God is so faithful. I start by saying this because God believes in me despite everything. Although I have forsaken him many times, He still manages to believe in me. Every single time life becomes dark and I fear I won’t make it out – a shimmer of light is cast to illuminate my way. Without fail. I am dragged from the undergrowth.
And I don’t deserve it. I say this as a non-churchgoer, non-praying, non-Bible reading individual who has often questioned religion. I think there is a journey that every supposed ‘intellect’ deals with. There is a suggestion that religion is a tool for the desperate… to subjugate and control. Hence it can be used to exploit, particularly the poor, the uneducated.
I argue this is a misappropriation though. In fact, I want to flip the idea on its entire head and suggest that it is because of religion that many are so smart. I know we learn about doctrines and science growing up – we intellectualise and pathologise existence with ‘evidence’ that negates the presence of an omnipotent force. There is no divine creation in our personhoods – just matter and bones and skin and teeth and hair. That’s what the world now says. At least the secular world. A notion that is much in contrast to the divinity of Christianity.
I used to call my Christian when people asked my religion. But as of recent, I found myself stuttering. I don’t answer the question now, neither in person or on application forms – because I feel it is a mischaracterisation to claim to identify with a religion I haven’t engaged with formally in light-years. I have no fellowship in a congregation to keep me afloat in a spiritual journey. But then again, I haven’t commenced the journey.
Never have I denied the existence of a God. Atheism is not for me. In the sublime world of good and bad that we exist in, I find it quite ludicrous that there be no salvation in our creation. That somehow we are here for no purpose whatsoever. But maybe, just maybe, that purpose wasn’t in Jehovah: maybe it was Allah or Buddha or Brahman. Why was it the Christianity I was born into? I’ve had to deliberate over that.
I think the brunt of blackness factors into the equation here. As I grew older, I read how Christianity was used as a force to condemn. Blackness was the ‘curse of Ham’, images of white Jesus purported as our saviour were forced in our faces: this is who you will look up to. He is the one from whom you will seek forgiveness. In all things, be like him. Looking out from this black skin and coiled hair, we see this white face and lank locks and see nothing but impossibility. If I was made in God’s image, then why is his son white? And why am I black? Because palettes and history have taught me that black and white have always been in direct contrast. So by that definition alone, I must apologise for this skin and I cannot be saved.
But blackness has not been my only barrier. Sinning… living for the flesh has been a bone of contention for me. For so long, I’ve been angry and I’ve rebelled and done wrong – moral and religious wrongs. Wrongs that to the secular world that will be seen as minor but to me were betraying of my character. Not even religiously, but against my personal morals: morals that have been indirectly governed by religion. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of being moral and not religious is very possible. And that was my thought-process. Because to identify as a Christian meant checks and balances, it meant judgment, and I didn’t need anyone telling me about a self I had not yet cultivated.
It is always seen that religious people are the most judgmental. To be fair, I’ve not been privy to this personally. I didn’t grow up in church. I never had church clothes per se. Church was more traditional than an obligation. My parents always told me to just be a good person and they felt that church governed that. I went to Sunday service every week for a few years until I was about 14 and I grew a voice and weaned myself off: “I shouldn’t be forced to go to a place that I didn’t want to.” At first my parents argued with me but then they stopped. It was futile. They couldn’t make me go.
Instead of spending Sundays in church, I’d spend it revising or working or researching. I learnt about African religions, about the Asantehene (Ashanti Kingdom) and the Golden Stool. About the spirituality of West Africa before colonialism and Christian missionary work. I watched TED Talks and The Boondocks and started using Twitter. I developed an intellect that mitigated blind faith and as far as I was concerned, Christianity became a poison to my people. It was for the weak and unbeknownst. That was my theory.
I became cynical. And I believed being woke compromised Christianity. And I had to live my truth. I was either purely Christian or purely woke – there was no moot. I couldn’t grow in Christ when my roots were native African spirituality.
I recall a stint of trying to identify with God at age 15. The stress of life was looming and so faith peaked – I fasted, I went to church, I stopped listening to secular music. This happened for a good month or so. And I remember it strongly because secular music has always been a staple in my life and so the struggle was stupendous. But I remember deleting all of the mp3 songs from my phone and researching gospel singers: Kirk Franklin, Kierra Sheard and Tamela Mann. I began reading chapter Genesis of the Bible I received after ‘graduating’ primary school and found a lot of peace. But in this peace came a lot of ignorance. Worldly issues stopped being my concern. Less than a month of being a dutiful Christian and I thought I was above people. I evangelised to my family and anyone who would listen. That spiritual superiority that so many despise in religious people was seeping into me and I didn’t like it. There came a disconnect between me and the world. Suddenly I was of God and not Earth, yet still I was susceptible to worldly things: pain and death. I was still human. And so I flipped the script and became entirely human – performed innumerable fault to cement my role in the worldly realm of life. If I was going to live, I was going to be as unapologetically human as possible. Which meant mistake after mistake after mistake.
University flipped the entire script on me. Everyone knows further education is difficult, but the struggle of living independently with so many commitments (relationships, academics, work) combined with a debilitating mental and physical health meant sustenance was my biggest battle. I was drowning. There is no other word to describe it. I was at the bottom of a body of water that went far beyond a lake or a river – it was an ocean. And I couldn’t get to the surface. And life was giving me chances but I kept spurning them. I couldn’t stay level no matter how much hard I tried.
And that’s when God revealed himself to me. You hear the stories, the testimony, the miracles, but there’s no other way I can put it. God pulled me through 2016, as he did many. Last year was horrific. So I am certain that the force that pulled me through was otherworldly – either supernatural or spiritual. It’s the only quantification that makes sense. And I say that because there is no way I did it on my own.
And that’s where this piece comes to an end. I’ve affirmed my faith in God through my spirit. I have and will continue to thank God in all things because I know none of it is me. From saving my mother’s life to keeping my family intact and revealing my friends’ true colours.
I was never sure of who I was growing up and that caused me great sufferance. I believed that as a black Christian with all of its associations, I would always come up short. Never black enough, never Christian enough. The ideal I was striving for was unachievable therefore I was already a failure. I shouldn’t try. But in my bid to do away with perfectionism and an increased understanding of salvation, I know that the point of life is not to be perfect, but to understand my mistakes and shortfalls and forgive myself.
I believe in God. I just don’t know who He is yet. And I don’t want guidance either. I need to do this on my own.