Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Ain't Mad at Cha

This past week, we said goodbye to a real soldier of the Lord. I had the privilege to grow up in a place where women in ministry were not a big deal. We had two female assistant pastors at my church when I was a little girl. Not too far from my childhood home, was a couple who co-pastored the relatively large Jericho Baptist Church long before ecclesiastical duos became a trend. In 1996, James Peebles passed leaving some to wonder who his wife, Betty, a credentialed minister in her own right, would get to “cover” her. They had three sons, but Betty Peebles held the reigns tightly as if to say “I got this.”

The concept of a female needing “covering,” or supervision by a man to perform ministry, is contrary to the transcendence the gospel provides. Ironically, the twelve disciples disapproved of the woman at the well evangelizing after her encounter with Jesus in the fourth chapter of John. At that point in the narrative, they had not won one convert, let alone comprehended the gospel. That’s the peril of promoting the penis over the power of God.

Phoebe was also a deacon in the Church whose ministry preceded the Apostle Paul’s. He commends her to the church at Rome in Romans 16. Tradition and poor interpretation have conspired to consign her to “deaconess.” But the identical form of the Greek term is used to describe Phoebe’s title as is attributed to males in the same role throughout the New Testament.

If I can take one issue with Betty Peebles, it is that she made it look so easy. It could not have been considering that Jericho was originally part of a denomination whose first criterion for ministry was a pair of testicles. Have they not read There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)? The witness of scripture does not support such a patriarchal framework. The prophet Joel foretold:

It will come about after this

That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;

And your sons and daughters will prophesy,

Your old men will dream dreams,

Your young men will see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29)

I know for a fact that Betty Peebles endured a lot of sexism in the church, but she never said a mumbling word. The answer to her disposition can be found in the title of one of her many books, Performing for an Audience of One. She tells of being so keenly focused on God that she didn’t pay attention to what others thought about her. She remained steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in her work for the Lord.

You see, her God was bigger than her obstacles. Men who barred Betty Peebles from their pulpits were left in the dust (no pun intended) as she achieved heights in ministry to which they could only dream. All the while, she pressed on, bearing her signature smile that was bright as the sun. Clearly, she kept in mind that:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).

Betty Peebles’ mere presence commanded authority. She journeyed on to found the non-denominational Jericho City of Praise and became the only female to pastor one of America’s largest 100 churches. At the time of her passing, over 19,000 members were on the rolls. Jericho’s sanctuary accommodates over 10,000 with a warmth that makes you forget how big it is. Not only that, she expanded the range of ministries to include a day care, elementary school, ministry training academy, professional counseling center, and a senior residences so well-appointed that they rival major hotels. All of these services are housed on the church’s campus which spans over 100 acres and is entirely debt-free. She did not simply acquire property. She used those resources, along with the power of God working through her, to change lives.

Now that Betty Peebles has gone from labor to reward, sisters who are holding up the blood-stained banner must likewise fight for our rightful place in the kingdom. No more merely carrying a man’s cup. God is not a respector of persons (Acts 10:34). If someone tries to downplay your call on grounds of gender, rest on the sufficiency of God’s anointing. As the spiritual says “no man cannot (sic) hinder me.”

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me (Philippians 2:17-18).

I think I get it now. Well done good and faithful servant, well done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Crying Shame

The most powerful emotional moment of our Lord and Savior’s earthly life are captured in two words: Jesus Wept (John 11:35). This is the shortest verse in the bible. Upon learning of Lazarus’ death, Jesus did not rejoice because his friend was in a better place. He cried. And he did not just shed a tear. He lost control and sobbed from the depths of his soul.

The pain of separation by death of a loved one can be profound. Psychologists place the natural limit for the number of people the human brain can connect with deeply enough that their death would leave one devastated at around 12. This would place Lazarus in what they term Jesus’ sympathy circle. His sisters referred to him as the one you love in the message informing Jesus of Lazarus’ illness (v. 3).

I have experienced it once in the passing of my ace boon coon, sista from another mother, number one friend, Neptina, the day before her 30th birthday. She succumbed to colon cancer. Neptina and I first met when she transferred to Smothers Elementary School. We cut up together in Sunday School. We played in the band together at Kelly Miller Jr. High. We assembled our wardrobes together in the stores of downtown DC. We shared bad luck in romantic relationships. We pursued our respective careers with intensity. We came into full faith around the same time. She was me and I was her. I didn’t even realize the place she occupied in my life until she was gone.

