I Don’t Know Who My Real Father Is

[Word count: 922. Approximate read time: 4-5 minutes]

IDontKnow

Father’s Day is always weird for me. I never met my father. He died before I was born. My sister and I used to debate which is worse: a bad dad or none at all. I would argue, “At least you have one!” She would counter by reminding me hers was a lying, abusive, philandering absentee. And really, that won the argument. But I would still smirk to myself, “At least you know.” I hate not knowing.

In a way, I know my father well. I’ve studied everything about him. I have his personal items. Old records, military effects, and photos from infancy to adulthood. I know the sound of his voice from audio letters he sent while stationed in Okinawa.

I’ve interviewed countless family, friends, and co-workers about him. Cousins told me of his wicked sense of humor. An aunt said he was always kind. My mother said he was even-tempered and accepting. Former co-workers lauded his intelligence. Friends told me he had a way with the ladies.

I know him as well as one knows the complex flavor of a truffle when they’re too expensive to afford to taste. I know him as well as one knows brain surgery after having read about it and passed the written exam. I am fully an expert. Also, I know nothing.

Like my mother’s advice on taking tests: “Don’t leave the answer blank. If you don’t know, just make something up. It might be right.” So I spent my life making my father up. I even got help once.

Continue reading

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Am I An Atheist Yet?

[Word count: 681. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

image

We live in a society that forces you to take sides. One-drop rule says if you’re “part Black,” you’re ALL Black. Hypermasculinity says if a man wears a pink shirt, then he’s probably wearing women’s lingerie underneath. Similarly, there are extremist Christians that believe in all or nothing; if you’re not 100% with us, then you’re 100% against us.

[By the way… Jesus himself preached against this in Mark 9:38-39. When St. John told an outsider, “you can’t sit with us,” Jesus told him, “Chill. Whoever is not against us is for us.”]

People act like there’s a hard line between Christian and not, belief and doubt, like you’re either on one side or the other. I approached the question from one angle in a post called “Am I Still a Christian.” Now I approach it from the other: How indifferent do I have to be toward Christianity before I am effectively an atheist?

I talked to my mom recently and she asked, “Have you been praying?” I said, “Not really.” She laughed and said with a lighthearted finger wag, “Okayyyyy! When you don’t pray, you get what you get!” Only faintly amused, I told her that’s the same thing I get when I do pray which is why I stopped.

Speaking of stopping, it’s been a year since my last blog post and that one was pretty low on faith. The subject hasn’t been high on my interest list. I attend church largely to maintain relationships that began there, but nothing in me wants to go back. Relentless in her mission to shepherd me back to the foot of the cross, mother incessantly asks whether I’ve gone to church and when I’m going again. This is like someone asking, “Whatever happened to [ex-significant other] ? You should get back with them again!”

Why in the hell would I want to do that? I was in that relationship. It didn’t work at all. Neither of us were happy. So why would I want to repeat that experience twice? (However reluctantly, Mom understood the comparison.)

Do you want to be an atheist?

Of course not. I’m probably a bad Christian, but I wouldn’t make a much better atheist. Quiet as it’s kept, I still like God! I want to believe in a force that maintains some semblance of order in our chaotic world. And I specifically reject new atheism. That sect gets so obnoxious with shaming and ridiculing people of faith, that the practice ironically becomes a religion itself. If you go that far, you’re not dissimilar from the fundamental Christians who get so overzealous Jesus doesn’t even like them anymore.

If someone asks my religion now, I usually tell them Christian agnostic. If I were to believe anything, I’d like to believe in Jesus, but I don’t know. I want to believe, but honestly, I still have some doubts as to whether he’s real.

Well what do you want then?

Whenever I express my truest feelings about my faith (specifically the lack thereof), I feel my mother’s disappointment wrap around me like a shawl or a boa constrictor — I can’t tell which. Mother has, for over 30 years, centered her life around church activity, personal devotion, evangelism both domestic and abroad, intercession, fasting, studying the Bible, living the Bible, preaching it, spreading it. Granted, my mother’s faith has helped stabilize our immediate and extended families, but it has also consumed her focus. I see her devotion and I respect it. But that’s not what I want for my life.

At a climax in the movie Spanglish, the lead character asks her child, “Is what you want for yourself to become someone very different than me?” The answer is yes. What I want is to continue working to be a better person, but I don’t want Christianity to be the sole method to achieve it. And I don’t want to be termed an atheist because of it. I just want to be. And be at peace. And I want both these warring sides to take a break… and let me.

