by Lawrence Christopher
Dedicated to the Erica James of the world. Continue your vigilance of being
spiritually virtuous, to help us men find our way.
"Hi. You have reached the office of Erica James. I'm unavailable to take your call at this time. Please leave a message and I will return the call as soon as possible. Thank you and have a blessed day."
"This is Earl. I was wondering if you were available for lunch. Give me a call if you are. Thanks."
"Have a blessed day," I said to myself. The closing remarks from Erica's voicemail echoed in my head. They made me uncomfortable for some reason and that bothered me. I had been brought up with religion as a part of my life. In fact, I was an altar boy, president of the youth group, an usher, in the choir in the church. Once I became of age to make my own decisions, I stopped going to church religiously. Instead I became a commercial churchgoer. On the religious holidays and to attend concerts for their entertainment value. Nonetheless, I was no stranger to God and his people. Why did Erica's remarks unnerve me so?
Instead of viewing it as a problem that I had, my criticism turned on her. I felt it was the fact that she had it on her work voicemail box and that was what made it uncomfortable for me. In the workplace was the wrong place for such a closing statement. So it was not me after all. It was Erica. There, I made myself feel better. With that resolved, I returned to my work and waited for Erica to return my call.
"Sure, what time do you want to go?"
"Eleven thirty is cool. We can beat the crowd."
"Is it okay if my friend Jaime comes along?"
I lied. I wanted to be alone with Erica. Plus, Jaime would be a total distraction being the total dominator that she is. Jaime is the finest woman on the job. Many men have made a play for her, but she dates a professional basketball player, though she continues to flaunt and flirt with other men. Knowing that she is desirable makes her all the more flirtatious and intimidating to most of the women around the office. I am surprised by the friendship between Erica and Jaime.
It is not like most cases where a fine looking sister would buddy with a dog or fat woman to make herself look even better or to keep the competition down. Erica is an attractive woman on her own merit. That is why I am attracted to her. She is not drop dead gorgeous, but her appeal is more than skin deep. There is something about the way she carries herself that has drawn me to her. Erica has an attractive wholesome personality, a calming spirit, self-assuredness less the pretension. I suppose that is why she does not feel the threat most women would feel being in Jaime's company.
Erica may not mind Jaime's company, but I did. I had planned to ask Erica to lunch weeks ago. I bought a Brooks Brother suit, a pair of Allen Edmond shoes and Karl Marx tie to make myself an even more attractive package to Erica. Before I put on a stitch of clothing, I sprayed myself with the Eternity cologne. I smelled good, looked good and I was prepared to run down the smoothest lines to woo Miss Erica James. The opportunity to woo would never present itself and as for my appearance, Erica did not seem to notice my effort. Jaime complimented me on my tie and cologne.
The waiter brought our food and we began to eat. At least Jaime and I did. As I looked over the sandwich that was about to enter my mouth, I saw Erica with her head bowed, eyes closed and her hands placed on either side of the salad before her. My eyes darted over at Jaime and she hunched her shoulders and gave me a quirky smile. I felt self-conscious about the first bite of my sandwich. For a second time Erica made me feel uncomfortable. Though the presence of Jaime and I did not seem to phase Erica one bit. Once she completed her prayer she went about eating.
As I predicted, Jaime and her tales of Mr. Professional Basketball boyfriend dominated the conversation at lunch. I looked across the table at Erica and etched the vision in my mind for later recall. She could be a twin sister of hip-hop singer Lauren Hill. Other than plum lipstick on her full lips, she wore no makeup on her flawlessly, smooth earth skin tone. Her eyes and teeth beamed whitely. Erica's hair was permed and hung just above her shoulders. Like her hair, Erica's nails were her own at a medium length. About her neck, was a pewter tone necklace with pewter ringlet as a charm. >From being close up in the elevator I knew she did not wear perfume. No other jewelry adorns her. The naturalness about Erica's beauty attracted me more and more as it revealed itself.
Erica dressed sensibly in corporate business attire. No part of her anatomy was exposed or made to poke itself in any beholder's eyes. This left it up to my imagination to wonder as to what kind of body she had. Oddly enough though, not knowing made it less important than I thought it would. What kind of body Erica had was not as important or that much of a determining factor because I had already gotten to like her enough on other merits. If she had a striptease dancer body underneath her business suit, that would simply be a plus.
