love, life, and the pursuit of liberation
religion that is.
I’m not sure how much I’ve blogged about my religious and spiritual journey here, but let’s pretend that I haven’t (I’m also too lazy to go back and check). Forewarning, this might be long. I have almost 2 hours to kill until the diapers are done drying and my girls are asleep, so there’s no stopping me now!
As a child, my family was a member of the CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal, formally Colored Methodist Episcopal), which was/is one of the Black branches of the Methodist church. For me, it meant a strong emphasis on faith and community-outreach, yet a lot of tradition and ritual at the same time. My mom was active in church off and on, and when she was “off” we’d either go to church with my aunt or granny. I remember being worried that as the oldest daughter involved in church that I would have to wear the ugly white dress and black bonnet that ushers/church mothers wore when I became of age, just like my aunt who was the eldest daughter. I don’t know if that was an official tradition but I somehow knew that was the expectation.
At church, I always felt like an outsider. I wasn’t a regular enough member to be part of the “clique,” but my family’s status in the church gave me a “name” somehow. As a matter of fact, my grandfather’s last project before he died in 2006 was to rebuild the church. Literally. There’s a hall at the church named for him and my city designated a day for him. While I felt I had a very close relationship with God (I was that dorky kid taking notes during all the sermons while the rest of the kids played tic tac toe on the weekly bulletin or snuck out to the candy store), I was so very aware of all the ways I was different. Even Sunday School and choir rehearsal were torturous to me, though my church family was very embracing and loving.
At the same time, I went to Catholic mass on any day I got to school early enough (went to Catholic school for a few years during elementary school) and would still participate in many of the traditions, though I couldn’t fully because my family wasn’t Catholic. But my mother converted to Catholicism as a child, so though she was lapsed, she insisted that we support our classmates in their sacraments, and she taught us the Hail Mary and how to light the candles (I forget what that’s called). Again, I absolutely HATED my Catholic school and how they went out of their way to make sure that I knew I couldn’t participate because I was Protestant and Black (the nerve, I know), I still found incredible peace in mass and even continued observing Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Advent for the duration of my Christianity.
Fast forward a little bit, in junior high, my family began going to a Baptist church. While it was still a Black church, it was soooo different than my CME upbringing. There wasn’t as much tradition (I hardly call having church announcements and a gazillion offerings tradition..sorry if I offend anyone. I’m talking about this particular church not all Baptist churches) and again, I felt that horrible separation from the larger community. Even still, it was at that church that I was “saved.” I’m not sure if I realized the path that I was on, but I do remember the Pastor speaking to my heart, me crying and standing up to dedicate my life to Christ. Interestingly enough, my stepfather did the same Sunday and I remember hating him soooooo much because he lied his ass off during the pre-Baptismal classes we had. Nevertheless, I took the plunge (literally.. they don’t just sprinkle you like they do in the CME church, lol) and became “born-again.”
My family got tired of that church really quickly because we soon realized that the church was too much into the prosperity movement and showing off, instead of focusing on actual Scriptural teachings. Interestingly enough, this change in church focus happened as soon as into moved into the new building.. I swear every single Black church in America has a building fund going on at some time! The next stop became a non-denominational mega church.
At the non-denom church, I really really felt a part of something. I loved that the preacher seemed to walk the walk and not just talk. Though he had a big church complete with 3 services on Sunday, he wore regular clothes, drove a pick-up church, and made no secret about the way he was living his life. He was an actual average Joe (wait, I think his name was Joe) and made it a point to make sure that ALL felt welcome. I remember he actually preached one Sunday in a ref outfit to emphasize that we were truly “come as you are.” I also loved how he would put so much of scripture into historical context and would break down the Greek words so that we understood the literal and universal meaning of the words. I also looked forward to that Sunday tradition with my aunt and cousin (at this point, I was the only one in my household attending church). Every Sunday they would pick me up, we’d go to church, then do some girl stuff after (mall, brunch, cultural event). To say my family life at the time was chaotic is an understatement, so I craved this normalcy. My love affair with that church came to an end when the pastor decided that it was his place to advise the congregation on how to vote “for the family” in an upcoming election and how he was happy that God was raining on a “certain parade” and about Sodom and Gomorrah. I lost so much respect for him because I felt that he chose to throw out his “understanding everything in context” and use his charisma to push his personal beliefs. I was too through and I stopped going to that church.
You still with me? Bless your heart if you are. I’ll try to reign this end. Try.
My last official church membership was with a very small congregation (most Sundays less than 30 people) that was comprised of a lot of defects from my CME church. Again, it was wonderful to be a part of down to earth women who were all about really studying the Bible. Again, hypocrisy reared it’s ugly head (pastor’s grandson was soooooo gay and the pastor’s daughter kept being engaged to ex-gay men, yet the church was about you can be gay but non-practicing. Plus there was the contradiction between close historical study for some parts of the Bible, but personal beliefs for others. ) and I stopped tithing and participating around the time I was a senior in college.
The end of my Christian journey came around the time I was dating (?, screwing, messing around, doing something) with a pastor’s daughter (who swore she was straight.. go figure). I sat down and decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. I did and was so disgusted at the ways that people had obviously taken things out of context and picked over it to force their own agenda. I also lost faith that what I was reading was more than a very biased (and to me, incongruous) history of a certain group of people. I simply couldn’t believe that I was reading the inerrant word of God. Nor could I align myself with a people that had such a reputation and history. Maybe that’s judgmental, but that’s the point at which I arrived.
(Speeding up the story)
For many years, I can admit now that I was a Christianity-hater. I was very intolerant of a lot of things and very snarky about the belief system as a whole. I can say that like a child, I was lashing out against a system that caused me great pain. Better yet, represented great pain for me. I still longed for connection to God and was introduced to Buddhism by a friend. Once I began studying and meditating, I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in such a long time. I loved that so many of the philosophies were ones that I already believed in, that I was encouraged to seek truth instead of being dictated what truth should be, and that it wasn’t necessary for me to be anti-anything in order to be pro-me. I felt like Buddhism confirmed the truth that already resonated in my soul. So many good things began to happen to me too as I began to embrace this love for God and my connection to all people, beings, truths. This was also around the time that I met and fell in love with A.
Where I am at now– I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss church. I miss the tradition, I miss the worship, I miss having that consistent relationship with God, I miss being a part of something. I know I can have those things without membership to an organization but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need them. I’ve told myself that lie for going on 6 (or 10?) years. The problem is that I don’t know where I belong. I still don’t believe in the authority of the Bible, though I’m not anti-Jesus. I believe that there are so many important lessons to be learned from the Bible, but I don’t take it literally. At the same time, Buddhism is the closest thing to my philosophy but I don’t quite believe in reincarnation/Nirvana.I believe in so many metaphysical philosophies as well, but at the same time I believe that there is a higher God that controls all of that.
I’m just so all over the place and not sure where I’ll end up. I just see that the common thread in all of this is the sense of wanting to belong to something, and I’m not sure how to satisfy that spiritual need.
If anyone’s made it to the end of this super long blog, thoughts? feedback?