When you’re black and growing up in the South, it is mandatory that you grow up in the church. Church on Sundays, evening service, guest churches, choir rehearsal, usher board rehearsal, Easter services, repeat Christmas plays using the same old Wise men every year, Bible Study, and after church socializing, admiring Sunday hats, designer stockings and your Sunday’s best (outfit).
Seriously, if you’re black from the South, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
That was everything I remember. At 38 years old, I can’t tell you I remember learning a single thing in the Bible or through a single sermon. I will tell you what I learned in church.
- About sex
- How to judge and be judged
- If you mention God, Hallelujah, Amen, Prayer, Jesus, and any similar religious word, people seem to pretend as if nothing else matters.
You see, as a kid, I had zero interest in church. It was always mandatory to go but I never understood why I had to be there. I never believed in science fiction or fake things, was I really supposed to believe some white man walked on water, turned water into wine, or was born to a virgin?
I have a confession: At 8 years old, I was a fraud. I completely remember discussing joining church with others my age. When we were going to do it. How we were going to do it and who would do it first. You see, black churches expect children to know what they are doing when they stand up, walk in front of the congregation and profess to live right, do right and be right. A child.
Anyway, I did what was expected. Got baptized, joined the choir, the Usher Board and whatever else they allowed kids to do where I went, it surely wasn’t much! While walking in that faith, after “giving my life to God” eventually pew conversations turned from who is coming to Bible Study to who is dating who and expected to sleep with whom. Conversations that taught me more than at home or the hallways of school did. Conversations that obviously took the place of extreme boredom and fairy tales.
I can still picture two little old ladies that would sit in the choir stand and appear to discuss everyone that walked into the church. I don’t remember them ever singing but I remember the look of judgmental disgust on their faces. I remember seeing older women always “turning their noses up” at the kids and teenagers. I remember dinner serving lines of women saying ugly things towards others, never saying them to the person they were discussing. I just remember the feeling of always being judged.
One thing I don’t remember discussing was how to use a condom cause I dang sure gave them old ladies something to talk about. And talk they did. Talk everyone did. I felt the most shame about my pregnancy and childbirth through family and members in the church. From people who preached the word, pretended to live by the word, and used the word to justify any and everything.
Every year on Mother’s Day, they would do all these recognitions for mothers. Most children, most grandchildren, oldest, mother who came the farthest, mother with red on. The silliest of the silly awards. Then the one I embarrassingly accepted year after year, “Youngest Mother.” Who in their right mind thought this was appropriate? Someone intent on embarrassing me? Someone intent on making me feel even worse for my situation? Someone who wanted me to stand up in front of all these judgmental people and continue to be judged? Apparently no one ever saw my hurt and shame.
Today social media gives us increased opportunity to be someone we’re not…or someone we want to be. You can curse on Wednesday, sleep with John and Shawn on Thursday, go clubbing on Saturday, and get up Sunday morning and pretend as if the previous days no longer matter. Then repeat the next week. As long as we ask everyone for prayers and thank God publicly every morning, all seems to be forgiven. If our prayers are supposed to be between us and “God,” is it appropriate to pray for likes?
I know, I know, when we are from a certain family or community, it is expected to be holy and righteous. I remember going off to college, trying to hold onto my roots (whatever that was) and joining the local church. I remember family and church members being so proud and accepting, almost forgiving. I also remember feeling like a fraud again.
You mean to tell me you only accept me if I am a bible toting, prayer requesting, tithes paying, white dress wearing fraud?
My truth allows me the ability to be myself without the pressure and memories of something I am not comfortable with. I choose to be without a faith, but with an understanding that I am not who I am without a higher power granting me unlimited blessings. There is something greater than anything I could do by myself. For that, I am extremely grateful that the experiences I did have, have contributed to who I am now.
Walk in your own faith but don’t judge or talk down to others because they are not on that same journey with you.