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.

 

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
losing my religion

Losing My Religion: Flat Earth Faith

NOTE: I started to write a disclaimer for this post, but then I erased it. Honestly. What do I have to apologize for?

My main focus in this post is on trends that I’ve noticed among certain Christians. If this post doesn’t apply to you, then trust me. I’m not talking about you.


Whether they care to admit it or not, there are Christians out there who practice a little something that I’ve come to call flat-earth faith. They believe that if their worldview is altered in any way–if they go beyond the boundaries of a) what mainstream Christian teachers have taught them, and b) what they’ve chosen to believe about humanity–then they will be damned. Literally. Hence, a lot of people are content to adhere to what they think they know regarding the state of the world and humanity.

For example, concerning man’s purpose: Many Christians take the command that we are not our own to a very serious extreme. They reject any line of thought that focuses on the “self” as evil.  (I wish I had a dollar for every time a Christian dismissed something perfectly normal but related to self-care or self-help as a supposed example of how selfish and depraved human beings are. I swear–I’d be a millionaire.) They also aim to lead a righteous life, aka a life spent doing good and being kind to others. But this isn’t necessarily done for the sake of it. Rather, a number of Christians adhere to their code of conduct so that in the afterlife they can spend their time safely with God in Heaven, instead of Hell.

But there’s also something else that drives believers.

Remember the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins? For those of you who don’t, here are the Cliff Notes: A few years ago, Rob Bell dared to suggest that Hell isn’t as hot as everyone says. In other words, he doesn’t view it as a literal realm of fire and brimstone. Mr. Bell also theorized that in the afterlife, heaven isn’t a Christians-only zone.

In response to this, certain folks were furious*, denouncing and disowning Rob left and right. Some even dared to declare him UNChristian. But why?

Because the hope of hell is what their faith is built on.  

Once you remove hell from the equation, the current Christian paradigm is broken. It becomes doing good for goodness’ sake–or Jesus’ sake, if you will–and where’s the fun in that?

I’m being sarcastic, but really. What I said isn’t that far off from the way some Christians actually think.

These folks are addicted to the story they’ve chosen to believe regarding humanity’s purpose and destiny. There are other lies that fuel some folks’ faith. In particular, the idea that kindness is a Christian virtue, those who aren’t Christian are “lost” or otherwise hopelessly unhappy and  missing out on one of life’s greatest secrets…And the idea that God loves them more than other humans.

Deep down–and sometimes even up front–a number of Christians value their exclusive status as God’s Chosen People. They count on it to serve them–if not here, then in the afterlife. In their minds, the point of this existence is, ultimately, to be good enough to secure a spot in heaven, otherwise what is there…?

As far as I’m concerned, PLENTY.

 

*That TIME article mentioned some of the pushback Rob received. I didn’t link to some of the more conservative sources out there, mainly because I don’t want trolls to pay me a visit.

 

This post’s image is from Unsplash. This time, via Jason Briscoe.

Standard
losing my religion, self-care/self-aware

Losing My Religion: Foreword

I’ve been thinking about the future of my page. In the days to come, I’d like to dig deeply into self care and spirituality. But before I move forward, I really feel the need to take a look at what I’m running away from.

I’m going to begin by offering an honest look at my thoughts on religion. And I’ll be frank with you–a part of me is terrified. For one thing, I know that what I have to say is bound to upset people. I can think of certain long-lost friends who will be offended. Once I speak up, I know that I risk ruining some personal connections.

(On the other hand, some of my people will read what I have to say and go, “Uh huh. Uh huh… NEXT!” I salute them in advance.)

Spiritually, right now, I’m in an interesting place. I agree with the idea of God or a Higher Power. But I don’t subscribe to popular religious teachings surrounding man’s universal purpose, or the way that said Higher Power operates within society.

A part of me can’t help but feel bad. I still admire certain people that I’ve known who are traditionally religious. Meanwhile, I’ve been completely put off of others. Either way, folks’ religious leanings are tied to their values. And in our current political climate, I notice that some have used their faith as an excuse to uplift their fellow human beings. Still, others feel content with oppressing them.

It feels weird to give myself this space to share what I think. I feel the weight of the fact that spirituality can be a very personal and controversial thing. But the more I free myself from religion, the more I value myself. Deep down, I know that I have every right to give myself room to breathe.

Now that I’ve had my say, I’m bracing myself. Let the release begin.

This post’s image is from a photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash.

