Redefining My Relationship With Religion

I have been very vocal about my disappointment and craggy relationship with religion and the concept of church over the past few years.  My generation is one of the first to take organized religion and church off of a pedestal and examine the structure and concept against what it has always stood for.    Many of us are struggling to reconcile the idealism that we grew up believing and the realization discovered from the critical analysis of an institution that has done so much damage to so many people.  This struggle has caused many within my generation to detach from religion, church, or any type of organized thinking that may be oppressive or controlling.  This generation refuses to simply accept the church for all of its good without discussing all of the bad.

Although I felt like I had found my dream church, I decided that I was not ready to be apart of that congregation because I needed to redefine my relationship with religion, or I would eventually be let down again.  So I stopped attending church and started working on my relationship with God.  I have always had a strong relationship with God and I learned to pray very early on in life.  I pray often, I pray hard, and I pray for myself, my family and many others.  I have read the Bible from front to back and have a good handle of the well used verses that preachers use to engage his/her parishioners with on a Sunday morning.  Despite all of this, I could not understand why I struggled with the things that were being yelled from the pulpit and the things that God was laying on my heart.  This is where my relationship needed more definition.

I have discussed this struggle with a few friends and received many different reactions and commentary.  I have a few friends who are just like me and would rather stay away because church is “not what it used to be.”  I have a few friends who are still into church and are able to separate those expectations from their relationship with that church.  Then there are the friends who go for the good and leave the bad right where it needs to be, with the person who brought that mess in.  I tried to decide if I was okay with being away from church forever and raising my son as a spiritualist or become more like one of the last two examples of friends I discussed.  This is what I have been contemplating gently over the past few months and strongly over the past few weeks.

I do not know how to become apart of something, yet be detached enough to not allow any mess within the church to bother me.  I do not know how to appreciate the good things of a church and leave the bad with the person that brought it to the table.  But my lesson was God saying that He wanted me to be myself and myself only.  If my desire is to be emotionally involved with a church, then that should be how I engage and involve myself in that ministry. But before he allowed my heart to desire being in fellowship in that environment, I had more redefinition of my relationship with religion and my relationship to go.

Growing up in a very religious household with my grandparents, my life revolved around church.  Everything we did and everywhere we went centered around what was going on at church.  All of my close friends were in church and we did everything together.  Church was our life.  Religion filled our ears and heads with rules to abide by and consequences that would follow if any of these rules were broken. Most of the consequences ended in going to hell, simply put.  So we did not pierce our ears, celebrate pagan holidays, wear pants to church, not wear stockings when wearing a dress, cut our hair, sit on the front row with our legs uncovered or any of the other rules that dominated our sect of Pentecostalism.  Now that I am free from the bondage of expectation, I realize that these words were a way to create normalcy but the issue was the attitude that came against anyone who violated these rules.

I look back at how my grandfather operated and I do not feel as if he was preaching condemnation but simply setting a standard.  Although I was young, I would listen to the sermons and try to comprehend what was being said.  I helped him with his sermons after he lost his sight and even heard one recently and yearned for his wisdom.  But many of the things that went on in that church while my grandfather pastored that church and even after he got sick and later passed, I learned of as an adult and that is what broke my spirit.  I was so angry that my eyes began to see many of the other terrible things that were going on in churches around the country.

I began to ask questions about other preachers in the pulpit like, “How can a man preach in the pulpit when he cheated on his wife?” or “How can a woman be condemned for having a baby out-of-wedlock but not a man?” or “What is so wrong about wearing earrings when people spend hundreds on gaudy suits and hats” or “How in the world is everyone going to hell if we all sin and fall short of the glory, yet only certain sinners are definitely going to hell?”  These questions plus so many more had me torn because I saw the church and the leaders within the church as ones who lived by the word of God.  I saw the church as a safe place and not one in which people were raped or molested.  I saw the church as a place that built people up, not tore them down for every mistake that they may have made.  I saw the church as a Supreme Being and not one created by man.  That is where I was getting it wrong. 

God revealed to me that the Church is just a body of believers who are trying to hear my voice and follow my word.  The Church is a place to worship and lay your burdens at the altar but also a place to learn from your mistakes.  The Church is a place where you replenish your soul through the word, fellowship, and service.  The Church is greater than anything one man could destroy alone by his acts, words, or sin.  Within these revelations I began to see for myself that I allowed others to make me believe that the church was equal to God.  That I wrongly believed that the Church was the only way to get to God even though I knew I knew him for myself and had a strong relationship with God outside of church.

