I’m honored to welcome Minister Ken Pettigrew to my blog in his second guest post here. Ken is a gifted man of God with a heart of gold. He’s a man of passion and an amazing thinker. He’s given us a beautiful gift of vulnerability in this post. (Thank you so much, Ken)! This is a brotha to respect.
His post today is kicking off a series of guests post over the next couple of months on the theme of Genesis 50:20, What you meant for evil, God meant for good. This passage in particular stuck out to me a few weeks ago in a marriage class the hubz & I have been attending. It’s a complex idea worth exploring, especially when ‘ish is hard! Since I decided recently to put a little more focus into editing my 100,000 word BEHEMOTH of a memoir, it seemed a good time to invite my fellow writers to help explore this issue here, while I explore it in my book.
I hope and pray the series will lead to an exploration of the redemption happening in your own life. Amen & Amen.
I love you just the way you are.
Don’t go changin’ trying to please me.
Be true to yourself.
I’ve heard these clichés in multiple contexts and for many, many reasons in my short lifetime and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I would buy into this. The sentiments are so wonderful and are intended to boost self-esteem, but they accomplish the exact opposite. Success is inaccurately measured in my society, my generation, and sadly, by my race. I try to escape being labeled as “one of them” for whatever aspect of my multiplicity it applies to. Labels come with stereotypes, and stereotypes come with limits, so why would I subject myself to that? I’ve been taught I serve a limitless God, bound by human imaginations. If that’s the case, why would I, being made in the image of God, try to limit myself? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s conditioning.
My parents have been supportive of my endeavors and dreams, yet rarely saying that they were or are proud of me while never berating me for shortcomings. They have love me unconditionally, yet I’ve never heard them say, “You’re special,” or “You can be anything you want to be.” I don’t think they’re wrong for that. It’s help me to grow into a reality-grounded sense of self, that rests on the greatness of God, but seeks to be earthly good and Kingdom oriented.
Why does all of that matter?
Well, when I explore the Joseph narrative, I’m struck by a young man whose conditioning is like that of many of my friends. He was the favorite of his father and a dreamer. I’m sure Joseph was often told that he was “special” and “loved” and “capable” and “smart;” if he were not, I have a hard time comprehending the anger his brothers had toward him. No one resents a person for no reason. Of course the reasons could be completely fabricated and imagined, but for those persons, they are as real as the earth is round. Joseph’s conditioning, though well intended, began causing problems.
Dreamers are often living in a reality in which they are not present.
Is this bad? Nope. Problematic? Yes. Dreams imitate reality, but the facts and actuality are not aligned.
Where does this leave us?
In a hole, then enslaved, persecuted, and jailed. What? That sounds a lot like the journey Dr. King took as well. Dreamers are the same everywhere—all that changes are the details.
But this hole—the stark realization that life is not always great and people aren’t always the best—is a place of desperation that has the power to transform us into cynics or strengthen our optimism.
This is where racism and hatred live and breathe. It’s the unprotected streets of our neighborhoods, gun violence in our schools, and where privilege (particularly American and White American) reign supreme. It’s that dark corner where our LGBTQ brothers and sisters hide out. It’s where the rich men that make our laws cast those who need a little extra help. It’s where we live when we have no idea what life is doing around us.
The hole, even in its darkness and confined spaces, always has a way out. Joseph was pulled out of the hole and sold into slavery.
Good feelings are hard to come by in dark, dry, hopeless space, but when we find them, we latch on and it’s hard to let go.Sex and pornography, drugs and alcohol all have a great way of making us feel better. They “lift” us up in the hole, but they never lift us out. When we sell ourselves into slavery, we embrace the chains that mark us as subservient to another’s will. Chains, sadly, are also very heavy—adding weight to our already burdened souls—and make it all the harder to rise from the hole. As a result, we need more and more for us to raise ourselves half as high, but never seeing over the edge again.
When I live in a hole, people love to talk about me. My future is insignificant to them, because my present has much more meat to chew. I’m the subject of ridicule, because my actions don’t reflect my faith. My circumstances are uncanny. My life is a mess. The conversations are real and they hurt. I turn back into my emotions and I get high again or I drink more.
The emotions become raw and the pain goes from being only mental to fully visceral. Nothing in the world can compare to the hell I’m living in now—all because of some words. The next things I know, I’m behind bars—jailed by an emotional state that just won’t break. I can’t break loose and I can’t shed all of the crap that’s become attached to me. I look at Joseph, and I see a guy who was hated, abandoned, persecuted, and jailed, but all through it, the Lord was with him.
I’ve been in church all if my life and it has been my life for the last ten years. When it comes down to it, I have created an image and built a reputation that has stood through rumors and misunderstandings. However, like any person, I have my problems and struggles; I wonder if my problems and struggles would destroy the image they know?
My story is unexpected. I’m a 22 (almost 23) year old kid with big plans and a vision, but few people really know my story. I manage to preach whole sermons and never once use a personal example. I can help lead a church into worship through music, but no one knows why I worship so passionately. No one knows that a family member sexually abused me for six years. No one would believe that I was a porn addict. No one would believe it, not because it’s unbelievable, but it’s unexpected. If you looked at me, you would assume that I’m 22, a preacher, straight, an opera singer or anything else that I might be.
Have we done ourselves a disservice by having these kinds of stories that no one would expect?
Have we robbed God of glory because we are ashamed of where we used to be?
Have we deprived ourselves of a platform on which to stand and declare the power of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ?
We may want to speak up, but it could destroy relationships and inhibit ministry. Though we have not lied, we just haven’t told the truth. We are grateful to God for deliverance, but are we healed enough to share where we’ve come from? Will people lose trust in me? Probably. Will it ruin relationships? Maybe.
We must respect our stories. Even in all of the pain, the addiction, abuse, and hatred, the Lord is still with us. We lose our way, but in the end, good can and will come out of this. If Joseph had not learned to respect his story, he would’ve had his brothers killed upon arrival.
Grief and resentment hang on like chains, but in the goodness of God work of liberation, justice is served, peace is restored, grace is dispersed, and the evil in our lives God can now use for good.
Minister Ken Pettigrew is the guy that went to art school, sings opera on occasion, likes to preach, and is making his way in the world. A native of North Carolina he is a lover of Cheerwine, Bojangles’, and all things biscuit related. A lover of liturgy and worship, Ken serves as a worship leader at St. John CME Church and spends his spare time blogging at Sub Renovationis (Under Renovation). Between Hebrew quizzes and reruns of The West Wing, Ken is pursuing a Master of Divinity at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Ken is a member of the Society of Pentecostal Studies and the Wesleyan Theological Society, seeking to do research in the area of the sacraments in early Pentecostalism. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.