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By LUTISHIA LOVELY
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Lutishia Lovely
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIf God Can't Fix It ...
Anyone watching the two men conversing quietly in the corner booth of the dimly lit restaurant would have thought their discussion serious. They would have been right. The seasoned seventy-something, gray-haired minister, looking important and dignified in his black, double-breasted suit, listened intently as the younger man, displaying a rugged handsomeness in his navy blue, tailored Kenneth Cole design, used his manicured fingers to underscore a point.
"Number one," Stan Lee said, his finger in midair, "all sexual misconduct is sin, whether or not your members want to hear it. Before you came and laid down the law, the Gospel Truth congregation was way out of hand, from the pulpit to the vestibule. You know I'm right about it. Number two, it takes a tight rein to straighten out this kind of mess. And number three, Reverend Doctor O, I think you are the only preacher alive who can hold the rein tight enough to pull this backslidden church back in line with the Word." Secretly, Stan wished the doctor could put somebody else in line-his wife. But that was another story.
Obadiah, officially known as the Reverend Doctor Pastor Bishop Overseer Mister Stanley Obadiah Meshach Brook, Jr., and affectionately called "Reverend Doctor O," nodded in understanding. He liked this young man's fervor when it came to strong morals, and he couldn't help but agree with him. Doctor Stanley Morris Lee, the forty-eight-year-old pastor of Los Angeles's Logos Word Church, was a prolific preacher in his own right. Obadiah affectionately called Stan his namesake, even though he'd gone by his second name, Obadiah, since childhood. He respected the Logos Word ministry and viewed Stan as a spiritual son.
Obadiah knew that Stan spoke truth: Gospel Truth Church was in a gospel mess following the nationally televised scandal of its former pastor, Nate Thicke, and it took a preacher well worth his salt to pick up the shattered pulpit pieces. Something of this magnitude was the only thing that could have pulled him out of retirement, though truth be told, he'd missed the pulpit and was glad to be back.
Obadiah ran a hand over his weary eyes as he remembered the fiasco. How one of Nate Thicke's many women had managed to secretly videotape them during a sexual tryst, and how a portion of said tape was spliced into a holiday cruise promotion that was then shown during a national church convention. For about five seconds, Nate's glistening, bare backside had been seen by many of the twenty thousand attendees before a quick-thinking technical director stopped the tape. It didn't matter; the damage had been done. Nate was forced to resign, and his mother, Nettie Thicke Johnson, had immediately placed a call to her good friend Maxine, Obadiah's wife. Nettie, like Stanley, had been convinced that someone of Obadiah's stature, experience, and wisdom was the only one who could lead the congregation back down the straight and narrow. Goodness knew that during Nate Thicke's pastoral reign, the members-and the minister-had gone buck wild.
Obadiah cleared his throat and leaned toward Stanley, his powerful orator's voice near a whisper. "I know in my heart that every rule I've put in place and every change I've implemented at that there church is absolutely necessary. Narrow is the road that leads to salvation," Obadiah continued, his voice rising slightly as he quoted scripture. He looked around the sparsely populated dining room, took in the rich chestnut walls accented with deep red-covered chairs and tablecloths and sipped his coffee. "But as right as I am, the church is failing. The Sunday offering is shrinking faster than a jackrabbit's peter. And I'm losing the regular parishioners, especially the young folk. That's why I brought you here, to lead a revival and staunch the flow of fleeing fornicators. If they end up over at that funeral home Jenkins is masquerading as a house of God, Thomas will turn over in his grave."
Stanley's chuckle was low and deep. "Aw, c'mon now, Reverend Doctor O. Why are you so hard on Reverend Jenkins? He's doing the best he can. Besides, he's older than you are, and most of his members have probably been with him the entire forty years he's pastored that church."
Obadiah let out an uncharacteristic snort but otherwise remained silent. He didn't care to share the beef he had with Reginald Jenkins, a beef that went back those forty years of which Stanley spoke, a situation where Reginald took something that at the time Obadiah thought belonged to him.
"Young women don't listen to old men like me," Obadiah said after a pause. "Especially since I'm telling them to close their legs and take the 'for sale' and 'for rent' signs off their hot-to-trots and whatnot. This medicine will go down better coming from a young, handsome man such as yourself." He looked over at Stanley, took in the sleek bald head, the smooth, honey-brown face, the square-jawed strength settled under dark brown eyes, and nodded his approval. "Yes, they'll listen to you."
Both men paused while the waiter came and took away their dinner dishes. They declined dessert but said yes to more coffee.
Stanley looked down at the outline Obadiah had brought him: a recap of the rules outlined in the newly developed Gospel Truth Member Manual. Among the dozens of the now forbidden activities for church members was wearing makeup or outlandish jewelry; getting tattoos; watching television (except for a list of family programs sanctioned by the committee); and touching, besides handshakes, any member of the opposite sex who was not their spouse.