The only blemish on the lunch came when the waiter asked if we wanted separate checks. Jaime answered no, when Erica answered yes. Jaime assumed that since I invited Erica to lunch, I should pay and since Erica invited her, that I should pay for hers as well. Jamie stood on this female line of thinking until I relinquished and paid the bill. My objection to paying for Jaime's meal was her thinking that if a person asks someone to lunch that that means the person asking is to pay. If this unwritten rule were always being followed, many people would be going to lunch by themselves. It bothered me to a noticeable silence on the walk back to work. Erica came by my office.
"I enjoyed lunch. Are you okay?"
"I felt like you were upset at Jaime."
"I am, sort of. It's her selfish thinking. Or maybe it is her. She's so spoiled and thinks all men should pay her way through life and . . ."
Without realizing it, I was off on a tangent and Jaime was my target. I was more upset at how she had ruined my plans for lunch alone with Erica. Erica allows me to vent until I get it out of my system. Calmingly, Erica says to me "Jaime is often misunderstood. She is a product and victim of how she looks. Most people judge her unfairly because of that. If you get to know her as a person, you would see that. She's a child of God and we should love her no matter what her short comings may be."
I had no rebuttal. Instead, I was curious as to why Erica would be in defense of Jaime who needed none. Most women would have agreed with me about Jaime's use of her beauty and feminine wiles to her advantage. Not Erica. I looked at her and became that much more attracted to her. There was something I wanted from her as I observed her medium body frame standing in my doorway. I wanted to know what she knew that gave her the calming spirit that illuminated from her.
We scheduled another lunch. This time, it is just Erica and I. Sitting in a booth at the Shark Bar Restaurant with our food order before us, we prepare to eat. She has a Cajun Turkey Burger on a baked sesame seed roll, because she doesn't eat red meat. I have an order of St. Louis Back Yard Barbecued Ribs, collard greens with smoked turkey, and macaroni and cheese. Erica once again takes her prayer posture of bowed head; closed eyes and hands facing palm up on the table. Something compelled me to reach across the table and join hands with her. I looked around first, to see if anyone was watching, then realized how ridiculous I was being. I closed my eyes and gently gripped Erica's hands. She did not look up. Her only response was to say grace and I acknowledged with an "amen."
"Erica, I've been admiring your necklace. That isn't silver is it?"
"No. It's pewter."
"Does the circle mean something?"
"It doesn't mean anything more than a reminder to me that I'm not perfect, as the circle is. No one is. No where in God's creation will you find a perfect circle. God made the shape. Man tried perfecting it. You can not perfect what God has made."
"Okay. Erica, I have to admit, I find your conviction intriguing."
"If that's a compliment, thank you."
"To be honest, I meant it more as a comment to say I would like to know more. I would like to get to know you better."
An uneasy silence fell across the table. Only momentarily did there seem to be a dimming in Erica's beaming assuredness. She took a deep breath before she spoke. That warned me that I was not going to like what was about to be said. I prepared myself to hear anything from I have a boyfriend to I only date women. Not . . .
"I am not making any assumptions Earl. I trust that your intentions may be sincere, but I keep my business and personal life separate. Don't misunderstand, I enjoy your company. But with Jesus as the head of my life, I cultivate my friendships usually through church, or centered around Christ. That way I know they will last."
Now it was my turn to be quiet. Erica's words left me numb other than the stirring affect it had on my heart and soul. It was a rejection I could not possibly challenge. My stand by rebuttal of "what does he have that I can't give you" would not be of any consequence. But I knew that I want and need someone like Erica in my life.
"And I have no problem with that. I'm willing to go to church if that's what it takes."
"You should go to church to get closer to Christ, not me."
"I didn't mean it that way. I'm saying I understand the church thing is important to have in one's life. I see you as a blessing in disguise to help make my relationship with God better."
I'm a blessing. There is no disguise about me."
"You are a different type of woman."
"I don't see myself as different."
"Well then, may I attend church with you Sunday?"
"Sure. I have no objection to bringing someone to Christ."
"What time shall I pick you up?"
"How about we meet there?"
