Books

Read It!: I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die

In I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die, Sarah J. Robinson offers readers an honest, Christian perspective on wrestling with mental health challenges. Specifically, she shares her experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts.

I’m thankful that Robinson discusses medication and therapy in a positive light. In certain religious circles, when mental health issues arise, the traditional thing to do is to tell people to “pray on it”—and nothing more. Yet believing in God isn’t enough, when human beings need solutions for the challenges in our very real, very human lives. Furthermore, He provided us with wisdom enough to have created mental health supports. We have every right to pursue them when necessary.

Overall, I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die takes a thoughtful approach to mental health challenges. People in the church who are and are not affected by such issues should give it a read.

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Books

Read It!: The Making of Biblical Womanhood

In The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became the Gospel Truth, Beth Allison Barr takes a stand against the Evangelical status quo’s ideas regarding Biblical femininity. An Evangelical herself, she confronts a truth many are intent on ignoring: men’s power in certain churches rests on folks’ commitment to misinterpreting scriptures. The truth has the power to change religious power structures, and for many, this reality remains uncomfortable.

As a Medieval scholar and professor, Barr’s perspective is solid. She’s aware of the Bible’s context. She acknowledges the way that both the scriptures and women’s leadership within the church were perceived throughout history. Her evidence-based argument is compelling. At this point those who choose to ignore it seem to have nothing logical to stand on other than their commitment to biased thinking regarding women who love the Lord and have been gifted to lead others.

If you’re tired of religious-based lies related to women, there’s no doubt that you’ll find this a refreshing read.

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Books, Caribbean Culture

Read It!: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

This is a spoiler-free book review.

I don’t know Barbados quite the way that I should.

I was born and raised in Canada, so why would this bother me?

Both of my parents are from the Caribbean. I’m half Bajan. I’ve spent my life in North America, and yet, I’ve only actually been there a handful of times.

Over the past few years, I’ve caught glimpses of Barbados via social media. The images that people share are gorgeous. Yet something about looking at tourists’ photos leaves me with a deep sense of longing. There’s a real life beyond those fabulous filters.

People love to refer to countries like as Barbados as “paradise”.  But just as it can be dangerous to judge a book by its cover, so it is unwise to judge a country by its reputation. Too often, people take locations that they think of as vacation destinations for granted. On one hand, I realize their perspective comes naturally. I imagine it’s easy to come to certain conclusions if the only time you visit a place is when you’re there to relax.

On the other, I’ve been concerned. Visitors risk overlooking the fact that real people are born, live out their lives, and even die in places that they tag as “travel goals”. The fact remains that in these desired destinations, real people face real struggles. 

Never was this more apparent in How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House—a debut novel that is set in the country of my father’s birth.

I’ve seen One-Armed Sister compared to White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. Dare I say that this comparison is well-deserved? Both are vividly-written debut novels that take their readers for a ride. Both are written by Black women, and are bound to be remembered by all who read them—if not in detail, then certainly in terms of their emotional impact. One-Armed Sister carries readers on a journey via an engrossing story that involves multiple characters whose lives intersect, overlap, and at times painfully collide.

The world of One-Armed Sister is full of high-stakes human interactions. In that sense, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is, undeniably, a character-driven thriller. At its core is an abusive relationship between a couple: Adan and Lala.

This novel is, indeed, compelling—almost beyond reason. Reading it is often an intense experience. I have no doubt that most readers will be transfixed by its characters. You will care for their welfare. You will likely wonder if it makes any sense to be this concerned about people who only exist in print—then remind yourself that when you come across truly good fiction, this is normal.

Ms. Jones ability to wield words is enchanting. In her characters’ parlance I could feel the echoes of my relatives. Reader Beware: Due to the nature of her story, her carefully crafted sentences are often full of foreboding. On nearly every page, I found myself feeling a sense of curiosity mingled with dread over what new fate would befall a beloved character.  Yet it was all worth it.

Overall One-Armed Sister is a great, engrossing read. And as authors go, I definitely look forward to finding out what’s next for Ms. Cherie Jones.

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losing my religion

American Jesus: Where are your priorities?

This post was originally shared on my Medium page. Slowly but surely, I’m coming back to my own site.

In my lifetime, I have seen clergy from all over North America bend themselves over backwards and twist themselves into pretzels, determined to despise certain people over so-called sins. Yet said sins involve behaviour that is none of their business.