I know that if something is for you, it is for you and you alone, but if you are not prepared to receive it or use it for the right purposes, that individualized blessing will pass you and be given to someone else.  Missed opportunities.  And NOW for me going to church is simply an opportunity to affirm what God has already spoken to me.  It is not the only opportunity, but one that is organized and built around this convoluted concept of religion.  The purity of my relationship does not depend on the purity of the leadership of a church.  But when I feel that I am not being fed, God’s word is not being affirmed, or I am too distracted by the darkness of a church leadership then that is not the place for me to worship.

Church is simply an opportunity.  If you do not seize the opportunity to fellowship, it does not mean that you do not know God, that you are any less of a Christian (insert any religion), or that you are missing out on what God has for you.  What is for you, is for you and God will get it to you through a pastor, a friend, an article, a song or by any means necessary.  That is how He works.  I have chosen to not be apart of any structure that does not build me up or support my current relationship with God.  I have chosen to take opportunities to affirm what God has already placed on my mind and heart.  I have chosen to be myself and when I can no longer be myself in that ministry, to search for another place of worship.

I know that God has a calling on my life.  I do not think it is to stand in a pulpit and preach a word but I know that it is to spread His word.  I understand that no matter how far I run from religion or church that I cannot run from God.  I believe that this generation will get back to the relationship and stray from the religion.  I want my son to experience the love and support of a church community that I have received over the years.  I promise to protect him from the evil within and to answer the questions that stir up some sort of doubt in his mind about what has been said to him from a religious leader or teacher.  I vow to approach this church thing differently so that no man can disappoint me and push me away from something I love.  I love to fellowship.  I love to worship.  I love to praise.  I am a church lady (as my friend often reminds me) and I can be that person without being caught up in who is delivering the word and more invested in what is being delivered through the word.

I am going to continue redefining my relationship with religion until I settle in a place where I am on a solid rock.  This is literally the beginning of a series of posts about my own struggles with my faith and reconciliation with what I have been taught and what I have learned or believe is truth.  I know many people won’t understand this post or agree and I can accept that, but for those who know that there has to be a change in the way we connect with those in this generation that seek God then I welcome your comments and opinions.

I will never stop walking this walk.  Who helps guide my walk may change but where I am going will not.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

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The Day My Faith Wavered

While I was in school there was always a lot going on personally, financially and spiritually.  I went through a period where I was completely broken.  My spirit was torn to shreds.  I felt that because I paid my tithes, I went to church every Sunday and sometimes during the week, I volunteered that I should be blessed.  It was a very dark time.  I was in a very dark place.  I felt that God did not love me because so much bad was happening to me and I could not serve a God who did not care for me like the word said He did.  Had He not punished me enough by being born to parents who weren’t there for me growing up, or allowing me to live with a father who was unstable in every aspect or by making me poor and have to struggle through school.  He could not possibly think that I needed to endure more to learn MORE lessons.

 I felt that I had learned enough already.  I had endured enough pain.  I wanted my story to change and for it to change at that moment.  So, one day during the this dark era I gave up on God.  Although I grew up in a home full of abuse and was isolated from my family for months or even years at a time, I had never given up on God, but right then I couldn’t deal and I decided  that I was done.  I had enough and I couldn’t take any of it anymore.  So for a few weeks I began to tell myself that God wasn’t real.  Things went from bad to worse.  So, I continued telling myself that God wasn’t real.  He couldn’t be real.  If He was real then He wouldn’t do this to me.  I started to throw myself a pity party and lean onto my own understanding.  I cried a lot.  I didn’t pray.  I didn’t process my pain or anger, I just let it well up inside and hoped that it would all go away.

Then one day, Greater Mt. Calvary was having a service and Pastor Marvin Winans was preaching.  It was June 20th, 2006 (I looked up the sermon on their website).  The sermon was titled, Let My Son Go.  I did not intend to go but the Holy Spirit drew me in that night.  I remember sitting there stoic with no expectation but just present.  Everything he said that night spoke to my situation, to my heart, to my spirit.  There was a demonic spirit on me that had to be called out and removed.  I realized that I had not given up on God but I had given up on myself.  And if I wanted to get out of this Hell I was going to have to be the one to change that.  That one word literally saved my life.  I am not sure how far deep I would have gone but I am glad that I did not find out.