Sunday morning I woke with a light heart and rejuvenated spirit. I forewent the routine of dressing to impress Erica. It finally became obvious to me that it did not matter how I looked to her. On the way to the church I listened to gospel music on the radio that lifted my spirits even higher. I felt renewed and looking forward to going to church as I did when I was a youth. I had cherished memories of those happier, simpler times and they filled my soul. Nothing could dampen my spirit, not even the two-mile traffic jam of church members' trek to early morning service. Some of the members parked a mile and a half away and walked to the rest of the way.
Erica was waiting in the church corridor as we had arranged. With her was Jaime, a towering man in height and another man whose back was to me as I approached. I made my way to them through the multitude of churchgoers and to those surrounding the celebrity. Erica spotted me.
"You made it. Did you have trouble finding the church?"
"Are you kidding. You have no choice but to come this way once you get within five miles of this place."
The gentleman whose back was to me was none other than Erica's father.
"Daddy this is Earl Pettaway. Earl, this is my father, Deacon Eric James."
"Mr. Pettaway, what a pleasant surprise. Erica said she invited a guest this morning. Welcome to Holistic Salvation. Do you have a church home?"
"We would love to have you here. Oh, I have to go. Hope to see you after service. Maybe you can join us for dinner."
"That would be nice."
The Holistic Salvation Church is not just a church it is a community. The membership is said to be 15,000 or stronger. It spans 20-acres with a 10,000-square foot complex. The sanctuary is an auditorium with two huge movie screens to televise the sermon to the massive congregation. Several cameramen walk around, with an overhead camera swooping across the room at the end of a mechanical arm device. It is an awesome sight.
The church service began with a half-hour of praise. One of the choir's songs "Be Encouraged" brought Erica to tears. I came to her rescue with a handkerchief from my pocket. The praise singing went on and the entire congregation was on their feet. Once the singing stopped, the offering plate came around. Erica pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check for $200. More evidence of her commitment and faith. I gave twenty dollars, knowing it was not close to the ten percent of my earnings. I had spent more than ten percent on clothing to impress Erica.
When Rev. Isaac M. Lowdown stepped to the podium, he asked the congregation to turn to a neighbor and say "I love you and God loves you too." I met Erica's eyes and repeated the pastor's words and she did the same. Erica punctuated her words with a pleasant smile. We took our seats on the cushioned pews.
"Good morning Church. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us all rejoice and praise His Holy name. Let us pray. Heavenly Father we gather here today to worship you, to give praise to you, to show our love for you Lord. Father, we thank you for waking us this morning and bringing us safely here to be in your service. Lord, we need you in our lives more today than yesterday, and we will need you more tomorrow than today. Please Lord; be with us each and every day, as you are our personal savior. Thank you Lord. Prepare each mind and heart here today, and within the sound of my voice Lord, to receive your words. Let the Church say, Amen.
"Today I want to preach about, Senseless Love. Senseless Love. By a show of hands, how many of you think you love someone? I see. There were some slow raising hands out there. The point I'm trying to get across to you is that you should not think that you love someone, but rather know that you love someone.
"Before I talk to you about Senseless Love, I want to talk to you about love by the senses. That's, love, by, the senses. When you tell someone that you love him or her, you often follow it up with what it is that you love about them. When you do that, you point out things that you used your physical senses to appreciate about that person.
"I had a buddy who used to tell me that every time he went to the mall, he fell in love. He sees a woman that makes him fall in love. He says to me, 'you should have seen her, she had a big this and this was poked out to here and man she was so fine.' That is love by the physical sense of sight.
"The Main Ingredients had a song out called 'What You See Is What You Get.' I-I-I-I-I-'m here to tell you Chur'cha that what looks good to ya, may not be good for ya. And in today's world of fake nails and fake tails, tracks and weaves, it puts me in mind of the late Flip Wilson dressed up like Geraldine. When he said 'what you see is what you get', those words were funny then'ah, but they are a warning now'ah. I have seen some men who look better dressed like women'ah, then women themselves'ah. Ask Mr. Eddie Murphy? Heh. Heh. Heh!
"I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i'm here to tell you Chur'cha, that love by the sense of sight'ah is lust called love. In the book of Ezekiel, there is talk of a woman of Babylon. Ezekiel, twenty-three, seventeen, says 'and the Babylonians came to her in the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her mind was alienated from them.' That's what you get with Cracker Jacks Chur'cha. The package may be sweet'ah, but the prize inside is small'ah.