Their insistence on doing this tells me two things. First, it reveals the truth about their commitment to loving each other. Jesus himself said that we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet time and again, people look for loopholes.

After all, it’s much more fun to judge others. White Evangelicals are, above all, white. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they play a role in North American society as a part of its dominant race of people. And there’s something that a number of them seem to enjoy about playing God.

In my experience, meddling in other people’s lives is a part of (White) Christian culture. Many of them have been hardwired to believe that everyone outside of their bubble is pitiful and needs “saving”. Not just spiritually, either. The idea of Black people as inferior is embedded into the faith’s colonial heritage. Throughout history, our culture has been mined and undermined by dominant members of society.

Secondly, the energy that they put towards hating people because of their “sins” is a declaration of their insecurity. To be specific, it reveals to me the truth about just how much they really trust God.

If God truly hates people because of anything that they do of their own free will on their own time, He will deal with them. He is MORE than strong enough and BEYOND capable.

I know that you know I’m right.

Some spiritual paths refer to this as Karma.

What you put out into the world comes back to you.

Jesus himself said, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Therefore, I have one question for Certain Christians: Why do you think it’s YOUR job to pursue personal sins so vehemently?

Racist words and deeds are pure evil. In the here and now, they hurt living, breathing human beings. They can diminish a person’s spirit and deeply scar their soul. They can leave people like me questioning our sanity and humanity.

For hundreds of years, racist WORDS and ACTIONS have done everything from putting people in SERIOUS socioeconomic jeopardy, to COSTING THEM THEIR LIVES. By words, I don’t only mean slurs. Racism is perpetuated via the way you speak to and about Black people. Microaggressions leave scars.

And racist actions involve more than physical violence.

Consider this diagram.

Thankfully, over the past week or so, “Police murdering POC” seems to have moved from the Socially Acceptable category into its rightful place as being Socially Unacceptable. But take a look at the rest of the items that lie under the line near the top of the pyramid. If you’re white, do you know what all of them are? And do you understand how they can harm Black people? If not, please head over to Google. It’s time for you to start studying.

Whether blood is shed because of it or not, racism has DEVASTATING, real-world, PRESENT DAY consequences. Yet earlier this year I had to listen to a popular pastor make a “declaration” against homosexuality. (For what it’s worth, it was a Black pastor. And I’m calling on Black church leaders, too, to have courage in the fight against racism within the church. If ever there was a time to “Tell the TRUTH and SHAME the DEVIL…” this is it.)

Regardless of your position, if you are a Christian leader, you need to step up and recognize the power that you have. People’s world-views are dictated by what you say.

There are adults who are in therapy because as a child, their parents led them to believe ridiculous things about themselves, in the name of God. There are people whose mental health has been shattered because so-called Christians have been determined to deny their humanity over things that are a matter of personal choice or identity.

Yet funnily enough, what another person does in their private life has never managed to snuff out mine.

So, I’ll ask: When it comes to the evils that you preach against, where are your priorities?

Last week when I was first drafting this, a sentence came to me.

If the church went after racism the way it went after certain other issues, racism would be OVER by now.

Now, to some that may sound far-fetched.

If so, I’d like to ask you to think of the examples that I mentioned earlier. I stand by what I said. There are people who still feel traumatized today, because in their youth, as Christians, they were humiliated over things that cause others no actual harm.

Stop wasting time wringing your hands over other folks’ life choices. People need to feel a deep sense of shame over genuine evils that actively hurt others. And you can start with racist language and behaviour.

 

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losing my religion

American Jesus: An Introduction

Years ago, I started trying write a lengthy blog post called “American Jesus”. Its main theme is racism and religion. I’ve been reluctantly adding to it as I’ve reflected on society. 

Living in Canada, some of the white pastors that I’ve encountered have either spoken or acted in ways that left me feeling uncomfortable. I couldn’t help notice that they modelled themselves a certain way. Specifically, they seemed interested in mimicking what you might witness in American-style, Big Box Christian circles. Hence, my title.

This post goes out to every Black Person who has had to tolerate bigotry in a church setting. This is especially for those who have endured a white pastor who loved to show how “down” they were.

Yet when the darker skinned people in their congregation dared to open their mouths about how they have been wronged by society—or a fellow parishioner—suddenly those people were doing too much, or just “misunderstood” something–or were just plain WRONG.

