Turning Away from the Church

It’s Sunday, so it’s only right that I talk about church. I grew up in the church and I will credit it for providing me with constructive, positive and meaningful experiences which kept me (somewhat) grounded during my adolescent years. I can’t say my moral compass was always pointing towards Heaven during my teenage years. I will say, though, that spending a significant amount of time each week with other young people who devoted their free time to uplifting the house of God through Bible and prayer services, praise dancing, choir, outreach services, etc., pretty much kept me from getting toooo crazy. Most of my memories about my earlier days in church are positive ones, minus the occasional drama and those days I just didn’t feel like rolling out of bed for choir practice or to serve on the Usher Board.

Nonetheless, it’s one thing to grow up in the church because that’s what is considered a part of the family structure and culture. It’s another thing to become a free-thinking, knowledge-seeking, independent adult who make’s his or her decisions based on preference and personal experience. That being said, I am no longer an active member of my home church — or any other. And I don’t plan to be. Obviously, living in a different state makes regular activity at a home church challenging but it’s not just that. It’s so much more than that.

At least once a month, I get drama-filled updates from various people in my hometown (family, close friends, church members) about what is going on at our church and other churches in the community that we have had regular fellowship with throughout the years. Not a month goes by that there is not some story on-line, on T.V. or on the radio about some pastor or clergy member who has embezzled money, touched an adolescent boy’s pee-pee or cheated on his wife with more than 10 women in the church between the ages of 17 and 70. After all, variety is the spice of life.

And to be quite frank, I am fucking blown. I am tired of it. I am sickened by the way people in this country, and this world, use religion and the church for its own sick devices. I am disappointed at how the black community has let the church disintegrate into a cesspool of shame. I’m not feeling it.

There was a time in the black community where the church was a place kids could come get help with homework, the hungry could come get a hearty meal, and a family who had fallen on hard times could get a little extra dough to pay a bill, tuition, etc. Once upon a time, the money for “sick and shut-ins” was abundant because everyone gave freely. And the money actually went to sick and elderly parishioners — Thanksgiving baskets, flower arrangements and supplements to meager Social Security checks.

Now? Ha! People roll up in pretty decent cars, wearing pretty decent outfits but have the audacity to put change in the offering basket instead of bills. People brag, brag and brag some more to anyone who will listen about everything they have going on, yet won’t offer their money, services or expertise to uplift their brothers and sisters. Hypocrisy at its best.

And the worship leaders? They are supposed to model themselves after Christ so that we all can follow the Earthly example he set. However, the humble life Christ led must have gotten lost in translation somewhere. With people like Creflo Dollar and Bishop T.D. Jakes rolling around in Bentleys and depleting entire towns of their water supplies so that their churches can have waterfalls in the lobby, a la M.C. Hammer, I am left to wonder if the church leadership is actually using the Bible as a blueprint or simply as a relic.

Now, I am not downing any of these people. I am not hating on Creflo Dollar. I wouldn’t mind having a Bentley. And T.D. Jakes writes articles in Essence and publishes books that anyone, religious or not, can relate to and enjoy. I know there are still some churches, in the United States and abroad, who have the best interest of God’s people in mind and have not lost sight of what is important. From personal experience, I also know it only takes a few bad apples to spoil a good church family’s reputation.

This is, however, why congregations must actively participate in the choosing of church leadership. As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, church leadership should be required to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” in order to preside over churchgoers spiritual well-being. After all, if the head is corrupt, how can the body stand?

And I realize that church leaders are only human, so don’t even give me that excuse. If you are not going to walk the walk, don’t step up for the position. Just sit in the pulpit with all the other gossip mongers, adulterers and all-purpose hypocrites. I’m not passing judgment. I know I have some stuff with me, too, but at least I don’t look my nose down on others just because my name is on the “Platinum Donor’s List.” You’re supposed to come to church to pray, meditate and fellowship with others who are like-minded in wanting to serve God by living a good life full of charity, love and kindness — not to worry about what everyone is wearing, what they’re doing and who they’re screwing.

That all being said, I’m fed up. If I want people to judge what I’m wearing, who I walked through the door with and how much money I have to offer, I will take my sanctified ass to the club. Life is hard enough without people playing with God and making a mockery of an institution that is supposed to be a haven away from the ills and evils of the world. Nope. I will keep God in my heart, on my mind and in my life without all of the “laying hands on,” so-called speaking in tongues and people running laps around the sanctuary in Jesus’s name. Amen.

