Thursday, September 30, 2010

Backslide: The Story Continues

Purchase Backslide by going to the link below. Available in book soft and hard cover

Writing a book is an arduous task. My first novel, Preacha’ Man, served as a cathartic release from the drain caused by serving as the pastor of a booming ministry. The work of the kingdom became too much of a job. The call to minister was exchanged for serving more like public relations manager and employee of the masses than a prophetic voice. It became too much for me to bear living with the unrealistic expectations of others given the tug at my soul to be more engaged in the lives of the least of these.

I completed the first novel less than a month before being asked to leave the church I had worked tirelessly to build. For those looking from the outside, the story reads like a sad tale of a man going through some form of identity crisis. It appears as an account of failure among those standing on the side of maintaining traditional mores, while seeming like a reminder of the evils of Church folks among those fed up with the way churches have changed.

My own story serves as a lab test for those seeking to make sense out of the transition taking place within the Southern black faith community. Critics are quick to point o the emergence of prosperity motifs that have rendered the prophetic converge of black faith lacking in emphasis and direction. It is easy to recount those good ole days when men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Wyatt T. Walker stepped to the beat of a different drummer. I contend that our fascination with those glory days are no more than a myth conjured in the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passage of Civil Rights legislation. The Black Church has never been a harmonious community that transcended denominational and cultural barriers.

With that being said, it is hard to deny Black faith is enduring a metamorphic process that is hard to define. My first book forced a critique of the implications related to building works of faith designed to replicate the most recent fad. Our desire for bigger and better collectives of faith has blinded many to the amazing truth often found where small groups gather. When faith is measured it renders the prophetic message rankled by the façade of impotence. We simply can’t see hope in places that fail to enumerate our expectation for more. It simply isn’t real when the numbers fail to reflect what we claim to be true.

Preacha’ Man is the story of a pastor who finds the strength to walk away. He leaves the comforts shaped by his faith to capture the freedom to live within a faith not limited by the constrictions of the Church. The book is a reminder that the work of the Church often diminishes faith rather than to facilitate the nurture of authentic spirituality. Releasing the first book was a thorny task. As much as I knew it was an important message, I feared how my baby, my book, would be dragged through the mud of public humiliation.

Now comes the second novel. Backslide exposes more of me than the first novel. This is a book about a man broken by innuendos and the stripping of security. Simon, the main character, comes back. Back into ministry. Back into the shambles that comes with allowing the imagination of others to damage the integrity of the work he does. He confronts the continued stabbing at his credibility and the fabrications told to explain how all the changes came to pass.

Underneath the sadness of change is a deeper truth. Those forced to rekindle lives, after the locus come to eat hope away, are given spiritual task far deeper than the words of our hallowed hymns. Once stripped of leftovers and reserve accounts, faith demands answers that no sermon can address. This is the story of what happens when faith no longer works in ways that help keep the tears away.

My newest baby has been released into the universe. Baby Backslide is certain to be disparaged for failing to speak in ways common to folks who call faith their home. This is my truth. More than that, this is my story. The sad truth is there are countless others who share the pain sprayed on the pages of my books.

Paul Tillich says there is a God above the God of our understanding. A God beyond the God we sing about on Sunday morning. A God present with us when all we know fails to counter the pain. Sometimes we cry alone. Often, those who claim to care walk away because they can’t take the sadness we bear. It especially hurts when the Church adds to the madness. Backslide is a going back to the work that makes us cry; even when that work should be the very thing to stop the pain.

My book as available at all bookstores across the nation and on the internet. Please, read it and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eddie Long: "I Have Five Rocks"

“I have five rocks, and I haven’t thrown any yet,” I listened as Eddie Long rallied the masses. He used an old story to portray himself as the victim. Like David confronted with a massive Goliath, Long pleaded with his mega-congregation to support him in a battle waged to destroy his empire.

He hasn’t thrown rocks yet. I was saddened by the usage of this metaphor. I was moved more by what wasn’t said than with what Long preached. I was prepared for his claim that this is spiritual warfare pitting good versus evil. I’m not shocked that he positioned his spiritual army to stand with him as he approached the giant in the court of law.

Those rocks waiting to be thrown trouble me. Should we affirm the shedding of spiritual blood among those hurting enough to file a lawsuit? Have the people calling for the death of these young men forgotten that they are members of the family with spirits in need of ministry? Has Long become so entrenched in his own quest to be liberated that he is willing to do anything to prove his innocence? Is this the image of the crucified Christ who stood before his own court of law?

In a previous blog posting, I challenged readers to consider the distinction between king and prophet. Long’s response places this conversation within a working framework. Kings fight while prophets humbly endure. Prophets seek ways to teach beyond the intentions of others while kings seek to punish those who come against the kingdom. In other words, kings throw rocks.