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I Don’t Want No Sun

[Word count: 603. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Broken Mirror Sunset by Bing Wright -- http://www.photographytuts.com/impressive-sunset-photos-captured-broken-mirrors/

“I can’t see another day.
I can’t face another hour.
Let the night rain down around me.
I’m done.
I don’t want no sun.”

I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t stop playing this song. It spoke to me, singing my life, shaking its tambourine, amening along with every weary sentiment. I haven’t been able to write anything for this faith blog for months. Truthfully, I feared I was becoming agnostic. And I might still be.

These lyrics come from “Sun,” a soulful ballad by Lalah Hathaway from the film For Colored Girls. I personally identify with them because they describe someone who’s been broken… one time too many. It’s not that I don’t want sunshine, rainbows, bacon, and everything else good in life. I just don’t want false hope. I’m so much against false hope that I’m willing to abandon all hope if it guarantees I won’t be disappointed. Continue reading

Super Christian Superstition

StevieSuperstition
[Word count: 988. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]

When I was growing up, I often had déjà vu. I’d walk into new places and distinctly feel I’d been there before. My mother’s mother held many superstitions, so when she found out I was “having visions,” it spooked her. I was no longer allowed in her house after 6pm. Who knows what that was about?

The list goes on. Throw salt over your shoulder. Knock on wood. Don’t split the pole. If you dream about fish, it means somebody’s pregnant. If a bird flies into your house, then somebody’s gonna die. None of these things made sense then and they’re still crazy now. They seeped into the groundwater of our family’s faith though. It only made sense that when they were taught to live by the Bible, they lived it out superstitiously.

There’s a name for that: Syncretism. It’s the combining of different, and even contradictory beliefs. For instance, Voodoo is the syncretism of West African Vodun with Catholicism and other beliefs. Personally, I think my family mixes Christianity with any number of things, but they still only call it Christanity. This irks.

Memory Foam faith

Once I asked my Mom if she enjoyed Minnie Riperton back in the 70s. She said, “yeah, but I stopped listening after she died.” When I inquired why, she said with a nod to how silly it sounded, “I guess I didn’t want to die.”

Of course that’s ridiculous, but I understood the association. When I pack for a flight, I purposely exclude Aaliyah from my iPod playlist. Ridiculous, but still— no Aaliyah music on plane trips. It’s as if science had proven “Rock The Boat” causes crashes.

Yet, if I was a fan of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, or The Big Bopper, I’d have no problem playing them from L.A. to New York and back. Superstition is subjective: solid where we need support, flexible where we need comfort. It’s the Memory Foam of belief systems.

What is superstition?

Superstition is a pejorative term for belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any physical process linking the two events, such as astrology, religion, omens, witchcraft, etc., that contradicts natural science.

Stevie Wonder sang, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, you suffer.” If you embrace a belief without even Googling it, you should at least feel a little uneasy. We run into problems when we do things without questioning them. If we do so for too long, we get “used to” that and a tradition is born.

Tradition is a belief or behavior with symbolic meaning or significance that has been passed down within a group of society. Traditions aren’t bad; they mark our history and give our cultures identity. But when we pass them on without knowing their origins, we may pass them past their expiration date. “We’ve been doing it like this forever. Why stop now?” People are creatures of habit and will keep doing things because they’re comfortable and familiar, even if they stop being functional or sensible.

Iyanla, fix my faith

My faith was once rooted in superstition and tradition. Though I know the fear in those practices is not biblical, it still persists. I’m now tasked with the work of rooting out those old habits out in order to have a purer faith.

Though any faith can be categorized as superstition, the goal is not to eradicate it, but reevaluate it when it gives rise to fearful practices like these:

  • Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The scripture is ketchup in my family. It gets slathered on everything. I wouldn’t object had it not overgrown into such a trip-line to communication. “Honey, don’t say you are tired. Say you feel tired. We don’t want to declare that over ourselves.” Ironically, hearing this correction makes me tired. That’s what’s taught at their church, but I reject it for myself. It hinders more than it helps.
  • A pastor at the family’s church recounted an example of some unfortunate happening. He began, “If my kids were to—“ and stopped, “no, I don’t want to give the devil a foothold.” If you look at Ephesians where that’s mentioned, its use here is out of context. It’s equivalent to saying, “Don’t say that. It’s bad luck.” I hate that no one recognizes this.
  • An uneasy premonition made me think playing Stevie Wonder’s “Too High,” a cautionary tale about drug use, would cause a relapse in my best friend’s addiction. That’s neither sensible nor biblical. My friend’s been clean for years now. He’s a successful father with a promising medical career. Much like the irrational Aaliyah fear, Stevie’s music didn’t send my guy’s life down in flames either.