On Our Minds: Blacks v. Mental Health Care

A few years ago, I wrote a story for the Washington Informer which highlighted the lack of mental health resources in the black community and some of the measures being taken to remedy this deficit. Of course, such resources are of value to the community. However, when I think about the lack of mental health facilities and practitioners in the black community, I don’t automatically think that society has held out on us. I think of supply and demand. Many (note I said many, not all) black people do not “believe in” mental health care. From childhood, we are told not to tell strangers “our business” and that what “goes on in our houses, stays in our houses.” I believe these adages from our elders may be relevant and necessary for minor issues, but have the potential to be dangerous and destructive in some situations.

Individuals who have faced trauma in their own homes (abuse, divorce, molestation, etc.) may not feel comfortable keeping that, well, at home. With the threat of ostracization from one’s own family looming, who would seek outside help? Few people. With that, you have a lot of people carrying around baggage without any coping mechanisms, constructive support or other therapeutic interventions for years. It’s devastating.

Even people who have not been told their entire lives to “keep their business to themselves” may be reluctant to share their feelings of inadequacy, sadness, stress, shame, anger, hurt and pain with others. Black people in particular have a history of being strong, resilient and weathering storms as they come. There are many of us, including me at times, who do not want to put a fracture in this legacy. Therefore, we try to deal with our problems internally.

While we should aim to be strong and self-sufficient, we can’t always cut it by ourselves and that’s O.K. We might not even be ab judge le to talk to our most trusted allies — best friends, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. If our loved ones find out things about us and about our thoughts that deviate from what is considered culturally or socially acceptable, there is a chance they may see us in a different light. While our hearts may tell us they will never us or turn their backs on us, our minds may say otherwise. And this internal conflict is O.K., too, whether warranted or not. There is nothing wrong with seeking a neutral party who is trained to help people from heterogeneous backgrounds and lifestyles through a plethora of dilemma and emotions.

I say all of this because I am tired of my brothers and sisters taking their own lives. I am upset by anyone ending their own life — especially our young people of all races. While suicide has been overwhelmingly stereotyped as a “white thing,” the act has gained momentum in the black community (right along with eating disorders and skin cancers brought on from overexposure to the sun).

While black men have a suicide rate that is roughly half that of whites, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for black males ages 15-24. Not natural causes. Not drag racing or other reckless, youthful play. Not murder. Suicide. The taking of one’s own life. The black race is losing enough black males to addiction, homicide, and the prison system. Must we add another terminator?

After hearing about several friends of friends who have taken their own lives in the last few years — all young, black people with immense talent and greatness to offer the world — I am pleading with everyone. It is the same plea I have had to whisper to myself from time to time. Seek help. Talk to someone. Let the stigma go. If you think you’re just having a “rough patch” or are “blue,” do not brush it off. Do not let it get out of control or become unbearable.

A Rave Review

Today I went to the movies by myself. It’s a pretty big deal because I’ve never been to the movies by myself before. As a teenager, I turned my nose up at the idea of going to the movies alone or eating at a sit-down restaurant alone.

How times change. And perspective. Thankfully. My 2.5 hour excursion made me feel really good. I almost forgot that I can have a good time alone while in public. Liberation + Fun = Inner Joy.

Indian-Giver

Sooo…I really don’t even know where to start. This story makes me crack up and pissed at the same time. Probably because of the irony and hypocrisy, respectively. The Cherokee Nation recently announced that they were considering expelling the descendants of freed black slaves from their group. *Insert screeching noise here* Wait, let me get this straight….the second-largest Native American tribe has decided they don’t want to be affiliated with black people anymore? Are these the same Native Americans who were oppressed by European settlers a few hundred years ago? Land stolen? Women raped? Killed en masse? Turned into drunks? Given measles and a motherload of STDs? No, seriously. Are these people apart of the Native community, which to this day are either: a) largely ignored, representing a tiny percentage of the U.S. population or b) exploited stereotypically in the media and openly mocked thanks to major-league sporting team names such as “Redskins?” O.K., one more time. After centuries of adding to the preservation, sustenance and growth of the Cherokee Nation, blacks are being given the boot?

