Sunday, October 11, 2009

Right Back Down on My Knees (Dealing with My Own Personal Crisis in Faith)

“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?

14 comments:

msladydeborah said...

Max,

I can totally relate to this post.

I am from a family of ministers also. I am going to be at home this Sunday a.m. even though the church I attend is less than a five minute walk from where I live.

I think that there are times in our lives when the mission of faith is to get that precious understanding that we are all advised to obtain in the Word. Sometimes I sincerely believe that it is better to be still and know what God says to us directly about ourselves and our lives, than it is to listen to a sermon.

I also believe that it is wise to examine and question the ways of any organized religion. When my grandfather was alive he thought the the role that a woman best suited in the church was either to marry a pastor and be the first lady or to become active in the various "ladies" groups. I have worked on the pulpit and done as God has lead me to do. Even when it has been in direct conflict with the beliefs that many of my family members have as believers.

When you're raised up in a faith based family, going to church is what is done on Sunday. I use to feel guilty too. When I didn't go to church I would spend a lot of time on Sunday asking for forgiveness. Then one day I realized that if I really felt that I was doing the wrong thing by not attending service, the only way not to feel like that was to get up and go. I also learned over the years that some of my most profound moments of spiritual growth came when I was at home, sitting quietly and allowing myself to communicate and commune with the Holy Spirit.

Regina - The Music Lover! said...

Good post. I can empathize and understand your position. I was raised in the church and my mother is a church Elder, ordained minister. she'll call me Saturday night and ask me if I'm going to church in the morning and 8 times out of 10 the answer is no. But I have no guilt anymore because I finally realized that as a Christian WE are the church, not the building. I have a relationship with my Lord & Savior and it has nothing to do with and is not contingent on my attendance in a church building. Most "religion" is about pomp and circumstance and familiarity, and ritual. I on the other hand have a relationship that I value. I still pray, read my word and get my praise on, I just don't need to be in a building surrounded by suits, big hats and hypocrites to do it!
Peace & Love!

Jax said...

I can really relate. I also grew up going to church, but now I am pretty much burned out on Christianity & religion. I have for the most part become an agnostic.

I am really turned off by mega churches, TBN, the religious right, and so many Black preachers who dress and style like pimps.

ProfGeo said...

Max, I think if you can reconcile this internal conflict with your Back Down South post of last Sunday, you'll be on to something.

Part of the South that "travels well" as part of Black culture is the old-style church service which I experienced growing up in the Midwest. The sense of "should" still runs deep even out West where we are scarcer, and I don't necessarily see someone every week who will ask if I'm going to church on Sunday.

Although as an adult I can resist any local minister if I run into one on Saturday, it is much harder to say no to the equally religious woman with him who asks if she will see me in church the next day. It may be a guy thing. It's the minister's business to ask, and I can say no to a business proposition. The woman is trying to save my soul and that's harder to say no to.

SjP said...

It has been much longer than I really want to admit since I've been to church on a Sunday morning. There are certainly times when I miss worshiping with others - but, that hasn't seemed to be enough to make me go. One thing, however, that I learned a long time ago is that there is a great difference between faith and religion. Faith comes from God while religion is man-made. And we all know what happens when man gets his hands on anything...

uglyblackjohn said...

Other religions ARE valid.
But not for you.
You are only responsible for the religion you've chosen.

Faith isn't so much about believing what any minister (or person) says or does - but it comes from doing what you know is best under any conditions.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

I can really relate to this, too. My father was a pastor, and then I married a pastor. We were in the ministry for 10 years, and then a couple years ago he took a job outside the church. Suddenly we found ourselves not even wanting to go anymore. We are still very sporadic in our attendance.

I think, like the other comments you've gotten, that all of us have to come to terms with our relationship with God outside of religion. He is so much bigger than church, and I think true Christianity is so difference than what the religious right has twisted it to be. I am striving to get back in touch with what Jesus was really living out, and I think it looks very different than what I am seeing in the church.

Charles J said...

