I’ve Never Been Here Before…But I’m Ready.

The season of Lent is upon us and while many are feeling conflicted about what it is they are about to attempt to fast from, for me I’m dealing with a bevy of other emotions that are rooted in my disdain for the Catholic religion…

When I was 6 years old my parents divorced.  While my father got primary custody my brother Ty and I saw our mother pretty much whenever we wanted which was nearly every weekend, random days  during the summer and many holidays.  My parents were pretty flexible with that.  A few years later my father remarried and Ty and I had to switch school districts.  Since my stepmother had my stepsister enrolled in a Catholic school they believed it would be best for Ty and I to switch to the Catholic school instead of the local public school.  The Catholic school was extremely competitive-as a result there was a waiting list to get in.  After meeting with school administration my parents managed to strike a deal-if Ty and I would be converted to the Catholic religion, we could skip the 1-2 year waiting list.  My parents would get their kids a great education and the Catholic school could count on two new Black students to increase their diversity numbers.

My first year there as a 5th grader was challenging.  In addition to being the only Black student in my entire grade (the second Black student in the entire middle school), I was also bombarded with Catholic policies, rituals, sacraments and classes.  While I had to attend regular religion classes during the school day, I also had to attend a course outside of regular school hours in order to “catch up” with my classmates.  I was in 5th grade and had missed the Baptism, Eucharist (Communion) and Reconciliation (Confession) sacraments that were administered in infancy and second grade.

I felt completely alienated.  Aside from culturally being different (having to explain why I used actual oil on my skin and washed my hair bi-weekly), I found it difficult to relate to their religion.  I had to attend mass two days a week.  It was humiliating to remain seated and not be allowed to receive Communion because I had yet to finish my religion classes that included those Rite of Passage.  My experience in other denominations was that everyone got to receive God’s body and blood…by denying me that privilege, it made me feel as though I was unworthy.  In addition, their masses had none of the “call and response,” animated preaching, or actual Bible-reading that I had grown accustomed to from my days spent going to the Pentecostal church with my mother or Solid Rock Church with Aunt Lynne (Shelby’s mom who I’ve always been close too).

To this day, many concepts in the religion still confuse me.  I’m not quite clear on what the heck that missalette was…it certainly wasn’t the Bible.  And why did I have to spend all that time praying to Mother Mary?  And some sins are worse than others?  Finally, why did I have to confess all of my sins to Father Mahoney, another sinning human…who did Father Mahoney confess too…cuz he’s not perfect, right?

Ultimately I became incredibly depressed.  Incredibly.  By the end of my 6th grade school year the school psychiatrist wound up having to come speak to me…and from then I became known as “that” girl…that had “issues” since I had to speak with the doctor.  It was a very dark time in my life and by the end of the school year my parents made an executive decision to pull me out (along with my siblings) and transfer us to local public schools.  After leaving, I thrived.

All of that to say, since then whenever I reflect on the Catholic church I’m haunted by those memories.  I remember how stringent the insitution is regarding their rules, sacraments and traditions and I haven’t held them in high esteem since.  Lent became thrown into that and it was something that I didn’t have a lot of respect for.   Until last year.

Last year Shelby and I were talking and she let me know what she was giving up for Lent.  I gave her an extreme side-eye.  She’s not Catholic (and to my knowledge never has been).  While Shelby grew up in the Catholic school system and had her own obstacles she had to deal with within it, she attended her family’s church on weekends.

“Cous.  Why are you participating in Lent when you’re not Catholic?” I remember asking her.

“But why not?” She fired back.

I was confused at this point.  “Huh?”  Why participate in another religion’s rituals and traditions if you’re not a member of that religion?

“I mean, sure I’m not Catholic but the purpose of Lent is to reflect on God and to draw nearer to him.  Regardless of who started doing it, a fast is a fast.  I need my blessings!”

Gosh, I love her!  Does that NOT make sense?

Immediately I felt a bit foolish for being so close-minded, especially in matters of spirituality.  While I chose not to observe Lent last year (mainly because it was already halfway over) now that it’s upon us again, I am looking forward to doing my part to form a better relationship with God and also to contribute to the world’s effort of everyone drawing nearer to Him in these troubling times.  Regardless of your own personal experiences with the rules of religion or the denominations that exist, there’s no denying that ignoring the desires of the flesh in exchange for feeding the needs of the spirit is for the better good.

Less of me, more of you.