Photo by Valerie Sigamani via Unsplash

Years ago I lived in Toronto with a pair of roommates.  We got along well. For some reason, one day, one roommate–a woman of colour* that I’ll call Angie–and I got together and decided to take each other to church. She took me to a Black church that she attended. I took her where I went. Downtown.

It was a white church. In hindsight I know that I was one of very few non-white people in attendance. Yet somehow, I only started taking it in after the service, when she pointed it out.

Because of that observation, you might be tempted to feel smug. Especially if you’re reading this and went to church with me back then.

Please don’t.

Don’t say, “Claire, you know damn well it wasn’t a ‘white’ church.” Technically, supposedly,  everyone was welcome. The term “white” is simply a descriptor of the majority of the people who showed up.

And please, don’t look at my sudden realization and tell me, “Ah, Claire. See how comfortable you felt. The people in that church behaved decently towards you. They took you in as a child of God.”

Some seemed to, of course.

However, years later, after the American election in 2016, I became aware of just how white certain members were—especially some of its leaders.

Over the years many of us remained connected via social media.

Hellscape that it can be, Facebook is where I saw the most garbage. The political climate is connected to the current cycle of racist evil that we are experiencing. And in the days after the election I saw a lot of interesting things.

Please note in these examples, I’m generalizing. Mainly because I imagine other Black people have witnessed similar things. Meanwhile in real life, while drafting this, I was thinking of specific individuals.

Among other things, via social media, I witnessed white Christian men who…

When asked what the intentions of protesters who took down Confederate statues were, declared “I don’t know!”. As an authority, his attitude only added to the narrative that protestors must have been unhinged. He missed an opportunity to do research and recognize the statues for what they are: Symbols of oppression.

Men who took cheap shots at Obama. Meanwhile, in the wake of blatantly evil acts from his successor, said NOTHING.

Men who share stories from a media outlet that made Fox News look like it deserved a Pulitzer.

Men who love to talk about what MLK would have done—because it bothered them when anti-racist protesters got violent—and after all, didn’t Dr. King hate violence?!? Meanwhile, Dr. King understood that a riot was “the language of the unheard.”

(Dear White People: STOP using Dr. King as a prop to excuse your lazy approach to injustice. He may not have been interested in rioting, but he understood the type of hopelessness mixed with righteous anger that lies beneath.)

Men who quoted random Bible verses without explanation. Yet the scriptures’ tone and content left readers thinking only one thing: they believed innocent people were to blame for whatever leader they wound up with.

Men who told me, “Black people voted for Trump!” Which in hindsight, is interesting. When I first saw that comment, I shot back a word about slaves who were extra loyal to their masters.

However today, when I hear that, I think “And a woman defended Harvey Weinstein.” Because one did, literally. In court.

Here’s a #ProTip: Someone may receive support from those who are among their potential victims. Yet that does NOT mean that they are incapable of oppressing them. It merely makes them good at fooling the most naïve among the oppressed.

That, and there’s a little thing called Stockholm Syndrome.

Looking back, it hurts to realize that I turned to some of these people for spiritual leadership. (Mind you, it wasn’t a completely surrendered form of leadership. When I was a child, not only did I go to church, but my family was involved in ministry. Throughout my life, my parents encouraged me to cultivate my own personal relationship with God.)

Nevertheless, when you go to church services—or watch a pastor on YouTube–just by showing up, you are saying that you value the opinion of the person in the pulpit.

Black people, you need to beware of the beliefs of the people who lead you on Sabbath and Sundays. Our lives matter.

 

*She wasn’t Black, but she wasn’t white, either. Hence my use of that term.

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Uncategorized

On expressions of grief in the Age of Social Media

This post was originally shared January 28th on Medium.

Photo – Mike Labrum on Unsplash

This past Sunday in the wake of the news about Kobe Bryant, I had a lot of thoughts. Among them, I was wondering whether or not I should post something on Instagram, and if I did, what would I say?

In the midst of my questions, there flickered an idea. It was one that I’d had before: “If you don’t post, people might not think that you care…” Deep down, I know that this isn’t true. And in the past, I’ve been silent regarding certain events.

But honestly. Those words capture the kind of world we live in. For some reason, a small part of me didn’t want to seem like I was some sort of unfeeling soul.