Whatever religion you believe in or state of enlightenment you live in, you have to believe in yourself, take charge of your life and never give up.  I had to give up to learn that I CAN NEVER GIVE UP.  We are all going through something even on our happiest days.  Embrace this physical season change and make a spiritual change to be better, become greater and inspire others.  My charge on this blog is to share my truth.  The one I live. But I want you to also live in your truth and share your truth with other.  Be you. Do you. Tell your story. On your own terms.

Talk About Sex: Be Open, Honest and Transparent

When all of my girlfriends were losing their virginity in middle school and high school, I knew I was not ready.  Besides the ultimate fear of God that my father had put in my heart, I also had already been schooled by my mom on the reality of sex.  My “mom” is really my stepmom and my Dad’s ex-wife but none of that matters.  She is one of my angels.  She saved me from ever having to experiment with sex and drugs and always had an open door policy about everything, which made being a teenager a little bit easier for me.  I come from stats that would lead some to believe that I would never make something of myself because the odds were stacked against me and were constantly being reinforced by new obstacles that seemed insurmountable.  I knew that I was starting off ten steps behind my peers, so I tried to do follow the “rules” just to ensure that I didn’t get off track.

A lot of girls started to bloom around the 5th and 6th grade.  I was still awkward, had just started getting perms and was flat chested.  I felt like I was the ugly duckling in the room all of the time.  I used to always talk to my mom about these things and she would always say the right words to ease my anxiety for the moment.  When she started to see me blooming, she brought up the conversation of sex.  I am not sure where or how it started but I just remember her being very honest, open and transparent.  It was her words that I alway carried around with me when I would hear my high school friends talking about their sexual experiences.  I would always say, “My mom said it wasn’t all that.”  Then they would agree and the subject would move on to other hot high school gossip.

Her words empowered me to not feel as if I was missing out on something.  Religion or fear wasn’t going to help me to be patient and cherish my virginity but her real life “testimony” helped to keep me grounded and focused on the things I needed to do to succeed.  Even when she moved back to Connecticut and I remained in Texas, her words were reinforced by someone who I call my big brother.  He did not know that she had already planted the seed but he pushed outside of his comfort zone and had a similar talk with me about waiting as long as I could, not just because he did not want me to get pregnant but because he did not want me to endure the emotional trauma of being “hit and quit.”  He was honest to me about how guys really were at that age and where their minds were at and would remain for a long time.  His wife would check up with me even after I went off to college and have open and frank conversations about her own experience.

The best thing about all of these conversations was the amount of transparency and the lack of judgment.  I never heard my mother cry as hard as she did when I told her I lost my virginity.  I felt so bad but I promised her that I would tell her when it happened.  After she collected her emotions, our conversation went right back to a level of transparency that I needed after losing something that I had thought I was going to hold on to forever.  She asked me what  I thought.  Then said I told you so.  She continued to talk and the conversation shifted.  She then empowered me with education about being safe and cautious and I never felt guilty or shamed about being honest.

She was one of the first people that I called when I found out I was pregnant.  Her response was very her, “You are grown.  You are able to take care of yourself.  You will be fine.”  Despite her amazing ability to be sensitive and non-judgmental, I did not always have the most sensitive spirit when it came to others sexual choices and lifestyles.  I grew up in a very strict and religious family where you did right or God was going to bring down the hammer.  I went to church faithfully and constantly felt condemned for sins known and unknown.  My lack of perfection did not stop me from passing judgment and being crass about others choices.  You live, you learn and you do better.

Through all of this I have learned so many things.  Sex is an important conversation to have with your son, daughter, siblings or cousins.  The more you share, the less likely they will take their bodies for granted and wait until they are mentally ready to make a decision that is not due to peer pressure or expectations.  I am for waiting until you get married but more importantly I am for educating and empowering our youth with the knowledge they need to be sexually responsible.  More importantly I learned to not be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good or just plain mean.

Be open. Be honest. Be transparent. Live in your truth. Share your truth. Be you. Tell your story. On your own terms.