Max,

I understand your feelings of guilt and honestly I think that you're be convicted to be apart of a church setting again and it's only natural and there is no reason to beat yourself up. I join with you on the fact that the church has been used as a tool for oppression BUT the Christian church HAS ALWAYS BEEN USED AS A TOOL FOR OPPRESSION. White people used the Bible and said Blacks, descendants of Ham, were cursed and were to be enslaved due to the misinterpretation of the word. Men have oppressed women for years mis-quoting Paul stating that women should be quiet in the church and til this day some denominations will not allow women preachers.

On the flip side the church with all of it's man made mishaps still is a sanctuary for you to fellowship with your God and learn more about His word in an open setting with people who are similar to you. I honestly applaud when Christians take sabaticals from the church to do some self-reflection and time to grow in their relationship with Christ, not an allegiance to an religion.This growth happens by reading the Word for yourself and praying for understanding. Even Jesus spent 40 days in the wildnerness praying and fasting so why shouldn't his followers.

My suggestion is don't stay too long out of the church. It cracks me up when I hear Christians say I don't need chruch etc etc. because doctors commune with doctors, lawyers commune with lawyers, why shouldn't Christians commune with other Christians who are similar to themselves.

My suggestion to you Max is find a church that lines up with your personal beliefs. There are so many denominations out there and there are a few churches with a social justice stand point. There one minister here in Baltimore that has a great since of social justice that truly impresses me his name is Rev. Heber Brown III of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, he aligns his all 3 parts of himself his faith, his religion and his activism.

Keep and work your faith Max. I'm praying for you.

Constructive Feedback said...

SoulBrother:

As I read your title and your first few paragraphs I intended to avoid any "judgmentalism" in my response.

Then I read your complete piece and could not help but note ONE RECURRING THEME in this and nearly all of your posts. Clearly you are fighting AGAINST SOMETHING in nearly all that you do. So much so that you don't know how to ASSIGN THE PROPER FUNCTION TO THE INSTITUTIONS THAT YOU DO PARTAKE OF

Here is my evidence from YOUR OWN words:

[quote]black folk take their church seriously. A church service is always much more than a church service; it is a show.[/quote]

"Taking Church Seriously" ONLY details about their view of the regimen of the church dogma. It speaks NOTHING about the spirituality that may or may not be in the church. This is why so many traveling gospel choirs are also places to "get your drink on" and some booty as well.

[quote]
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.[/quote]

Subjugation/ Uplift are TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN brother. Your REAL QUESTION needs to be - "Are they UPLIFTING GOD? Or are they uplifting and suppressing for the benefit of WORLDLY MATTERS?

If the Christian is charged with "Being Fishers Of Men" for the distribution of Jesus as their savior - then if the Slave master uses the church to convince his congregation that they are justified in enslaving human beings OR if the modern day Black church is used as a POLITICAL organization - with Jesus deemphasized (see Jamal Bryant in Baltimore) are either of these usurpations any less "unGodly" than the next?

[quote]
the church seemed to be mired in religious provincialism and clinging to a defunct authoriatarianism based in patriarchy.
[/quote]

NO - SOME CHURCHES do this in the purposes of maintaining a certain social order. Others seek to make a more healthy use of their power to direct a people.

Keep in mind that other churches are likewise so LIBERAL that they set up a Smorgasbord and allow their members to pick and choose the doctrinal truth that they will consume in their lives as they promote "NON-JUDGMENTALISM".

[quote]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. [/quote]

NOW WE HIT THE JACKPOT! Your ideological bias is drenched in nearly everything that you put forth on this board SoulBrother. Why is it that these "conservative right" principles offensive to you but the new liberal churches such as the one that former rapper "Kurtis Blow" or "Mase" now head which have no hint of conservatism within them not subject to your scrutiny?

The answer to your question is clear to me. You are so much of a "Worldly Political" figure that your calling as an "OBJECTIVE RELIGION REFORMER" that attempts to set those who call themselves Christians STRAIGHT with their actual calling is squandered.

IF other religions have "truth" then this indicates that indeed there are some universal TRUTHS at the human level that no particular religious order can monopolize exclusively.
All that I have heard in your comments above is that you are fretting that the churches that you have intimate knowledge of are practicing provincialism,authoritarianism and 'right wing conservatism'.

