From what was forgotten of my ancestors’ spiritual path, I walked into a church at age 14 and made it my refuge. I was warned that it was a White man’s religion. I was told that biblical stories were myths and that it would be a cold day in hell before Jesus actually cracked through the sky to call us out of our misery here on earth. That might have been true, but for all the Afrikan critics, Native American folk stories, Nation of Islam gurus and grand Black Nationalist philosophers – their words were just that – WORDS. The passion with which they dispensed truth seemed to have been placed behind pushing their own business/political agendas. And none of it physically reached my doorstep.
In fact, within the small town I called home, there were no movements toward enlightenment, no active members of intellectually elite black societies, no caring Afrikan centered people around to transform their perspectives into revolutionary work. Rather, when I dealt with ‘conscious’ others, I sensed a haughty and condescending outlook on life. They came off angry, preferring to hate on the ‘weak -minded’ people used to prove their arguments for change. Not even the truths they held so dearly over the rest of the ‘ignorant’ world were competition for the hope, love of community, sense of safety, and basis for growth provided by the small Second Baptist Church I attended each Sunday.
Say what you will about local Churches. But there, I was nurtured. There, I sang. There, I was accepted. There, I breathed. There, I exercised faith in a God who knew my heart’s desire for spiritual growth and inner peace. There, I learned about a Christ who had acknowledged his divinity in humanity and tried desperately to teach us to do the same. There, I learned how as slaves we ‘made it over’, how we ‘marched’ for freedom. There I learned consistency, discipline and an order for living that worked. A basic belief in a higher power along with a practical love and concern for others guided me into young adulthood. From such, I knew that when I became of age, it was my duty to grab the baton and move happily toward recapitulating the same. So, I buckled down and, as Hattie McDaniel’s willed when receiving her Oscar, became a credit to my ‘race’.
Sadly, as I began to develop my own spiritual identity, I slowly opened my eyes to a devastating view of Christian fellowship. I noted a distinct difference between who/what people say they worship and how they chose to express it. In the church, there were venerable members with names dating back generations. There were many who were absolutely confident that following the group norm secured their blessings in life and a house in heaven. Then there were few like me, who saw Jesus as a renegade for all things spiritual and Right.
Though reality was harsh, I had to grow up and face it. Behind the guise of morality, ethics, and a beloved community existed an actuality of human frailty that didn’t always transform by the Blood of Christ. False altruism, elitism, materialism, confusion, narcissistic leaders, passive aggressive acts, warped theology, covetousness, deeply rooted sexism and sexual repression ruined relationships. All of that wouldn’t have been so bad, if it were exclusive to human trial and error. But, folks were aware of the nastiness that guided their intentions and behaviors and refused to submit to basic Christian tenets in cases that required love and understanding. The fall back on personal accountability? Nobody’s perfect, that’s why Jesus died.
My views began to change. Yet, compassion for God’s People compelled me to hang in there for like-minded others. Time and again, though, the church proved that under Righteous circumstances – to hate, steal, kill, and destroy in the name of the Lord was necessary. My desire to break down the components of the faith and the fallibility of the Bible met up against a numb resistance. I tried harder…but it was too late.
I had advanced from an emotionally spent adolescent into a self-respecting adult lady, told that she needed to be silent, defined, shaped and influenced by qualified men. I couldn’t figure out how to make that work for me without ending up angry and frustrated. If the Bible encouraged me to seek God and work out my own salvation, the church was sure to keep me in line with benchmarks that lacked balance and integrity. I felt torn between becoming the Spiritual Woman I am designed to be or doing what fit a non-effective standard and remain a girl. It’s worth it for me to say that I did not enter into conflict with the Creator of the Universe or the message of Christ Jesus. But, for the issues I had with the church…with dogma and the stifling bondage that came with it, my crisis of faith in religious community had officially begun. For that, I came out from among them (2 Corinthians 6:17).
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