I’ve held off discussing much about religion on this blog because I haven’t felt the need. However, recent comments have revealed people’s assumptions. Some people think I’m a Christian.
One example comes from a client. I missed her call. I think it was a Wednesday. Because she couldn’t reach me by phone, she emailed. In her note, she mentioned that I was probably busy at church (Bible study). I wasn’t at Bible study. I was at home, sitting on my couch, watching TV.
A similar assumption occurred with another client. He was explaining how he’d be in Jacksonville for some type of religious convention. He told me that I’d enjoy it. I just listened as he talked. I think my silence led him to engage in a guessing game of sorts.
“I know. I know Doc. You probably have your own church that you go to and you can’t be fooled up with mine, but I think you’d like to come. I’ll send you the information.”
I laughed and told him it sounded like a place where I could sell some books.
This is what I usually do. I listen to the person. Laugh it off and let the conversation die. Past experience has taught me that saying something like, I don’t go to church; I don’t follow organized religion; or I’m not a Christian leads to full-on conversion techniques. Christians, in particular, either (a) ask me to attend their church or (b) outline reasons why I should follow their religious lead.
In the past, I’ve explained my religious background. My mother was a Sunday school teacher. My father was over the children’s ministry, and eventually, he became a Baptist deacon. My paternal grandmother was a staunch Catholic. One of my stepmothers was Apostolic. I know how to finish the phrase, “God is good…” as well as “God of mercy…” I know in some churches, I’m supposed to hold up one finger to symbolize excusing myself out of the sanctuary. I know the difference between AME and Methodist. Jesus Can Work It Out is one of my favorite gospel songs and I was thoroughly offended when Google Chromebook sampled it for a commercial. I’m familiar with hymnals, scripture, and all other manners of church behavior. But I am not a Christian.
What I’ve tried to explain to others is that it is because I’m well versed in Christianity that I choose not to participate.
The notion that my choice is not out of ignorance of the faith seems to baffle some people. In fact, it causes downright cognitive dissonance.
One day, my dad actually said to me, “I know you at least still pray because you’re doing so well.”
He couldn’t believe that my perceived success could be due to anything, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, and some sort of private conviction.
Listen. I get it. There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world (Hackett & McClendon, 2017). Seventy percent of Americans are Christian (Religious Landscape Study). So, if you were to assume, then statistically speaking, you’d probably be right.
I guess my point is, as long as there are six other options that I could’ve chosen, the best thing to do is not to assume. While I’m at it, the most respectful act is also not to try to convert people once you learn they have other beliefs. Non-Christians are not wanderers who’ve lost their way. They actually might be thinking individuals, who’ve chosen a different path.
Here is the third way I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.
This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to clean the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.
“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”
That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.
“Can I have that orange?” he asked
I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely pleased, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.
The third week, I was battling allergies and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.
I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.
“God Bless you hun.” He said it twice.
“You too luv,” I replied.
With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.
Let me know what you think about this one. Do you think you could pack a goodie bag for the transient population in your city? Is that demographic high where you live?
When I was 16 years old, I asked my Grannie if she’d heard what the preacher said. Whatever it was had confused me because it was illogical. It made zero sense.
“Oh, Kathy,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’re not supposed to actually listen to what he says. You’re supposed to make your grocery list or think about the week, or something like that.”
And so, I learned that going to church is ritualistic. It’s a centuries old past down tradition for some, where going through the motions is sufficient. This is not a blanket statement, but I’ve noticed that this is how many operate.
Being Christ-like is least of some people’s concern.
That’s my earliest thought of how baffling religion seemed. My next memory is when my father became Deacon Gregory at Starlight Baptist Church, off 113th Street in Chicago. I was in my mid-20s. He was proud. His wife was proud. His stepdaughters were proud.
When my family and I visited, parishioners beamed with more pride.
“Your dad is such a great man! He’s such a good deacon! You must be proud!”
