Take Me to Church

The 20s are all about knowing what you believe. There are some things that are so apparent and oh so very subtle at the same time. You're wholly aware of its presence and yet oblivious to it at the same time. At some points its prominence come to the forefront and at others it seems to fade in the background so far it disappears. It's like getting used to a new smell. For a while it's like it's the only thing you can smell but after a while it dissipates as if it's not there. What's the answer to this riddle? Religion. Take me to church.

From my birth until I departed for my first year of college I could count the number of times I had missed church on my hands easy. The end of the week came and with it meant another church service. My mom and dad would take turns coming through the hallway going room to room to wake up their children. I would grumble and go back to sleep, and a few minutes late leap out of bed when I heard the creak of their master bedroom door swinging up signaling their completion of dressing to the nines in their Sunday best. Pristinely washed, clothed in the epitome of my childhood wardrobe, and proudly wielding my New International Version translation of the Bible in my right hand I would file into the car. Each week someone else would pray before we left our driveway and we were on our way - ready to take me to church.

Sunday school taught me the fundamental basics of Christianity, that is the lived practiced of my sect with Pentecostalism. Quoting verses from memory, breaking down stories for their spiritual messages, and praying fervently for a solid four hours every week. We sang praises, worshipped our heavenly father, and danced expressing our zeal. While I often came to dread the unnecessarily long services, iconic moments from those Sundays are things that have stayed with me to this day. Those times when the pastor's message resonates with you on a whole other level, the lively call and answer back and forth between the pews and the pulpits, and every once in a while the music. Nowadays I only find myself in a physical church when I'm home for breaks, but religion can happen anywhere. Take me to church.

Religion is one of those interesting thing that just about everybody has an opinion on. Some are fanatical and follow theirs to emphatic lengths, while others are vehemently against it (or at least the organized versions we think of when the word is brought forth). I've argued before that everyone and I mean absolutely everyone has their own religion or a belief system (whatever you want to call it) that guides their every action and the words that come from their mouths. Religion is a personal thing but it is also a communal one. Religion is how people connect to one another. Values, morals, beliefs of how the world and everything came to be, questions of the purpose of life, and so many other things bring people together, but just as easily tear people apart. In my studies as a religion I've definitely noticed a shift in my understanding not only of religion as an amorphous entity but my relationship to my own. I guess you'd say it's time to take me to church.

This past Sunday I was back in the humble abode of God. I saw some of the same people from before but even more so others I had never laid my eyes upon. I guess I have a special relationship with my church since my family happened to be one of the original few to start it back in 2001. It's unreal to see how much it's grown and how it's grown but also changed in me. All my siblings and my parents have a unique relationship with it. My parents being the deacon/deaconesses as well as serving as treasurer and other presbytery positions. Church oftentimes, especially with the community at mine being overwhelmingly West-African immigrants, has no distinction from other sectors of life, in fact, it is the entirety of life. The separation of church (as a representation for religion) as a relegated thing for Sundays is a very American notion (the majority of the world has no such division). Because of this, church and the politics behind it, mixed with the matrilineal but very much patriarchal culture, are omnipresent, but I digress. Church is always an experience.

With my ever-growing framework of a budding religious scholar, and one who has pretty much only taken classes examining Christianity or religions in America, it becomes even more difficult to engage and be at church instead of just examining church. I go and I find myself questioning why people do the things they do. The ways they move their bodies, how they breathe, the expressions on their faces, and the intentions behind their eyes. It's weird because anthropologically I think I have pretty good understanding for what I witness and then it's complicated because I have the actual lived experience of what those who practice understand themselves to be accomplishing. When I can focus on participating wholeheartedly my experiences seem to be heightened. I'm using all my senses more keenly and refining how I interact with the environment of church. Then you add spirituality to it and everything get's take someplace completely different, figuratively and literally. It's a lot to process and sift through. It all happens so fast. There's so much going on at once. It's always so damn loud too on top of it all. Everything is so very much embodied in the most visceral sense of the word. It's like sensory overload. Take me to church I said, it'll be good for you.

This post didn't really go where I had originally intended to it but I guess a rambling post every once in a while is okay. I guess I want to conclude with making some bold declarations for what I believe or at least understand about my religion, my spirituality, and my connection to it all. I've realized that through my physical disconnection with church my spiritual connection with my everyday world, my ability to see God in it, and seeing others as spiritual beings has become more frequent/stronger. I find myself turning to God more often, being unafraid to pray as I need it and questioning but even more importantly answering why things have happened or what's to come next. (Did he just say he's clairvoyant?) Look up Pentecostalism and spiritual gifts because that's a complicated conversation for another time. I guess above all I've come to understand God to be who has remained the same but one I have recently adjusted to finally fit my worldview. In saying that I mean that I believe God in all His forms is love, light, and hope in essence. He gives guidance but gives us free will. I still believe in predestination but only of the positive sort (whether we realize it to be so or not). With respect to identities, because we are wonderfully and fearfully made, as we are born there is nothing wrong about who we are (ooh controversy). I believe Him to be one who accepts all as they are and only expects all to do the same in return. I guess my views have been simplified, streamlined, and supercharged with love rather than hate, condemnation, or exclusion. My version of Christianity expresses empathy, selflessness, and generosity like none other. Willingly, you can take me to church.

You know what I realized probably many people who read this may not know that I'm Christian (let me acknowledge the religious privilege that comes with it because people assume you are unless you say otherwise). I guess I make sense now. If you couldn't figure me out before now you can. People are always wondering why I'm so willing to go out my way for others, speak in prophetic (generally preachy) ways, and seem to always know what to do, well that's why. I do what I'm supposed to. Put on display all that my religion is. Don't forget my abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, along with all the sex. Yeah, the personal (emphasis on that word) choice to refrain from partaking in indulgences (some say necessities - not necessarily, lol) makes my life weird (compared to others), ridiculously simple, but then strangely complex at the same time. What a life. What a religion. What a belief. Oh just take me to church.

My blog post question for the day is ... what do you believe in; how do you get guidance? Honestly, I talk to God or at least he gives me signs and shows me the way.

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