A photo showing the torso, arms, and hands of a brown-skinned person in a dark read sweater. Their hands are raised, palms up, as though they are worshiping at church.


Travelin’ Mercies

The faiths of our fathers are not always what fulfill us, and the road to church is not always the road to joy.

Travelin’ Mercies

The faiths of our fathers are not always what fulfill us, and the road to church is not always the road to joy.

A black and white sketch of a woman with short hair and long, dangling earrings, staring off to the left with a hopeful expression
Breai Mason-Campbell
The Cultural Theologian

no. 8, Autumn 2022

A theologian studies and teaches us about the biggest forces shaping the universe, and that’s what Breai does for our society and culture. For this issue, her jumping-off point was “road trip.”

“Put your earrings in here.”

The wide fingers of my dad’s work-hardened hands pushed open the pristine ashtray of his hunter-green Punch Buggy. He prided himself on having lived “free and separated from sin” since he joined the church when I was 8. Though his buddies on the job continued to swap stories about their escapades with women, the disco, and liquor imbibed in merriment, Elder Mason stood apart. 

The good Elder was upright, “sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.” You wouldn’t catch him kicking up his heels at no party full of women showing their nakedness, nah suh. Not in these last, and evil days when the Lord was surely on His way back for Judgement.

“Close your eyes, and bow your head. We gon’ have a word of prayer before we get on the road.”

So I took out my earrings and put them in the ashtray in case the Lord returned while we were in the car and we both missed the rapture on account of my failure to observe the level of modesty befitting those considered perfect in the sight of God.

“D’emebly Father. We just thank you for wakin’ us up this morning and startin’ us on our way. We jest so glad that our bed was not our coolin’ board, nor our cover our windin’ sheet. We thank you, Lord, for putting food on our table, and clothes on our back, and for how you’ve kep’ us, and we humbly ast you to watch over us as we travel on this dangerous road. 

Now, Lord, touch my dear daughter. Bless her from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. Touch her, and give her a mind to do all that’s right and pleasing in your sight. Let her know that you’re coming back for a perfect people, free from spot or wrinkle, and that the wages of sin is death. For all of this, we’ll carefully give you thanks, in Jesus name.”

(Call and response)

The Lord is My Shepherd
(The Lord is My Shepherd)
I Shall Not Want
(I Shall Not Want)

(In unison)


The drive “down the county” was filled with reminders of the parameters of perfection. God really didn’t want me, “wearing no pants. The Bible say, ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.’ Abomination mean God hate that.”

“God don’t want you listenin’ at no music that ain’t of God… it’s a spirit in that music!… they drink in bowling alleys, and do all kin’na nasty mess in the movises… God told us not to ‘go in with dissemblers’ or ‘sit with the wicked.’” 

No nail polish. No words that even sound like curse words. No makeup. No chapstick that might be confused to be makeup. As the list of no’s and can’t and don’t got longer and longer, so did the road. This every-other-week sojourn to another country of ideals, realities, rules, and regulations was suffocating. I felt myself imploding as we drew nearer to the Church of God.

* * *

Sis’ Theresa stands. She is a woman of age, hair gray and swept deftly into a soft bun at the back of her head. She wears glasses and has a button-down blouse tucked into her calf-length skirt

“I thank God for God. I thank God for Jesus dyin’ on the cross so that I might have a right, entitled to the Tree of Life. I thank God for waking me up this morning and starting me on my way. I thank God for keeping me free, and separated from sin these last _______ years. I ask, Saints, that you pray for me, for I truly desire your prayers.”

A plain cross is mounted on the wall behind the choir loft. The letters AGC — All God’s Children — are emblazoned on the left shoulders of the cream and yellow robes worn by the men and women looking out onto the congregation. There is a drum set, a piano, and a tall microphone for a soloist standing to one side of the raised platform. Five throne-sized chairs are equally spaced in front of the choir, the middle chair standing taller than the others. The Head Pastor sits there. One of the chairs to the left is empty, as Elder Mason now stands at the pulpit.

Now, see, we got somebody else to read it plain so’s you know we ain’t makin’ numpin’ up. We just readin’ the word and doin’ what it say. I mean, that’s the issue. People just don’t want to do right. They arguin’ sayin’, ‘it don’t mean that,’ and, ‘the world changed since Jesus was here,’ and, ‘this way we live ain’t modern,’ but God say, ‘For I am the Lord, I change not.’”

(Elder Smoot stands, oversized King James 
Bible tucked into his folded arm)

“God word mean what it say. God hate sin! He gon’ burn this wicked world right up.

Come on up here, Elder Smoot.” 

(Elder Smoot approaches the dais) 

Now, some of these churches don’t even read the Bible. They open it once, say one scripture, close it and then tell you what they think. We goin’ read it to you jes like God said it. I’m not makin’ numpin’ up, Elder Smoot gon’ read it just like God said it, and I’m goin’ interpret the Word, cause God say in Ephesians, ‘And he gave some… For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ Edifying mean explaining, and that’s what I’m goin’ do. 

Turn your Bibles to Matthew 5 and 10.”

(Elder Smoot reads)

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(Elder Mason interjects)

‘It say, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted.’ People gon’ talk about you and treat you bad, but they goin’ to hell! God know and see what you do! He gon’ make sure you get rewarded for it! The world want you to be wicked, just like them! But you just keep on lim’ right, and you gon’ see God. 



“It say, ‘Blessed.”

are ye, when men shall revile you

“‘Revile’ mean the world is going to hate you. The devil don’t want to see nobody saved! He want you in hell with him! 


* * *

Sitting on the third pew, I stare, stony-eyed, at my father. He smiles, talking with his arms and laughing between shots fired at me, so pleased to have this opportunity to stand, approved by the men on thrones and the women in the pews around me, humbly adorned with heads covered. I think he’s wrong about what he’s saying, that he is missing some critical truths about the love of God. 

There is some unflappable wisdom at my core that rejects this joyless rendering of Holiness. A seed of power and authority lies in my chest, unwatered, waiting for the road back home. 

Breai Michele Mason-Campbell is a Baltimore native, community activist, teacher, dancer, and kinetic storyteller. A Harvard graduate, Breai Michele is the founder of Moving History, an arts-integrated dance curriculum that teaches students and communities about the contributions of African Americans to American history through movement. She’s the proud mother of three, a regular columnist for Pipe Wrench, and the author of Spring 2021’s feature, “Seeing in the Dark.”

Portrait by Libby Greenfield

More great reading
from Pipe Wrench no. 8

Searching for Zarahemla
Journalist Emily Fox Kaplan recounts an epic Mormon road trip across Mesoamerica. How many ways are there to tell a story? And how do we know what’s true?

Never Say Never
Scholar Brittany Romanello tries to answer the question: Am I still Mormon? A personal essay on embracing faith and ambiguity.

The Traditions of the Fathers
Anthropologist Catherine Nuckols-Wilde casts a critical eye at Mormon archeological scholarship and its impact on how the West sees Mesoamerica.