Sisters Keeping the Covenant Conference was held this weekend and I had the complete joy of being present for much of it. You may be able to intuit that it was planned and designed for my African American sisters, and I felt a distinct honor to be accepted among them. These are strong women, every one, and all of them are survivors - overcomers! A 24 hour immersion into the minds of these sisters has given me pause all day today. Let me share a few of my observations.
First, these women live in a different reality than I do. The levels of abuse, marginalization, humiliation and faithlessness they each have endured and expect to yet endure is shocking. What I understand to be the exception is the rule for them at different periods of their lives. They are fighting to stand strong. They are encouraging each other with exhortations of courage. Their music is about what God has done to rescue them, and give them the victory. They sing and they dance - oh yah - from the bottom of their hearts.
I heard some great lines. Evangelist Dottie Stewart, a beautiful, elegant woman of about 60 began her sermon with a song,
Satan we gonna tear your kingdom down
You been buildin your kingdom all over this land
Satan, we gonna tear your kingdom down.
The fabulous jazz organist filled in the spaces and soon the whole room was alive with the music.
SATAN, WE GONNA TEAR YOUR KINGDOM DOWN.
YOU BEEN BUILDIN YOUR KINGDOM ALL OVER THIS LAND
SATAN, WE GONNA TEAR YOUR KINGDOM DOWN.
With a white lace wrapped hanky in one hand and the mic in the other Sister Dottie brought the word. "I was just about to get my praise on!" she said. "I know what God has done for me. I am a 2 year, 1 month survivor of breast cancer. Everybody here's got something to thank God for. Let's get our DANCE on!" And we did. These woman can move. I moved along with them.... sortof.
Some of Sister Dottie's best lines:
"Tell somebody - I'm saved but I'm not stupid!"
"I have been called to be me! I walk in MY shoes! I have my testimony. I have my giants! MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!"
You would have loved it - the whole sermon was a conversation. Dottie talked but she listened as much as she talked. We talked back. We changed the direction of the sermon. She responded. We responded.
She challenged the women to stand up for themselves but to be godly. "We can't cuss people out! We can't go get our homey! We don't carry switchblades! But we are going to stand up for what is right. We are going to take our giants down!" She stomped her size 5, 3 inch high heels.
The topics of the sermon were real - AIDS, confronting abuse, not competing with other woman leaders. Not letting people silence you.
Dottie addressed the issue of unfaithful male pastors who are predators. "Sisters," she said, "Do not touch the Lord's annointed. If he is annointed, do not touch him! But sisters, some of them are annointed - and others are simply APPOINTED~!" Ouch. Wow. "You tell your pastor, 'I don't play where I pray!'" Oh yah. "When you say NO they gonna call you that L word. We've got to kill the things that are trying to kill us!" She went on and women were calling out their own stories, "Pastor's are taking people OUT. This isn't news," she said. " This is my own testimony. We are going to take this giant down."
When she made a tough statement a sister called out, "It's tight but it's right!"
Dottie walked up to a beautiful 30-something woman with style and sass. "You're a beautiful woman," she said, putting her finger in the young woman's face. "But don't let any man tell you you can't survive without him!" The young woman broke into tears. "The enemy wants to tear down your confidence and your connection with God and he is going to do it by the lies of a man. Don't believe the lie!" The women all stand up and start talking.
It wasn't about man hating, it was about truth and reality. One exhorter talked about her wonderful relationship with a supportive husband who is constantly pushing her to growth. Later, making the point about the things that keep women living in shame she said, "I have been married four times. I have carried shame about that!" She went on to tell her story. Her first husband was murdered. (Can't be held responsible for that.) Her second husband was an abuser. She listed a painful litany of experiences from being kicked in the head and tossed out of her house to having a gun pointed at her head. Her third husband she met at Seminary. They had a beautiful wedding. She was so sure this was going to be a divinely graced marriage. Seven weeks after her wedding she was at work and the Holy Spirit made her feel very uncomfortable about what was happening at home. She drove home and found her husband there with a prostitute. She said, "I always felt I had to be married to be something. I had to be married to be a minister, but it is a lie!" Her current husband is her soul friend, she said. They have been married eleven years. She is a survivor. She is a witness to grace. She said, "I've got a good man now, but he can't take care of me the way God can take care of me. I am not waiting for him to take care of me. My life is between me and God."
I heard other stories. A woman who didn't finish middle school, never passed one test in her public school life, found Jesus when she was 19. She felt there was nothing for her because she was stupid. But she decided to get her GED and started a degree. She had to learn everything, how to study, how to write. But she did it. She is in a Masters of Nursing now. She has a 4.0 grade. She also has four kids she is raising and works two jobs. She is a survivor. She is a witness to grace.
Another woman told how she came to her car after work and a man attacked her with a knife. He fought with her in the car for 45 minutes while she screamed, honked the horn and fought like a demon. She thought she would never see her children again. She knew she would die. Finally the man ran away. She fell out of the car door and two white women came up to her. "You okay?" they asked. "We were inside the building and saw what was happening but we didn't want to get involved." Oh my. Sisters. We need to help each other.
For 24 hours I was a sister among sisters. I told them that when I came home on Friday night I told my husband, "Those women are beautiful, and they have got flare. I felt like a librarian." (No offense to librarians but you know what I mean!) They laughed. I was the pale one in the group. But we found each other. And I understand now why these women preach the way they do. I understand why they sing what they do.
They're getting their praise on, and it moves, it dances. They won't stop dancing. They just changed partners. Life has disappointed them, but God is reliable. Satan, we're gonna tear your kingdom down!