“Religion is the organization of spirituality into something that became the handmaiden of conquerors. Nearly all religions were brought to people and imposed on people by conquerors, and used as the framework to control their minds.Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.My main point here is that if you are the child of God and God is a part of you, then in your imagination, God is supposed to look like you. And when you accept a picture of the deity assigned to you by other people, you become the spiritual prisoners of that other people.”
John Henrik Clarke
An Essay in Progress
Now I know that there are two things that people say you should never talk about unless you want to start a war for sure. Those two topics of course are politics and religion. However, my spirit is sooooo vexed with the way I have been treated over the years by friends and family due to (in my opinion) the way they perceive their walk with God to be in comparison to me, that I must vent and address some of these issues. I went on a spiritual quest, or you might say venture, to Sedona, Arizona to put things in perspective in my life, on a sacred level in regard to me, life, and my relationships. I was raised a Baptist, and later due to a family member becoming a Born Again Christian, I then too converted. I was told that I had to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior and confess that I was a sinner, and then I would need to maintain my salvation by keeping with the laws of the Bible. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time.
Since that time I have come to meet and befriend people from different walks of life that practice other spiritual beliefs. Despite the fact that I was taught that it was not wise and spiritually unbalanced to be among or socialize with people who had different faiths than me. I eventually grew to not totally agree with that theory. I gradually and consistently noticed that there were people who practiced the same faith as me, yet I didn’t vibe their energy. More importantly there were several people over the years that Idid relate to but they didn’t exercise the same religious beliefs that I did. As a result, Gradually began to feel that I could have friends, and interact with really beautiful spirits,who happen to observe a different religious spiritual path than me.
Presently, I am at a space of wonderment, bewilderment, curiosity, concern,frustration, and anger because of the way people judge and ridicule others since they have a different perspective and belief system and chose unlike religious paths versus others.In my opinion, that type of behavior does not appear to exemplify the exact concepts that they claim to profess is their own esoteric faith. It’s really interesting when you think about how most religions have very similar ideals, and laws that are pretty much standard throughout all of them. Principles such as: patience, humility, forgiveness, to be non-judgmental, and of course the biggie love. However, these values are all too often not exercised by the same people who feel that they have a more righteous walk that is more in tune with the Creator, God, Jah, Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, or whatever is the appropriate term depending on one’s religious and spiritual beliefs, than others.
It appears to me that religion and spirituality are overlapping concepts, yet,different to many degrees. Therefore, I decided to first read the dictionary definition of these two principal and imperative words. Hence, according to the Random HouseWebster’s Dictionary definition for religion it stated 1. a set of beliefs concerning the nature and purpose of the universe, considered as the creation of a superhuman agency, 2.an institutionalized system of religious beliefs and worship, 3. Something a person believes in devotedly. However, for spirituality the definition was 1. of the spirit of the soul. 2. of sacred matters; religious, 3. of a church; ecclesiastical.
Now, in my opinion those two definitions are similar, yet, for the most part different. Let’s be honest, I think we all know that there are other meanings of words that manifest and never make the dictionary, but it still evolves into multiple definitions that are indirectly acknowledged. As a result of that phenomenon I have learned through sharing and expounding with friends and family from really dissimilar backgrounds,coupled with the extremely unpleasant experiences of defending my relationship withGod, I have grown to a different overstanding (because understanding doesn’t seem to help) of the true essence of religion and spirituality, and what it means to me.
My interpretation of the definition of religion and the evolution of its meaning to me today is an institutionalized belief system that stems from historical and ritualistic beliefs that are taught to be practiced repeatedly, based on set rules and regulations according to someone else’s version of those ideals outside of self. These principles are all too often passed down from generation to generation without being challenged by people. My question is who interpreted those beliefs and more importantly who is to say these analyses are the gospel for everyone? Now, my interpretation of the definition of spirituality is distinctly different to me, it’s based more on innate feelings that don’t have anything to do with learned concepts, theories, principles, or rituals that are practiced purely from a mental repetitious standpoint that merely have been passed down and practiced solely for those reasons. Spirituality to me is more about what is felt from the innermost place of a person. Feelings that are intuitive and inherent, which come from one’s’ gut, one’s’ inner spirit, and this can not be taught, it’s natural. More importantly, itis about not exclusively relying on someone else to tell you right from wrong, or to operate from a set of beliefs that are not based on one’s own truth or analysis of that truth, but to rely on one’s eternal voice and spirit for guidance.
