Kirk Franklin (thanks to St. Chance the Preacher) appears to be having a moment.

If you are all, “Who is Kirk Franklin?” then try to be less white and enjoy the following piece.

It has been well documented on Mockingbird that I was a theatre nerd in my youth. In Mississippi public high schools, math is almost as important as football, and so theatre was below the bottom rung. It was for the weirdos, misfits, and kids who were (understandably) too scared to come out of the closet.

Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation Project was our joyful, heartbreaking soundtrack.

Allow me to set a scene for you. After a “big run” of four performances, we would have a cast party. There would be gallons of Coca-Cola, bags of store brand chips, and hours of dancing in the school gym. We had just done a stirring rendition of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and we were ready to cut loose! This skit from SNL about high school theatre cast parties is literally the most accurate parody I have ever seen them do of anything:

While there were also LOTS of conversations about Rent the musical at our parties, too, there was also Gospel music singing. It turns out Mississippi does have its perks. At some point in the evening, someone would turn up Franklin’s “Let’s Go Down by the Riverside” and everyone would just stand there clapping and singing at full volume. And ya’ll, we could SANG.

Honestly, after graduation I had completely forgotten about the album. My tastes had become less religious and more oriented towards what guys who majored in English enjoyed. You know, like Ben Harper.

Years later, God would sneak Kirk Franklin’s album back into my life in a most necessary way. There are many roles in my life that I would label difficult: eldest daughter, wife, mother, not to mention priest and pastor. But nothing has taken me to the woodshed quite like being a clergy spouse.

As a Bird mentor of mine, Jacob Smith has been known to say, “Ministry is like high school. They can break up with you but you can never break up with them.”

Early in our ministry, I was having a day when I wanted to break up with everyone. I was sitting at a desk, weeping. And I heard a song come into my head. The lyrics went, “When I cannot hear the sparrow sing, and I cannot feel the melody. There’s a secret place. Full of grace. There’s a blessing in the storm.” I suddenly realized I was hearing a song from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation Project playing in my head. Thank you, Jesus.

Ever since that moment, the album has returned to me full force. And if you are a Christian, you need this music in your life.

To the ordained ear, it will sound like a love letter to Christian pastors everywhere. Because, like any good writer, Franklin was writing from whence he came. In what is perhaps my favorite rap lyric of all time, he proclaims of himself:

You can shout to this, bounce to this
clap to this, as long as you don’t question this
radical, acrobatical, Jesus Christ fanatical
sabbatical taker, innovator, in love with the Creator
since I was a baby I know folk hate me
but lately don’t really matter what you say
them silly games you try and play
I represent the One who healed me
God’s people can you feel me?

This was written in 1998. Kirk Franklin worked a line about taking a sabbatical into a rap a full fifteen years before Kanye released Yeezus. The pairing with Chance the Rapper on the Grammy’s last night spoke to just how talented Chance is. Because the Right Reverend Franklin proved himself years ago.

Mostly, I have to encourage everyone to buy this classic, because Nu Nation Project was not written for clergy (or even sad and lonely 20-something clergy spouses); it is a masterpiece of encouragement for anyone who has ever felt down on their divine luck. Franklin reminds us to take heart, he preaches that we are loved no matter the circumstances, and he brings us back to what saves us.

I cannot listen to “There’s Something about the Name Jesus” without wiping my eyes.  The sheer musicality of it is genius. And then there are those lyrics:

Something about the name Jesus
It is the sweetest thing I know
Oh how I love the name Jesus
It is the sweetest name I know
Some people say I’m crazy but
I can’t explain
The power that I feel
When I call your name
It’s just like fire
Shut up in my bones
The Holy Ghost is moving
And it just won’t leave me alone

If, like me, you are sometimes lonely, sometimes joyful, and all the time needing to be reminded of the sweetness of His name, if, like me, you need the Holy Ghost all up in your business, then get Kirk Franklin’s incredible Nu Nation Project. And get dancing, because — as he rap/preached to me as a 16-year-old girl in a humid Mississippi high school gymnasium, “Young people, there’s nothing wrong with dancing for Jesus. But we can’t forget where we come from. So if you don’t mind, let’s have a little church right now.”