Talking about God, in the general and perhaps abstract, can be fighting words among Black folks.
In my world growing up, there were a few things about my relatives and inner circle that were a given. One, we were the descendants of “well-to-do country folk” and, as such, were expected to carry ourselves at all times with a certain sense of dignity and proper home training. Two, stupidity was not to be tolerated. Choose intelligence or choose to cease breathing. Three, blood is thicker than water. Good friends are wonderful, but family comes first. And four, there are indeed certainties in life: death, taxes, Black pride, and church on Sunday. EVERY Sunday.
Now, the church thing has become a solid source of irony as I have grown into adulthood because nothing about my family’s practice of faith was very consistent or uniform. My mother’s side always considered Nineteenth Street Baptist Church as our base, but all but one of my aunties and my mother changed membership to Mt. Zion UMC when the Minister of Music left to take a new position. My mother and father didn’t attend the same church either. My father decided to go AME as a young adult, and served as a Minister of Music at Galbraith and a featured soloist at Metropolitan. My paternal grandmother was strict Episcopalian, and my maternal grandfather attended a Congregational church (which was likely more Unitarian in doctrine). But Christian, all. I even attended a Catholic school from 2nd to 6th grade. And until junior high, I don’t know that I ever met anyone who didn’t have Jesus sitting in the big chair and eating the big piece of chicken in their belief system.
I share all of that to say that while Christianity was always my assumed faith, I never really fully adopted the unshakeable belief that so many of my friends and family seemed to have. I had too many questions about what I still see as vast inconsistencies in the text and practice. When I was old enough to openly question and explore religion with some gusto, I found out that I’m more of a hybrid embracer. I’m firmly in the camp of “there is a Creator,” but otherwise I lean toward some amalgamation of Buddhist-Ifá-Judaism these days. Along the lines of: work for good in the here and now instead of eternal reward, a multifaceted and multinamed God presence seems both logical and right, and Jesus was a cool revolutionary prophet but I’m skeptical about the Saviour piece-type of reverence and awareness. My ancestors might scoff, but I really dig that approach to spirituality right now. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
On my last full day in Ghana, I got a chance to sit down with three religious devotees and discuss their calling into faith leadership and how they employ their gifts in a developing African nation. Fascinating stuff, truly. While one minister had been training and practicing since childhood, the female minister had a life of public service and government before establishing her church. And the Brooklyn Jew turned Ghanaian Rabbi had an equally compelling story.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, through compelling curiosity, more of us ventured beyond the knowns in our spiritual life and tried to destroy the American reality of 11am on Sunday being the most segregated time of the week? I think we’re a long way from that level of progressive thinking, but I hope that by viewing the video below and the bonus video I’ll share with this post, you’ll at least become more curious about how others worship and teach civics and history along with their prayers.
And perhaps, especially among Black folks, we can one day accept that “church” doesn’t have to define the pedigree or the character of the man or woman who chooses otherwise.