That NEW Adage

A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

…Just another office job.

Some of you may know that I play at BB King’s club here in Memphis on Monday nights. I used to be in the house band, and I will soon tell you how I came to not be. Playing in clubs is a treacherous endeavor. Here is one example of why:

The current house band has been on staff since we, Ty Brown, were replaced back in September of ’03. They back up the highly paid headliners and are required to know all the headliners’ material, as well as perform the last set during the week alone. They are an excellent group of players who tour with nationally-known acts on a regular basis. They have done great work for the four-plus years there, having to be proficient in various music styles such as blues (of course), pop, R&B, jazz, country, reggae, and soul. The guys would rehearse early in the mornings despite getting off late at night.

The year for a working local musician goes like this, generally; busy in the spring and summer, not so busy in the early fall, booked solid during the Christmas season, and hibernating in January and February!

At BB’s in Memphis, the year is about the same, except that Memphis in May is a BOOMING time for them. Beale Street is the main tourist attraction in Memphis — Elvis notwithstanding — and BB King’s club is the premier spot on the street.

I’m no business expert, but I know that a club like that establishes its budget around the busy season and lives off the fat in the slow time. I’ve been told that that is how they do it. Landscapers operate the same way. It is (usually) understood that musicians in a house band are employees just like the rest of the staff, and as such, have a set salary. The pay doesn’t fluctuate like gas prices or my blood pressure. It has never been my experience that this has been the case. Until now.

A new general manager was hired last year, and when she came in, she met with the leaders of the bands who played there and assured them that, unlike the past regimes, she understood the musicians and would work on their behalf to make the environment fair, respectful, and enjoyable for all of us. People have been getting fired left and right since then. (see the film, “I Come in Peace.”)

Last week brought the coupe de grass. She informed the band that due to the fact that the club was doing less business after Christmas, their pay during the week would be cut by twenty-five percent, and that if they didn’t like it, they could walk and that another band could be brought in at less than what she was offering them! Point blank. Cold blooded! Happy New Year! (Our band had its pay cut as well, but our bandleader took the hit and pays us the same as before, which is decidedly less than what we would normally make elsewhere.)

Now, these guys had done nothing to warrant this pay cut, and they should have quit. The hard fact is that the GM was telling the truth. She could bring in some hacks to play five hours for fifty dollars a man or less(!) and the average tourist would not know the difference because they would have no other point of reference and would be so caught up in the whole “Beale Street Experience” that they wouldn’t notice the poor musical quality. Musicians around here don’t stick together, and the union is feckless. There is some bad music on that street sometimes.

I was told that she said that the pay would go back up in the summer, but who’s to say? If they went for this — taking less money and liking it — they will go for anything. If the GM has shown no conscience or loyalty to the band up to this point, why would she be expected to when times “get good” again? All she is concerned with is the bottom line. It is the classic corporate model. Quality suffers while the bosses get richer. Look at all the plastic they put on cars now… But they are ten times more costly to own.

I’ll bet the managers didn’t take a pay cut!

This club can probably go the whole year from what they make from May until Labor Day. I was told by a lower-level manager once when I was in the house band that on a particular Saturday night while we were playing, the club was so packed, the band was so good, that they made 10,000 dollars on food and alcohol in one hour!!

It is funny: The musicians are the reason why these clubs even exist. The musicians are the ones who take thoughts and make them into art. Yet when there is “fat” to be trimmed, the musicians always get cut. Beale Street, BB Kings Club, would be just a restaurant were it not for the live music, and good musicians. But we always get the snotty end of the stick at these times.

I, personally, would have told the GM to go ahead and get some hacks to take the stage. My abilities don’t depend on HER, they depend on those who care to enjoy the ART of good musicianship. Another gig can be found without being insulted in this way. See how long the club would remain the premier spot with some crusty old dude in a orange suit sittin’ on a bucket playing an out-of-tune guitar with four strings on it. If jazz has only a niche audience, in all its elegance, think how small an audience there would be for gutbucket blues 24/7. 

The Bible says that for a time the injustices of man seem to go unpunished. The wicked seem to prosper. This may be one of those times, and I must fight to accept it. But I’m not wired like that! I had to at least say something! I can’t stand unfairness. Before you say it, No, BB isn’t involved with the running of these clubs that bear his name.

And here I thought I was out of the thorny corporate loop…

January 15, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Employment, Life, Life Lessons, Music, On the Job, Rant, Work | Leave a comment

“See How They Love One Another!”

This post is lonnnng overdue.

I want to — need to — tell you about my church.