Conclusion

One useful scripture my mother drilled into me was: “In all thy getting, get an understanding.” If not for that foundation, I might not have the courage to challenge these interpretations of the Bible. In 2011, I left my church. Two weeks later, I lost my job. If I believed God was spiteful and vindictive, I’d have run back to church cowering. But I know God’s grace doesn’t work like that.

As the Bible says, “work out your own faith with fear and trembling.” Even people from the same religious denomination may have drastically differing rules they live by, though they all affirm these rules come from the Bible.

How about you?

  • How do you decide how far is too far to stretch for a belief?
  • Where do you draw the line between what is “walking in faith” vs. what is absolute lunacy?
  • Were you taught any practices or beliefs as a child that you’ve had to abandon in your adulthood for sanity’s sake?

Please share your experience in the comments below!

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Train’s Comin’

[Word count: 316. Approximate read time: 1-2 minutes]

The C Train at 168th StreetI dig New York. And as crowded and filthy as they can be, I dig their subways too. I usually like flying by the seat of my pants when I catch the train, but I needed to get to midtown Manhattan in a hurry. My friend Scott was in town while I was visiting last summer, but he had to catch a flight out in about 2 hours.

My directions said to catch the C train going downtown. So I got into the subway at 125th Street in Harlem. Clamoring down into the station, sweat-glazed, and looking around with meager luggage in tow, I found I’d rushed for no particular reason. The A train came. And then the E. And then another A. I got anxious. I started to think my C train wasn’t coming. One more E came rushing through, picked up some passengers, and left behind an intimidating silence.

“Maybe I’m waiting on nothing. I heard there was some kind of modified service on the weekends. Maybe they were talking about this C train. I don’t think it’s coming. The A and E trains both head downtown though. Maybe you should board one of those and at least you’ll have gotten somewhere.”

It’s the same discouragement I felt after hearing too much “Jesus is on his way.” “The Word is true, you just have to keep at it.” All the while, no one has broken through the clouds. The promises have proved empty and nothing supernatural has transpired.

I thought, “I’m gonna miss Scott. Forget this. I’m just gonna board the next train that comes and figure something out when I get near 49th Street.”

Just then, another train emerged from the dark, green lights spelling out C. I laughed at myself. I felt foolish and elated, and I could hear Jesus saying with a wink, “See? I told you I was coming.”

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Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

[Word count: 405. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Introduction

In Deuces, I stated reasons I left the church I co-founded after 8 years. A big part of that was due to bad experiences in music ministry. I either played piano or sang in a vocal ensemble. We’d perform 3-5 songs per service, to set an atmosphere for people to optimally receive the sermon preached. I loved it. I grew immensely, formed lifelong friendships, and gained confidence on stage and in myself overall. But there were serious side effects.

Music was my love. And because of everything I thought had to accompany my music, it became my burden. It just got stolen from me. I said, ‘What is this? How did this thing that I love so much so easily and so quickly become something I loathe and hate?” —Lauryn Hill

A friend told me “I hate you” sometimes just means “I used to love you.” It was too painful to talk about this stuff, but to get healthy, I have to. Some cuts don’t heal until you take the Band-Aid off. It’s too much to cover in one post, so I broke it into parts. This is an introduction to the series. Here’s a quick break down on the rest of the series:

Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader

  • PART 1: The Miseducation of the Worship Leader

    Whatever worship is, I thought it was more powerful than it actually is. When I found out how mystical it wasn’t, I could not deal. I wish someone would have done a better job warning me worship wouldn’t protect me from life happening.

  • PART 2: Church Superstars: You Ain’t Got It

    Music was one thing I was sure I was good at, so to hear that I wasn’t good enough was crushing. It left me unsure of “my calling,” and doubting whether I was good at anything.

  • PART 3: More Than You Know What To Do With

    Help. I don’t fit in with my church, but I don’t know how to get outside of it. What do I do now?

  • PART 4: Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong

    The act of worshipping in front of an audience blurred the lines between what was for God and what was for people.

  • PART 5: So You Think You Can Worship?

    The hokey-pokey dance of trying to understand what worship is and isn’t left me confused. I’m still not sure what it is right now.

