He asked me.
I’m lying in bed pretty much sleep it’s Sunday morning.
“Tab you going to church?”
“No why?” I mumble back half sleep not moving my head from my pillow to answer.
“You just need to come sometime.”
My father never directly asks me to go to church. I know he wants me to. I went on Father’s Day and to a service at the convention for him. Because I knew it would make it him happy and hell it was a cheap gift.
Even as teenager he never asked me to go to church. I went when I wanted to and I mostly used school theatre productions as an excuse not to go. When I moved back to from college I tried to attend at least once a month. Again for them. My mom has always been more vocal about her desire to see me in church. Perhaps speaking the things he really wants to say.
Hearing him telling me I need to come woke me completely up. I doubt he realizes but this is my last Sunday in West Palm Beach this summer. I mostly do what my parents want. Never been downright disobedient and they rarely tell me things to do. While most people won’t see this as me being forced but due to my current financial situation and pretty much being dependent on them- I doubt I really have much choice. More reason to finish dissertation pronto.
I have no clue why they want me to go but let’s make this clear. Going to church won’t me a Christian, it won’t make me straight and it won’t stop me from being their very different daughter. This blog has been sitting in my heart/head for a minute- still not sure I have all the words to explain/ articulate my current journey but I’m going to try. Bear with me.
Even as a child I was very critical of the religious tradition I was born into. I would take notes during my father’s sermon. Not to remember the key points but to later tell him all the concepts I did not buy. Predestination was one such concepts. I often wondered how I could believe that Christianity was the only way, because if I was born to Muslim parents I would believe Islam was the only way. So much of one’s belief depends on the belief of their parents. In my opinion the fact that my parents were Christians was never a good enough reason for me to be a Christian. I always said when I was older I wanted to explore other spiritual practices.
In college I went to church practically every Sunday. My friend and I called ourselves “church hoppers” due to ridiculous number of churches we visited. Close to the end of my time in Tallahassee I eventually found one I liked. The reason I went church had little to do with any type of religious need. But more of a need to feel close to my family at home, cultural reasons and structure. Tallahassee and FSU was the type of place where all the Blacks went to church. It was the cool thing to do. I knew that although I was far away from home- this was something that my family was also doing. I liked the routine of it. Church, nap, Sunday dinner. It was comforting in a lot of ways just not spiritually fulfilling.
While in Philly for my Master’s I attended church regularly as well. Philly in a lot of ways was a transitional period for me. I started questioning how Christianity fitted in my life. Part of this was triggered by meeting so many Blacks who weren’t Christians for the first time. Being exposed to traditional African Religions (even though that was a little scary, right Atira?). Also dealing with issues of sexuality in relation to my own personal practice of Christianity all led me to really evaluate how Christianity worked for me.
Moving to Arizona prompted me to fully pull away from Christianity. I was over disappointing church experiences, the messages felt irrelevant in my life. Frankly I was tired of judgmental hate speak thinly disguised as sermons. I think the more you know about Christianity and your connection to African/Black history, the harder it is to be a Christian and to ignore the colonialist, patriarchal and racist legacy of the religion. It was even harder for me to face how much I had internalized those very things. Envisioning God Black has always been so much easier to me than envisioning God as a woman-let alone a Black women. I remember how offended I was the first time I had ever heard someone refer to God as a woman. That speaks directly to internalize sexism that I inherited from the way Christianity was practiced around me.
I used to say I was a bad Christian because I never had the desire to “save” people, Never thought people needed saving. Then I would say I was a fan of Jesus not his followers. Which became I believe but I do not want to be identified as a Christian. To finally verbalizing and understanding that while Christianity maybe the only way for some people it is not the only way for me. I am not a fan of the arrogance and the exclusivity of Christianity. Of its need to dominate and change people. Of its insistence of righteousness.
But I can go on and on about what I do not believe or my issues with Christianity but it might be more beneficial for me to tell you what I do believe.
I don’t believe there is one way or one true religion. For the most they are all the same. Some work better for others. I like the concept of one God, many spirits and ancestor worship. I woke up at 4am this morning, Somehow I started reading my favorite spiritual book The Color Purple. The gospel according to Shug Avery has always made sense to me in a way that Christianity didn’t.
Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.
It? I ast.
Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It.
But what do it look like? I ast.
Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It.
Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.
God don’t think it dirty? I ast.Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.
You saying God vain? I ast
Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.
What it do when it pissed off? I ast.
Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.
Yeah? I say.
Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.
You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.
Yes, Celie, she say. Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?
Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift.Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.
Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any little scrub of a bush in my yard, Mr. ____’s evil sort of shrink. But not altogether. Still, it is like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall.
Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind, water, a big rock.
But this hard work, let me tell you. He been there so long, he don’t want to budge. He threaten lightening, floods and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it. (Walker 168-69)
I could quote The Color Purple at length all day. In many ways it has been the influential book I have ever read. As far as religion, I am not interested in being a part of any religion. I am more concern with my own spiritual growth and my connection to the divine inside of me. I appreciate and respect the cultural tradition of Black Christianity- it is one of the reasons I love Gospel music so much. I even enjoy sermons but I find myself engaging with them from a performance or intellectual level not a spiritual one. I am extremely grateful for Black liberation theology helping salvage my connection to Jesus. I am huge fun of the way Liberation Theology depicts Jesus as a crusader for the poor and the oppressed.. This is why on most Sundays I tune into Trinity United Church of Christ service online. I treat the Bible like any other religious text I take what is good and helpful to me and disregard the rest.
This journey of spirituality and belief is far from over. Every day is a new discovery and page. I try to keep myself away from toxic environments or things that I don’t think help me grow spiritually.
I think I am over a lot of the resentment, hurt and pain that I experience through church and because of the mindset Christianity often instills. But some baggage is still there. I try to remember the good and the positive. The potential that the institution of the Black church holds- This is an aspect on why my academic focus is what it is. For those who believe in Christianity or that’s the path they choose I want it to be a liberating and freeing experience for them. Where they do not have to deny parts of themselves in order to belong. I guess I will do a blog post eventually explaining what my dissertation project is about and how it relates to this goal. In so many ways I am a product of the Black church, but I do not have to be a part of it when spiritually and religiously it does not work for me,
This blog is not as coherent as I would like. I am working through this journey. I just wanted to share a part of my evolution away from Christianity and towards the divinity within. Bring on the holy water and people trying to save my poor lost soul.
I am obedient.
I went to church today.
Didn’t didn’t change a thang. For so long I wished that Christianity made sense for me. I am a child- I want to make my parents proud. But there is a point when the price of their pride became too expensive.
I choose freedom over pride.
With the utmost respect and love for whatever spiritual/religious path you are on…
(Sorry for the length and lack of cute pictures)