Okay, what do I mean by all of that? I have met many people who profess to be religious yet they are cold and mean spirited, they ritualistically practice their religion routinely mentally but not spiritually, operating more from what they were taught and not what they feel inside. Moreover, it appears that their actions are based more about pleasing man and how they will be praised or judged by them than God. Whereas there have been people who don’t associate or affiliate themselves with any form of religion, ordenomination, yet, they are loving, caring spiritual people. They function more from a belief system stemming from ideals, we all have possibly heard but maybe considered to be clichés on a cosmic level, such as: “What comes around goes around, what you give is what you get, he or she doesn’t have good karma or energy, etc.” My grandmother once referenced a beautiful brother friend of mine who is giving, caring, forgiving, etc., yet isn’t allied with any organized religion by saying, “He has more Christian ways then so called Christian folks”. I have another friend who also would be regarded in that way,she too has never professed to be affiliated with a particular religious dogma. A matter of fact, she is agnostic, yet she exemplifies the nature of a spiritual person. She is not only sensitive about her relationship with fellow humans, she is also concerned about trees and plants, animals, the ocean, and all of God’s creations.
Wonder, curiosity, concern, frustration, and anger are adjectives that I used earlier to express feelings that have surfaced through my own personal experiences and ones thatI have encountered and others observed. I am clear that there are people regardless of their religion who have displayed actions that were not in sync with the common components that all religious dogma promotes, which is love. Now without spilling the beans and telling all my business, here are a few of the situations that have made me come to this conclusion. By the same token, I want to be fair by also acknowledging that there are two sides to every story, so these are a few of my versions from the countless encounters.
Since charity begins at home I will start there first. I have had two of my family members who are Born Again Christians question and judge me and my right to profess that I too am a Born Again Christian. It basically boiled down to being judged,condemned, and ridiculed about areas in my life that according to their beliefs based on the way they interpreted the Bible were not in proper standings with God and therefore Ihad no right to claim to be a child of God in the sense that they were. So, I began to wonder and question what gave them the right to be acting self righteous towards me when we all sin. How do you weigh a sin? Is fornication a greater abomination than gossiping or backbiting? Is drinking wine or alcohol more sinful than fear and lack of faith? What are the real implications of condescending statements/questions disguised into innocent sounding statements/questions such as: “They are going to die and bust hellwide open” or “You consider yourself to be saved? Huh!’’ These sorts of remarks were very offensive to me and I don’t feel that it wasn’t in sync with the way God operates. I Remember the Bible and scriptures about a glass house and folks who never sin cast the stone at it. So, I have reasoned and decided that my relationship and walk with God is very personal which is true for everyone. Therefore, no one has the right to question or judge it and I equally don’t have the right to do it to others.
The next encounter I would like to share is based on this sister friend who once made a living through methods I would never choose due to the way I was raised. Not to mention that I just feel all money isn’t good money, some of it has a price on it and the way it’s earned that can later come back to haunt and bite. At any rate, it never made me judge her or question our relationship to each other. How we could learn from each other and grow from the interaction is what most mattered to me. I thought we had a sweet relationship that had its challenges but at the end of the day we felt committed to each other as sister friends to be honest, true, and loyal. We both have exemplified that in the past. She eventually decided that it wasn’t healthy for her to continue working in an industry that was detrimental to her being. She chose to cleanse herself from the negative experiences by going to the Caribbean and finding a Rastafarian denomination that worshiped God, who they refer to as Jah. Her walk in her religion was very dedicated and committed to ideals that were drastically different from her previous lifestyle. I was very happy for her despite the fact that I didn’t totally agree or believe in the manner of some of their (Rastafarian) rituals and mores. Yet, the last two times that we saw each other I walked away feeling insulted and hurt. Both times I was apparently wearing garments that she no longer approved of due to her new way of religious life. Her eyes cut through me, piercing me with condescending loathing contempt because I was wearing something she deemed no longer appropriate for me to sport. I was especially offended because I was about to leave to teach abroad for a year and would be there for the millennium. I wanted to leave the states feeling positive and especially about my relationships with those I would be leaving behind who I regard to be close to me.Despite I have been back in the country now for some years, I have not had any desire to reconnect with the sister due to the way she made me feel the last time we saw each other.