I grew up in a Black Baptist church. I began going there when I was a pre-teen. I got baptized at fourteen years old. My church experience was the typical one: get up early,  go, listen to many songs, some shouting and crying, many announcements, stand for the entrance of the pastor, give tithes and or offerings, turn to my neighbor and say, “naaybuh…”, listen to some more songs (an “A” and a “B” selection), listen to a sermon, more shouting and crying, some falling out, watch the “urshers” attend the fallen, watch as “the doors of the church are opened,” listen to testimonies, sit through still MORE announcements, hear the benediction, wake my baby sister up, go home.

The service was replete with emotional outpourings. I, being a complete introvert, often felt uncomfortable with the displays, and was usually made to feel that I somehow did not love the Lord enough because I did not jump, shout, dance, and fall out like some of the others did.

Even though I knew that the Lord made me that way, this way, it took a long time for me to understand that there was more than one way to worship God, and that they are acceptable. I never thought the dancers were wrong (except for those I “discerned” were doing it for show), and I never once gave in to the crushing pressure to be untrue to my own character and worship Him in an insincere fashion.

But as I grew and learned, and visited, or played in, many other churches, I discovered two disturbing things.

1. While the adoration for God was ever on display, there simultaneously existed a frustrating absence of intellectual balance in the congregation.

2. The Church in America is painfully segregated.

People at my church, and others that I attended were sorely lacking in the knowledge necessary to love God “with our minds” as well as with the heart and soul as we are told to do. False doctrine was rampant, especially the prosperity teaching. Folk would break out in “tongues” with the impunity of knowing that no one had the information to challenge them for interpretations, stuff was being named and claimed, blabbed and grabbed, and legalism not unlike that of the Pharisees ran throughout. People were easily misled, and spouted the many disjointed Scripture verses they knew woefully out of context. No one seemed to be learning anything at all except how to shout like sister Davis, and “hoop” like the pastor.

And I rarely saw any White people. Unless some judge or prospective city councilman stopped by to ask for a vote.

I had always thought that if one were a true Christian, prejudice could not exist. I foolishly thought that racism was hatred and that one could not enter Heaven if he hated anyone. Stupid me! I live in, what I understand is, the second most segregated city in this country, next to DEtroit. That fact plays itself out in no more vivid way than on Sunday. I pass Methodist and Presbyterian and Southern Baptist churches and see NO Black people! There are churches here that I remember being White years ago that are now Black, not because they were outgrown, but because the neighborhood went Black and the Whites went away. Far, far away.

It always broke my heart that it appeared that the Christian life wasn’t being lived out because we could not open our hearts and truly allow God to reallychange us. The same people who denied me jobs, clutched purses when I walked by, ignored me when standing in line, pulled me over for no good reason, called me “nigrah”, and moved out when I moved in went to — go to — these churches. I am not fooled. Heck, the Klan burn CROSSES! Crosses, not pentagrams or some other symbol of racism, but the very emblem of suffering and shame by which God saved His people! Some of the people in my all-White-but-for-us neighborhood who never speak to us go to church, too!

Even the music is segregated! Go to a Christian music store and notice the “Christian” category versus the “Gospel” category.

After years of frustration over these two issues, I left my church (not the Lord, though) in the hopes of eventually finding a place where God was both worshipped AND known, and where people of all races felt welcome.

By the time I got married five years ago, I wasn’t even going to church. I was sick of all the empty, clanging emotionalism that was void of even the basic hermeneutical understanding necessary to avoid falling into the trap of materialism and cult worship. My wife grew up in the Church of God in Christ (Which is the Baptist church on Red Bull and amphetamines!I certainly wasn’t going there!), and I didn’t want to take her to my old church and expose her to the status quo. Many Christians today, yes many Black people, get caught up in false teaching because of the charisma and style of the speaker. They can’t see why Oprah is not a Christian. I am speaking in general, of course, but I have spent most of my life being Black. I have seen these things first hand. The “Black Church” is largely driven by emotion, and the congregants often don’t know God the way they need to. This grieves me.

While in Lifeway Christian Bookstore one day a few years ago, my wife and I ran into one of her co-workers. Their conversation eventually led to the church, and after hearing Kathy’s friend talk about hers, I told Kathy in the car afterward that that was our church! It was doctrinally sound and it was run by people who had moved here (Memphis) from all over the country to specifically reconcile the races here! Sold!!

We have been members of Fellowship Bible Church, Memphis since July of 2005, and for the first time in my life, I love church. It is not all of one thing or the other. There are those who are (politically) liberal, and those who are conservative. There are those who throw up hands and sing, and there are those who don’t. There are doctors and there are African refugees. There are Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, and just about any other race you can think of. And there is this…

They LOVE!  Hard! All the way! They break open their lives like biscuits and share them freely without pretense or prejudice. I have never in my whole life experienced the openness and acceptance evident there. From all sides. It is Christian life in HD, 1080i, one billion megapixels, on a two mile screen. Believe me!