For a moment, I mulled over the idea that perhaps this presumed need for statements from people — including regular folks like me — is a reality I need to accept. I shared two posts about what happened on Sunday. And although I certainly don’t feel like I was forced, I know that nothing I say will ever be enough.

But earlier today, I opened my Instagram feed, and saw this:

In an instant, I was captivated and comforted by Demetria’s honesty. I agreed with her fully and completely. I began to stop feeling bad about not knowing what to say about Kobe.

A moment later, I learned that people have been upset with another celebrity for not commenting on the tragedy via social media. My curiosity was piqued, so I ventured over to said famous person’s account. (For now, I’ll call the person I’m referring to “J”. Although I didn’t know it until today, J is a friend of the Bryants. )

In the comments section under their latest post, J made their perspective clear. [I’m purposely not going to quote this person. I feel gossipy enough as it is, writing about this incident.] To J, social media is a business tool. Hence, they’ll post about their particular branch of the entertainment industry, and their work in it. But they believe that none of their personal life — including their response to the loss of people who meant a lot to them — is ANY of the public’s business.

The more I saw J graciously dealing with trolls, the more a wave of relief seeped through my soul.

Since late last year, I’ve been reevaluating my relationship with social media. An obvious part of that equation is my “WHY?”. Literally.

Why am I posting something? Is it out of a genuine desire to share, or am I being performative? Or, as some might feel in the shadow of a tragedy, is a post being composed out of a sense of obligation?

Here, I’ll offer a caveat. If you feel the need to memorialize someone, I don’t mind. I think a well-worded tribute can be beautiful. But if you don’t want to share your thoughts on a loved one who has passed away, please know that that’s absolutely, perfectly ok.

As I think of a years-old personal loss that I still haven’t publicly discussed in detail, something about J’s comments set me free, and I hope they do the same for you.

Firstly, I decided to release myself. It’s important to keep things in perspective. Going forward, if something terrible happens, and I don’t feel like commenting on it via social media, I won’t. (And I won’t feel guilty about it, either.) I don’t have to, and my not commenting does not mean that I don’t care.

When words fail us, in this era of free communication, we deserve the freedom to say nothing at all.

Secondly, it does’t matter to me how famous or non-famous you are. Our phones have us literally living in each other’s back pockets. And sometimes, that proximity is a bit too close. Please remember: whether you’re feeling overjoyed, or absolutely horrible — you do not automatically owe strangers pieces of your life. We are not entitled to your intimate details, whether whole, or in fragments.

There was a bit of a presumptuous tone in some of the comments directed at J, and the audacity of them threw me off. If nothing else, I hope that certain people will evolve beyond using folks’ status as “public figures” as an excuse to invade their privacy. “Public figures” are still people, who, like the rest of us, bear the weight of their own humanity. And this burden can be especially overbearing when the unthinkable happens.

In Jesus’ name, have some compassion.

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Caribbean Culture, Introducing...

Made in Paradise: Jaye Applewaite Designs

If, like me, you live in one of the colder parts of North America, these days you might find yourself daydreaming about summer. No doubt, if you’re in love, you might even be thinking about a destination wedding. Yet have you ever thought about having your dress made by a designer who lives in paradise? 

One day last year on Instagram, I came across one of the most beautiful wedding dresses I’d ever seen. And the object of my affection was the brainchild of none other than Jaye Applewaite.

Formerly an engineer who earned her degree via the University of Waterloo, today Jaye creates stunning custom-designed bridal gowns in her studio on the island of Barbados.

Last year, I got ahold of her to discuss her captivating designs.

You studied engineering in university. What prompted you to pursue that field?

You know when you grow up, people ask what you want to do and they expect you to say doctor, lawyer…? Then you get a good job. I think that’s what I just did.

I just picked one of those traditional, scientific kind of fields that people consider to be successful.

And I didn’t want to do medicine. Law never appealed to me. I did like math, I did like science, I did like physics. I enjoy [these subjects] and engineering was a good fit for me.

What is it that inspired you exactly to switch from engineering to fashion?

I think it was more like an accident to be honest. It was 2015. The world had a recession around 2010-2011. It kind of hit Barbados from 2014-2016. 

I was working part time and I didn’t want to be home, twiddling my thumbs. I like to be productive.

And it was summertime in Barbados, and I decided to start a little something. I started making flower headbands and body chains. And it just whetted my appetite. Getting into creative entrepreneurship is something I’d never considered [or] even entertained before and it just opened up my eyes and my mind and my excitement to a whole new world.