When I was out of the country I met some Rastafarian brothers whom I’ve known for over ten years from my home city. Now here we were so far from our birth places, far from the states and the Caribbean, in another continent, in an area that has an international reputation for having various sects of Rastafarians from various parts of the globe who are now building homes to settle there presently or in the near future.One evening they began to lecture me about what I needed to do and how I should regard what they say since they were men of God. I could not believe I was being lectured by men who were exploiting women who lack resources in their own country because of numerous reasons (sexism, war, famine, uneducated, homeless) so they use their bodies to compensate. Men that had wives at home and one brother in particular who had a baby on the way used the services of prostitutes which are rampant in so called third world nations due to poverty and all the other madness that exploited nations stumble. I was expected to keep my mouth shut because in their eyes I was a bald head since I too wasn’t a Rastafarian, a Yankee since I wasn’t from the Caribbean, and a woman who should be docile and passive, who should never question the wisdom of a man, not to mention one who practices their Rasta faith.
One of the more recent frustrating situations was with a brother friend of mine whois a very talented artist who chose to convert to Islam. This conversion began to affect his belief system and made him question whether he could still exercise his artistic expressions and praise Allah (the Muslim word for God) at the same time. These Conflicting feelings didn’t stem from convictions within himself or his own interpretation of the Quran which is the religious reference book that guides Muslims in their quest to enlightenment. It came more from other Muslims and their condemning views and their interpretations of how he as an artist should worship God. He not only allowed some of his fellow believers to influence his relationship with himself as an artist and a worshiper of Allah, but also his relationship with me. For instance, I happened to be across the street from this mosque and saw a group of men in front of it and wondered if he,my dear friend, might be there. Although, I was hesitant since I’ve had some negative experiences in the past with some people and in particular men who practice Islam like many Arab nations do in regards to women. I was told that men and women who are not married should not commune. So, I decided to seek out his vehicle first while dialing his cell phone. I was eager to see him because it had been at least a year or two since we had seen each other. Suddenly I noticed his means of transportation, so I knew he had to be at the mosque. I was still walking up the street while the phone was ringing but he didn’t answer at first. So, I tried again, in the meantime I was almost in front of the mosque. There was only this huge bush that impeded our ability to clearly make each other out. ButI could determine that these individuals standing out there talking were men. They too could sense I was approaching but couldn’t decipher who I was. Just as I got right up to the bush he answered, I could hear and feel the panic and hesitation in his voice. I knew at that point that we had realized we were both being separated by a bush that only divided us by two feet. He quickly stated that he wasn’t in a position to see me at that moment but would get with me maybe later or very soon in another day or two. Immediately a bow faced and walked away at a rushed pace once again feeling humiliated, confused, rejected, and angry because I knew that the only reason he was behaving in this manner was due to his own fear of being judged by men, not Allah. Hewas concerned that the men might not appreciate our reunion, especially in front of the mosque and warranted it to be wrong and sinful for us to acknowledge each other because I wasn’t a fellow Muslim sister and I wasn’t his wife. Well I later blasted him when we finally did meet and I let him know the pain I felt which I will never tolerate again. What I can say in his defense is that he was open minded although at first it was hard for him to swallow but he showed huge humility and apologized profusely and guaranteed that our relationship is not for anyone to analyze or determine how it should be interpreted or feel that they have a right to define the way in which we should operate a brother sister relationship since we worship differently or whatever their gripe maybe.