There are three teaching pastors, (Bryan Loritts, John Bryson, and Ben Parkinson) the lead teacher being Black. We don’t shy away from issues of race as many do in diverse environments, and they don’t give lip service to injustice. The idea is to take people from the comfort of the common ways of thinking and force them to live as Christ demands: loving thy neighbors as thyself, even the ones who look funny, dance off beat, or laugh loudly in theaters!

Growing up in Memphis has afforded me the opportunity to experience racism on a first-hand basis. I know what it looks like, which is why I hate and confront it here. I know what it feels like to be left out, unwanted. I know what the stares and the codewords mean. I have spent time away from Memphis, and have interacted with those of other races. But I have never had the wonderful fellowship I have now. We love each other like family! We spend time together, in each others’ homes. We use each others’ bathrooms!

I have stories of selfless acts of love that made Kathy cry (I don’t cry!) and that amaze us. I can’t recount them all. This church has shown me what I suspected but never witnessed; that God has true Christians of various hues who love each other unconditionally. And be sure that this love extends like climbing vines beyond the church and into the community in a tangible way. We give money and time to schools, and certain members have sought to live in rough neighborhoods in order to be change agents.

Maybe you have seen this but I, and those I know, never have. When Kathy gave birth to Max, we were amazed to find that every day women were coming to bring food until she was well enough to get around. Just the other day, one of the members, Megan, brought her son to the house and spent hoursputting our sunroom together. (Kathy is eight months pregnant, and we have never cleaned that room out) Wendy, (these ain’t Black names, you see…) came to the house last week to measure the windows in the kids’ room in order to hand make some curtains. Much, much more could be said. Much more.

Some of them read my New Year’s Eve post and chided me for not letting them keep Max when I was in a tight spot. These people take actual time and serve one another. Without seeking anything in return. I have never met so many affluent-yet-unpretentious people, White OR Black, in my life! (It was a whole year before I knew that “Eddie” was a freekin’ doctor! He was just Eddie to us)
These folks love us to death! And not as pets, which used to be the case back in the day. We are all equals. I don’t have to dilute my “Brotherness” in order to be seen as viable. And we love them! I would not trade this church for any other. And I tell my Black friends about it all the time.

We Black folk have a comfort zone, too. We like our food seasoned a certain way, our chitlins cleaned just so, our Gospel music sung a certain style, and our preachin’ hooped at a particular point in the service. I wish that we all could open ourselves up to the fact that God is not an American, that He made us all, and that we all find our reflection in Him. But we have been burned. Rejected and relegated. It is hard to break old habits. Not ALL White folks hate you.

Lest you think I am unwittingly in some CULT, understand that this church is populated by those who seek a full-orbed relationship with God. They know why they know what they know. And if they don’t, they are being taught by those who do. Our leaders are schooled, educated, and qualified. And they are humble. There are no titles, and we do not rise at their entrance. They stress servant leadership, not forced exaltation. They expect us to check their biblical work and are not offended by being questioned.

Of course there are differences in non-essential issues. No human-run organization is perfect. There are dispensationalists, amillenialists, charismatics, cessationists, Calvinists, and Arminians. But we all agree on the essential points of the Faith. And the spiritually sick are ministered to.

We are not taught the Bible in bullet-points, but by books. In context! We just got through with Ecclesiastes.

There is no Word of Faith doctrine or Prosperity pimpin’ going on here. No focus on the accruement of stuff. Rich and poor, sick and well alike, all enjoy the true prosperity of real life and Heavenly hope. Money is a tool and not a goal.

We worship individually and collectively in the way that God designed us to, and there is no peer-pressure. Some answer with “amen” and some nod quietly. Some stand and sing, and some simply stand.

Of course, there are problems that arise, but they are handled in a measured, Godly fashion. I truly feel that I have, in Fellowship, a small glimpse of what Heaven will be like in terms of our interaction with each other.

I know that some of you feel the same way about your place of worship. I hope you do. I know that some feel that if you are not of their particular denomination (CoC?) you are lost. This is in no way my assertion. It is just that in the course of writing my blog, the impression may be that there is a level of displeasure and despair, and that I don’t experience true Christian fellowship. Not true.

I just wanted to introduce you to my Family. The people I love.

January 15, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Church Life, Culture, Diversity, False Doctrine, False Teachers, Hypocrisy, Love, Prosperity Gospel, Pulpit Pimps, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Racism | 24 Comments