Sidenote: I will be abstaining from social networking for the next 40 days.  Yikes!  🙂

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Are You Farther Away From God Than You Think You Are?

I was confronted with that question recently (as in last night).  The reality is that I am.

If anyone had asked me before last night I would have honestly responded that I have a very close relationship with God, that I speak to Him several times daily and he directs my path.  While it is true, I can do more…a LOT more.

I was on Twitter (when am I NOT on Twitter is the question smh) and around 2 AM one of my followers, @bcrease tweeted something that spoke to me.

“It’s one thing to believe in God, and another to serve Him; It’s an even greater thing to please Him.”

Of course after reading that I analyzed where I fit in that sentence as it relates to my own relationship.  While I’d love to say that I please God, I know that is not truthful.  Nor is it honest to say that I fully serve him.  Ouch.  I do believe in God however and I find myself striving every day to serve Him more than I did the day before.

Sometimes this Christian walk seems so trying and difficult, does it not?  There is no question that God requires much of us if we are to identify ourselves as Christians, to be Christ-like.  Of course he gives of Himself exceedingly in return and the sacrifice is more than worth it.  God’s demands aren’t unjustified.

My primary role on Earth is to promote this Christian lifestyle and it gets so frustrating that I can become so easily distracted.  It’s no wonder why other faiths don’t always take Christianity as seriously as it deserves.  We seem so fickle.  As I have been known to say, I would definitely feel some kind of way about a Muslim who didn’t stop what they were doing to pray several times a day and ate pulled pork sandwiches drenched in barbeque sauce.  As a result I understand why one would want to give me the side-eye when I’m engaged in less-than-desirable behavior and want to follow it up with, “Oh well, God knows my heart…”

While I do desire to please Him and have “good intentions,” I’ve got to be real with myself…the road to Hell is paved with all mine, and everyone else’s, good intentions.  Intentions are rarely good enough among my peers…they surely don’t fly when it comes to God.

I’m embarking on a new chapter of my life and I can’t go forward in it all while I’m making the same mistakes from yesteryear.  Tomorrow is not promised.  I’ve got to do better by Christ, and be a better Christian, today.

Do You Keep Your Most IMPORTANT Appointment?

I begin most of my days by reading my devotional.  It’s a time for me to get my mind and heart ready for all that I will encounter that day and remind me to always keep my Christianity in check.

Today’s devotional, an exerpt from Joyce Meyer’s Hearing From God Each Morning: 365 Daily Devotions, is one that I have decided to share with you all.

Keep Your Appointment

“You will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13

We may have to deal sternly with our flesh to resist the spirit of passivity that tries to keep us from growing in the knowledge of God.  A commitment to spend time with God is as serious a commitment as any we will ever make.

If I needed dialysis because of kidney disease and had to be at the hospital twice a week for treatment at 8:00AM, I certainly would not accept an invitation to do anything else during those times, no matter how appealing it seemed or how much I wanted to do it.  I would know my life depended on keeping my dialysis appointment.  We should be that serious about our time with God.  The quality of our lives is greatly affected by the time we spend with Him, so that time should have priority in our schedules. 

Sometimes we become slack in keeping our appointments with God because we know He is always available.  We know He will always be there for us, so we may skip or reschedule our time with Him so we can do something that seems more urgent.  If we spent more “priority time” with God, we might not have so many “urgent” situations that tend to rob us of our time.

When we spend time with God, even if we don’t feel His presence or think we are learning anything, we are still sowing good seeds that will produce good harvests in our lives.  With persistence, you will reach the point where you understand more of God’s Word, where you are enjoying fellowship with Him, and where you are talking to God and hearing His voice.

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU TODAY: Keep your appointments with God.

Baptizing a baby?! What’s Your Point?!

Doesn't get more innocent than that!

            I believe I’ve been baptized three times.  I don’t remember being baptized the first time.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe my mother had me baptized in her “Hell and Brimstones” Pentecostal church when I was young.  That’s what she’s told me anyway.

            When I was about to enter 5th grade, my father was recently married and my stepsister was already attending the Catholic school, St. Peter.  St. Peter had a waiting list and while Ty and I were placed on it, my parents were told that if Ty and I were baptized and consequently converted to Catholicism, we would be admitted for that upcoming school year.  The school was predominantly White-the addition of 2 Black children looked really good for their diversity numbers (after being admitted I was the only Black student in my grade lol).  We participated in the Catholic sacrament of baptism which meant that the Priest lightly sprinkled some Holy Water on my forehead.  I was relieved-I didn’t want to get my freshly straightened hair wet.