Okay, now this next story relates to the Muslim brother too, we both have a mutual sister friend who initially was a very dear friend to me. Actually, she was my best friend at one time and especially important to me as a young woman growing into myself.We came to know each other initially under really bizarre and awkward circumstances when I was a freshman in college. In spite of this weird introduction we ironically grew to admire each other and maintained a strong friendship for many years. But you know that there are times when people are in your life real close and then they’re no longer there. It’s like a circle, which life is to me, people get ciphered in and out of our lives. Over the years we grew apart and more caught up into our own worlds. However,recently we got back in touch. She recently started her own business and wanted some artistic work done and thought about our mutual artistic Muslim brother friend doing this work for her. She didn’t have his contact so she asked me if I still was in touch with him and if so, please let him know she would like to do business with him.
Well, they hooked up and things went well. He later called me to thank me for referring him which enabled him to make some money and stated that he would like to treat me to a lobster dinner (he knows it’s my favorite seafood) as a token of his appreciation. I happened to share this information with her because I thought she would think it was a kind gesture especially since she was the initial reason for me receiving thistreat. Nonetheless, at a later date when I spoke to our Muslim brother he revealed to me that she confronted him about taking me out to eat and that she felt that he should know better, that it wasn’t appropriate for him to take me out to dinner because he was aMuslim man. Now maybe she felt it wouldn’t be appropriate because he was a married man as well. To me it doesn’t matter either way. It’s about respect, period. It wasn’t an issue when she wanted his contact for her own agenda. And if it was an issue why didn’t she discuss those concerns and sentiments with me to0? Moreover, what is she implying?That we don’t have any integrity or respect for ourselves and others? I mean there is so much I could read into that but at the end of the day it just left me feeling insulted and empty once again. Why and for what? Once again I am being judged by another human being who really is not in a position to be judging me or anyone for that matter. Shesurely isn’t and neither are any of the others who were previously referenced. Nor is there anyone in the future that has that right!!
These examples of various attitudes displaying conflicting messages are not limited to just the religions aforementioned, I’ve witnessed that same condescending behavior with people practicing African spirituality too. My experience with some of them appears to be that they often get angry with people and don’t have any patience with those who don’t have a clue about African Spirituality. Albeit, it is often warranted since tempers often flare due to the pervasive ignorance and extremely limited knowledge globally that most people have, including us from the African Diaspora (and in Africa too for that matter), about African religions and rituals of worship; resulting in negative attitudes, in addition to insulting and insensitive comments that are rooted in arrogance,ignorance, prejudices, and racism.
More importantly, I believe a lot of the unawareness and distortion of the history of African religion and spirituality stems from slavery and colonization. Nevertheless, we as a people seldom think or talk about how religion and the practices of various rituals have been permanently altered and rearranged initiated by the impact of the TransatlanticSlave Trade and all the devastating repercussions that manifested as a result of it.Unfortunately I was taught that it was a sin to even question these types of issues that have historically and allegorically taken place. Furthermore, I’m under the impression that most organized religions also aspire to that same dogma. Therefore, the lack of patience that African spiritualists exhibit coupled with most people and their antiquated misperceptions of distorted truths about African spirituality is a chaotic situation. For Instance, a friend who practices an African religion wanted to leave a product on commission at another friend’s establishment who practiced Islam. At first it appeared that it was okay, but later it was revealed that it was an issue because the partner of theIslamic friend has negative feelings towards African religions and did not want the item on display in the store. This of course causes strife and misunderstanding between people who practice different religions, which clearly appears to be affected once again because of the absence of the spiritual element.
