Thursday, November 15, 2018

Examining the “Gray” Area: On the Outside Looking In

Yesterday, all my social media feeds were flooded with video footage of Pastor John Gray’s latest appearance on Sister Circle TV. When I saw that he was trending (again), my first thought was, What has #BlackTwitter found now? I love us, but we can dig into other people’s business like nobody’s business!

If you read this blog, you know that Pastor John and his wife, Aventer, are one of many couples that I admire. After watching John’s clip, I respect them even more. For those of you who disagree, read on and hear me out.

In the now-(in)famous 59-second clip (watch below), Pastor John honors Aventer, saying, “The wife that I chose is better than the man that I am...She’s had to cover me while I grow up.” That part of the conversation raised a few eyebrows, but it was what he said next that caused a social media uproar. He said, “My wife has endured more pain birthing me than both of our children.”

I can see how this could be interpreted as toxic masculinity, misogyny, and even an Oedipus complex, but let me explain what I think he meant by it. Actually, before I give my interpretation, I’ll insert a screenshot of Aventer’s Instagram response for further clarification:

Now, let me ground this biblically. Genesis 2:18, 21-22 says, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’...So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” ‭‭(NIV‬‬). This was profound to me because as I read and reread it, I realized something: Men really need women. Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (NIV, emphasis mine). Nowhere in there does it say it is not good for the woman to be alone. I’ve always said that everyone has a purpose, a specific assignment to carry out. We are all a solution to a specific problem in the earth. In this case, the woman is the solution to a problem that the man has. Fellas, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to emasculate y’all here. What I’m saying is, there was a deficiency in Adam that he could not fulfill on his own. He, of course, could function without Eve, but the addition of her presence enhanced the garden and made it good. She was the favor factor, the missing link. Ladies, so are we! When “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis‬ ‭2:24‬ ‭NIV‬‬), she assumes the role of rib and shields his heart from the outside world. She covers the core of who he is, the parts that only she and God can see, and helps him actualize greatness.

As a man’s rib, the woman was physically designed to fit him, but since he was created first, he may not necessarily fit her right away. This why Pastor John said Aventer is “two sizes too big” for him. She was tailor made for him, but she, as his wife, had to give him the grace to grow into who she needed him to be. Her love (and, of course, the love of Christ) shaped and refined him, but that doesn’t mean she settled. She didn’t just see his potential. She saw who she knew he already was in the Kingdom, and she chose to walk beside him.
John Gray’s phrasing threw some people off, but I believe this is what he meant when he said Aventer went through birthing pains with him. She was helping him birth purpose! This does not negate the fact that Pastor John was clearly a broken man when they married. He admitted that himself, but he also said he didn’t understand how broken he was—which meant he couldn’t communicate that brokenness to Aventer effectively until she began to help him heal.

Ladies, in NO WAY does this make it okay for us to go out and try to fix broken men...and be careful who you label #RelationshipGoals! As we see, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. However, this IS proof that wedding vows are nothing to play with. When Aventer stood before God and everybody and said, “I take thee to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you" (The Knot), that agreement is binding! Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes, it’s not. Either way, it entails honor. That means that when Aventer chose to have John as her husband, she had to hold him down...when it was good, bad, and ugly. She had to honor him whether he was the pastor of Relentless Church or the poorest man in town. Why? Because when she said those vows, she pledged her life to him—and here’s the part that so many critics are leaving out: When he said his vows, he also pledged his life to her. In that 59-second clip, we only heard about what she did for him. We don’t know the other side of the story of how he covers her, but he was also quoted as saying, “I’m gonna live the rest of my life to honor her.” I hope Pastor John is making up for lost time, becoming the man his family needs him to be...and I hope Aventer is not staying in a marriage that’s draining her. From the looks of her post, though, it seems like she’s got it covered (pun intended).

I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in the Gray house, but I do know this: I pray that even in my singleness, God will dismantle the myth of the “perfect” man and send me the one whose heart I’m supposed to cover. I pray that He will give me the tools to simultaneously protect and be protected. I pray that regardless of the ups and downs my husband and I face privately, God will allow us to display honor, not so as to cover up dirt or scandal, but to keep people out of personal matters, especially when one or both of us is experiencing the vulnerability of growing pains.

Both the man and the woman should be working towards wholeness before walking down the aisle, but growth doesn’t stop when you get married. Growth is a continuous process, and marriage shines a light on the gray areas in your life that need improvement. When you get married, your struggles become your spouse’s struggles and vice versa. You work through issues together. Marriage is give and take, but what I see now is that it’s not always 50/50. Some seasons are 80/20, some are 60/40. The grace, the covering, is given to who needs it the most at the time. No outside questions should be asked, because most people are judging from the outside looking in. Now, can we please stop throwing stones inside of glass houses? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of replacing shattered windows.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Returning to the Throne of Grace: Tasha Cobbs Leonard, August Alsina, and the Accessibility of God

On Friday, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon a surprising collaboration. Gospel artist Tasha Cobbs Leonard brought R&B sensation August Alsina onstage during her Revival tour in Charlotte, NC to sing “You Know My Name,” from her 2017 album, Heart. Passion. Pursuit.

