Jesus Versus Religion…?
Earlier this morning I saw this video in my Facebook feed…and rolled my eyes and kept scrolling before logging out. I was miserable and annoyed with feeling unwell and just wasn’t in the mood for another one of those videos…but just now I logged back in and saw it again in my Facebook feed so I decided to click and take a listen…
I’ve had a very…tumultuous…relationship with God. I grew up attending church regularly with my Grandmother (surprise), sang in the junior choir, attended Sunday School. As I made my way through high school I attended church less but I did enjoy when I went. When I moved to the U.S. I went to a church-run boarding school so attending services was required but I didn’t mind. Besides, the chapel was beautiful and I felt safe there. Then my Grandmother died and I just began to resent church, God, and faith. Didn’t make sense to me that a faithful, kind, church-going woman who was a good Christian would have to suffer so much and then die. It still doesn’t make sense to me but I am less angry. Please don’t give me a platitude about how she fought the good fight or something like that. Thanks.
So profound an impact did her death and my feelings toward God thereafter have on me that my college essay was titled “From God and Back” when I was trying to make my way back to God, so to speak. I know my grades were critical to my college acceptance rate but I’m pretty sure that my essay played a significant role as well. But then in college I got busy with finding myself (whatever that means) repping Jamaica, running this organization and that group and had little time for church. Plus I’d become angry again, disenchanted, especially since I had yet to fully process Grandma’s death. I remember one Easter I was determined to attend church so I did — an American Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Baptist hybrid I believe — that I walked out of before the service even began. I was offended by the preacher having the young children approach the altar and then parade around the church to “show off their best.” Say what? I grew up in Methodist church and attended Methodist and Episcopalian high schools…I’m accustomed to sedate! I can get down with Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, and the effects of the Holy Ghost but this was too much. To this day my stomach churns when I think about it. The behaviour of that preacher and the behaviour that he encouraged in children was just vulgar. So, no church during college. Once Daddy tried to encourage me to go to church one Sunday (I don’t know why, he doesn’t attend church) and we had a bit of an argument because I said no. I mean, I was prepared to walk out and find elsewhere to live if he dared to force me and I think he knew it…I was not having it.
Shortly before I moved from New York I went through a really bad breakup and — surprise — found that prayer was the single most helpful thing I could do for myself. I wasn’t ready to go to church and testify or be baptized but it was comforting to talk to God. Each time I felt lighter. I was perhaps influenced by my older sister who, at the time, was committing her life to God. I attended church with her a few times the (Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn) and though I didn’t mind the message the atmosphere of the place turned me off. The sight of lines to enter a church (well, this isn’t so bad maybe) and people being turned away because there’s no space, a coffee shop, (I believe) an ATM, ushers who rigidly direct your seating, and a boom mic descending from the rafters to capture the sermon were disconcerting. To put it mildly. Was this a place of worship or a business or a show? Seemed like the latter two to me, and it’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated with other “mega churches.” And then there was my nephew’s Christening — a big deal for most (I think) Jamaican households — when he was shuffled up there with parent and Godparents and every other child being Christened and some random prayer was said. Not even likkle water sprinkle pon di bwoy head. Yeah it’s the 21st century and all but ahhm! Too weird for me…perhaps this is where I expected a line so that each child and his/her family could be prayed over and blessed. Too much to ask?
I felt wary and somehow as if I had to protect myself from (some of) this contemporary form of fellowship and from how the Message is being delivered. Just didn’t and doesn’t sit right in my spirit. I don’t want to be around people who claim to have faith and to love yet who condemn others because they do not have the same or any faith. I don’t want a church that requires a woman to cover up as if she is a disease…but I also don’t want a church where the women look so elaborately made up that I wonder if it’s church or a fashion show, nor do I want to attend a church with a boom mic and in which everything seems too carefully choreographed. Where the minister’s wife is the First Lady and not simply, the minister’s wife. For what? Why the roles and status and hierarchy and the show? I feel like these are the very places where Jesus would walk into and overturn everything and drive people out, so disgusted He would be (Matthew 21: 12-13).
Altogether this makes me wary of religion, Christianity of the Protestant kind to be exact because that’s my history (I have issues with the Catholic Church too but that’s for another time). I’ve flirted with Buddhism (which I admire), atheism, and agnosticism. But I’m still stuck on Jesus…don’t think I’d call myself a Christian but I’m working on it…sometimes…when I’m not wary or so angry at suffering and wondering how and why…
Lately, however, I find myself searching for the fellowship of a church…but I am still wary. Haven’t found the “right” church yet. I’m also picky. I did attend church for New Year’s Eve though. A party was just not of interest to me and I didn’t feel like staying home with the family so decided on church. It was good, I’m glad I went. It felt good to be there. I also have very good friends who are Christians who inspire me to keep looking…I’d like to have the faith, grace, and peace that they (at least seem to) have. Never have I felt less than in their presence. They’re strong in their faith but don’t hit me over the head with it. The way they live their lives, for me, is the strongest testimony of how God can and should work in your life.
I struggle too with the messengers in many of these contemporary churches. For example, I like Joyce Meyer but sometimes when the camera pans to the huge auditorium full of people and when the message comes on at the end for how one can purchase her book or a collection of CDs, I cringe and sigh. It unsettles me. I look at other mega church and popular preachers like Joel Osteen and my spirit just doan tek to dem. No siree! Maybe I am being too judgmental but I think I should feel as if I can trust the people who are supposed to help guide my spiritual growth. I don’t feel that. That’s why, I think, I can identify with this video…I’m still absorbing it but I understand why he could feel the need to draw a line between religion and Jesus. Yes, Jesus is a central figure in a religion but don’t miss the point…I think he means religion (at least) to be the interpretation that churches and church leaders have of the teachings of the Bible. The structures, the preening, the manipulation, the misguided (I think) influence and attention. All of it just doesn’t seem to jive with what’s actually in there.
Interested to hear your thoughts on this video or your own faith, beliefs…believers and non-believers welcome…