"I'm going to come with the unadulterated word of God," Stanley said. He leaned back casually in his seat while his countenance remained serious. "I'm not going to leave them with any questions in their mind. When I get done this week, they'll understand that being saved and sanctified means no fornication, no adultery, no pornography, and definitely no masturbation." His lips curled into a snarl as he all but spat out the last word, several unfortunate memories rising up unbidden in his mind. "If these women and men want to call themselves children of God, then they've got to live holy!"
The wives of Stanley Morris Lee and Stanley Obadiah Meshach Brook were visiting in the Brook home and having their own conversation on sexual matters ... from quite a different point of view.
"He hates it!" Passion said passionately. "How can a grown man with three kids and oversized, working plumbing, if you know what I mean, abhor the natural act of sex so much? I just don't get it, Mama Max." Passion had been sitting on the plush, cream-colored chenille sofa, but now she paced back and forth across the carpet in Maxine Brook's living room.
"Humph, that would be a blessing for some women. There's plenty more that could go wrong in a marriage, child." Mama Max tamped down the thought that had been nagging her since moving to Texas, about what could go wrong, and refocused her attention on Passion. "Now lookie here, is the man hitting you, abusing you?"
Passion stopped in her tracks. "No. Whatever would make you ask that question?"
"Because I want to know, that's why."
The truth was, she and Stan had begun to argue more, and once, just once, he had advanced toward her as if to strike. But he hadn't. "No, Mama Max. Stan isn't abusive."
"Is he a responsible man, keeping food on the table and money in the bank?"
"Yes, ma'am, but-"
"But nothing. Is he a good father to his children?"
"The ministry keeps him busy, but, yes, when he's around them, he's a good dad."
"Then count your blessings and get you a good book to read at night. Drink some of that camouflage tea so you can sleep easy."
Passion didn't try to hide her smile. "You mean chamomile, Mama Max?"
"Yeah, that too. Drink it and cool your frisky behind down!"
Passion returned to the sofa and sat close to Mama Max. "Mama, I'm only thirty-four years old. I want to share physical intimacy with my husband, not continue with this forced celibacy that Stanley has mandated. I was celibate for five years before I got married. I don't intend to be horny and wanting with two hundred pounds of prime beef lying next to me! I'm sorry to be so blatant, Mama Max, but I haven't been able to talk about this with anyone."
"No apology needed, Passion. You can speak your mind in my house. Now, I can tell you're frustrated, and I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better. I haven't felt the flame of desire for nigh unto twenty years, and was never too crazy about the act of procreation when Reverend and I were busy creating King, Queen, Daniel, and Esther. Maybe I should have been. But as a wife, you do have certain rights. Have you tried talking to Stan about it?"
"Until I'm blue in the face," Passion said, standing to pace again. "But he won't even have the discussion anymore-says that as a first lady, I shouldn't have such animalistic desires.
"It's not like Stan can't perform. Our sex life was fairly good right after we got married. Nothing too risqué, you understand, and only once, maybe twice a week. But we did it."
"And then what happened?"
Passion hesitated. She respected Mama Max and her counsel, but could she share everything with her? Like what she'd discovered in Stan's luggage after he'd returned from a minister's conference three months ago? And how, upon further investigation, she'd found similar items hidden in a rarely used gym bag on a top shelf in their garage? And how any doubt as to the use of these items was cleared up when Passion came home one day, early and unexpected, and was shocked senseless by what she saw? Passion decided she wasn't ready to tell anybody what she'd learned about Stanley Morris Lee.... She was barely able to admit this truth to herself.
"Passion, baby ... you all right? I asked you a question, about what happened to change how you and your husband ... know each other."
Passion shared what she could. "Stan has been traveling a lot, so I didn't really notice it at first. When I finally asked him about it, he made excuses. Then, about three months ago, he started spouting Bible verses and using Scripture and religion as the foundation for denying me what is rightfully mine. He hasn't touched me since and has made me feel guilty for wanting something perfectly normal!
"Things can't go on this way," Passion said, almost to herself, as she looked out Mama Max's large picture window and beheld a beautiful, Texas fall afternoon. But the burst of color from the autumn purple ash tree in the Brooks' front yard, the profusion of purple, red, yellow, and orange, was lost on Passion. Her eyes weren't looking at the scenery out front, but rather at a scene from her past, the pictures she'd taken with her cell phone camera that had changed so many lives. She felt a strange camaraderie with Stan's ex-wife, Carla Lee, now Carla Chapman, along with the guilt that never totally went away, guilt from what she felt was her part in Stan and Carla's divorce.
"Passion, you need to take this burden to the Lord and leave it there," Mama Max said into a room that had suddenly become overwhelmingly quiet. "God can fix whatever is broken."
When Passion turned to face Mama Max, there were tears in her eyes. "I sure hope so, Mama," she said in a whisper. "Because if God can't fix it, a divorce court can."
Shortly after divulging her dilemma to Mama Max, Passion asked to be driven to the guest pastor condo. Her marital admissions had made her tired, and she wanted to spend some quiet time alone with her thoughts before Stan arrived. Once inside the comfortably decorated abode, Passion undressed quickly and took a shower. She had no reason to believe that tonight would be any different from all the others, but she wanted to be clean ... just in case.
