bloodthirst, many in the hip-hop community have been hot-ta-dis newcomer B.B. Jay for his new release, Universal Concussion which was released on September 12. He’s been panned in many hip-hop magazines, including The Source.

Fearing that the misconception of inherent inferiority of Christian rap would continue to be spread in mainstream hip-hop circles, many Christians in the hip-hop scene have gone all Big Brother on Jay, questioning his motives and scrutinizing his every move with dubious abandon. Some imply he’s a huckster. Many just say he’s wack and leave it at that.

Others, in Jay’s defense, claim that his detractors are just haters, jealous of his success and the status that comes with a recording contract. They believe the backlash to be evidence of Satan’s attack on God’s anointed. “Don’t Be Mad,” they say, quoting not only the title of one of his songs, but a phrase that seems to be Jay’s standard response to those who attack.

The truth is, however, B.B. Jay was getting dissed even before he signed with Jive/Verity and received all the accompanying marketing hype. When his introductory single “Pentecostal Poppa” arose back in late ’98, many in the Christian hip-hop scene were quick to notice a stylistic resemblance to the late Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G. In short order, they denounced B.B. Jay as a biter, a fake, and a wannabe. Purists shrugged him off as harmless, and the more adventurous in-groupers spawned many satirical copycat names like Methodist Man & The Ol’ Dirty Pastor.

The rumblings became more serious, however, when rumors surfaced of this same dude actually getting a major record deal. A large contingent of Internet users, many of whom were aspiring rap artists and producers, became very incensed when those rumors turned out to be true. And they’ve been mighty vocal about it ever since.

That would have been the end of the story, had it not been for a strategic appearance on the single “I Sing” by gospel-singing-sisters sensation Mary Mary. Because of his cameo on their critically acclaimed debut, Thankful, B.B. Jay enjoyed direct exposure to an audience that had previously been inaccessible, demographically speaking. Being featured on such a quality release, B.B. Jay was indirectly presented to national gospel audiences as an up-and-coming talent in the legion of MCs who were puttin’ it down for the Lord.

For a group of gospel music listeners who are primarily middle-aged, middle-class people, this made perfect sense. They saw a guy who seems to really love the Lord, and who can rap pretty well. They probably thought, “hey… this sounds just as good as the stuff on BET, the stuff I never let little Jojo watch. I bet he/she will love this.” That’s why they support him — and that’s a perfectly legitimate line of reasoning. They believe that this is a guy who sincerely wants to reach America’s youth with the message of Christ.

The people at Jive and Verity are banking on that very concept. They believe gospel listeners who are ignorant about hip-hop will buy this album for their kids, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. They believed it so much that they were willing to invest money into B.B. Jay’s act – hence, they signed him.

Because of this investment, B.B. Jay will have the opportunity to take the airwaves by storm. His videos will probably be, at least for a short period of time, all over BET, MTV, and The BOX. I believe that B.B. Jay’s music will make an impression on the hearts and minds of many young people across the nation. And I believe that the Lord will use that.

However, many more will not be so impressed. Many will see him and scoff in derision, because of the obvious similarity to Biggie and his persona. Not only will they reject the artist B.B. Jay, but they will also reject the God that he represents. They will interpret his act as another fraudulent attempt by the church to lure them in with something hip and trendy. For those civic-minded citizens of the hip-hop nation who value artistic integrity over glitzy popularity, B.B. Jay will be no more of a success than the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Playoffs. And that, friends, is a shame.

It’s even more shameful than the umpteen times that DC Talk (before they were dc Talk) won all the Doves in the hip-hop categories. Because, even though the Doves were passing over more talented, more authentic rap artists for their watered-down pop counterparts (Church of Rhythm, Carman, etc.), they were doing it to reach their target demographic: an audience that was primarily White, and primarily upper-middle class. Those people had no real concept of what hip-hop was, so when they were introduced to it through DC Talk, they were honestly impressed.

But B.B. Jay’s supposed target audience is young Black youth. These folks have already heard Biggie. They KNOW Biggie. And if they want to listen to that style of rap, they’ll go buy one of Biggie’s platinum-selling albums. B.B. Jay will not impress most of these people, because they’ll see him as nothing more than a Biggie wannabe.

The really sad thing is that, rather than taking the time to learn more about hip-hop culture, many gospel music fans have adopted him as the Next Big Thing, supporting B.B. Jay without taking the time to investigate these claims. What’s worse, some of them have gone so far as to heap judgement and condemnation on those who take issue with his stylistic approach. This really grates on me, because many of them have done this under the auspices of supporting hip-hop and innovation in gospel music. Where were these people for the last ten years while artists like PID, D-Boy, SFC, Dynamic Twins, ETW, Freedom of Soul, IDOL King, Gospel Gangstas, and Brainwash Projects were trying to get off the ground?

The saddest thing of all, though, is that B.B. Jay is the one who stands to lose out the most in this whole affair. Because Jay was most likely signed on the basis of his sounding like Biggie, he’ll ride that sound for as long as he can. The label won’t let him tinker too much with the style, because the style is what got him there in the first place. But as soon as record sales dip below a certain margin and his 15 minutes of fame are up, he’ll be done. And when I mean done, I mean DONE. No other label is going to want to pick him up, because the Biggie style, by that point, will be old news. And he won’t have the artistic fortitude to reinvent his style, since he never really invented his style in the first place.

