“There are no atheists in foxholes.” –Ernie Pyle
Stay with me just a moment; I am trying to work through something here.
Sunday has arrived, another Sunday I will not be attending church services. And as has always happened before, I will more than likely spend the rest of the upcoming week riddled with guilt. After a week like I had last week, I always get this strong impetus to go to church. I always get this feeling that I am failing my family, that I am doing my children a grave injustice, because I do not insist that each Sunday morning we all get up and as a family attend church services together. I always feel self conscious when someone asks me about my church home and I cannot answer them.
To understand my deeply seated sense of guilt, you must understand my background. I come from a family of ministers. My father is a minister. His brother is a minister. My mother’s brother is a minister. And I have a host of cousins who are ministers. I think I have told you that sometime before.
When I was growing up, my family spent innumerable hours in church. On Sundays, we spent the entire day in church, from early morning until late evening. Then we were there for Wednesday prayer services and Thursday choir practices and any other miscellaneous services or meetings that came up during the week.
My brothers and sisters detested spending that much time in church; however, I was the child who loved it. I loved the entire ceremony, the pageantry, the spectacle of it all. Those of you who have attended or attend services in a Southern black Baptist, CME, or AME church can testify that black folk take their church seriously. A church service is always much more than a church service; it is a show.
And when I reached adulthood, I entered into study for the ministry. However, I quietly bowed out after a year or so; I began to wonder if “my call” actually came from my heavenly Father or my earthly father, and this seemed like an occupation wherein it was of the utmost importance to be sure.
But I stayed active in the church. Along with the fellowship, there is a history there that I wanted to be a part of. Certainly, the church has longed been used as a tool of subjugation, but as with most mechanisms meant to subjugate us, we transformed them into tools of uplift. And being a part of this history strengthened me, inspired me.
However, as my knowledge increased, as my conscious grew, I began to wonder. More and more I spent less time reading the Bible and more time reading philosophy and theory. I began to concede the probable legitimacy of other religions. I began to view religion more as a utility. Once my father picked up a book I was reading—I think it was by Engels, but it may have been Heidegger—and just shook his head and told me that he hoped my faith was strong.
And then I began to disagree with the direction in which I saw the church going. Instead of moving forward, instead of dealing effectively with the issues arising from a rapidly changing world, the church seemed to be mired in religious provincialism and clinging to a defunct authoriatarianism based in patriarchy.
Additionally, with the advent of the mega-church, the church began to resemble more of a business venture and less of a place of spiritual solace. And the church began to adopt a certain conservatism that resembled the oppressive conservatism of the right.
So, I began to stay home on Sundays. But regardless, I still believe myself to be a good man. I still believe myself to be a righteous man. I am not without my foibles, but I am faithful to my wife and treat her well. I treat my children well and with patient and understanding. I attempt to treat those who I come in contact with just as I would have them treat me, regardless of how they treat me.
I am introspective, and each day I take a hard, honest look at myself as I endeavor to become a better person. And I give generously of my time and money to various causes in an effort to improve the lives of those less fortunate than myself.
But why can’t I shake this sense of guilt? Why do I continue to drawn back to church, back to organized religion? Why can I not worship in private and away from the throngs of people, many of whom are coming to see and be seen, and not to worship and transform their lives.
And why do I continue you to find myself, in times of trial and tribulation, on those days when things are not going so well for me, right back down on my knees?