Daaaamn, nobody wants to be bothered with us, huh? I don’t know if the historical context is what makes this story both funny and sad or if it’s the fact that even the Supreme Court is telling Cherokee leaders that they are dead wrong. Imagine that. The Cherokee Nation recently disenfranchised its black members on all tribal matters to create distance while the U.S. government, who has ben notorious for disenfranchising blacks, is defending them. *Looks out the window to see if pigs are flying to get away from Hell freezing over.*

Apparently, Cherokee leaders are reconsidering their stance. Yeah, don’t get cute -_-

If It Weren’t for Welfare…

The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, decided to set a 4-year lifetime limit on cash welfare benefits. Well, well, well. It’s about time! OK, wait, take the wrinkles out of your forehead and peep this. If it weren’t for welfare, the world — or at least the U.S. — would be a better place. Why? Because welfare cripples the mind and the spirit. Once one has reserved him or herself to dependency, it is hard to turn back. And if you read my first post, you know I am all about stepping out, living life to the fullest and getting it done.

Now, I am beyond sympathetic to individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet. Especially during this economic downturn which has fittingly been dubbed “The Great Recession.” I understand that life circumstances (i.e. lack of education and/or exposure, criminal history, physical or mental disability, lay-offs, etc.) have great potential to directly impact one’s ability to provide financially for his or her family. However, there are practical solutions to all of these problems. The solutions may not be easily gained and someone who is accustomed to getting assistance from the government is less likely to have the get-up-and-go required to overcome adverse life circumstances that ultimately lead to financial instability. That in itself is reason enough to limit how long an adult can receive welfare benefits. Notice, I said adult. Children are just that. They are dependents. Not fully mature beings who deserve and require assistance to acquire and maintain a high quality of life marked by adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter. That’s why I like Indiana’s welfare policy — a two-year limit for adults and no limit for children. Hey, if you choose not to use 730 days of assistance to find a job, that’s your business.

Adults are fully mature beings. Well, supposedly. And even though childhood experiences have a significant bearing on the type of adults we become, we can not use them as an excuse or “reason” to be crippled! I don’t appreciate the “product of my environment” defense one bit. And in the future, I will discuss that mindset across many platforms. I understand the psychosocial implications of childhood experiences. Trust me — I know! I get it! We all live with some of the choices that were made for us or around us as children every day. Good and bad. Right and wrong. We may see the ways of the people who reared us in ourselves. Sometimes their voices shoot right out of our mouths. The example they set has been our blueprint.

But you see, that’s the beauty of being an adult. We get to do it our way. We are allowed to reflect on everything we saw, heard and went through as children. After reflecting, we can sort through our experiences and decide what we want to apply directly to our lives and various situations that come about, use as examples of what not to do or use as motivation to get to where we want to be and how we want to be.

For example, if you grew up in a single-parent household that consisted of two bedrooms, five siblings and thousands of play-cousins named “Roach,” you should milk this experience for all its worth — good and bad. Perhaps you want to be as strong as the single-parent who kept a roof over your head (no matter how meager). Maybe you want to always stay as resilient as you were as a child in this situation. It could be that you know above all that you will not have that many kids and the ones you do have will get their asses whooped if they don’t keep their rooms as pristine as military quarters — it’s no way in hell you are going to have roaches in your house!

Now, I know things go deeper than that. Some people have horrible parents or no parents or like me, a situation that falls somewhere in between. Some people are molested and raped as children, or beat everyday, or watched their mother get beat everyday. This is not about these tragedies. My heart aches for people who have demons like this to face. Continue to fight the good fight and press forward.

I am speaking solely about a person making a conscious decision to go to their local assistance agency and sign up for welfare without having any real intention or game plan for making it without welfare. Now, if you grew up with a mother who was more than content with her welfare checks and had no intention of getting a job or a father who’s biggest tip to you was to have as many kids as possible because each body meant a bigger check, then I can empathize with your state-of-mind. I would call your parents trifling but I won’t because for all I know, there parents could have been setting them the same self-deprecating, hopeless example. It is a vicious cycle.

That is why someone has to break that cycle. All of the financially empowered persons, cultured and well-rounded families, stable businesses, churches and non-profit organizations that make up the community need to come together to educate and empower people to be self-sufficient. Likewise, people have to want more for themselves, not only financially but in terms of health, career goals, interpersonal relationships and spirituality. I know that a shortage of positive role models makes it difficult for one to acquire and maintain the mindsets necessary to develop, grow and flourish. But its far from impossible. So seek, and ye shall find.

