There is enormous power in the eyes of a woman. In her smile. In
her warmth and
approval. I suppose men have traditionally seen that as a threat, one to be severely dealt with. She is, more often than not, a creature of emotion while he is a creature of often tortured logic, a logic that attempts to subjugate or repress emotions she can easily see and access, withering him with a simple glance. Claiming him if she is wise, dominating him if she is able. She fights the war on a different plane: one he has difficulty massing his troops upon. His battle is physical, his actions are physical. Left to his base instincts, the typical male is a fearsomely stupid creature, vastly inferior to and so very unworthy of the divinely complex woman, the fragile blessing placed in his unclean hands. The rules of the road for dealing with these people can be bewildering.
My mother taught me to always pay a lady a compliment.
My pastor taught me not to.
After church on Sunday, a group of teenage girls gathered in the
choir stand. As I walked around this group, passing on a higher riser of the platform, I couldn't help but
notice the sheer volume of cleavage on display. It was something
I probably hadn't noticed before, likely because cleavage is not
what I come to church for, teen cleavage least of all. But there
it was, a group assembly of tight dresses and blouses with plunging
necklines, accentuated all the more by the choir stand's risers, such that anyone passing through the choir stand could
not help but look down and into the various valleys on ample
display. This bothered me on so very many different levels,
first and foremost that I wondered how these girls could come to
church, every week, for most of their lives and yet we've failed
to make Christ relevant to them in any visceral sense. For, if
Christ were real to them and the Holy Spirit active in their
lives, it wouldn't even occur to them to embarrass themselves
and their parents by dressing like hookers. I wanted to say to
them, “Ladies, the church House is not a night club.” I realize they're
young and in the throes of experiencing the wonder of their
budding sexuality. They are anxious to show off what they've
got. My point is, the church is simply not the place for it, and
these girls were dressed entirely inappropriately. But I knew
better than to say anything at all because the entire matter
would have been turned back on me. Rather than be convicted
about how they were dressed, the girls—and, likely, their
mothers—would accuse me of being some kind of letch, sneering,
“Well, why you (sic) lookin''?”
And so we have it: my hell of irreducible proportions. The gender barrier that complicates simple, rational and reasonable truths: the girls were dressed inappropriately. Period. And I can't imagine what drugs their mothers were on to not only allow them to come to church (or anywhere else, for that matter) dressed like a streetwalker but to then attack me for calling them to account. This, I suppose, is the pastor's job and, even more appropriately, a job for the Mothers of the church. But neither the pastor nor church mothers seemed to notice or care. I was alone, drowning in cleavage, choking on the courage of my pastoral conviction while realizing church folk have almost no respect at all for so-called "associate” ministers, mainly because senior pastors routinely throw these people to the wolves with little or no training and with absolutely no conveyance of power. When I was an associate minister, I was an extension of the pastor. I represented his authority. But only the pastor can make that clear to the flock, and I've never once seen a black pastor do this. In order to be effective, pastors must formalize the authority of those working under him. But few pastors do. Some because they are, frankly, clueless about how their associates are perceived. Some because they are insecure and feel the more authority they convey on their subordinates the more vulnerable they themselves become. Whatever the reason, in my experience, "associate" ministers are just a joke. The only minister in the building the congregation pays any mind to whatsoever is the pastor. And it makes me wonder why. I mean, I judge a pastor by the quality of his associate ministers, by how deep his bench is. A pastor with a collection of clowns sitting behind him is either insecure or out to lunch. Either way, I can't take him seriously. Time and again, my hands have been tied simply because pastors fail to teach properly and fail to convey authority, so the mommies just kind of roll their eyes and walk away from me while I am still in mid-sentence.
The girls' mothers would surely receive my criticism as an indictment of their mothering skills—such as they were—and, rather than receive that pastoral instruction, they would, instead, go on the attack, accusing me of hateful and terrible things, when they know, I mean, they know, I'm right. But church folk tend to fly off the handle at a moment's notice, letting their emotions rule their intellect. Mommies—single mommies most of all—become rabidly defensive of their children without usually stopping to consider what's best for them because the mommy really isn't thinking about the child, she's thinking about herself. A criticism of the child's conduct is a criticism of the mommy, so the parent's ego kicks in and they go postal defending themselves, even when they know, in their hearts, the child was wrong. And the child sees Mommy in this emotional, histrionic and childish behavior, and that gives the kid carte blanche to be disrespectful of me, of any minister who is not the church pastor. Which, in turn, undermines the child's respect for the church itself.
I'm trying to work through this, this communications gap between men and women, between ministers and laity, between Christian and Jew, between New York and California. Between us, whoever we are, and them, whomever “they” are. The only thing we can ever be sure of, in this life, is that they are not us, and we certainly are not them. Women are the biggest mystery men have ever known. The more I learn about these people, the more baffled I become. Building relationships with women in church, ministering to them, requires a great deal of prayer, preparation and patience. Why? Because of the history of gross moral failure on the part of pastors and "associate" ministers that have led far too many of our sisters to regard us all as liars and phonies. Women trying to walk in sexual purity are usually being hunted down by The Beast--the pervasive need for sexual gratification--and that sexual energy sizzles around them, often manifesting itself as hostility as the static in the air has them interpreting most anything we do as a sexual overture.
Interacting with these people is stressful and, for me, often quite unpleasant. They're extremely defensive and they lack respect for me, not as a minister but as a human being. While, on average, I find common footing with the brothers of the church, I am universally and consistently shown the most disrespect from the sister, the single moms most especially. This is the ecstatic shock, the jolt we receive when traversing new carpet. every time I have to engage one of this histrionic people I have to steal myself, say a prayer, take a deep breath--then head in for the flogging. What follows is some experiences and seasoned advice.