On Faith

One of my main fears when I first considered giving up my Christian label was about transformation. How could I articulate my personal journey without couching it in Holy Ghost fire? What way is there to describe the inimitable, unlikely freedom known only by the likes of Paul and Silas? How would people recognize my intention to better myself if I "merely" performed the scrutiny through relationships with other humans and in solitude?

That's why my House of Worship hop really paid off. When I first moved to Cambridge in '09, I went on Yelp and made a list of synagogues, Christian churches, mosques, Quaker meeting places and other houses of reflection and worship to visit. I'd email the heads of venues that held practices I was unfamiliar with (to rabbis about which services counted women, mosques that had separate seating for different genders, masses that allowed for unbaptized folks to take communion) and then I'd attend. After service, I'd set up a mini interview with the leader or ask a few attendees questions. Sometimes I had to seek folks out (like in my first Catholic mass in Harvard Square); other times, I was easily pegged as the outsider (the shabbat in Central Square where I held the Hebrew song book upside down and grinned like a village idiot).

I underwent a MAJOR shift and was able to sharpen my critiques of systems of oppression by how they manifested themselves in other ritual spaces. I came to love facets of religious experiences that I never would've been exposed to had I stayed in my tradition. Attending mass taught me that there's something to the body of Christ being present on the crucifix (which distinguishes it from a cross, no?). My Black American Christian tradition also has a narrative of bodied suffering. I learned how the human voice is used to call people to prayer in a mosque. This always touches my heart in services, since the word 'universe' means 'single spoken sentence' and transformed my reading of the Creation story in the book of Genesis. I was able to step outside myself long enough to learn more about Judaism and few of of its followers at shabbat - and I'm all the better for it.

Toni Morrison uses the word 'rememory' a lot in her books. I grew up in this Black Christian tradition where memory and being tethered was important; Black Northerners hoarded Southern traditions, stuffing them into their suitcases and mouths, their cars, their hat boxes for later usage in cities that would shake their faith in new ways - the lion's den of ghettos and hypersegregation, the barren lands of un(der)employment and food deserts. For all its unsavory bits, my Christian upbringing equipped me with language that helps me understand the world (and its inhabitants) better. I thought freedom from my religious upbringing would only happen if I scrapped everything. I was scared to make the leap because I thought any vestige of faith weakened my resolve. 

I crave bits of my tradition as an adult. I never thought it would happen, but I get the waves of longing for Mahalia Jackson's voice permeating every room in my house (like my grandma would DJ on her old records). I watch YouTube videos of COGIC shouts and think of Ring Shouts that survived a slave trade and a physical (and unspoken) Black theology that only comes about when descendants of slaves and sharecroppers dance with reckless abandon and unfettered limbs.

My god. How beautiful.

I'm learning that all of existence is in conversation. I have my myths and stories (be they Greco-Roman, West African or Christian) - more important, I have the language they've given me. And while I'm learning to not privilege a language at the expense of the conversation, there is language in my arsenal for re-membering when the mess rips the world asunder, for a communion that through bread and wine (or grape juice :D) renders us whole. I have another model for oneness that, like in that great Genesis story, calls all things that 'are' into existence by a voice. That shabbat (which was inspired by a trip to the synagogue that houses the oldest Torah in US history in Newport, RI) reminded me to handle and wield my Christian narrative with humility - because it was grafted into a much older tradition.

This is my longwinded way of saying I've stopped throwing out the immaculately-conceived baby with the holy water. If all of existence is in conversation, then I honor myself, you and our cultivated traditions by preserving and speaking re-membering language.

Tikkun olam. Repair the world, right?