One of the interesting things I’ve found since the release of One Among Men, is the almost universal regard of the 6’8” muscle-bound African-American dude-from-the-hood character nick-named Preacher. Many reviews state how they loved Chris and Samantha, the main characters … but they really loved Preacher. My sister, after having read the manuscript some years ago, actually stopped a man on the street, who looked like Preacher, to tell him about the character. She loved him that much.
Which is really funny, because I created him in response to issues I’d had with her.
Let me tell you about the evolution of this character.
Back when I was a resident director in an all-male dorm, I went through the long and arduous process of sifting through applicants for the next year’s resident assistant staff. At Resident Life, this entailed applications, several interviews, assessments during activities, observations of the applicants in the dorms, and meetings with my boss and my colleagues. Though each applied to work in specific buildings, the other resident directors of the community, and the community director, were part of the process in case we thought certain staff would be better placed in different buildings. You see each building had a “flavor” and would need a different sort of oversight. Out of the three buildings I ran, one was your garden-variety “party” dorm (the one I lived in), one was the Honors dorm (complete with study room), and the last was THE party dorm which boasted a group of guys who streaked (that means without clothing) through the community on a regular basis. I had been told this was a long-standing “tradition” that had been tolerated for decades. The last two buildings (run by my colleagues) included a co-ed dorm and an all-female dorm. The population of each of those dorms matched that of the total of my three—500 residents.
One applicant for the next year included a very thickly built African-American guy who wore an expression on his face that “meant business” in such a way that he sort of intimidated me. I have no idea what his upbringing was, so I am unaware of whether or not he was actually from the hood. I added that little piece for reasons I’ll explain below.
I knew, from the moment I met this guy, I wanted him as an RA in my biggest party dorm. In fact, he already lived there, and yet it was obvious he was anything BUT a partier. He wanted that dorm as well.
My boss had other ideas. She tended to like kiss-ups and this guy didn’t pucker. Eventually, after much argument on my part, she relented.
Unfortunately, due to a number of things that occurred over that summer, I changed jobs and never had the opportunity to work with him. But I did hear he single-handedly ended the decades-long streaking tradition in his building which I’m sure did not garner favor with his fellow residents. Though my faith at the time was a vague and nebulous shadow of what it is today, I knew the moment I heard that why I’d felt such a strong push to hire him. The Holy Spirit was working in me, even when I didn’t ask Him to. A truly empty-vessel moment—my favorite kind.
This RA was the template from whom Preacher was built.
So what role did my sister play in Preacher’s character? You see, up until a few years ago, my sister and I did not share the same idea of faith. And even though she’d eventually become a Christian, she did not tell me about it, because she thought her faith was different than mine. I guess she didn’t realize I believed in being saved through Grace. Her misunderstanding was not because I’d thumped her on the head with the Bible telling her she was a bad girl. It stemmed mostly from my attempts to live righteously myself. If I tried to tell her anything about it, her ears would close to my preaching.
Yes, I hate sin and if you ask me what I think of it, I will tell you! That doesn’t mean I judge others for falling to temptation. I understand how easy that is because I am weak to it myself. It’s why I need a Savior!
I began writing the character about the time my sister became a Christian. Preacher was cathartic for me because we shared a similar experience—being judged by others who assume we judge them, without stopping to understand our motives. Why did I make Preacher from the hood? Because I wanted him to see the intense effects of sin, and know its destructive power on the people he’s loved. I wanted it to make him so hurt and so angry toward sin that he abhorred it as I do. No, I didn’t come from the hood. But some suburbs share many characteristics. I knew the drug-pushers on my street, and one of my jobs boasted an in-house dealer. I’ve done counseling in drug-riddled communities and saw its destructive forces as well as that of the other choices being made by its residents. My family members and I have been to the funerals.
I hate sin! Preacher and I share that. I will not apologize for hating something that hurts the people I love. Not to mention what my own sin does to me!
That does not mean I judge those who commit it. I’d be spending too much time in the mirror if I did. I am also keenly aware that many in this world do not know the healing power of Christ or understand the wisdom of His Father. I pray one day they will, and hope they will not close their ears forever.
So why do readers love Preacher so much? I think because there is a little bit of Preacher in many of us who are judged for our faith, and yet he holds a conviction we all wish we had. Some misjudge him because of his intensity, but when they take the time to get to know him, they see his love. A bold kind of Love.
However, Preacher is only one part of the Body of Christ. Samantha is another. I don’t think Sam’s work would have been as impactful had she not had Preacher near. Nor do I believe Preacher could have done so much without her. One is not better than the other, only parts of the whole. Just as God made us to be.