Missing: Me.

As of late, my life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been faced with some tough decisions and coerced by fate to make some semi-major moves. Aside from the occasional spontaneous happening, I am largely a creature of habit. I like routines. I like order. I like to plan things out to make sure everything in my chaotic world goes as smoothly as possible. However, my best-laid plans are usually the ones that go awry. No matter how many “to-do” lists I scrawl, budgets I make, or goals I set, things are always a little off-kilter. I guess that’s a little something I like to call “life.” It’s only recently that I’ve began to make a marked effort to leave the planning in the classroom and let the chips on all other fronts fall where they may.

While I don’t consider myself to be a control freak, I do like to be in control of my itty-bitty piece of the universe. Yes, staying grounded and playing it safe has given me many opportunities and saved me from a lot of grief over the last 24 years. But there’s this aching feeling that I’ve missed out a little — even when I wasn’t fully aware. To this day, I still carry the weight of chances and risks that would’ve been worth taking. I am a little unfulfilled. Not a lot, just a little. And no, I can’t go back in time and tell off that bitchy bully in high school who had it coming. I can’t go back and fight that fight on the elementary school playground. I can’t go back and get out of the toxic relationship sooner or tell a friend how I really felt before drama reared its ugly head. However, I can re-design the way I approach life. That way, by the time the future is my past I won’t have any regrets.

So, the game plan. Yeah, I know. I’m planning again. But let’s not think of it as a plan. Let’s just say these are things I am absolutely going to do if I am physically and mentally able. Period. No “maybes.” No second-guessing myself and being scared of what will happen if I do this or that. Apprehension is out the window. I’m not saying the idea of reincarnation isn’t chic, but as far as I know, I only have one life to live. I might as well live it my way, on my terms. Now, change doesn’t come over night. Change is a process. And no matter how much I change, I won’t let my quest for self-awareness turn me into a selfish being. Proving to myself once and for all that I am just as independent, self-reliant, strong and capable as I *usually* think I am doesn’t mean I am going to be cold, distant, unapproachable, reckless or careless. That’s just not my make-up. I pride myself on being  very loving, warm and forgiving, and somewhat easy-going, thoughtful and communal.

I’m educated. I have a career. To date, I’ve been able to pay all of my bills on time. I’ve done a lot of adventurous things that prompt a laugh or wide smile when I think about them. Most importantly, I have a great family and a fantastically fun group of friends. I have my health. I have God. Take all of that for what it’s worth. To me, it’s priceless. Just because I, and most of us for that matter, can drop a scroll that lists our personal blessings on the floor and watch it roll out the door and down the street doesn’t mean we don’t want more.

A characteristic of all living beings is *growth*. If we are not growing, we are dead (or might as well be). I am constantly seeking. I always want more. I want to be better than the me of yesterday and of tomorrow. I have never really been happy and for years I couldn’t figure out why. Then, a la Chrisette, came the epiphany. I have withheld my gut feelings and instincts too much. I haven’t been doing what I want to do as much as I should. Therefore, I’m not content. I’ve tried to find personal happiness in people close to me — what they think of me, how they perceive me, how they treat me, talk to me, talk about me, etc. has had too much influence over my state-of-being. How foolish!

“You are responsible for your own happiness.”  On occasion, I have had the NERVE to say this to other people who I thought were being too whiny, self-pitying or clingy. Never did I stop to practice what I preached. Right now, the only thing missing from my life is ME. The real me. Doing what I want to do, how I want to do it.

I have always loved to write. Poems. Plays. Hard news. Editorials. Journal entries. I like writing. And for almost two years now, I have wanted to start a blog. Nothing fancy. No special effects. No pictures of me in expensive ensembles or trashy lingerie lingering in the background. Just me, writing. I love to talk but in my opinion, what I’m thinking and feeling about the world around me always comes out better in print. So here I am, finally doing what I want to do. I vow to say EXACTLY how I feel even when it makes me uncomfortable and everyone else angry, befuddled, etc. I vow to not let *this* fall by the wayside because of any obligations — actual or assumed. I have the noble, yet non-progressive habit of letting the needs of others come before my own. I even get bogged down by my own needs and subsequently, forget my wants. You know, the *fun* stuff. The “just because” stuff. The “ah, what the hell!” stuff. The “well…f*ck it then” stuff. I have not been very attentive to myself. I think I’m over that.