I smiled and shielded my thoughts. I haven’t seen this man in two years, and if I wasn’t here now, then no telling how many more years would pass. I let them hold on to their beloved deacon. He seemed to be doing more good for the church than with me.
Were his actions Christ-like? Perhaps with them, but not with me.
My wonderment with religion continued into my 30s where I found my own sense of purpose and meaning for life. It shifted into spirituality once I recognized the universality of all religions. There are certain principles inherent in each one.
But I couldn’t let go of how people just seemed to go through church motions.
For example, when I suggested to a friend that she stop judging another person, she responded as if I was crazy. She replied as if not judging was some nutso idea that I’d developed from the crevices of my brain.
“Do you mean stop judging in your head or do you mean stop judging out loud, like don’t say the words?” she asked.
I wondered if she’d ever asked her preacher to clarify what he meant when he said don’t judge.
Instead I replied, “I mean at all. What right do you have to judge someone else’s choices or decisions?”
She went on to describe her understanding of my suggestion. She’d stopped giving her opinion about her sister’s life because she realized it was her sister’s life and there was nothing she could do about it.
Similarly, this thought crept back into my head when people began to judge Kanye West so harshly after his alleged breakdown. I wrote about this already, so I won’t re-hash. However, that post wasn’t about a so-called crazy rapper. It was about how once again self-proclaimed Christians are sometimes the first to be least compassionate. They are the first to call someone an asshole. They are the first to condemn someone to dark places.
They are the first to become defensive when I bring it to their attention.
Like the time when I asked this FB question: What’s the point of going to church if you treat someone like crap?
My question, as always was intended to promote thought and conversation. But I could tell that some people seemed offended. Wounded.
Answers ranged from “To grow stronger in Christ” to “We all fall short.”
It confused me. I thought if you were growing stronger in Christ then you might be doing things that are Christ-like. Christ cared for the poor. Christ hung out with prostitutes. Christ washed people’s feet and spread love.
Well, according to the Bible anyway.
Over 25 years later, I realize some people must have gotten the same advice my Grannie gave me. Maybe they’re all making their grocery lists.
Darlene, Darlene, Darlene…where do I begin with this story? First, I was happy to include this woman’s narrative because she was a preacher’s wife and I know that sometimes, we still place people like preachers and their families on pedestals. The reality is that preachers and their wives are people just like you and I. Part of my purpose was to show this through their experience.
Also, Darlene is another woman with whom I had a lengthy conversation. She told me about learning how to be a woman from Kain’s mother, fooling around with Kain’s brother, and ultimately marrying Kain. Similar to Miss Sharlene, I wasn’t sure if I needed to include all of these details, but ultimately I did to show her background and how she came to marry someone like Kain.
Concept: I didn’t know much about the Pentecostal church before writing this story, so Google was my best friend as I researched. The introduction where I describe Mother Williams showing Darlene how to be a woman in this type of church is the result. What I found out is Darlene’s experience is common. There is a lot of focus on women being mindful of how they represent themselves because, you know, men can’t control themselves if they see legs and cleavage. There is a lot of focus on women maintaining sexual purity and there are bible verses to support reasons why.
Quite honestly, I was in awe of these teachings. But I included them to show the reader how a woman could construct an idea about herself and what type of wife she’s supposed to be, no matter what.
The other aspect of this story I felt was important was Darlene’s gullibility. She admitted after going through this ordeal that she had no idea about what was cheap and what wasn’t. I fictionalized her examples for the book, but the way Kain dated her was similar. He had no money, but he passed it off as “frugal.” I’m not saying a man has to take you to an expensive restaurant; however, Kain’s financial traits transferred to the marriage and Darlene ended up assuming much of the costs.
The last part of this story that I wanted to drive home was how much we rely on other people to tell us what to do, even in a marriage. Darlene just wanted to be a faithful wife, who submitted to her husband, no matter what. Mother Williams encouraged her to do that. Her apostle friend encouraged her to continue by wearing a mask of happiness. Darlene honestly didn’t know what to do, unless someone gave her steps.