"Let me tell ya about love by the sense of hearing'ah. People love to hear the words I love you. 'I just called to say, I love you.' 'I love you, for so many reasons.' 'Let neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.' In other words'ah, action speaks louder than words'ah. I-I-I-I-I-I-I don't believe you heard me Chur'cha. I said actions, speaks louder than words'ah.
"Feeling is another physical sense that we love by'ah. With this sense, we create the love ourselves'ah through artificial means'ah. We use alcohol, drugs and sex to create a sensation that we say is love or that we lov'ah. HELLO! People love to get drunk'ah. It clouds the mind and blurs your vision'ah. Someone you looked at when you were sober'ah and said 'never would I touch that'ah.' Now that you're drunk'ah, that same person starts to look good to you'ah. The next morning you don't remember what you did or said the night before'ah. But I bet you the words 'I love you' were uttered in the throws of passion'ah or what you thought was 'making lov'ah.' How many 'love childs' where conceived under these conditions'ah? But you love the feeling'ah because you repeat the process every chance you get'ah.
"Then there is the high that you get from drugs and the sensation you get from having sex'ah. Now, this is the most harmful love by the physical senses'ah, because of the degradation'ah and perversion'ah that is associated with obtaining this lov'ah. People will do anything and have done most things imaginable to fulfill this lov'ah. And truth be told'ah, they are chasing something that they can not feel again'ah. They say the first time you get high'ah, is the best time and every time after that you can not get that same high again'ah. The lie is to yourself'ah, that you think you can regain that feeling and you keep trying'ah. The same goes for the love of sex'ah. You try to get that first time good feeling'ah, but it just won't come and it doesn't matter how many times you do'ah. Hello Chur'cha!
"I-I-I-I-I-I'm here to tell you Chur'cha that God knows the extremes you will go to fulfill the love by the physical sense of feeling'ah. In the book of James'ah, chapter four, verse two and three: 'Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lust.' Praise His wisdom'ah.
"There is a fourth physical sense that we love by'ah . . . and that is the sense of smell'ah. I know there are plenty of you out there who smell mighty good this morning'ah. Did you know there are creatures that are lead by their noses'ah? You can call them folks dogs if you want to'ah. I didn't say it'ah. But a male dog can smell a female dog in heat from a mile away'ah.
"Now what makes perfume permeate from the body'ah? It is the heat from the body that mixes the perfume with your chemistry'ah and makes it more effectiv'ah. I'm not saying women have to be in heat in order to smell good'ah and to attract a man'ah. It's just the way the perfume was designed to work'ah.
"The billions of dollars the perfume industry spends developing the right aroma to entice'ah and seduce'ah someone to come hither to get a whiff'ah. It's not just about how good you smell'ah. Soap and water can take care of body odor'ah. It is about temptation'ah. Perfume makers want their products to affect a certain part of a person's libido'ah, which causes them to do things they wouldn't normally do'ah.
"Calvin Klein wants you to have an 'Obsession' over the opposite sex for an Eternity'ah. Chanel wants to 'Allure' you'ah. Estee Lauder wants you to smell 'Beautiful,' with 'Pleasure'ah.' Elizabeth Taylor wants you to share in her 'Passion' and buy 'White Diamonds.' Christian Dior wants to 'Poison' you'ah.
"The other day a guy walked up to me selling perfumed oil. This is no a lie Chur'cha. He had two oil fragrances by the names of 'Butt Naked' and 'Sex on the Beach'ah.' Now Chur'cha, how many of you want to smell someone's butt, naked or like they just had sex on a beach'ah? Don't answer that'ah?
"The new thing now is getting back to the way nature smells'ah. Women buy these body splashes, shower gels and lotions that smell like fruits and spices'ah. Scents like, strawberry and cream'ah, sweet vanilla, sensual peaches and pears'ah. Now a man can bring that old line out of the closet and say to a woman'ah, 'you smell good enough to eat'ah.'