I haven’t followed August Alsina’s career closely because his rise to fame began right before I stopped listening to secular music. I do, however, remember the single that put him on the map: 2013’s “I Luv This S***.” The song was a street anthem, a hip-hop track sprinkled with R&B flair, addressing the usual hip-hop subject matter (sex, drugs, objectification of women) and riddled with profane language.

The August Alsina I saw in that clip Friday is not the same one from five years ago. The new Alsina has a testimony, a purpose, and a calling, and this post (which I hope he gets a chance to read) is a call to action. What I heard Friday was the sound of redemption. 

Check out the special duet below:

I may not listen to secular music that often anymore, but I appreciate a unique tone in any genre. Alsina definitely has that, but what I heard Friday was...different. There’s a certain something about Jesus music that sets it apart from every other genre. When the worship is for real, there’s a distinctive cry, a raw sincerity that tells listeners that it’s coming from the heart. That’s what I heard, or rather, what I felt, when August Alsina opened his mouth: A shift in the atmosphere, a stirring that let me know that his soul needed to sing that song. From what I know about gospel music, one doesn’t just sing a song with that much conviction unless they have a reason to. I wanted to find Alsina’s reason.

Since I was a little out of the loop on what Alsina’s been up to these days, I googled him—and when I did, I found an interview he did on Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” earlier this year. During his sit down with Jada and company, he opened up about his struggles with drug addiction.

In the interview, Alsina said, “I was pretty much doing way too many shows, not taking care of myself. I was drinking so much liquor. Smoking so much weed. Just one night at a show in New York, I literally passed out and fell off the stage.” As a result of that fall, which happened back in 2014, he was prescribed Percocet...and before he knew it, he was addicted, taking at least six pills per day. He quit cold turkey, without rehab, and spoke candidly about the steps he took to put his life back together again.

As he sang: 

He knows my name
He knows my name

Oh, how He walks with me,
Oh, how He talks with me,
Oh how He tells me that I am His own...

I heard God say, “Give Me back what’s Mine.”

I listened, on repeat, with tears in my eyes, and I was reminded of James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV). Every gift, singing, dancing, acting, etc., is given by the ultimate gift giver, God. Whether that gift is used in the secular realm or not is a choice made by the person He gives it to...but if it’s secular, it can only stay secular for so long. The Creator will always get the credit for His creation.

August Alsina sang those lyrics as if he realized in that moment that God really does still know his name. He sang like he thought about how long it’s been since the last time he called on Him just to talk, just to tell Him how good He is. He sang like he had the biggest epiphany he’s had in a long time: that no matter how far he walks away from God, he always belongs to Him.

Today, Tasha Cobbs Leonard shared a video on her Facebook page of the backstage moments following her duet with Alsina. In the clip, shown below, Alsina tells Cobbs Leonard how much of a positive impact her music has had on his life:

That moment was so relatable for me. As a gospel music lover and avid gospel concert-goer myself, I’ve had the opportunity to have that moment with a few of the artists I support. It’s a rewarding experience for them and for me. Record sales are great (#BuyKingdomMusic!), but being able to stand in front of these people and tell them how much their art of worship inspires me is priceless. I was glad to see that Alsina was inspired, and I hope he realizes that his worship can inspire others as well.

I pray that in the days that have followed that performance, Alsina has taken time to reflect on who God is in his life and what it is He wants him to do in the earth. I pray that the same conviction he felt while singing that song will cause him to run and never look back, to run into the arms of the One who first loved him.

Dear August Alsina (and every other creative, secular or otherwise)

God knows your name. He knew it long before the crowd screamed it at the top of their lungs. He knew it before you were ever formed. Whether you profess to know Him or not, He is always walking beside you, and He will talk to you if you’re willing to listen. Once you’ve accepted Him as your Savior, you are always His, and He is always yours. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how long it’s been, He’s always available and accessible to you. Give Him back what is rightfully His—your life and your song.


A music lover who cares

P.S. August, it’s time for a gospel album!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Dismantling the Myth of Mr. and Mrs. Smith: Why Will and Jada Aren't My #RelationshipGoals

It’s not always sunny in paradise...even when you’re married to Will Smith. 
I finally got a chance to watch the first couple of episodes of the second season of “Red Table Talk,” Jada Pinkett Smith’s popular Facebook Watch show, and I was pleasantly surprised to see her husband, Will, as a guest. Jada’s usual cohosts, her mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, and her daughter, Willow, sat at the red table, too, and listened intently to the story of what Jada called a “unique union.” “Unique” is an understatement. The conversation became more and more candid as the episode progressed, and the audience was left hanging in anticipation of the next segment of the discussion. Since I was a week behind, I was able to watch parts one and two back to back. I learned some very important lessons from their discussion:

  1. Timing is everything.
  2. Everything is not what it seems.
  3. Will and Jada are not my #RelationshipGoals.

It’s time to dismantle the Smith myth.