There is a theological truth that is spoken within Quaker thought. Quakers contend the spark of God is present within all of us. The work of the kingdom is to seek the presence of God in others-no matter how deviant they become. The challenge of people of faith is to find the good and to minister to it, even when doing so leaves us broken due to the manipulation and abuse coming from those we love. It is the loving response of the people of God that stands as witness to the transformative power of the resurrected Christ.

We are challenged to love those who despitefully use us. We are asked to humbly seek ways to impact the lives of those desirous of our destruction. Long’s response to throw rocks bears witness of a deeper theological mandate. Long, and the members of his congregation, are positioned to protect the kingdom. They will do so in the court of justice rather than in the court of love. They will throw rocks to further humiliate these young men.

No word was uttered regarding the need for the church to prayerfully seek ways to minister to the brokenness created by this scandal. There was no word of forgiveness, no word of the love that should be shown for those who filed the lawsuit. These are family members hurt enough to bring voice to their pain. The congregation has chosen to stand by their king and daddy, and to blame these young men for falsely accusing the man they worship.

This dynamic should not surprise any of us. It’s what transpires when a child accuses an adult of abuse. We are quick to come to the defense of the father or mother, aunt or uncle, friend or minister. The victim is ostracized as the family defends the character of the person accused. This is classic family dynamics. The thing that makes it different is the family, in this case, is the church.

One would think Long would use the message of Christ to guide him in handling this matter. That’s hard to do when you have made yourself into a king.

Prepare for the slingshot.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lessons From Gay Pride

It could be said that I have been a hypocrite. I have vocally supported my gay brothers and sisters. I spoke at a protest when Proposition 8 passed in California. I have written and encouraged readers to fight against homophobia. I have preached about the need to become open and affirming communities of faith. With all of that being said, I have been a hypocrite. Until Saturday, I had not been to the Gay Pride Parade in Durham, NC

I wish I could say it has been due to some conflict in schedule. Not the case. I would be dishonest if I said it has been due to the location of the event. Nope. It takes place within walking distance of my downtown loft. I have stayed away due to fear. I dreaded having to contend with the assumptions people would make when they saw me in the crowd. I was afraid that people would assume I’m gay.

The fear is rooted in my journey as an advocate for gay rights. Sadly, I have carried the label for some time now. The whispers began after my second divorce. People wanted to uncover the truth behind why it all ended. That’s when the rumors started-that he must be gay.

It took years for me to discover how deep the lie had become embedded into the lore of black folks in Durham. It became lucid to me when I was asked to write an article for the Independent Weekly. The editor wanted me to share how I transformed while serving as Pastor of the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church. I became perplexed when she continued to send it back asking me to share more about my personal change. Later, I discovered she assumed I’m gay and wanted me to discuss how my coming out of the closet impacted my life and work.

I soon discovered the impact of the rumor. The gossip mutilated my spirit. Being an advocate comes with a price. It was then that my admiration for the non blacks of the Civil Rights movement escalated. The real heroes and sheroes of change are those who stand when doing so creates discord in their lives.

I imagined being called ‘Nigger lover” by members of the family. I considered those willing to literally take bullets for people they love for reasons deeper than family ties. It was then that I became disgusted with my own grapple with not attending the Gay Pride Parade. I had allowed bitterness to distort my message of unity. I was more concerned with what people thought of me than I was of my need to stand in solidarity with those who endured much more than the scandal of a rumor.

I sucked it up on Saturday. I made the walk to the Duke wall. People were gathered in preparation for the unveiling of their pride. With each step, my courage rose above the venom of the rumors. I passed people I know along the way. “Hey Mr. Kenney,” a young photographer called my name with a smile as he prepared to take a picture. I kept walking.

I found a place on the wall and embraced the pride. I celebrated the bravery of those bold enough to resist years of discrimination. Tears began to pour as I witnessed the procession of churches there to support a prideful community. I cried because the church I pastor was not in the parade. We were not there because of my fear. My words weren’t strong enough to transform my own fear into action. I needed to march. Instead, I stood on the wall and watched as others made their bold statement of faith

I walked in the direction of Whole Foods to purchase items to cook. Then, I heard a scream. “Pastor, Pastor,” one of the congregant screamed as I approached. We embraced. “This is my Pastor everyone.” I felt the release of fear. His embrace said more than enough to eradicate the disappointment of my hypocrisy. Yes, I’m your Pastor.

From there I approached that dreaded intersection-the corner of Main and Broad St. Hate stood there with signs of damnation. The van that transported them had the name of love-JESUS-on the side in bold print. They were there, the church folks, to remind people of their fate. One sign spoke of the rapture. The urge to preach love came to me. I carried the rage that led me to my hiding place. I rekindled the memories related to how people like these spread hearsay on me. I reflected on how they used the sacred truth to damage the souls of the people I love so much.

“I don’t care what you think of me,” I screamed to myself as I considered the hate that robbed me of my former life. Hate sucked my work and robbed me of my security. Lies damaged my integrity and ruined the promise of a blooming work. Gossip stagnated the proclamation of truth and prophetic message of a world where love eradicates hate.

