For years I felt the way I encountered God was directly related to the doors I entered every Sunday morning. Not in the prayers I prayed, the scriptures I locked in my mind, or the songs that brought me to tears when I thought of the goodness of God. Now I’ve discovered spirituality and religion are not as intrinsically involved as they are made out to be. You can indeed be a Jesus knowing, albeit converted Jew, who believes in God but doesn’t attend church.
And I know this because – it’s me.
Brittany Howard, front woman for the Alabama Shakes has a song that says, “I don’t go to church anymore/but I know He still loves me.” I stopped regularly attending services about 6 or so years ago, but that decision isn’t what changed my status from member to supporter from afar. Frankly the disconnect happened long before. The excitement about Sunday and its festivities was no longer there. Yearning to sit in corporate praise with my fellow congregants couldn’t keep me returning as it had once done. Ultimately what caused me to stop rising early every week was recognizing that I wasn’t attending service because I truly desired to be there, but only because something else kept pulling me back.
That something was guilt…
My 6:30am wake up call and thirty minute trek to early service wasn’t because I wanted to say commune God as early as I could. It was because I felt guilty about not being there. That belief was further perpetuated by my mother’s constant inquiries about attending various church events because, “I hadn’t been to church in too long.” Truthfully, I found my spirit was more grieved after I attended service than if I didn’t go. Hearing sermons that housed undertones of misogyny, being taught by people who I loved and respected, made it difficult for me to sit and absorb without consequence.
When you come to see that the messaging you’ve been indoctrinated with, has affected your ability to function wholly in many ways, you begin to question everything you’ve been taught. There are times though when I tune into some church live streams. I like to stay abreast and get my fill of fellowship from afar. Recently I heard one that angered me. Minutes filled with must do’s for women to make their marriages better, I kept wondering where are the instructions for husbands? I can count on one hand in 34 years of life that I have heard a message from the pulpit admonishing men to be better spouses. There are few talks of the things they can do to make life easier or what they should do to make life less contentious for their wives. Instead the focus is on how women can make their marriages better and support men in all ways.
I can’t help but think about all of the women sitting under the umbrella of these tyrannical messages. How they need to stay in line, give sex when asked, make meals on demand, and don’t forget to be pretty in the midst of it all. Handmaid’s Tale much? Both parties in any relationship should give of themselves for the betterment their lives. But I grew up being told there were ways women had to conduct themselves to be seen as worthy of a man’s attention and time, and frankly I think most of it is bullshit.
When I stopped thinking about all the requirements I was supposed to meet or the mandates placed on me as a woman, I found real actual love. I encountered a happiness not contingent upon of set of rules that supposedly made me a better woman. I’m not a catch because of my body type, my affinity for cooking, or my greatness as a mother. I’m worthy because I’m a living breathing human, period. Or should I say periodt? The disconnect between the church and the aging millennial is the messaging. Its growth has been stagnant. Which is unfortunate because in a time when I believe that people need a connection the most – they aren’t finding it where God is said to be.
The church has stuck with some dated rhetoric, thus ostracizing many of its former devoted proponents. I love God, no question about it. What I don’t love are how his people spew messages that hurt or demonize in his name. There are things I miss about church; the community, the worship, or the true feeling of God’s presence. Sadly, right now I don’t think that all of that is worth the hoops I have to go through to get it. That discovery saddens me but it also has led me to working on finding ways to make sure I stay connected with God on my own. Prayer and study don’t only take place in the confines of a church or temple, true relationship building is what happens outside of that.
The rest of Brittany’s song goes something like this,
“I know he still loves me when
I’m smoking blunts
Loves me when I’m drinking too much
He loves me then, yeah
He loves me when I do what I want
He loves me, he doesn’t judge me
Yes, he loves me…”
and honestly, I know it to be true. Regardless of anything I’ve done or where I call on Him, He still loves me.
Photography: Kaye McCoy
My devotion to God hasn’t waned and perhaps in the future I’ll find a place where I can go again that brings me back but until then, I’m going to keep reading my bible, completing my devotionals, and talking to the Big Guy every chance I get. Can you relate? Let’s chat.