Her death was so earth shattering that I collapsed to the floor upon hearing the news and I could not compose myself to pay fitting tribute to her during the service. Even her pastor cried throughout the eulogy. It was tragic. Her passing made no sense. A decorated police officer, athletic physical specimen, devoted daughter, loyal friend, and saved soul should have been allotted more days upon this earth. Surely the world would be better off without some other people still among the living. But even the very hairs upon your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30).

My cousins just buried their father this past weekend. Our extended family gathered in its hometown of Rocky Mount, NC to bid my uncle adieu, bless his memory, console one another (and get some awesome barbecue). Why in the world did this fool of a minister stand in the pulpit and say "this ain't no funeral, this is a celebration"? Excuse me, but your daddy ain't laid out up front in a box. The asinine ideas that catch on in the church astound me. Let’s consult Webster’s Dictionary:

fu·ner·al [fyoo-ner-uh]


1. the ceremonies for a dead person prior to burial or cremation;obsequies.

2. a funeral procession.


3. of or pertaining to a funeral: funeral services; funeral expenses.


4. be someone's funeral, Informal . to have unpleasant consequences for someone: If you don't finish the work on time, it will be your funeral!

My bible says:

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

The first biblical account of a proper burial is recorded in Genesis 23:19. Throughout scripture, we find individuals and communities grieving losses and performing rites befitting the occasions. Even the law establishes protocols for handling corpses. Death is a sacred moment so it is only fitting that the funeral be a solemn occasion to honor not only the dearly departed, but also their loved ones' journey from sorrow to joy.

The eulogy is also not the time to speculate on the deceased individual’s eternal destination. The term is derived from the Greek root eulogio, which means literally “I bless.” This is the opportunity for the preacher to speak highly of the deceased and share special memories. Preach like you’re praying their way into heaven. It is not the time to break out generic notes and insert their name in the blank. If a pastor has been on his or her j-o-b, he or she should have something to say about the quality of an individual’s life, spiritual and otherwise. Is that too much to ask?

If one more jackleg preacher tells me to put on a happy face as I mourn, it will be their funeral. We must be careful not to be bulls in china shops on occasions such as these. Walking on holy ground requires one to remove one’s shoes and to tread carefully. Grieving is a complex and delicate process warranting respectful handling.

Jean Paul Sartre got it right in his description of Christianity as a breeder of psychosis, the mental disorder characterized by gross detachment from reality and the inability to function in it. Religious sensibilities dictate that we act ecstatic when sinking into despair, feign enlightment when confounded by life’s challenges, and shout amen at nonsense while our spiritual needs go unmet.

That's one of the reasons I believe the church is so crazy and not living up to God’s purpose for it. We must be true to our feelings and not pretend to be something we are not. God knows where we are and cares enough to provide adequate grace to get us where we need to be. Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:16). You have God’s permission to keep it real. Anyone denying you that right, my friends, would be a crying shame.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Method to the Madness

If I should disappear in the coming week, this particular post is to blame. This entry will begin to expose the game. If you fall for it after reading this, that’s on you. I came into ministry almost 15 years ago wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, and wearing rose-tinted lenses. Well, I ain’t the same girl no more.

The congregation to which I belonged was led by a minister members and non-members alike referred to flippantly as a pimp. He had an effusive personality, dressed sharply, and had a slick manner about him. Little did I know that Rev. really was a pimp. He was also known to line up women for any preacher new to town, just looking for something new on the side, or who just plain couldn’t get laid. A little-known secret to the lay person is that ecstatic energy resulting from the preaching moment is very similar to sexual arousal. It is not uncommon for pastors to line up some for the visiting revivalist to get him through the week.

Let’s get back to my story. So Rev. sees this 20-something young woman who happens to also be reasonably attractive and pulled together, now under his charge. She represented new blood for the kingdom, but to Rev. she was an addition to his stable.