My commentary for this one is brief because I’m running out of words for my own count and also because the message is the same. Women have to learn to not only hear their inner voice, but also listen to it. Can you ask for advice from someone? Sure. But if your husband brings you an STD, works, but asks you for money every month, has sex with you four times a year, and doesn’t speak to you, unless it’s to save face in front of others, then you might want to consider that a sign.
It’s never too late to order The Unhappy Wife and start reading because these blog posts will be up for a while. Next month I’ll provide a few insights about Crystal and how she chose to deal with her drug-addicted husband.
This week’s Other People’s Quote comes from a blogger who is unapologetically Christian. Her name is Chanel Walker-Bailey and her blog is called Real Bold Truth. I typically shy away from in-your-face religious types; however, Chanel’s words come with a lot of testimony and authentic real-life experiences. Check out her blog and her videos! I’m sure you’ll walk away feeling a little more motivated.
What I know for sure is that we are all connected.
What you are going through, I guarantee you someone else has already gone through it, or they are currently figuring it out.
I learned this out around 2008 when my husband was laid off from his job. Under normal circumstances an unexpected layoff wouldn’t have mattered. But these were not normal circumstances. Instead, I was finishing up coursework for a PhD and about to write and defend a prospectus for my research.
But I couldn’t.
Or so I thought. Being who I am, I sought a job with the county with which I used to teach. I asked a principal to hire me. She did. I became a School Instructional Coach.
Here, at this job is where I met someone who would be as influential to me as I was to her. Her name was Tarra Jones. At that time, the county was invested in Reading First and she was the elementary school’s Reading Coach.
Our desks faced one another. Literally. We sat in a huge room full of elementary leveled books and our desks kissed. If I was siting at my desk and she at hers, we faced each other, eye to eye.
I thought it was interesting that I would be roomies with a preacher’s wife because I don’t believe in organized religion. My family was Methodist. As a teenager, I generally went to church. My mom was the Sunday school teacher and my dad was the youth coordinator, so to speak, but somewhere in between that and my facing this preacher’s wife, I stopped believing in organized religion.
Tarra Jones was an interesting co-worker. She wanted to act. She was a gifted singer. And she resonated song. If she wasn’t playing some song from her 1990’s boom box housed at the feet of her desk, then she was humming, singing or full-on belting out a tune from something.
For someone who works in quiet, this was disruptive, but more so, unexpected. Here was this grown woman singing and dancing and full of life. Here was a woman who was full of her purpose, sitting right in front of me. Our “office” was her stage. If I said I was sad, then she would sing a song about being sad. If it was Christmas, then the boom box and her voice resounded Christmas songs. She was clearly meant to sing.
I remember asking her, “If you believe so much in faith, then why don’t you step out on faith and become a singer? An actress?”
One day, Tarra did just that. She decided to audition for Dreamgirls. Of course, she got it. After hearing her prepare for the audition and rehearse for the musical, there was little doubt she would be a perfect “Effie” in the show. The musical was astounding. Her performance, I believe, is what sent it and her, over the top.
Fast forward to today, and as I write this she is preparing to act in Cotton Club Cabaret. In between, she’s played “Big Pearl” in The Buddy Holly Show, “Sofia” in The Color Purple, the “angel” in Black Nativity, and a host of other things that have showcased her passion and talent.
But this is what I want to leave you with. A year and a half later, I had to ask myself what I’d asked her. “If this is what you want to do, then why are you here?”
A year and a half later, I left that district-coaching job. A year and a half later, I conducted research, analyzed research and wrote research in order to complete my PhD. How my family and I made it is another blog entry. That we made it is a testament of how I stepped out on faith.
Tarra Jones always tells this story as if it is an impetus to her becoming who she is. However, the way I remember it was also a gentle nudge for me to become who I am. It is here that I learned that we are all connected; all we have to do is be present, listen and take heed.