Standard
losing my religion

Very Necessary: Rob Bell’s Book

Over the years my thoughts on religion (Christianity) have evolved. I’ve been working on putting some of my feelings into words.

Meanwhile, not too long ago, I’d heard that Rob Bell had released another book. And then I discovered this interview.

I listened to it in podcast form, and I’m sure it’s worth watching.

Religion has a disturbing amount of influence in our society. And that influence begins with how people choose to interpret the Bible, and how seriously they choose to take their interpretations of its ideas.

In addition to self-care and other topics, I know that I’ll write about religion again. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can resist going too deeply into my thoughts on Christianity’s favourite book until I’ve read Mr. Bell’s.

Standard
losing my religion

Review: Hillsong – Let Hope Rise

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is billed as a “worship experience”. However, contrary to its press release, to me it didn’t feel like a part of a new genre. Let Hope Rise is, absolutely, a concert film, in the vein of Katy Perry’s Part of Me and Justin Beiber’s Never Say Never.  Scenes that offer viewers a taste of Hillsong’s story are interspersed with shots of the band in concert performing some of their most popular hits.

I agree with one of the performers who stated that “God created music…”. Over the years I’ve enjoyed all sorts of music—including some of Hillsong’s more popular tracks. And yet, as I watched the musical segments I was torn. On one hand, I wanted to be free to love a particular song. On the other, I was reminded of what I hate about worship band performances: The idolatry. In a house of worship, when the people are gathered to sing together, they should be able to hear each other. In my opinion the only time the focus should be on a performer is when she sings a solo. Otherwise, it’s not always easy to tell who’s being glorified—apart from the singers on stage.

I know this idea flies in the face of what one of what Joel (one of Hillsong’s leaders) said: “These songs are written for people to sing, not just to listen to.” And in fact, that is something that speaks to Hillsong’s success. Hate them or love them, Hillsong has hit songs. Their lyrics tap into a religious narrative that’s revered by people throughout the globe.

Let Hope Rise isn’t necessarily a bore. It includes a few spare moments that revealed the musicians’ personalities. I chuckled at a line from a bandmate during an early tour: “Canada. We’re almost in America.”

Yet throughout the film I cringed at the sight of screaming fans. I know that within Christendom there’s a celebrity culture. But ideally, so-called “Christian celebrities” aren’t here to promote themselves. It’s their Creator—who gave them their talent in the first place—that should matter the most.

This movie also managed to include a glimpse into something that even heathen stars face: Financial challenges.  Never assume that because someone has a hit album, he or she lives in the lap of luxury. Some of Hillsong’s members still live with their extended families.

If you come to this film looking for a thorough introduction to the Christian faith, be careful. Connecting with Jesus is not as easy as “[Finding] a local church!” This subject isn’t discussed in depth and the band’s advice shouldn’t be taken as gospel. I’m a firm believer in vetting a houses of worship before joining them.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise offers them a look at the lives of one of the most popular worship bands in the world. Overall, I think viewers will enjoy it.

Standard
Books, losing my religion

Books: Brazen

brazen-cover-sept-12-2016I remember when I first read Brazen. After an evening out, my copy was at home waiting for me. Earlier, I’d gone to Paris Lectures–an event where I’d shared some of my dreams in front of a hometown crowd. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to my struggle to keep my aspirations alive.

Overall, Brazen focuses on the impact that self-doubt can have on us as we pursue our goals. It takes faith to beat a doubtful spirit: Our passions are a gift. We need to cultivate them.

In Brazen, the author explores the connection between our dreams and the ways that we view and receive God in our lives.

This book may not be for everyone. Fundamentalists probably won’t like the author’s easygoing tone, or the fact that she mentions yoga. They may even hate that her book is interactive, complete with exercises involving a Brazen Board (the author’s version of a vision board) at the end of each chapter.

While reading Brazen, I frequently stopped to underline passages. I enjoyed scrawling page numbers at the back of the book, knowing that I would look at them later on. The author offers her readers many rare gems. For instance: One of Brazen’s chapters contains a good, solid word about clutter and self-care. I’d never thought about those two issues related quite in the way the author explained them. Quite honestly, those pages alone would have made Brazen worth its price if I hadn’t gotten my copy for free.

As far as I’m concerned, Brazen’s author did her job. In this life, you need to be Brazen and honest about what you want. The best way to do that is by being your most authentic, God-given self.

Disclosure: Brazen has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

Standard