Which brings me to my last story; I was truly excited about going to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for several reasons. For one many Ethiopians have been like guardian angels at times to me when I’ve traveled abroad. I have fond memories of some Ethiopianbrothers and sisters who took good care of me and appeared to be sent by some divine intervention often when I was in a vulnerable position or just by feeding, teaching,cooking, and sharing information about the rituals and mores of their rich and ancient customs and culture. Such as experiencing several Coffee ceremonies, it’s a traditional social custom that is a phenomenon and an overwhelmingly delightful experience.However, these encounters were all in other countries, a few African nations and the states. Therefore, I was enthusiastically awaiting very spiritual experiences, I eagerly anticipated seeing the land that produced these amazing people. I had attributed these encounters to the fact that Ethiopia is known to be this ancient majestic spiritual place which is the main reason for anticipating going, I was going to be in the country that has a reputation for being the cradle of humanity and Christianity.
Most of the people there practice Orthodox Christianity. Each day there is a monk(priest) that ministers which sounds like a chant that is amplified for miles around via microphone. It’s very similar to Islamic countries that have monks in towers at theMosque chanting Arabic prayers over a loudspeaker that is also augmented and heard from far away.
There are two religious holidays that stand out the most in mind which are Maskala holiday that commemorates Jesus and the cross, and Timkit which honors the day thatJohn the Baptist baptized the Christ. People celebrate the holiday in designated places throughout the country. There is a huge street in Addis Ababa titled Maskal Square where people annually pile into the street and climb over highway constructions so that they can get a great seat to view the reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ. So many Priests from all over Ethiopia take part in this olden ritual. The observance entails many dimensions that are done in an orderly fashion but what I remember the most is an array of colorful robes, marching back and forth and around this huge structure, a symbol used to signify the cross that is later set a fire and burned is the highlight that ends the ceremony. The energy and the love of the people was sweet but it was also mixed with bitter because the military and the police were whipping some people and were being a bit harassing because they wanted to keep the crowd in check. It was a contradiction to me but I guess hindsight I have a different perspective on it like a continuum of the negativity that murdered and the positive compassionate observers who cried in pain watching their savior die. Not to mention how it all stems from mental conditioning rooted in slavery, the way our sexuality was marketed and sold, “We have this big ‘Buck’ here and a prime breeding ‘Heifer/Wench’ what a wonderful pair.” Wall Street was literally built by propaganda using those types of rhymes but now we have rappers perpetuating the same attitudes and tactics that make crazy money. Just like the economy that built America, our ‘Pimps’ the colonist descendants are still flourishing by neocolonialism by way of all the negative rappers and the ugly images of our women who themselves are people of color. We are responsible for objectifying our bodies, images, spirit, and soul for fame, vanity notoriety and of course the money. The trade off is worth it to many unfortunately and as a result we are losing a huge spiritual war universally.
That behavior I too felt was somehow due to the misogynistic behavior displayed in music videos.
These ideals are echoed in many other ancient spiritual beliefs, for instance and madness we are witnessing at epic proportions just about everywhere on this planet and its results are.
Finally, what is all of this to say? What is the point that I want to get across?That it’s not about the Bible, Torah, Quran, or any spiritual literature reference.Nor is it about which religion, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism,or any monotheistic patriarchal organized form of religious practice.
The point is that I experienced quite a few conflicting messages, people hurting my feelings supposing for my own good. You know, so that I can get right with Jesus, God, Allah, Jah, or whatever they call the creator. I would like to take this time to say to all of them that these conflicting messages remind me of this saying, “You can get more flies with honey than vinegar.”
I don’t recall Jesus witnessing prostitutes or any other person by making them feel less than him. He merely let his light shine by giving love and being patient with others. I feel that we all need to put our energy on ourselves, building up the areas in our own lives where we are not spiritually sound. If we were to channel that energy more inwards as opposed to outwards, making sure that we are right withGod, while praying for others, and believing and having faith in each other, and our ability to continue to seek growth, we might be a much better influence on eachother. That type of humility shines bright and it’s always very easily recognized. Like that popular cliché “People lead best by being an example” or “Let your light shine.” People are immediately attracted to it because it is truth and that truth cannot be contained in the darkness. That truth does not hurt, condescend, ridicule,or judge, it will always eventually shine. So, instead of judging, questioning, and worrying about others’ personal intimate spiritual path to enlightenment, let’s work on the person in the mirror staring back at us, first and foremost!! Ashe (Amen)!!