By Brittney M. Walker
The deacons are passing around Communion cups, the prepackaged ones with the non-alcoholic wine shots and Styrofoam crackers attached to the top protected with a cellophane wrapping. I am sweating a little in my armpits, nervous about what she’ll say when she notices that I don’t take one. For several Communion Sundays I had been purposely sitting out of her eye sight so she wouldn’t see I’ve been skipping it for the last few months.
The silver disk comes around. It looks like one of those wheels people put on their low-riders, except with a bunch of identical holes evenly dispersed all around. There are a few empty holes where Communion cups used to be.
The person to my left, a relative of mine, passes it to me. I take it and pass it to my right, to my mother. I don’t grab a church shot glass. She notices and asks, “Why didn’t you take one?”
What am I going to say to this God-fearing, God-rearing woman who pushed me out of her vagina that perfect March morning, a miracle, her first-born. What am I going to say to this woman who delighted in seeing me worship at the feet of Jesus those other times in church, wailing in tears. What am I going to say to this woman who swears “holy men” made the Bible. Her words, not mine.
“I just don’t want it,” I manage to blurt out, unconfidently hoping the conversation would end there, but confidently knowing it wouldn’t because I know this woman.
I want to avoid this loud whisper discussion. This private matter will quickly turn into an all hands on Brittney because the devil is in her moment at the altar, with some slobbering preacher trying to force my head back so I could fall on the floor. That has actually happened to me before. She doesn’t know how to let things go. She definitely doesn’t know how to whisper.
If you know anything about Black church, Communion is a time of respect, but it’s only moderately quiet because the preacher is talking about the meaning of wine, the sacrifice of Jesus, the blood and all that stuff. The piano player and organist are strumming some random hymn. And the mothers of the church are humming loudly with a little vibrato in their voices. Fortunately there is enough background music and buzz in this tiny church. If it was quiet like a Catholic church…ooh chil’e… everyone is nosey and a quarter of the membership is my family.
“Mom, I just don’t want to take it.”
“But why? You’re not telling me why?”
“We can talk about it later.”
Do you still believe in Jesus!!” she basically yells, nearly having a heart attack.
“Do you pray!” Not a question.
“Yes mom, calm down jeez,” only answering the second question.
This was years ago, when I still lived in California with my mom. We didn’t talk much about my beliefs during that time. Maybe it was to keep the peace or maybe my mom wasn’t ready to deal with an unbelieving child, bound to corrupt her other spawn or even shake her own foundation.
There were attempts at conversations but they always ended up with, “I’ve heard all that stuff before. It’s about faith and I know Jesus is the only true way to heaven.”
But a few weeks ago, we had the straight up conversation.
Sometimes I dread picking up the phone when she calls because I know she’s going to ask about my dating life. She has some fantasy of me getting married or something. And at the end of our conversations, she tends to say something like, “Everyone has to answer to God. Jesus is the Son of God and is the only way to heaven. You have to learn that for yourself. I love you.”
I listen. But don’t respond.
Before we actually had the conversation, which was primarily over a group text with two of my siblings, I suspected she suspected I wasn’t a Christian anymore. She was just waiting for confirmation or maybe was in hesitant denial.
Conversations leading up to that moment were an accumulation of asks about whether or not I go to church or pray to God. I always thought they were weird questions. Something about them felt like she was trying to inspire me through guilt to repent and “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25).”
I tell her church is an infrequent thing. Praying is a regular thing, but probably not anything she has in mind. You know, bent knees, closed eyes, clasped hands, fervent grumbles. That hard core, come to Jesus kind of prayer. Though that was what I used to do, my prayers had morphed into conversations with myself. The kingdom is within (Luke 17:21).
So this ‘I ain’t Christian no mo’ conversation was brought up by me celebrating being in love again. I told my family on the group text that I hadn’t truly imagined myself building with someone like this before and I even want kids. My family was convinced up until this point that I wouldn’t have children. But this guy has done something to me.
Anyway, mom says we should get married. I say I’m not so fond of the whole institution. Then she asks if we would have a ceremony in the church. I kindly write, “No,” I pause during the text creation, debating whether or not to say it. But I do. “Besides, I’m not Christian.”
And we’re off.
“What are you then?”
My sister inserts her humor, “Muslim.”
“I’m non-religious, like your pastor warned you about [devil emoji]
“Everyone has to answer to our father in heaven for themselves.”
OMG Mom, is what I’m thinking. But this is the opportunity to be vulnerable.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God.” But if I was atheist, I wonder how this conversation would go.
