Sunday, December 29, 2019

Gimme that Ol' Time Religion...with Sage on the Side

My name is Apple Brown Betty and I'm a child of God. It just so happens that my idea of God has evolved over the years.  Like most good girls, I was raised in the church.  Ours was a tiny storefront affair, and most of the flock was related.  In fact, I think everyone was related except us.  Every week my Dad would stand and testify because he likes attention.  My mom would sit silently; eyes closed, hands raised.  I now know she had to be begging forgiveness for whatever she'd done to deserve my Dad.  I loved Bible stories, which led me to read the Bible and often call my pastor for clarification.  Eventually, she made me Sunday School teacher.  I was 10 years old.  I remember that same year I made it to the city-wide spelling bee.  My pastor and a couple members had come to my house for something else, and my Dad mentioned the spelling bee.  My doting pastor formed a circle and prayed fervently for my success.  I remember her saying "Send her on, Lord!"

He did not send me on.  It was the first time I questioned God.  It wasn't like I had prayed.  My PASTOR prayed!  Y'all supposed to be tight!  In hindsight, the miracle I needed wasn't the victory Rev. Jo had prayed for.  It was THAT Rev. Jo prayed for me.  Me!  A child.  A child who wasn't sick or abandoned or abused, just in need of a little love as she entered a spelling bee.

Fast forward to my freshman year at Open High School.  Richmond is home to 3 alternative high schools.  Governor's was for the smart and connected.  Community was for the smart and systematic.  Open was for the smart and rebellious.  I remember I was in a World History class when a guy mentioned that Jesus once killed someone.  It took all my mercy not to smite him where he stood.  He said a couple more things that were beyond inflammatory to a bible baby like me, and to my surprise, my teacher kinda co-signed some of it.  I went home and called my pastor and to my dismay, her answer was basically to remember what I'd been taught.  I wanted her to arm me with information that would slay the secular dragon, but I came up short.

Fast forward some more to my senior year, when I met my ex-husband.  Like any Grade-A fool, I graduated high school and immediately got married.  Because that wasn't enough fodder for therapy, I also converted to my husband's religion.  Islam made lots of things make sense.  It explained the condition of the world and its inhabitants.  It made me feel a certain elevation that comes with religious piety.  I was better than my counterparts because I was enlightened.  I raised my kids with the harsh truths Islam presented.  They never got to indulge in such worldly evils as Christmas trees and jean shorts, and by golly they were better for it.  Eventually I saw how isolated and maladjusted my kids were, and sought to give them the societal normalcy I enjoyed as a kid.  I left a toxic marriage and stopped dressing like a sack of potatoes and was content to raise my kids to be good people.

I've matured to a place where I see equal value in all the religions to which I've been exposed.  Though I've long outgrown Christianity, I still carry a trifle of guilt because my kids didn't get the good stuff it has to offer.  People like me often dismiss Christianity as slave based servitude, and it is. But like my daughter said to me at 14, "If I don't want the white man's religion cause we got it as slaves, why would I want Islam when we got that as slaves too?"  I had no answer, much like Rev. Jo had no answer for me.  She's now 19 and the only one of my kids that has embarked on a spiritual journey.  First identifying as an atheist, then agnostic, she's recently begun to explore Christianity.  The same Christianity I sought to protect her from as a child.  After a lazy morning in bed today, I got up and asked my other girls where their sister was.  She'd gone to church.  She's finding her way, and that makes me proud.  Remind me to call my mama and tell her that her grandbaby went to church this morning.  She'll be glad to know we aren't a whole house of heathens.

