Monday, April 13, 2009

Rebuilding/Restoring My Faith

(I heard the choir sing this song last Sunday, and I was deeply moved. It prompted me to journal about my personal experience with religion)
There is something I have wanted to talk about, and it is certainly always a controversial topic. This of course is religion and faith. I should first say I went to a Catholic private school for eight years, my dad's side of the family is mainly missionary baptist (the default negro religion of choice), and my mom's parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. My parents took me to different churhces of the years, including Kingdom Halls. But I was not raised strictly one denomination. In retrospect, I am thankful for this. Because of this, my spiritual journey has been independent and thoughtful. I never did anything out of pressure or force, it was all my own desire to want to cultivate a faithful and spiritual relationship with God. I have sat in many congregations for many different Christian denominations, and for all my observations, the main problem with organized religion is that it (much like anything else in this life) can only be as perfect as the men who form them. "God loves, Man kills," was one of the titles of one of my favorite graphic novels growing up. And this about sums it up. Speaking specifically about Christianity, I do believe in God and Jesus. I do take the Bible as both a spirtual and historical document. Furthermore, the principles Jesus teaches us are great morals for one to live by. Jesus spoke to everyone. He did not discriminate, he told us the greatest commandment of all is to love one another as ourselves, second to loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength. And yet today, Christian congregations discriminate, judge, they are often racially and culturally segregated, and they have problems with hypocritical leaders. The last straw for me, was when I was told that I should wait to be bapitized, three times. Moreover, I was never given any guidance on what I was doing wrong or how I could be better prepared for baptism. Ultimately, I took this rejection to be a rejection from God. I made a mistake that many make. You cannot throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, right?
It does seem silly for any one person Earth to have sole authority to say who can get baptized. We are all sinners in need of salvation, in need of hope. After the latest incident, I became complacent. I found baptist pastors with their screaming and shouting just as ineffective as the solemn dictator priests of the catholic church. I really don't think I need to go over the highly documented malevolent acts carried out worldwide by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has been at the route of some our global history's most inhumane attrocities. And the missionary baptist church, the black church, has it's problems too. Sometimes there is a very thin line between a pimp and a pastor. And sometimes, the way preachers get the congregation "high" on the spirit to "prepare" them to give "God's ten percent" is very silly. I mean, if you read the Bible as true and believe the one scripture everyone can recite (John 3:16), we know that God's sacrificing Jesus established a new covenant doing away with Old Testament traditions such as blood and animal sacrifices at an alter. I don't thing "ten percent" equates with Jesus' crucifixtion. At any rate, and understandably, the Church does need to take in money to keep things going. That's fine and legitimate, but making it a matter of a specific obligation to God is kind of odd. I am sure God is hip to and can make good use of our currency.
Needless to say, I suppose, I could always find something wrong or something that I don't agree with. But I think I had to come to accept that I shouldn't expect perfection in a church. Churches and congregations are made up of men and women trying to do the best they can. People want a place to go, a sanctuary. People want to believe in ultimate good, in salvation, and that there exists a power greater than man's intellect. The most beautiful thing about life, is also the thing that can make it very difficult and painful. War follow peacetime, loss is inevitable, and pain is impending. We have to take the good with the bad, and we learn to cherish the good times by experiencing hardship. So, understandably, we want to go to a place where we can leave all of that pain, all of that sorrow, all of that guilt, and all of that doubt.
I spent so much time trying to be perfect that I completely missed the point. We are not perfect, but we are beautiful and all bound as a human species. We desire love, fulfilment, and the space to pursue are separate kind of peace and happiness. Once I let go of this, and accepted my own imperfection, I was able to rebuild my faith from the ground up. So, folks, I was very much humbled. Life has humbled me, and love has helped me to find my way back to God. The people that scream and shout in church: that is their way of coping. That is how they find happiness, that is how they acheive their peace. Who am I to judge? We all have to work out our own salvation. And as far as hypocritical priests and pastors, more often than not, those people reap what they sew. I will always encourage people to read the Bible (or whatever they read) and to put their faith and trust in God, not men. My desire is to cultivate a genuine and real relationship with God and Jesus. And I try to let my christianity manifest itself in how I deal with others: with kindness and respect. There are many Christians, there are less who are actually Christ-like.
"I am at peace, because I am free"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Aristorants: Memorials

I do believe that as we get older we began to view things with a different set of eyes. Lately, I have been moved by our nation's monuments. It's strange, I have read about them and maybe seen them at different points in time. But I really have a new appreciation for them. I took this photo (to the left) recently while touring the national mall. It sits on a plot to the left of the Vietnam War memorial. I think I did a good job capturing the piece. The way the light hits the faces lined by bare tree branches is quite striking. So now I really appreciate just what an honor memorials and monuments are. They seek to capture and memorialize a pivotal point in time, an important part of history. Lincoln is memorialized for his leadership during the great test to the union - the Civil War. FDR is memorialized for his part in helping to lead us through world war and the Great Depression. Undoubtedly, these times, also very critical, will be memorialized in some way. Is Barack Obama worthy? Only time will tell. So far, he is only notable for being the first African American president. He is noteworthy for many other reasons, but only time will tell if his term rises to the level of what George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR. He seems poised to do so, because right now, the country needs a great leader and a new hero to take us out of the darkness that has been the last eight years. Years that has seen one calamity after the next set to the backdrop of war, economic collapse, and the decline of American dominance and prosperity. It's hard to say how America will look on the otherside of this recession...