So what’s the first thing a good pimp must do to a new addition to his stable? He must control her mind. He must play on her vulnerabilities. And ultimately, he must get paid. I didn’t learn that in church; I learned that reading Iceberg Slim. Whatever the case, I knew the game, but did not know it was being played like that in the church. The word of God says Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2). The church is beating the world at its own game and God is not happy.

Things came to a head when I was applying to seminary. I knew I could not be focused at home in Washington, DC because I knew where trouble was and trouble knew me well. Rev. ordered me to remain local so he could keep an eye on me. I responded that I felt the Lord leading me away from home and invited him to be in prayer with me on the issue. To my surprise, he flat-out refused. I had to return to the word which orders believers do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4:1. Listening to his sermons with my spiritual ear from that point forward left a lot to be desired so I began seeking spiritual direction and sustenance elsewhere.

The following three years became an intense battle of the wills. The man who wanted to be my spiritual father could not handle that I, unlike many women around him, did not have the daddy issues that are common in the black community. My father has always been an active and present part of my life and not even he could control my mind. To add insult to injury, I also defied the opportunities Rev. presented to hook up with men. That called his pimping credentials into question. He threatened that people would say that I was a lesbian if I didn’t make myself available sexually. Well, there was far too much evidence out there already to the contrary. However, at that point, I had committed to celibacy and the panties were off limits.

My anger did not intensify over my battle with Rev. I became enraged as I learned how common my plight was, how many sisters actually did sleep for their papers, and how the church turned a blind eye to it. After quitting my job, moving to Atlanta to attend the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and devoting my head and heart to pursuing the high calling, I could not get a gig as a substitute Sunday School teacher because Rev. blackballed me. No one in the denomination would go up against him because he had too much power. My letters to his denominational superiors went unanswered because “he packs them in and brings in too much money.” It was not about right or wrong. The church’s passivity became a matter of protecting their own self-interests. I was told: “If this becomes well-known, people will get turned off.” “If I support you, my ministry would suffer.” “Oh no, I’d never preach again.” They left me and my ministry for dead.

It continues to astound me that people who are well-acquainted with my personal plight or the plight of those who have experienced the persistent hypocrisy of the church have the gall to criticize us for being angry. Jesus said: Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a den of thieves. (Mark 11:17). Jesus was not particularly happy when he said this about the defilement of the temple. A preacher friend once said “if Jesus ever cussed one time, this was the day.” I beg to differ. I think he cussed. A lot.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

By the Power Vested in Me

There are three things I find particularly offensive when weak: a man, a cocktail, and a believer. We all have weaknesses, but habitual excuse-making while claiming the power of the Holy Spirit makes me want to holler like Marvin Gaye. From the failure to discern blatant offenses to the fear of responding when things are amiss and the refusal to love universally, believers have collectively developed a crippling lethargy that allows outsiders to look inside the church with revulsion. They say “he’s just a man” or “we all make mistakes.” Yes, all human beings are fallible. However, reducing our moral standards to the lowest common denominator blasphemes the Holy Spirit. [We] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us]. (Philippians 4:13)

Prior to his ascension, Jesus promised we would receive power when the Holy Spirit hit us. The same spirit was prophesied by Joel to fall on not just preachers, but all flesh. With that power comes authority.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you (Titus 2:11-15).

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “who in the hell does she think she is” I could pay off my student loans. I’ve never been good at playing the shrinking violet. Most of what passes for God’s will doesn’t require a keen sense of discernment to detect. However, taking the risk of addressing sin is precisely what the gospel requires. Many people have little problem giving expression to the movement of the Spirit during worship. Let that same movement reveal something wrong and they show themselves to be spiritual weaklings. “I’ll go pray on it” they say reflexively. In other words, they are going to stick their head in the proverbial sand. Times like that is when the devil does his happy dance. God is calling you to get off your rump for God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Cowardice in the kingdom is about as worthless as a watered-down drink. God apparently agrees with me. Jesus did not turn the wine into water did he? One of my favorite biblical phrases is when God tells Job repeatedly to gird yourself up like a man as Job wavers in faith. Believers need to man-up to conquer everything that is an impediment to the redemptive works of God in themselves, their communities, and the world. That’s the essence of faith. Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:17). By the power vested in me, I implore you to rise, repent, and move mountains.