Here you have people messaging you, loving what you’re creating with your hands. As small as that flower headband may be, or that body chain, it made that person’s outfit. And to me, that felt really good.

Then, later on that year there was a fashion show–the organizer messaged me, wanting to showcase my bands and body chains. I was like, “Sure, but what will the model wear?”

And she was like, “You could pair up with a bikini designer…”

And I said, “No.” I felt it was cliched and I thought about all my customers. And yes, the majority of them were girls attending the summer parties and having fun. But a couple of them were brides. And I found I had the most joy with brides, and as I started to think more about bridal [fashion] it clicked for me, “You know what? Let me get into the bridal industry.”

I was really intrigued when I was reading about you and I learned that you do not have formal design training. Can you tell me more about how you moved from headbands to dresses?

I think it came from a very naïve point of view. I think somebody who’s trained in fashion itself would be more hesitant to make such a big switch. But for me, I just tried to see where this journey is taking me.

…Going back to the fashion show, I’d created all the bodywear, the headbands and everything. And I honestly didn’t have any sewing experience.

I approached a local seamstress, told her what I needed, and we worked together to create the collection. She was doing the majority of the sewing and I was adding the designs to the pieces. [For example] she would sew a top and I would add the lace, beads, pearls, and all the bridal details. 

Then the show happened. At that point in time it still didn’t occur to myself to call myself a bridal designer.

Honestly it was a dream and it had never really been done here before. The audience was wowed, and the pearls, they sparkled–everything was just looking so, so pretty. And [my designs] really stuck out because the remainder of the show was swimwear and resort wear. I was the only bridal person on the runway.

The public’s response to Jaye’s line proved to be an incredible catalyst.

After the fashion show, the reaction was very good. Mind you, I still had not really sewn anything. I did a photo shoot, and a bridal magazine also contacted me about the bridal pieces. They wanted to do an editorial. 

…photos were out there presenting me as a bridal designer. So obviously, a bride approached me and she wanted a wedding dress. And inside, I’m panicking. The seamstress I worked with was very, very busy. I knew that if I said yes, I’d have to make this dress myself. 

But, luckily, my mom sewed for us, and my sister is a fashion designer. Although I had never sewn before, I had seen people handle themselves around a sewing machine. So I was like, “Say yes”. And I’m like, “I”m just gonna teach myself.”

Jaye’s faith in her abilities came from a familiar place.

…Some people may see sewing as creative. [And] the design of the dress is creative, yes. But the actual getting behind the machine, making patterns, to me, is science. And me–I’m a scientist. I’m like, “I have this. It’s all math. I got this.” My mind was like, “Yeah, you can do this. You can build buildings, and bridges. You can do this!” 

And so I just taught myself pattern-making and everything, and the dress fit like a glove. [The bride] was super happy. And her photo was out there…

And then, after a year, I quit engineering.

In your fashion journey, what keeps you in bridalwear as opposed to sportswear or some other type of clothing?

When it comes down to bridal wear, I’ve seen too many ill-fitting wedding dresses. I’ve just seen too much stuff I’m just not pleased with in the bridal industry. I want to continue to push the boundaries and explore bridal fashion. Because I feel that the other areas are well explored. They really are.

I just feel like bridalwear–it just sticks with me. The fantasy of it, the emotions are in it. You’re a part of that person’s big day. I just feel like you’re making an impact on that person’s life. 

As opposed to like, say, a bathing suit or something they wear it to the beach, but next year they want a new bathing suit. I just feel like certain other clothing has a shorter shelf life. Bridal just–that person remembers that for the rest of their life. Those pictures go with them. And beyond. And they can speak about that day, that experience, the dress, working with me, and bridal fashion is just fulfilling.

To me that was lacking in engineering–that fulfillment. Not just creativity. It really was the fulfilment. And when I made a headband and those clients sending pictures and were so happy, and so beautiful, they got so many compliments, and I felt that good.

Now imagine me when I’m doing wedding dresses now? I’m on cloud nine for a whole week after a bride’s wedding!

And people can find your dresses online…

On my website at jayeapplewaite.com. We have a studio in St. James, Barbados.