            My final time I was baptized was in October 2006.  I had joined my sorority the previous spring and while I had been a practicing Christian my entire life, I knew that I hadn’t publicly declared my faith and allegiance to Jesus.  The Tail of my line, Ashley, told the other three of us that she was going to be baptized at Solid Rock Church during the October baptism. The Three on my line, Erika and myself decided we would get baptized as well.  Our Two, Tori, was already baptized and stood in the audience and cheered us on as we participated in a full-immersion baptism. 

            That third baptism is what I connect with the most.  I understood what I was doing, what it would mean for my life, and the public declaration I was making.  In addition, it was an amazing bonding experience among myself and my line sisters, Renegade IV. 

            It has since been my understanding that baptism should be reserved for those who have the capacity to think about the public declaration that they are making.  This declaration includes a proclamation that they believe in Christianity, are pledging their lives to honor this faith and that overall, they are making a fresh start-a separation between the old life and their new, Spirit-filled life.  I say all of that to ask…

What’s up with baptizing and christening our babies?

            Babies are free from sin and have zero capacity to contemplate faith and religion.  Why do so many of us dress our babies up in those white linens, display them on a church altar and watch a Pastor perform some sort of baptismal ceremony?  We send out invitations, have celebratory parties and make major events of these things.  When I was younger, I remember attending the Christening of my younger cousin.  Although it was nice, I remembered thinking, “He’s NEVER going to remember this.”  While watching Sex and the City, Miranda and Steve baptized their baby because of guilt that Steve’s religious mother wouldn’t approve otherwise, despite the fact that neither parent lead a Spirit-felt lifestyle nor had a church home.  I don’t understand it. 

            I recently heard of a spin on this concept, a baby dedication.  In a baby dedication, it is the parent’s making a public declaration that they are committed to raising their child under God’s will and Christian ways.  This makes much more sense to me.  It’s done in a church and it can become a big event with invitations, food, the works!

We All Know Who DIDN’T Keep The Faith *cough Peter cough*…But Why?

            From the time I learned how to talk, I’ve always questioned everything. Over the years many have wrongfully diagnosed me as “nosey” but no, I’m just inquisitive. I’m always asking some form of “why” and “how does that make you feel?” People laugh and poke fun but I’m also one of the first people they turn too when they want the 411 on a bevy of topics.

            As a result of this outlook, it’s only natural that when reading the Bible, my investigative nature takes over at times and I find myself researching to curb my curiosity. Recently the person to pique my interest has been Peter, one of Jesus’ most valuable disciples.

We all know who DIDN'T keep the faith

            When reading the Bible, you’ll notice that Peter is heavily mentioned in all four of the Gospels. While Matthew, Mark, Luke and John focused on Jesus, they ALWAYS had something to say about Peter. Whether they were hating on him for not keeping the faith to walk on water with Jesus or elaborating on how Peter didn’t have the Big Homie’s back by denying that he knew him, they STAYED having Peter’s name in their mouths.

It got me wondering, “How did Peter feel about this?”

            It’s obvious when reading that Peter left a bit to be desired in matters of loyalty-he wasn’t “ride or die” initially. After Judas, Peter would have been next on my list of friendships to severe-he couldn’t be trusted. Because of his popularity, I was eager to read about Peter from Peter’s perspective.

            As I thirstily headed over to 1 Peter and 2 Peter my mind was going in a million different directions of what I would find there. Would Peter have a “I don’t care” attitude regarding his initial ties to Christianity (because we all know he ultimately became one of the most dedicated disciples)? Was his disdain intentional? Was he actually more caring and just internally extremely conflicted? I needed some answers.

Well I didn’t get any.

            All 1 Peter and 2 Peter covered were 2 letters (one to each book respectively) encouraging Christian’s to keep on pushing despite their adversity. Peter never discussed his own personal tests nor did he discuss his testimony. (God forgive me but…) I’m disappointed.

I want to know more.

            Perhaps it is me being nosy, digging for a juicy perspective on a piece of gossip (although this is obviously so much more than a piece of petty gossip), but I’m now left with only contextual clues and my imagination to get the answers that I want.

Do you all ever get curious about things, people or situations in the Bible and get salty that it doesn’t go into more detail? I pray it’s not just me.