I got up today, made coffee and switched on CNN just in time to see the two big stories of the day - a celebration of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the White House and the Supreme Court considers the death penalty (for the rape of a child and whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment ).
I switched the TV off, drank my coffee while looking out the kitchen window at my friend, a white ibis perched atop the 6ft.-tall ficus hedge, partitioning the western side of my house from the street. For some strange reason, that ibis and a black and yellow striped butterfly both grace me with their presence every single day (well the ibis, almost every single day)!
My heart felt so heavy with the irony of these accepted, powers-that-be involved in "saving" society from itself. Aloud, to no on in particular, I asked the question I've been asking for some time now, "Where's God in all this madness?" Spurred by the news coverage and that ever-present question, I went to my laptop (damn desktop died in mid-post the other day!) and sat down to post on my continued "crisis of faith."
Before I started writing though, I decided to click through my blogroll and went first, to The Field Negro's site to which I gravitated early on when I decided to build this thing. Being a "field negro" myself, I figured there'd be something there to which I could relate and I was right. His writing is smart, intuitive and funny while at the same time, bold, unapologetic, real and most importantly, open to something other than his familiar. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but he'll sure as hell make you think while offering a great forum to debate/discuss the topic du jour. I was up after 2 a.m. this morning discussing two separate blog posts with a constant commenter there!
His latest post, "My religion post" threw me for a real loop. When I saw the title, I immediately heard that, Twilight Zone, "doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo," and thought, "Okay, this is either some weird or very spiritual shit!" He'd posted what I was feeling and had hit the nail on the head on almost every damn thing! I left a comment to that effect, but didn't elaborate because I knew I'd be posting my thoughts here. But I have to say, it shook me - in a good way. This may end up being a two-part post because I know how long-winded I can be. I'll see.
Today's "celebration" struck an old nerve because I was once a Catholic, though probably for all the wrong reasons. I went to an all-Black Catholic school in the Jim Crow south from kindergarten to 8th grade. The Oblate Sisters of Providence out of Baltimore was the Black order tasked with educating us.
Born into a family of organized religion (my father was Episcopalian and my mother was a Methodist-turned-Southern Baptist), I started out indoctrinated. Protestant church, a minimum of twice on Sundays with a two-week, Baptist Training Union (BTU) camp every summer and oddly, Mass every Wednesday during the school week. God was always in my life. I both believed and feared that, despite or maybe because of the presence of that Crow guy.
In the 6th grade, I clearly remember coming home and telling my mother, "I want to be a Catholic." She looked at me like I was losing my damned mind. She asked me if I understood that she and my father were working three jobs between them to send us to Catholic school to get a better education than the one white people were providing via the public school system. Adding, "We're not working that hard for you to get their religion!"
The fact that her form of Christianity was also their religion was not a topic we discussed. As is my wont, I did it anyway, but it only lasted a couple years. As it turns out, my issues with the necessity of having "middle-men" won out. I was having a hard time understanding why I had to go to weekly Confession and tell my sins to Father Joyce or Father Haggerty so they could tell God, then have God tell them what my Penance should be, in order for me to get absolution!
I repeatedly pestered my principal, Sister Duchesne (a long, dark chocolate drink of water who was a "new nun" because she wore a half-habit showing the front part of her hair and a shin-length skirt) about why I couldn't get forgiveness from God myself. I wanted to be a nun just like her and even though she freely laid paddle-to-ass, quite frequently mine, I trusted her to tell me the truth. Needless to say, her explanation was insufficient. So, back to my mother's Baptist church and BTU I went.
The Pope's "celebration," in light of my background, certainly stirred old affiliations, but it was more disappointing than anything else. He's good at parsing too. And the crowd and the media seemed okay with that, being more caught up in "being in the presence." I wondered, as I often do when I think of the literal sins of the Fathers, "What does God think?"
What did God think when His Holiness denounced pedophilia, but was mute on the acceptance of LGBT congregants and female priests? What does God think about our daughters, caught between life happening and their faith, as they struggle with the tenet of abstinence-only in a non-abstaining culture? What does God think about women, considered outcasts because, for whatever reason, they chose abortion? What does God think about the spiritual and physical repercussions of men and women languishing in loveless marriages because the church frowns on divorce? I kept asking myself, "What is there to celebrate about a church leader so out of touch with what congregants really need, in favor of the dogma which slowly kills the spirit of some, while others, feeling lost and alone in this wilderness we call life, kill themselves?"
I've not been to church in at least three years and my attendance before that was intermittent at best. I bear no allegiance to any organized faith though I always say I am Baptist when asked, probably because that was my last affiliation. I am not atheist, nor am I agnostic because I do believe in a power greater than me - greater than us. Call it whatever you like, but I don't believe we just came to be.
I don't believe the Bible is the word of God, but rather a guide written by followers of Christ. Like most people raised in the church, however, I have one. And at times, I find solace and meaning in some of its passages, but confusion and cruelty in others. I remember telling that to my doctor once in an after-exam consultation. We talked for about 30 minutes! Ten about the additional test for which he was writing a referral and 20 about God and the Bible!
I can still recall the look on his face as I shared some conversations I'd had with some Arabic linguists while in language school about biblical, Hebrew-to-English translations. He was horrified! He kept telling me the Bible was God's word and I should come visit his church some Sunday. After some back and forth we agreed on the Bible being the "inspired" word of God and that I might drop in to hear some good gospel music one Sunday. I've not gotten there yet.
Some time, in the last five years or so, my faith in God has been shaken, but that Southern Baptist in me, that ex-Catholic in me, won't let me say God doesn't exist. As I look around this world in which we live, I cling (yes Sen. Obama, I cling) to the belief that my God has to be in me and it will be by my works, by my serving humanity in whatever small way I can, that I'll someday either find that faith again or make peace with what I have.