This is a true story. I'm was coming out of Jewel-Osco on 87th street in Chciago, and Willie calls out to me (Willie is the local bootleg guy who sells everything from movies to shea butter). "Hey, I got what you need brother, come take a look!" Willie says.
I am not one of Willie's customers, but I did take a look just to see if anything was interesting. As I browsed through his collection, I was startled to find a copy of He Loved Me Enough To Be Late. I recognized the title and kept reading the box, and it said it was by Bishop T.D. Jakes. I was flabbergasted.
"Willie, this ain't right man," I said. "How you gonna bootleg the Bishop?!!" Willie had a sheepish grin on his face as I walked away thinking to myself, "Wow. Bishop Jakes is huge if Willie is selling his stuff..."
Before I ever heard Bishop Jakes speak or preach I was introduced to him through his writing. I was all of 17-years-old, crying to a mentor about my girl problems, and she told me to get this book called Woman Thou Art Loosed and suggested it would help me understand girls better. So, I did. As I read it, I found it deeply moving. The Bishop's words were weighted, but not laden with trite jargon. The words found their place and rested there with such care and compassion it was uncomfortable.
His next book was Can You Stand To Be Blessed?. Comparing the two works is like comparing Michael Jacksons's Thriller and Smooth Criminal. The former was such a huge commercial success that it changed the yard stick by which we measure pop music. The latter is almost forgotten, although it was a great piece of work. I think what is most telling about Can You Stand To Be Blessed was the moment in which he wrote it. Shielded from the fame and the demands on his time and family that would break lesser men, he writes with tension and vulnerability. There is a nuanced uncertainty about what is next in his life and ministry that appears in this book. It serves as a deeply personal memoir, a goodbye letter to his way of life up to that point and the small town that isolated, comforted and nurtured his mind. He reflects deeply about how being a Pastor and observing the human condition in his parishioners had changed him in profound ways. The title Can You Stand To Be Blessed? seems to be a Freudian rhetorical refrain. Seemingly he was asking himself would he be able handle whats next by posing the question to all of us.
Over the years, I have been challenged by his work ethic and amazed at his ability to reinvent himself, to see up the road and around the corner and adjust his ministry to be more far reaching and more effective. When it comes to his preaching, if he has a bad day we never know it. He is just that good. It's not the gift alone, but what makes his preaching dynamic is how it is dressed. It is adorned with a Barry White-like voice and outfitted with a nimble mind. When you watch him, what is captivating is his movements away from the lectern, the ability to be prepared and think out loud, never repeat yourself and always move your points forward. This skill is only seen publicly in the genius of a Richard Pryor and other great comedians who have no manuscript but are able to have an open stream of consciousness. To master this exercise, the person must be studied, must be of a calm mind and be sensitive to his audience and communicate but not over communicate, to say but not under-say. And no one does that better than Bishop Jakes. Some people seem amazed that Bishop Jakes is successful in film, but I never was. He has always been a master of the Old Testament narrative, commanding the descriptive, psycho-spiritual dynamics of the text which makes him a master story teller. (Check out Ishi -- The God Who Married a Tramp)
This year I was afforded an opportunity to attend a retreat that Bishop Jakes holds for young Pastors and Church Leaders. It's basically like fantasy camp for church nerds. There were plenary sessions that ran the gamut from preaching to business matters. When we entered for a few sessions there were about two or three journalists who were set up with cameras and microphones and stopped some of the attendees as they came in and asked them about some of the most controversial issues of our day. Topics included same sex marriage, immigration, drone strikes and the like.
At the the end of our session the interviews were played back on large screens for all to see, and it was a disaster. Most answers were an incoherent string of scriptures weaved together poorly. We all grimaced and laughed. After the clips ran, the Bishop said "When a journalist asks you a question, they aren't asking you what the bible says. They are asking you what you think. We don't live in church, we live in the world so it behooves you to pay attention, learn how to formulate an opinion and be brave enough to back it up." We were all quiet. We all got the message.
With the world in mind, Bishop Jakes has resurrected one of his pet projects called Mega-fest. Bishop Jakes keenly understands that Christians don't live in church, they live in the world. They also like to be entertained and don't like having to make entertainment choices that directly conflict with their religion or faith. Mega-fest becomes an oasis in the desert bringing together the finest of Christian leaders, actors, entertainers and sports figures. The previous Mega-Fests in Atlanta had an estimated economic impact of $94 million, including money visitors spent on lodging, transportation and food, according to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. The event generated $3.9 million in sales tax revenue. This year's festival in Dallas is expected to surpass those numbers greatly.
This time Mega-Fest is really special because it will host the inaugural International Faith and Family Film Festival, which is designed to encourage the growth of the faith and family film industry. Panel discussions on topics such as "Marketing within the Faith-Based Community" and "The Now and Future of Faith-Based Film and TV" will take place during the three-day festival, as will workshops for actors and screenwriters. There will also be a Screenwriters' Treatment Competition, and the winner will have their project developed by TD Jakes Enterprises.
Oh and I forgot to tell you Oprah is coming! Bishop Jakes is the only person who could call together such a convergence that a LifeClass with Oprah Winfrey is just one of the many options to attendees. See you in Dallas!