He stood at the altar on Sunday morning, one hand gripping a cane, the other raised in adoration. I’m not sure now how it is that he came about to use that cane, this bear of a man. It might have been a stroke, maybe a heart attack. Whatever the reason, he hasn’t had the cane that very long.
He usually sits in the back of the church, on the opposite side from where I sit. I don’t know the names of those people very well. I couldn’t tell you his. I’m bad with names. If I see you somewhere and don’t remember yours, please forgive me. It’s not because you don’t matter to me. It’s just, well, I’m blond that way.
We have an altar call at our church every Sunday. People are invited to come down and pray. But this fellow came down long before the call to prayer went out. He was ailing too much to kneel so he just stood there, one-arm raised, face up, praying.
If I’d been a man, I’d probably been a preacher. Everybody who knows me says that. The people who have known me the longest have been saying it for years. But I grew up in a time and place where women were forbidden, outright forbidden, from being preachers. I didn’t know that when I was a very young girl.
In those years before Daddy died and life became trailer-park chaotic, I would gather my sister and the neighborhood kids and my tiny New Testament and we would play church. I was always the preacher. Nobody else wanted that job. Every kid on the block wanted to be Ringo Starr, Davy Jones or Diana Ross, except me. I wanted to be Peter Marshall.
I wanted to travel the world telling people stories of Jesus the way Peter did.
I can’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t love Jesus or the stories of his life. My favorite memory of my mother is that after-dinner hour when she would read to me and my brother from a thick red Bible storybook. She would give 10 cents to whichever one of us could answer the questions she asked at the end of the story. Frankie always got the money.
Sometime during my college years, I was given a book by author Ann Kiemel. When she came to Oregon State University, I went to hear Ann speak. That was the moment I decided that even though I could never be a preacher, I could tell stories about the people I met and the Jesus I love. I didn’t know exactly how that was all going to pan out but I began to prepare myself anyway. The first thing I did was switch my major from Sociology to Communications, with an emphasis on public speaking. That was the nearest thing to a preaching degree Oregon State offered.
I was thinking about all this as I studied that man there at the altar on Sunday, his one-arm raised.
I was in Spokane over the weekend attending my first ever Beth Moore event and that had me thinking about all sorts of things. Like how difficult it had been for me as a young mother all those years ago to get plugged into a women’s bible study group. I’d tried a time or two but I always left those bible studies feeling like I was the group project. Every pastor’s wife I ever met as a young woman felt the need to fix me.
I’m not saying I didn’t need fixing. I did. And I would get it, eventually, but not without some much-needed grief counseling from a trained professional. Some of the best healing took place right in my own home as I parented my own children. What I’d lost in my childhood God restored to me in my adulthood.
Beth Moore talked a little bit about her own childhood this weekend. She mentioned that she had been sexually abused from the time before she had memory until she was “yay-high” – likely in her early teens. Statistics say that one in three women has been sexually abused and one in six men has been. Moore never says who it was who abused her. She only says it wasn’t anyone in the immediate family.
There are a handful of people out there who think it odd that Beth Moore is guarded about her personal affairs, given the large following she has amassed. There were 5,500 people at the Spokane event from 19 different states. She routinely gets 10,000 hits a day to her blog.
There are others who claim that Moore’s success is because she’s pretty, perky and has big Texas hair – all things any good Southern Baptist woman ought to possess. Moore, herself, makes it clear that her ministry is geared toward women, though I did see men at the event and even spoke to one fellow who came over from Moses Lake with his wife.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Can’t she trust you at home alone?”
He laughed but I suspect he enjoyed Beth Moore as much as the woman sitting beside him.
Because here’s the thing – there are no gimmicks with Beth Moore. This is a woman who simply has the gift of preaching. Or call it teaching if that suits you better. She talks plainly, and communicates Jesus. She explains scriptures in a straightforward fashion, admitting that there are different ways of considering the matter, but here’s what she thinks and why. She’s often funny but never demeaning, which can’t be said of Joyce Meyer or many others with similar platforms.
Beth Moore is the female equivalent to Billy Graham. She offers a clear message pointing people to the Jesus who can and will, given the chance, completely transform their lives. It’s that sort of transformation that causes an ailing man to stand at the altar, one arm raised in praise, the other gripping a cane, and a face turned toward the heavens as his tears fall back to earth.
Why should it matter if that message is preached by a man or a woman?