What about the larger body of UNCHURCHED Black people out there SoulBrother? WHAT ARE THEY PRACTICING?

Having been unbound from the church dogma - do THEY represent "healthy living" to you?

Isn't this the larger portion of our problem as a people? They don't even have to worry about some preacher taking more than a 10th of their money and misappropriating it. The question is - WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THEIR MONEY? Is it having any benefit to their community?

md20737 said...

I completely understand your dilema. I went through the same thing just recently. After going through struggle, shame, doubt, and disbelief among other things I realized that GOD is so much more than just a name, religion, sect, or thought. He is the creator, and can not be truly understood in all that he does. I also accepted the fact the Religions dont have a monopoly on who is more right. I think we are all praying to the same GOD just by different names Jesus, Allah, Jehvoh, etc . God is just god & speaks directly to you!! And works through you..

I dont go to church I have no plans of going to churcn. I actually feel better for living life the way it feels right than going through the ritual. When things are tough I do pray, I ask for guidance and support. But I will not EVER play the religion game it. Religion is quite oppressive, controlling, & damaging. Once I let of go of all the rules, guilt, expectations, I became free!! If I am on the wrong path my maker will show me that. If it doesnt feel right, it may be because Religion is not natural but man made.

I have lost countless nights of sleep fighting myself the feeling to Reject all things affiliated with the church. I have some many issues with it, it started to consume my thoughts. Dont beat yourself up. Things happen. The more I learned and read about other religions, and philosphies the less I believe what I was taught.

Religion is a handicapp in life and if you can shed it you will be for the better.. Just to be clear I believe in GOD just not religion.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]. I also accepted the fact the Religions dont have a monopoly on who is more right[/quote]

md20737:

I agree with you that ultimately (speaking from a Christian perspective) all of us die alone and thus "our church" is not going to "save us" when the day comes where our faith is evaluated.

At the same time I am not hearing enough acknowledgement about the key importance of "the communication of cultural and values" between one generation and the next, making reference to some 'rule book' that is theoretically unmailiable from one generation to the next.

You get no argument from me that there are many churches who wouldn't know "Jesus" if he walked through the front door during the 11am service, looking just like the guy pictured in their stained glass windows yet dared to CORRECT THEM about their church practicies that directly violate his calling.

At the same time I think that many who responded to this post are failing to acknowledge the importance of a "religious dogma" in communicating the points that I have listed above. Again - IF the Christian church is lost - what say you about the large portion of people who in fact only believe in the 'Chirstian ethic' but have no attachment to any church AND they see this as freedom to do what they please? What are the enumerated costs for this disposition?

Shouldn't we compare this population set with those "people in the faulty church" to see which of the two populations are prone to crash into the ditch?

In my view any organization provides an opportunity for those who are clear about its true calling to work hard to MANAGE this organization back upon the center line of the road.

Just as Farrahkan says "I don't care what organization you join but you need to be apart of SOME ORGANIZATION as a means of channelling your energy toward something productive".

You are correct that there is no monopoly upon righteousness held by religions. However the church has a longer history of ordering people to use their energy to do good works as motivated by their faith than any other entity that I can think of.

curlykidz said...

I think we do naturally yearn for fellowship, even after we let go of the "shoulds" of attending weekly services. I didn't grow up in a particularly religious household, but I yearned for the type of church family (AME Zion) my ex fondly remembered from his childhood. I tried multiple congregations of a variety of Christian denominations, but never found a fit. I eventually found a church home (one of those cafeteria style religions constructive feedback mentions), but not until I let go of the idea of what that church home should look like. And I confess that at first, I wanted it more for my kids than for me (anticipating they would be teenagers who would detest me someday in the way that only a teenager can, I wanted them to have other adults who shared my values that they could turn to). And I found that (as my 13yo son takes sex ed at church this year!) for my children, but I also found more than I expected for myself. While I don't call myself Christian, I have a deeper, more personal respect for Christ's teachings now than when I did make that claim.

joe said...

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."
Proverbs 3:5,6

Denisha said...

I'm curious to know what conclusion you've come to after praying about it. Clearly, many people can relate (as do I) but it's more interesting to find out the individual solution to this nagging guilty feeling of yours.

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