Some people think they can come and try on dresses but it’s not like that. It truly is a bespoke wedding dress service, by appointment only. Once you contact me and get an idea of what’s going on [and] you really want to meet with me, then we can set up everything from there.  

Who is a Jaye Applewaite bride? What is she like? 

I think from off the bat it’s the bride who’s looking for something custom. They’ve tried on dresses and what they’re looking for it’s not out there. They want someone who listens to them and truly gives them what they want. They want good quality, good service, they want something beautiful, something that’s unique.

They are young professionals. They have a joyful life, and they’re fashionable. They’re free-spirited, they’re down to earth. Because they really are a joy to work with–my brides. 

They really are kind-hearted souls looking for a beautiful wedding experience.

Speaking of the industry: What would you say to someone who wanted to get into fashion design, but they didn’t know where to start?

I feel like I was in that same position… I think you have to start before you’re ready and also have a goal for where you’re going. Because I know sometimes where you start is very far from your end goal and the gap between there discourages people. Just start and [keep in mind that] you don’t know everything. You’re not going to know everything. You just start and figure it out, and the decisions you make, make them with that end-goal in mind. Continue to learn, continue to grow. 

What’s ahead for Jaye Applewaite designs?

One of my main inspirations is Vera Wang. I like how she has built an empire around different elements. I believe it is good to diversify a bit and have fun and be able to explore your different options within the industry. 

Right now Jaye Applewaite as it is is focused on one on one custom designed bridal fashion, very light, bright, and airy. But I think next in the future I would like to create a separate brand or separate line and just have that catered towards a very specific look and try and get into boutiques. I think that will be exciting.

Another thing I’ve been talking about is switching to another aesthetic. I know everybody appreciates classic traditional mermaid, ball gown kind of styles.

When I look at my brides, and when I look at my work, it’s almost two separate looks going on. There’s the light airy, sheer, ethereal kind of look. And then there are the brides who go for the more traditional mermaid kind of dresses, and to me I can almost see the brand begin to separate in terms of aesthetic.

Anything is possible.

All photos are featured on Jaye’s Instagram page.

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Uncategorized

Can we talk about racism in the church?

How about now?

In the wake of one of gospel’s greats finding the strength to share his story, I wonder how much longer it will be before he receives an appropriate response. I also wonder about the kind of opposition he might be facing. I keep imagining Christian celebrities and civilians muttering behind the scenes, warning Mr. Franklin not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, I would like to thank him for his bravery.

The way that TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network), the Gospel Music Association, and the Dove Awards has behaved is proof that these institutions can be just as racist and cowardly as the rest of society. The pattern is typical: Enjoy Black people’s time and talents. Delight in our worth, on a superficial level. So long as we entertain you, all is well.

Yet let us honestly discuss issues that cause us real trauma. Suddenly, we’re too much. Suddenly, we don’t deserve your support. The pain that we feel shouldn’t be expressed. Our realities deserve to be eliminated.  

If you participate in this kind of erasure, perhaps you may not realize it. But when you tell Black people to keep quiet about what we’re going through or what we worry about, you tell the truth about just how much you really care about us. In spite of your statements about being one in Jesus’ name, the truth is evident. Your love is not sincere. Your concern is not genuine.

I want to say more about racism in the Christian community. I’ve felt an urgency in our political climate, as people have begun to reveal their true colours.

Back in the day, before putting pen to paper on this issue, I felt the way I usually do whenever I’m about to write something: There were moments where I caught myself wondering if I could find the words to express what I was thinking. However, now, I realize that what I really need is the nerve.

Will Kirk Franklin’s honesty embolden me? I’m not sure. But if nothing else, I know this: The way that the predominantly white Christian church–and therefore, white Christians–in North America regard people of colour needs to change. People on the fringes of the faith have known this for years. The question is, now that racism in Christian contexts has been mentioned in the mainstream, what will happen next?

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losing my religion

Watch It!: The Family

Photo by Ricky Turner via Unsplash

Earlier this year there was a bit of buzz related to Netflix’s new show, The Family. I took note of the fact that it would air later this year, but otherwise, left it alone. That is until a few weeks ago. One Saturday morning I noticed that someone in my social media feed had posted about the show. By that Sunday, I’d begun to check it out. 

Thus far I’ve seen The Family once and if I have time I might watch it again. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but I would like to talk about what I saw. 

Hence, on that note, how can I best describe it?