"Which takes me to the physical sense of love by tast'ah . . . now hold on Chur'cha. There are some folks who have an oral fixation'ah. You have heard that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach'ah. So a woman who can cook it up in the kitchen, may find a man who will love her'ah. These days with women working as much as men'ah. Women are looking for a man who can cook for them too'ah. But that's not enough'ah. I heard a guy say that he wants a woman who can cook in the kitchen'ah, and in the bedroom too'ah. Now, I don't know what people have a taste for these days'ah, especially if you are cooking it in the bedroom. But I-I-I-I-I-I-I-'m here to tell you Chur'cha, don't everything taste like chicken'ah."
A crescendo of laughter and hollering filled the auditorium. It was a good fifteen minutes before the congregation regained a reverent composure. Erica shook her head, I'm sure in the same disbelief as many of the congregation. At the same time, the unmistakable smile indicated she was amused. There were a few smatterings of chuckles when the organist began to lowly play "Thank You Lord". Then the reverend began speaking softly, barely above a whisper.
"The love by the physical senses is based on what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. This love is based on conditions that need to be met. But Church, I'm here to tell you that there is a greater love, an unconditional love, and a senseless love, God's love. God will not put dependencies and falseness before you to love. That is not the way God loves. There is truth in God's love and he wants the same from you. God has showed the greatest act of love to us. 'For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'
"My God loves you Church. Turn to Deuteronomy seven verses six through eleven. Say amen when you are there? Read. 'For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord the God He is God, the faithful God which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; and repayeth then that hate him to their face; to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face. Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments, and the statues, and the judgments, which I command thee this day, to do them.'
"Here, God has pledged His everlasting love to us. He has stated it for everyone to know that He loves us. God is love. A God based love is agape love. Some of us can not say that we love God or that we love someone else . . . because we don't know God's love. We may not even love ourselves. Or maybe there was never love in your homes when you were a child. Maybe that is why you don't know love.
"My father, God rest his soul, never told me that he loved me. He was a strong and proud black man who took care of his family. To him, supporting his family by providing food and clothing and by keeping a roof over our heads was his love."
The reverend asked those in the congregation to stand, if they never heard their father's say the words "I love you." Imagine my astonishment when I felt Erica slowly come to a stance. Her father is a deacon in the church. I gave her my hand to hold, but I kept my seat. Slowly, others in the congregation came to their feet. People were weeping and Erica was one of them. The voice of Reverend I. M. Lowdown began to drown out amongst the weeping and the low singing of the choir. The last thing I heard him say was how "maybe we didn't know how to love one another, because we had not known love as a child." Those words made me think back in my childhood and the relationship with my father.
I strained my mind and eyes so strongly in trying to remember a time that my father said he loved me, that the squinting caused my eyes to water. No, I was not crying. Only so called men, who are trying to get in touch with their sensitive side, cry, let alone in front of a woman. My argument did not help me fight back the flood of tears that were forcing their way through.
I reached for my handkerchief, realizing that it was already in use, just as it was handed to me. I looked up to find Erica gazing at me with red, watery eyes. She was still every bit as beautiful as she ever had been to me. I accepted the handkerchief from Erica's hand and stood along side of her, remaining a hold of her hand. The reverend asked the rest of the congregation to stand and turn to their neighbor and repeat after him.
I pulled Erica to me to hold her close as we hugged. She did not resist. I did not fully let her go. I pulled only my torso back, leaving my arms wrapped around Erica's waist. Our eyes met. I knew I loved this woman. It was because of Erica; I was in this church, though as she said I should have been there to get closer to God. That, I knew would surely come. The love in the church is overwhelming. It was a spiritual love shared by all. I knew now, how Erica walked, talked and lived with the assuredness that she was in God's favor and his love. The people of her church family reinforced it. They loved her and I did too. I opened my mouth to speak but the reverend's words came out of my mouth.
"God loves you. Say to them, I love you. Now let us pray.
"Lord we stand before you this morning in need of your healing power. There are some hearts and souls that need mending this morning Lord. To be touched by your loving hand. All Mighty God, come by here and fill those empty hearts with your overflowing love dear Lord. Touch each and every one here and within the sound of my voice. Let them know your unconditional love, your senseless love, agape love . . . so they will know you and love you and be able to go out in the world and spread your Holy Name dear Lord and have them to do your will. We know that you love us Lord and we love you. Thank you Jesus for being in our lives yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let every mouth say, Amen.
"As you go out there Church, have a blessed day."