I stood and glared at the hatred on the other side of the street. A float passed by. On the float was a man with a microphone. He said more than I could. “God loves you too,” he spoke as he passed the holy folks on the side of the street. “God loves us all. God doesn’t discriminate, people do that.”

Amen my brother. Amen. That’s the good news. It doesn’t matter what people think of us, God loves us. Each of us must stand for truth. When we fail to do so we give power to the hatred that reduces others to the mind of their imagination. Love has to stand, even when labels come with taking that position.

So, forgive me for my hypocrisy. Forgive me for allowing fear to rule. Next time my truth will participate in the parade. I’m calling other people of faith from the African American tradition to walk with me. It’s the least we can do.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eddie Long: Prophet or King

These pictured are allegedly of Bishop Eddie Long taken while he was in a hotel bathroom before sending to the plantiffs of the lawsuit

We should be careful before we throw stones at Bishop Eddie Long. The reputation of the prominent Atlanta minister has been tarnished by the claims of three men that Long, the overseer of Atlanta’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, used money and power to coerce them into having sex. The story is not the first time Long has been connected to scandal, but it is the first time the news has captured the attention of the national press.

An investigation by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter John Blake uncovered serious questions about the compensation Long collected from the nonprofit, tax-exempt charity he created in 1995 to help the needy and spread the good news. Between 1997 and 2000, Bishop Eddie Long Ministries, Inc. provided its founder with at least $3.07 million in salary, benefits and use of property. In those same four years, the charity only made $3.1 million in other donations. It was impossible to tell to whom those donations went as the records aren’t itemized-a violation of IRS rules.

On the surface, this appears as a tragic epic of a powerful man gone wild due to the trappings of his defects. The press clippings are reminiscent of other clerics unable to tame the demons lurking deep within. The hall of shame is enough to kindle questions related to the motivations of those who decide to give themselves to the call they profess. From Jim Baker to Jimmy Swaggart and all the way back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., people are left with a sour taste in their souls due to the misconduct of those who verbalize a faith they are unable to reflect in their actions.

As saddening as all of that may be, this is more than a story about a minister who may have been on the down low with boys in his own church. The noise in the crowd is to tag Long a hypocrite if these allegations are true. And, why not? His anti gay message has harmed many of the gay and lesbians in need of a place to worship void of the negative rhetoric that challenges them to change their evil ways as they find their way to Jesus. The real critique of Long transcends a conversation about what happens when the lights go out. We should pause to reflect on both the theology and ethics that make Long’s bent on ministry in grave discord with the elementary claims of the Christian faith.

Eddie Long, T.D. Jakes and Creflo “Give Me Some” Dollars have become the forerunners in shifting the way African American ministers process the design of faith movements. The departure away from the Church as a community of social reconstruction emerged with the awakening that money can be made in that sacred space. The prophets have been transformed into kings and people are more than willing to bow before their leaders and lavish them with impious riches.

These are multi millionaires who hide behind the words of faith to assemble their businesses. Their marketing strategy is to manipulate people into embracing the notion that God desires them to walk with fame and fortune as a way of modeling what could be in the lives of those who sign on the dotted line by dropping money into the collection plate.

This is a story about how Long uses the money dropped in that collection plate. The public wants to know if he had sex with those young men. We want the gruesome details to unlock the closet of Long’s sex life to bring more fuel to the flame that proves the evils of those in the pulpit. Others will claim Long is only human, and we should be careful not to judge him for what each of us is capable of doing.

So true my friends. Ministers are only human, but who placed Long on the pedestal he stands? Who gave him the power to purchase not one, not two, but four Bentley’s. Who gave him the right to stand before his people and rant about his God given right to be a symbol of success for all to praise? Long created a world that imprisoned him into fulfilling the hollowness of his own claims. He made himself into a king, and the people in return worship him for giving them someone human to praise.

25,000 members believe the charade of his prosperity message. It’s a theology that strips the Christ of humility and replaces the crucified Christ with David on the throne. It takes the message of servant hood and trades it in for a system that opens the door to more money in the bank. It seduces people into giving more and more, while their spirits remain bankrupt due to the superficial theological claims erupting from the pulpit.

Yes, these are serious allegations. If true, and we should give this time to play out, Long used his money and power in a way that tarnished the spirit of these three men. If not true, some things are still true. Long, and those who desire to be like him, should be challenged for using God and the work of the kingdom to lace their pockets with mo money.

Some call them pimps in the pulpit. If they’re pimps it’s time for the ho’s to be set free. So, for those who have participated in a work of faith void of theological substance, run away my child. Find a place where people aren’t being tricked and seduced into pouring buckets of money into the lap of the king. Last time I checked the king was killed and rose on the third day.
He didn’t come back looking for a Bentley.

He came looking for men and women carrying crosses on their backs.