As the content unfolded onscreen I was…Surprised–but not completely. Just thinking about the way American politics has evolved over the years, it’s been hard not to believe that behind the scenes,  something horrible has been going on all along. And I can honestly tell you that if you’ve had any fears about religious corruption, The Family will confirm them. Although it isn’t in the horror genre, its content gave me the creeps. Overall, though, I was mostly disgusted. 

The Family is a docuseries that recounts the evolution of a bipartisan religious organization–referred to as The Family–which has been tied to the government’s top leaders in Washington, DC. Based on a pair of books by Jeff Sharlet, the first episode begins by telling its story through the eyes of the author. In his younger days in Washington, Sharlet was first introduced to The Family via his time at Ivanwald–a household that serves, essentially, as a Christian fraternity. 

Throughout the series several snippets of dialogue reveal the sinister nature of a movement with seemingly innocent roots. In one scene, James Cromwell, as religious leader David Coe, speaks to a group of young men. He asks them a simple enough question.

“Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?” 

In response, young Mr. Sharlet gave what I thought was the most obvious answer to this question. “Jesus.” However, Mr. Coe had another person in mind. 

At this point I should note that when Coe replied, I initially thought the screenwriter was using a bit of artistic license. After all, some of The Family’s segments were dramatized. I honestly wanted to believe that Movie Coe didn’t actually use Real Life Coe’s words. And I might have, if not for the fact that The FamIly includes actual footage of David Coe standing in a pulpit. As he speaks to his audience about how to influence others, he shares his thoughts.

“Hitler. Hitler made a covenant. The Mafia made a covenant. Look at the strength of the bonds.”

“HITLER made a covenant”?! Watching that footage, I don’t think I’ve ever given my computer a more horrified stare.

Truly, I was stunned. 

Imagine. You have Jesus Christ HIMSELF, as the head of your religion. Yet when you want your followers to have an example of someone who successfully made and kept a promise to others, you choose HITLER?!  

That bit of dialogue haunted me. It also called to mind a greater problem within mainstream religion. Time and again, certain Christian leaders try to put up a good front. Yet ultimately, they demonstrate that they don’t have genuine confidence in their faith. This tends to be revealed in challenging situations: Rather than standing by their principles, in a quest to relate to the world, some pastors rush to support evil in all of its forms.

For some reason or another, some would rather choose fame over discernment and authenticity. 

But I digress.  

I already thought something was off with Big Box Christianity and its connection to the American government. In the end, The Family only confirmed my suspicions.

Before I go, let me offer you a warning: If you’re going to view this show, you might want to mentally prepare yourself. Especially if you have any previous experience with religious fundamentalism. The Family wasn’t easy to watch. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did.

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Jesus, losing my religion

Status Report?: Spiritual Renewal

Earlier this summer, one of the hottest musicians in the galaxy mentioned prayer in an interview, and I felt it.

When I first read Rihanna’s chat with Sarah Paulson, I was excited. I had just shared a post on meditation. Next on my schedule was prayer, but I needed a hook. Perfect timing, right?

Except it wasn’t.

Something was wrong with me. 

As a writer, over the course of this year I’ve had doubts about my skills. And as I looked at tackling spirituality, I felt more intimidated than inspired. The thought of writing on God opened infinite possibilities. Yet how can someone possibly quantify something that’s immeasurable?

Thankfully, not too long ago, I faced a genuine moment of divine intervention.

One day, rather than feeling a sense of intimacy with God, I felt overcome by the weight of an incredible distance. It was an odd, painful encounter. And of all the things in the world, while listening to a gospel track, I started to sob.

Looking back on that moment I recognize that I was pretty much the epitome of a religious cliche. But at the time, I felt as though a door had opened. I started asking myself questions. Was I dreaming, or when I was younger, did I have a more authentic spiritual practice?

Lord knows (no pun intended), over the past few years, something has felt different.

And so, back to my origins I’ve returned.

Mind you, as I go, I’m still discovering what this means. Yet the loss of people such as Rachel Held Evans has reminded me that there’s work to be done. In this political climate, the theologian within still wants to call people towards a more conscientious vision of Christianity.

Overall, I’m not comfortable with any form of piety that denies our common humanity. I really want to dive into religion and some controversial material. But that’s another post for another day.

And so, until next time… Here’s the last sermon I watched. Pastor Furtick offers a decent riff on the idea that man contains multitudes.

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