Then somehow she suggests that the family’s pastor marry us. My thought is “Hell Mothafuckin’ nah son. Not in a million years would that be necessary. The man has some wild n’ out ideas I can’t get with, even if I was Christian.”
I write, “Nope.”
“Wow okay.” She responds.
I feel judged. Then I get it. she hasn’t accepted that I’m not Christian.
We chat more about my thoughts around my decision not to be a Christian. I explain to her that I only know what I know and I know that I know nothing at all. I am learning daily and things change daily. For me, I find it arrogant and limiting to confine God into an institution or singular idea. Christianity teaches that God is all powerful and omnipresent and the creator of all things, but for me, Christianity creates these limitations in which I am supposed to engage God. Why?
I don’t particularly like authority. But I like order and things to make sense in my life. And this thing, Christianity, or religion for that matter does not make sense for my life.
She seems fairly clear about my stance on the whole topic. But I think she thinks I believe Jesus is my savior, but I have however, denounced the institution of Christianity. That is not the full truth. I am not even sure Jesus existed. But that doesn’t really matter.
My mom’s mom, the boss matriarch of the family, has been a Christian as long as anyone can remember. She raised my mom and my aunts and uncle to fear the Lord and pray over everything, rise before the sun to lay prostrate in prayer, to read the Bible, to keep them legs closed and wait for the husband God ordains for them (that part didn’t work for most of the women in the family lol). She even taught everyone to say “Praise the Lord” when answering the phone.
I respect my Grandma. She’s been through a lot and has instilled us all with some principles I’ve grown to respect and practice on my own. I was Christian for most of my life this far, I suppose. I even went to a Christian college, on purpose. For years of my life I made decisions based on what I thought God wanted. Or what Grandma wanted. I feared doing things because Grandma didn’t approve. Frequently I felt guilty about stuff because guilt meant I was getting closer to repenting and being saved or some bullshit.
My faith, I learned as a wayward Christian, had primarily been based on my Grandmother’s teachings about what it means to be Christian and what it means to be a child of God. I was beginning to model my life after hers in some ways, interfacing with the world and dealing with myself with fear and censure.
While I had always questioned the concept of God I was given, it wasn’t until I started to seek my truth that I seriously challenged my paradigm.
In my search, I utilized my responsibility for the religion and spirituality section at the newspaper I worked for in LA. I took that opportunity to explore different practices, including African spirituality. The deeper I swam into it, the harder it became to reconcile my Blackness and my curiosity with Christianity. At some point, it became apparent that with what I was being indoctrinated didn’t fit me. It didn’t make sense to the vastness in which I was starting to see the world and the way I experienced God and humanity… If they’re even separate.
I discovered that this faith, Christianity, is limiting. It limits the way God “works.” It limits the way God manifests. It even restricts where God dwells and how God is worshipped and who can worship God and God’s name and gender. Everything that isn’t Christian is pagan and is of Satan with residual likenesses of God’s truth. Church people say, “Even the devil knows the Bible.”
Christianity says the world must be saved. But it moves through the world like a colonizer, using religious indoctrination. It strips people of their identities and replaces it with dogma and this inevitable association with sin. It speaks of love but alienates through condemnation and fear. This is how I experience Christianity.
Christianity didn’t actually save me from anything. Some have been saved from their bad past and found redemption or refuge from the terrors outside the cloak of Jesus. No hateration here. Mo’ power to ya. But Christianity limited me. It limited me from discovering the power of the Creator, the God within. It limited me from discovering the God within others.
This was a gradual, years long journey. I learned Christianity had enslaved me and made me believe that my humanity was disgusting and always in need of a bleaching. My life had been predicated on what my Grandmother taught me, what the preacher taught me, what my Mom reinforced. I had to create my own relationship with God. I had to learn what it meant to be truly free.
I started traveling internationally in 2011. I started immersing myself in other cultures, eating delicious authentic foods, worshipping creation in various temples, churches, mountains, waters, homes, at dinner tables, at homemade altars, at bars, everywhere. The more I traveled and took moments to reflect and absorb what people were sharing though their experiences, the more I could see God for myself. I learned about love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22–23).
I learned what it meant to be a child of God. I started to grasp that my brothers and sisters are God. I started to worship nature because it is God. I started to pray to myself because I am God. For me I decided that to know God is to know the world. To know God is to acknowledge it in all things. I accept that I cannot grasp all that there is and I cannot qualify God in my limited understanding. Whatever God is or what I think or have experienced it to be, is beyond the simplicity of a religion or a book. I am not a Christian. But I am a believer.
Previously published in ‘Unapologetically,’ a collection of personal narratives.