For so many years, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have been one of black Hollywood’s “it” couples. All eyes are on them as they light up every red carpet they walk on, seeming to exude love and adoration for each other as they pose for photo ops. Black singles, and even Black, single, Christians—especially women—look at them and long for what they have. I’ve heard the saying so many times, “I want that Will and Jada type of love!” According to the conversation they had on these episodes of “Red Table Talk,” that love almost didn’t happen—and when it did, it wasn’t what it looked like. 

Will and Jada’s love story began before they ever met face to face. Will, who, at the time, was a fresh face on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” saw Jada in “A Different World,” and immediately felt a spark.

Despite the “thing” that Will felt, their “magical” meeting didn’t exactly go as planned. He went to “A Different World”’s set with every intention of introducing himself to Jada, but instead of meeting Jada that night, he got distracted by another girl...and ended up meeting (and marrying) his now ex-wife, Sheree. That was the first lesson I took from this episode: Timing is everything, and if you’re not careful, distractions can cost you your destiny. Will met the wrong person at the time that he was supposed to meet the right one, and it changed the course of his life. Will and Sheree share a son named Trey, but imagine how different his life would’ve been if he’d met Jada first...

Will and Sheree eventually divorced, and he and Jada started dating the day he signed his divorce papers. Two years into their relationship, they were pregnant with their son Jaden, and 3 months after that, they were married—not because they wanted to be, but because Jada’s mother insisted. 

(Bonus lesson: Never get married just because someone else says it’s a good idea. That’s a whole different story.)

So, both Will and Jada were successful actors with 3 beautiful children (by this time, they had added their daughter, Willow, to the bunch). All is well, right? Wrong. 

I’ve always thought it was cool how Will and Jada just seemed to “work” together. Behind the scenes, though, the angle was off. Turns out, the Smiths have very different views on marriage:

Will said he always wanted to be a husband and family man. Contrarily, Jada said, “I just never agreed with the construct [of marriage]...Till death do us part is real for me. I just don’t agree with all of [marriage’s] rules, all of the ideas...” Jada’s mother added, “And what you can’t do,” and she continued, “The accepted, conventional definition of wife, in the paradigm, I’m not that.” This is where the Smith myth fell apart for me, and I know it’s the reason for the unhappiness Jada mentioned in the latter part of part one, in the 45+ mornings she spent crying about being unsatisfied in her union.

Will and Jada broke up—within their marriage. They destroyed it privately, while in the public eye, it looked to be intact. Then they put it back together on their own terms, after they, in their own words, “found themselves.” They stopped living for each other’s (and the outside world’s) approval and figured out who they were individually. Now, they say they don’t even consider themselves married anymore, at least not in the conventional sense.

Here’s why what “works” for the Smiths would never work for me: I know that when you enter into a marriage, you don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the vows you’ll actually uphold—just like you don’t get to pick which verses of the Bible you take to heart. Marriage is all or nothing. That “paradigm” that Jada alluded to isn’t just the accepted definition of wife, it’s BIBLICAL! Marriage was designed by God to carry out a specific assignment in His Kingdom. Disregarding parts of that mandate just because it specifies things you can’t do is not Godly.

I won’t let my marriage get to the point where we’re living separate lives (especially not with separate people—that’s called adultery!) in the same house. It won’t have to get to that point for my husband and I, because I am in the process of doing the inner work now, before marriage. Choosing a husband or wife is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. It’s second only to your choice to submit your life to God. The time to “find yourself” is not after you’ve made a commitment to intertwine your life with someone else’s. You’re supposed to learn who you are while your life is still just yours, and of course, always, God’s. If you’re doing marriage the Christian way, you know that the vows aren’t meant to trap you; they’re there to hold you accountable—to God, to your spouse, and to yourself.

As I watched this discussion, I noticed a lot of my single, Christian friends liking and commenting on the videos, some even going as far as to say the Church can learn from the conversation. In a lot of ways, they’re right, we can learn from it, but we have to be careful about what exactly we’re learning. I still like the show because I enjoy intellectual, personal conversation, and their discussions tackle real issues head-on...but as for me and my #RelationshipGoals, Will and Jada aren’t it. I do appreciate what their story taught me, though: What we see on TV and red carpets is often just that—for show. Marriage, even the unions we consciously or subconsciously idealize, is not always as great as it looks from the outside. Saints, I know y’all don’t want to hear this, but here it is: Just because it works for Will and Jada doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to “redefine” marriage on my terms. I want to do it on God’s terms, the way He intended it, the first time around. 

*All videos featured in this post are from “Red Table Talk”’s official Facebook page. No copyright infringement intended.