As Passion walked into the closet to don a nightgown, Stan's unlocked luggage caught her eye. Without pausing to think, she stepped over to it and lifted the lid. Inside, everything was compartmentalized and organized, much like Stan's life. His underwear, including briefs, were neatly folded, his socks paired and lined against the side. Not wanting Stan to know that she'd snooped in his belongings, Passion gingerly lifted the undershirts, T-shirts, and casual polos. She ran a hand inside the zippered compartment and came up against belts, handkerchiefs, and ties. She was just about to pull out her hand when her fingers felt something else.
Passion closed her eyes and took a breath. She slowly pulled out what her hands clutched. Swallowing, she opened her eyes and sighed. The pink silky fabric was trimmed in frilly black lace. Passion didn't have to hold them up to know, but she did anyway. It was just as she'd expected. The panties were extra large ... just Stan's size.
Chapter TwoLooks Can Be Deceiving
Stan eased up the privacy partition in the limo that had picked him up. The meeting he'd just had with Obadiah was at once invigorating and exhaustive. He loved spending time with this elder in the faith, loved sharing the Word with and learning from someone of Doctor Obadiah Brook's caliber. Often, Stan didn't feel on the same page with men his age, like KCCC's pastor, Derrick Montgomery, or Mount Zion's King Brook. True, they all preached from the same Bible and basically shared the same religious tenets, but whenever the talk turned personal, especially regarding the opposite sex, Stan shut down. How could these two virile men, who made love to their wives on the regular, understand what he was going through?
Stan smiled, remembering Obadiah's comment about the only other Black Baptist minister in Palestine, Pastor Reginald Jenkins. The man was eighty if he was a day, which would have made him about forty when he took over First Baptist. That would have made Doctor O around thirty during that time. Stan remembered the snort and the frown that had flitted across Obadiah's face before he covered it with his usually stern countenance. At one time, Obadiah had been a young man. It was the first time Stanley had given this fact any consideration. Maybe King Brook was more like his father than Stan realized.
Why am I thinking about that man's past? Whatever happened forty years ago with him and Old Man Jenkins is none of my business. Maybe not, but what happened to Stan almost forty years ago was haunting him more and more these days. He'd successfully shut out what started on that rainy day in April, and the chain of events that followed, for a very long time, decades, in fact. Why are these memories coming back now? But Stan knew why-it was because he'd come face-to-face with his past three months ago, when souls weren't all that had gotten revived in Detroit.
Luke Wilkes, the pastor of Spread the Word Cathedral, Detroit's newest megachurch referred to simply as the Cathedral, could barely contain his excitement. He'd been trying for months to get one of the city's most prominent and richest politicians, Bryce Covington, to join the church's board. And now it looked like that just might happen. During a casual conversation a month before, Luke had mentioned Stan Lee and the upcoming revival. Turns out Bryce Covington had heard of Stan Lee, was impressed with his ministry, and wanted to meet him. Luke was also talking to Stan about being a board member at-large. It would be wonderful to have either of these men's counsel, particularly regarding the business and outreach aspects of the ministry, but if he could get both, Luke knew it would be quite the Cathedral coup. He was hoping this meeting would solidify these desires.
Luke's assistant tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me, Pastor? Mr. Covington is on the line for you." Luke excused himself from the elite gathering of people in his office to take the call confirming the city councilman's attendance at the luncheon.
"Bryce, it's Luke. Hope this call doesn't mean you're not coming."
"To the contrary, Luke, I'm on my way. I just called to see if Stan had made it there yet. I'll have only about ninety minutes before having to leave to catch a plane to D.C.Wanted to make sure my timing was right."
"Your timing is perfect. Wish you could stay for the service."
"I'll be back to praise the Lord. In the meantime, make sure my office gets DVDs of these services."
"Will do, brothah."
"No problem, just come on through. We're waiting."
Twenty minutes later is when the world that Stan had carefully constructed over the past twenty-five years came crashing down on him. As soon as he saw Bryce's face. As soon as he saw the man with whom he'd had his one and only homosexual encounter, the one and only time he'd truly been sexually satisfied.
"This is the surprise I told you about," Luke had announced during introductions, proud that he could have a part in bringing together two such important men. "Stan, Bryce is a staunch supporter of the Cathedral and what we're trying to do in the community. Bryce, Stan is one of the finest men of God-or of men period for that matter-that I know."
After the luncheon, and the formal announcement that both Stan Lee and Bryce Covington would be joining the Cathedral's overseer board, the two men found a moment to speak privately.
"Did you know I was coming?" was the first thing Stan said to this former friend and college roommate from two decades ago. Not "Hi," "How are you doing?" "Kiss my ass" or "Hey, what's up?" He wanted to know if he was the reason Bryce had shown up at church.
Excerpted from Heaven Forbid by LUTISHIA LOVELY Copyright © 2010 by Lutishia Lovely. Excerpted by permission.
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