Growing up there were good things about my church. I went and saw all of the people I grew up with in my neighborhood, the food between first and second services was off the hook, and when I got baptized at about twelve, I wasn’t alone. There were about seven or eight of us who took the plunge, and even though I felt I did a good thing, I was twelve and happy that I would also finally get to eat the snacks that came out in the beautiful silver trays. I didn’t understand the depth of it all, but I loved singing in the choir, playing tambourine when the spirit really got going, and listening to the testimonials.
I also understood that there were people there more interested in gossiping than fellowship. That the telephone lines would be live right after with talk about what someone was wearing, who had the nerve to do this or that, or how dare this person or that person blah blah blah. I was so blessed to be raised by women who didn’t have time for that kind of division; who associated with women; who also didn’t stand for it. And I thought if all of this stuff goes on, our phone is pretty quiet. There was good reason for that quiet. And as I grew, I endured slight from within a couple of churches because of my nail polish and things like that and how it didn’t seem like I fit in or anyone was concerned if I did.
When I went to college I intentionally left my spiritual focus on the curb where my belongings were. God had no place in my new found freedom. Plus the hypocrisy I had seen and been affected by had colored my picture in totally. I also was very angry with Him because of the way my grandmother, a deeply spiritual woman, endured the cancer that would take her beautiful spirit from me. I can still hear what they called stovepipe breathing as I read her a last bedtime story, the poem called The Tree by Jones Very. Her faith stayed constant. But my heart died with her that cold March day. I wanted no part of anything dealing with God. As far as I was concerned, he let me down big time.
College was not how I had envisioned it to be. I was an emotional mess and the over achieving person that could do it all in high school crumbled and stumbled through depression and crippling sadness. Dark nights of the soul were a constant company and I could find no good reason to continue with anything.
But I kept hearing the words and wisdom of my grandmother, and would go home and immerse myself in my nannie’s (my other grandmother) wisdom and talk with my mom and the thread was the same. And God was present in their works and not just their words. I watched them be of service to hurting people, I started letting their teachings sink in and become a part of me. The walk was an everyday one. It wasn’t about talking at people that were not like you and judging them and viewing them as projects to be completed. It wasn’t about only associating with Xerox Christians who agreed with everything you said and shunning the broken, the tarnished past, the addicted, and the unloved.
I began to walk in this kind of love and have entertained people at my table that most Christians wouldn’t open their doors to. And have been blessed by people others are quick to write off.
To really walk in the word is ridiculously tough. It doesn’t mean you are a doormat, but it means that you have to search your heart and really die to self. It isn’t about labels or titles or accolades because the work you do in spirit is often a thankless job. But the glory isn’t for you. It is to shine a light without some agenda. It is to treat everyone with the kind of love you would want for yourself–no matter what. It’s not about being perfect or having an “us versus them” vision. It is taking the pain that you are thrown and not throwing it back tenfold.
Do I struggle with this? Absolutely. Sometimes I want to give as good as I get and lash out and hurt others who don’t care if they hurt me. I want to say words that will sting and throw punches so accurate they hit their mark. But why? What would it solve but to feed the egos of others thirsty for a juicy slice of gossip? To hurt unintended others? To created hatred and division and an inhospitable climate where no one can breathe deeply and exhale peace? To undermine the person I truly want to be.
So I carry on. I belong to no building of worship even though I visit from time to time. My focus isn’t on saving souls, but on making people feel heard and accepted like others did for me. That to me is what God is about. Walking in a way that the broken don’t feel like all is lost even though someone else didn’t care if they lived or died. Dismissing people. That’s not how I roll. And if you think that somehow I’m going to change that step, you’re in for a whole heap of disappointment. My God is love. He qualifies the called, forgives, and loves beyond all earthly understanding. As it has been said, but for the grace of God go I.
I may have left the church, but the church never left me. And it is the only reason I am on this Earth to write these words. If it was up to an Earthly version of love, with its limits and conditions, and how it can turn on and off with slight, my today wouldn’t have even been possible.
Be good to each other and to yourselves. You never know who is one defeat away from cashing out and going home for good.
Discussion Question: What were some of your childhood experiences with religion?