Do Christians Have To Be Mad At “Black Jesus”?

[Word count: 734. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

BlackJesusWhen Joan Osbourne’s hit song asked what if God was a slob like one of us, I was outraged. She was making a point about humanity, but I stopped at the surface of my offense. “God is not a SLOB,” I shot back. By the time I saw the good in it, the opportunity was gone.

20 years later, there’s a new threat. From the creator of the always respectful and family-friendly The Boondocks comes Black Jesus. In this, the titular character lives in Compton, CA, curses heavily, smokes weed, and runs with a ragged posse of pseudo-disciples. Because you can’t tell if Black Jesus is supposed to be real or just some crazy who just thinks he’s Jesus, you really don’t know how offended to be. Continue reading

Cast Away II: Life After Leaving Church

Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in Cast Away

[Word count: 1026. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]

Since my blog entry Cast Away supposed Christianity without church, it’s become the third most viewed post on Junkyard Salvation. (These are #1 and #2.) On several occasions, people asked, “So how is that going?” It’s been 3 summers since I left the church I co-founded. So I thought I’d revisit the topic by answering some of the questions I posed.

Are you a Christian?

Yes?       …I say yes with a question mark because as usual, I am awash in doubt and second guessing the efficacy of faith. The realness of faith. I still don’t feel like I really “know.” And G.I. Joe says knowing is half the battle.

Do you go to church?

Usually not.     I sometimes visit small ministries (“fits in a living room” small). The bigger the church, the less I’m amused. They’re like kids. They’re cute when they’re small. But they get bigger, taller, and hairier, their voices deepen, and they think they know more than you about everything… at which point they must immediately be socked in the face.

Without the constant support of people who believe what you believe, have your beliefs changed?

My beliefs haven’t been changed… only revealed.     I’ve become more honest about them. The people who support those beliefs have changed though. New people—help I never expected—met me in the middle of the ocean. Some people from my old church never stopped supporting me on this journey. Others… never started. Continue reading

Hopsin’s Song of Lost Faith Hits Close To Home

[Word count: 464. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Rapper Hopsin in "Ill Mind of Hopsin 7"

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”

—Psalm 139:1-4

In a post on JFuzion.com, I discovered a music video for the recently released “Ill Mind of Hopsin 7” from former Ruthless Records rapper Hopsin. The Los Angeles native became a born again Christian 2 years ago, but now finds himself doubting his beliefs. With its starkly honest lyrics, a video set against a barren desert panorama is only appropriate.

If you can wade through the expletive-heavy verses without grimacing from offense, you’ll find the song is essentially a mournful prayer. Similar expressions of disappointment and lost faith might be found in Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, or Lamentations.

An orthodox Christian might declare this irreverent and unacceptable, but if Psalm 139:1-4 is true and you’ve ever prayed while in anguish, your distressed prayer probably sounded to God much like Hopsin’s may sound to us. Beneath the bared teeth of his words is a heartbreaking expression of hurt. Continue reading

[Status Update 7/6/2014 – Write The Ugly]

WriteTheUgly

[Word count: 303. Approximate read time: 1 minute]

In Christianity, one tends to clean up before going on stage. You want to make people proud. Be encouraging. Make sure your story ends with “but that’s when God came and saved the day.” Tell testimonies that end in redemption because you gotta give people something to clap for, right?

I have to do no such thing. In fact, I wrote a reminder on my dry erase board to WRITE THE UGLY because it’s necessary. If you don’t talk about failure and tragedy, you think all the victories came easily. If you don’t know the lowest points I swing through, then my high points have no value, perspective, or impact. If I don’t “write the ugly,” someone may read the published highlights of my life and think resolution, penitence, and clarity are how every day ends. Not so.

EMOTIONALLY:
Today, I am depressed, melancholy, and isolated. The feeling has been increasing for the last 2 weeks. I don’t know why it started. I am extremely irritable and have cursed and snapped at friends and acquaintances. There is a long list of apologies to give. I am not ready to give any of them.

SPIRITUALLY:
Today, I am not full of faith. Today, I believe God is going to do neither the wonderful things he promised nor the awful things he threatened. I don’t know where God is. And I hate when people say “you have to seek God.” This makes me angry because I don’t think he should be hiding. Why isn’t he seeking me? Whatever happened to going out and leaving the 99 sheep to find the 1 that’s lost?

This is not the first time I’ve felt like this. I hate being angry and lost, and I hope it changes. I feel ugly. But for what it’s worth… at least today, it is written.

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