Whether or not Zakiyyah gets saved, she'll be able to glean great things from her experiences in the church.  She'll add it to the foundation and structure that Islam gave her. She'll carry the crystals I bought her and burn sage after a tough day.  None of those things is a contradiction of the others.  All things work together.  Read your bible.  It was enough to sustain us while in bondage.  Fast and pray.  Focusing on God to the extent of physical atonement is a powerful and familiar practice.  Burn the sage and play the song bowl and meditate.  When has being still and quieting the mind ever yielded bad results?  Never, that's when. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

New Year, New Shoes

I've always loved New Year's celebrations.  As a child, we went to church.  Even in that sacred place, there was something very secular about being there so late at night. A certain stillness blanketed the sanctuary; a measurable mix of fatigue and reverence compelled us all to be silent.  As I think back on my many days at St. Mark AME Church of Zion, I can easily recall my pastor's Easter sermons.  I remember the Christmas ones too, but nothing comes to mind for the New Year.  Just prayerful silence.

Other times, we brought the New Year in at home.  Our next door neighbors, the Washingtons, always threw a party.  It was a small family gathering, and as neighbors, we were family.  I remember watching Dick Clark count us down.  We watched Dick because it's all Mr. Washington knew.  Well, that and egg nog.  My first time tasting the sweetened snot was at their party and I've been disgusted ever since.  Mr. Washington had his mixed with dark liquor and he sipped it through a novelty straw.  It was red, and had a naked lady molded into the plastic. He used that straw every year as he rung in the New Year.  Still handsome at 60 something, with smooth brown skin and kind blue eyes, I bet Mr. Washington had seen his share of boobs in younger days.  Some may have also been plastic, who's to say?

When I started my own family, I continued the tradition of celebrating with the kids.  I'm not a person who enjoys the nightlife, so I never felt like I was missing anything.  I would have my nieces and nephews over and we'd eat pizza and drink sparkling grape juice. I'd build a fire and we roast marshmallows for s'mores.  The kids would have hot chocolate and I'd have chilled Riesling as we try to stay up till midnight. We were largely unsuccessful in that mission.

A few years ago, I had a boyfriend who did enjoy the party scene.  He made plans for us to celebrate New Year's at a local lounge, and I decided to live a little.  I typically don't enjoy dressing up on weekends, because I have to dress up for work all week.  I don't wanna be a Great Value print model on a Saturday.  But I heard there would be chicken wings so I pulled together an ensemble worthy of all flats with blue cheese.  We got to the venue and it was LOUD.  I was standing next to speakers that were far larger than I, so I strategically placed my boyfriend between them and me.  The energy was positively frenetic, but good frenetic.  Tangible.  Contagious.  By the time we counted down to 12, the room was bubbling with good vibes and it felt amazing.  It's the only time I ever managed to get a New Year's kiss, which made the night extra special.

Here lately, most holidays seem to be observed online.  There are the sales, the endless pics of festivities, the touching tales of holiday magic and also the most negative of Nancies.  The biggest gripe I see is that holidays are man made bastions of commercialism, and maybe they are.  We argue about Jesus' actual birthday and why Father Day kinda sucks but none of us can deny that January 1 starts a new year.  Ok, maybe the Mayans could argue but they're not looking too credible after that 2012 biz.  What we argue about on New Years is making resolutions.  Some folks subscribe to the practice while others shun such efforts.  Personally, I feel better about making sweeping positive changes in the spring so I find resolution makers to be, well, resolved.  It takes chutzpah to embark on the path of bettering yourself in the dead of winter.

As we bring in 2020, let's all resolve to just be whatever it is we aim to be.  You don't have to measure the distance between your starting point and your goal.  Just start. Just do. Just be.  Let's drop the adverbs.  Instead of saying you'll be kinder, just be kind.  No need to pick apart your current level of kindness.  Just start being the person you wish to become if only a little at a time.  Start with one walk around one block.  Help one person with one problem.  Be patient with one elder.  Inspire just one child.  My personal wish is to be more selfish. Say "No" more often.  Treat myself.  Eat the cake.  Buy the dress.  New year, new shoes!

Happy New Year Everybody!

Gimme that Ol' Time Religion...with Sage on the Side

My name is Apple Brown Betty and I'm a child of God. It just so happens that my idea of God has evolved over the years.  Like most good ...