I think a big part of the issue has nothing to do with B.B. Jay directly; rather, a lot of it has to do with the way we view music. Gospel listeners, especially contemporary gospel listeners, have been conditioned to think that there are only two acceptable uses for music: as praise & worship, and as a tool for evangelism. This is a very narrow view that, in my opinion, excludes some of the Bible’s teaching. Psalm 33:3 instructs us to play skillfully. In Psalm 45:1, the psalmist says that his tongue is the pen of a skillful writer as he recites verses for his king. This, to me, ought to be the anthem of all Christian MCs.

But in the gospel music industry, it seems that skill is not that important when it comes to gospel rap. The prevailing attitude is, “as long as he’s getting the message out, leave him alone.” Well I challenge that attitude, and I think we all should. Every Christian should do their work as unto the Lord (Col. 3:22-24), and part of that is bringing our best to Him. We wouldn’t dare steal someone else’s money and then expect the Lord to bless that as an offering, would we? Or, something a little closer to home… we wouldn’t copy some random paper off of the Internet for a class and then expect the Lord to bless us with a good grade, would we? So why do we defend a brother in Christ for trying to pawn off a style that is obviously not his?

Because it’s easy, that’s why. And most of us would rather just sit back and enjoy the nice beats because it’s coming from a Christian artist, instead of taking the time to think critically about the media that we ingest into our spirits. It takes integrity to do that, and doing the work of integrity is something that Christians often just don’t want to do. It’s easier to sit back and be spoon-fed by the officially sanctioned “Christian” mass media, rather than reading and studying the Word of God for yourself.

I think another issue that surrounds this is the issue of cultural literacy. Often Black folks are quick to point out when White people misunderstand our culture. We get all up in arms about it. We go at lengths to defend our dialects, our fashion, and our music. As a matter of fact, we get so defensive about it that if folks challenge us on something, we pull out our trusty catch-phrase that absolves us of all guilt: “It’s a Black thing — you wouldn’t understand.”

Well why would people who put a premium on cultural literacy try to judge someone or something without being aware of the cultural context? No one in their right mind would try to arbitrate an argument between a Palestinian and an Israeli on foreign policy without having a foreknowledge of Middle Eastern culture. But that’s exactly what I see people doing left and right. “Well, I don’t really listen to hip-hop, but I think you guys are wrong.”

Part of the problem could be generational. Yes, there are still some old folk who think rap music is the devil’s music, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I believe that there are scores of people, mostly between the ages of 27 and 40, who believe that rap music is, in general, an inferior and irrelevant artform compared to gospel music.

For them, Kirk Franklin is as ‘hip-hop’ as it gets. To them, anything further out there is something trivial that the kids can listen to. They have no idea that there even is a culture related to hip-hop, a culture tightly bound to the African-American and Hispanic cultural traditions in America. They are ignorant of the socio-political commentary that often goes on in the forum of hip-hop music, because all they know about is that “Whoomp! There It Is!” song that they remembered hearing about on an episode of “Family Matters.”

For this reason, people in mainstream gospel media have treated hip-hop as its illegitimate step-cousin. For years, this has gone on. Christian rap concerts wouldn’t be covered in gospel magazines. Christian rap songs wouldn’t get airplay on gospel stations. Large Black churches wouldn’t support the ministries of local Christian rap groups because they believed the style was too worldly — and then they’d turn around and listen to The Winans sing “It’s Time,” a collaboration with producer Teddy Riley of Guy (and later, Blackstreet).

So finally, after years of travail and struggle, things start to slowly change — and what happens? A major gospel label (Verity) co-releases a major rap release, and gospel listeners automatically accept it as something of quality because that’s what the label is known for. They might as well call it anointing-by-association.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I don’t think B.B. Jay is a wack MC. As a matter of fact, I think some of his flows are pretty good. Not everybody can get into that style, but there are some that do. That’s not a justification to bash B.B. Jay. I don’t believe in bashing artists. I believe in supporting our artists. I also believe, though, that part of our support needs to be in the form of confrontation when there’s something wrong. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much of that going on.

I don’t question his motives in ministry; I question his technique. And I resent it when I hear people tell me and others who do the same that we are causing dissention, spreading hate, and being used by the devil just because we call his artistic integrity into question. Bashing is not the same thing as confrontation, and anyone who says that confrontation is not Biblical has not read all of the Pauline epistles as carefully as they should.

Those hip-hop fans who zealously call B.B. Jay a wack biter just to spite his fans are out of line, mainly because their motives are usually wrong. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a point. If Fred Hammond started out creating a whole album that mirrored the exact signature touches of Donny Hathaway, I’d be saying the same thing.

I sincerely hope that B.B. Jay continues to grow as an artist and that he can shed the image and likeness of Biggie. I hope that one day he can just be known as a good rapper and not as a Biggie clone. But it doesn’t look likely.

The truth is, if I didn’t know who Biggie was, I would enjoy “Universal Concussion.” But I do. And I cannot, in good conscience, endorse an artist whose claim to fame is an uncanny similarity to a world-famous slain secular rap superstar. Our God is an original God, and the glory of His incredible sacrifice to save humanity should inspire us to create, not merely imitate. Instead, we have let this wonderful joy be cheapened to the point that we’re rejoicing over the latest candy-coated God-laced flavor of the month.

“Blame God”?

I don’t. I blame us.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and you are now In the Mix.