It is Sunday morning. The cool breeze, brought in by the rains on Friday, have a gentle wind whisping through the trees outside my balcony window. The sun is streaming in, there are birds chirping, it is quietly serene.
Is that not God? Is that not His presence and His reminder that He Is?
It is another Sunday morning and I am sitting here, alone, pondering my faith. My unquestioning love for God, yes, and yet, my unwillingness to get dressed and go to the place my husband has chosen for us to worship.
I am baffled sometimes by this place of peace I have in my love for the Lord and yet my place of resolute to not sit in a pew with people who would never have a cup of coffee with me, would never acknowledge anyone who looks like me, or simply that our family ends up scattered in three different parts of the church since each age has a different service. That, to me, is not a family worshiping together. So I am not there, again, choosing instead to worship God here, in the quiet calm of my empty townhouse, in the sway of the trees, in the kiss of emerging fall as summer bids her farewell.
My father, a theologian and ordained minister, would probably be turning over in his grave.
My sons, a childhood spent in church Sunday morning and Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, Friday evening, and me in seminary class on Saturday mornings, are probably wondering what happened to their mother.
My husband, vivid memories of my pious long skirts and me being the one urging everyone to go to church, when it was he, when we first met, who spent his Sunday mornings much the way I do now, probably wonders what happened to his wife.
I am not sure when the turn came for me.
Perhaps it was after years in a faith-based church in Chicago that talked more about money and prosperity and women waiting and waiting and waiting for marriage all the while they were withering on the vine because the marriage-minded men were not in the church with them. Waiting and waiting.
It could have been the broken heart earned after trust and love was destroyed by one who broke the promise of marriage and strung along the hopeful woman with syrupy words and rose colored future spilled into her soul to keep her available to him.
Maybe it was after years of study and service and faithfulness...I was still told that I had to "wait" to be ordained, that I would get my "turn" and that there was still more I had to do. Isn't God sovereign and everywhere at once? Since when is there a line to get to the Heavenly Master?
My questions became more and more when I moved from Chicago to Jefferson City. I had experienced the ultimate sin in the church - divorce - even greater a shame than murder or mayhem. A woman was to stand seventeen steps behind her husband, the "head" of the house, and find salvation and divine direction through him.
I still trusted God and my faith, not religious denomination or the endless tests that the primarily protestant, "Word" churches were putting us through, particularly women. I was pious, didn't date, read my Word with a voracious appetite, served in the church, taught, tithed, was there all the time.
The church betrayed me, and many of the other me's.
There was the pastor who exploited the trust placed in him by the parishners, often and more likely women because we made up the majority of the church.
There was the pastor's wife who refused to "submit to authority" when I was appointed the director of Christian education and was following the pastor's directive about studying the word. He wanted all the teachers to be certified and we had weekly classes for that process, she refused and it caused a rift.
There were the husband and wife pastor duo who placed so much emphasis on the "name it and claim it" gospel that they lost sight of God almighty. Not sure if it was God ordained or not but in the midst of their "fame" their private plane slammed into a brick wall, killing all on board.
There were the "deacons" of the church who betrayed a private meeting with the female pastor about a marital issue that was of great concern, going to the husband to "tell" on the wife, resulting in a great confrontation between the husband and wife, the wive left in fear and silenced.
There were so many anecdotes about the misuse of faith that kept coming to my circle of understanding that I began to listen and read and listen and hear and listen some more.
The homosexual man who married and forced his wife into celibacy because he needed the cover of a family and verbally abused her into silence because the "church" gave him the authority to do so. Then the news that there were many and many men, pastors, deacons, like this in the church, Eddie Long being just one of them.
The exponential growth of AIDS in the black community, particularly the rise among heterosexual black women, the largest and most dedicated group of believers in the pews (studied extensively by Barna and other organizations) yet the black church remaining silent on the issue of homosexuality in the black community. The issue of sex, itself, being almost taboo in the black church and therefore, real discussions about it nonexistent...yet, the results of it evident either through celibate women waiting and waiting for marriage that never came and never experiencing the joys of intimacy and the wonder of childbirth; or the ones who did it anyway but because of church teachings and shame, did not use protection, ending up with a girl being shamed and blamed for being pregnant and the guy skirting his responsibilities or the girl ended up with HIV/AIDS. There are real issues that were not being covered.
There were the endless assaults against women in the primarily white churches that would not allow someone like me to worship there. I worked for a summer program that was housed in a white church, the summer program being their token black offering, their mission work to "save the poor black people." I listened heard so much more of the piousness and hatefulness being spewed off as concern for the less fortunate, yet, they were exploiting and using them. There was no separation of church and state.
I kept listening and looking and while I had faith in God unwavering, I began to lose my trust and faith in the men who claimed to speak for God. It was mostly men because very few of the churches would fully ordain a woman unless her husband was the pastor.
My eyes opened up one day when I dared to keep studying, to finish my degree, to obtain my master's degree and to see the beauty of God's creation everywhere. I still love God and taught my sons to do the same and worshiped Him. I began to see the possibility of the work of Christ exists outside the four walls and that all the time spent inside the four walls prevented me from seeing and doing the acts of my faith in the world.
I still listened to my worship music, praised and trusted the Lord,and had meaningful discussions about God in our lives with my future husband.
My faith in God united me with my husband of twelve years (sixteen years together). Our wedding was more worship celebration than a simple ceremony. I believed God.
We served together and grew our family together and saw our faith tested together. There was a time he took a holiday from the church and I was the one carting the kids to service. I think for about two years he was the reluctant one to go, he had his own crisis of believe in the place of the organized church, his came from being the choir director and experiencing chaos, hearts and lips that were not lining up with what belief said should be.
I think one thing my husband and I have given each other in our respective faith walk is room. He simply asks me now, "Are you going to church?" Sometimes I do, sometimes I do not.
My journey makes me also wonder if I am doing a disservice to my daughters. They know I believe, they have prayed with me, me with them, us together. They know we come from a family of faith. Yet, their normal is that they go with daddy and then go visit his mother afterwards. Sometimes I am there, but more often I take Sunday as my day, my respite, my time since I am with them the other six days of the week while he is out at work, working out, and at meetings that bring him home late. Sunday became my day.
Moving to another city also altered the pace of my public worship. I didn't want to yet again have to sit through a new members' class in order to be deemed worthy to serve in some capacity in the four walls. I have been saved and Holy Ghost filled for twenty plus years. I know the Word, I know my spiritual gifts, I know that God has blessed me and guided me. It seemed a waste of time. And being a preacher's daughter, I understand the place of order and therefore, respect the pastor's right to have the classes and respect my right to just not join another church.
Even as I hear the leaves make a whistling and crackling sound as the wind dances through the branches, I am reminded that God's hand is on me, that He still has a purpose for me, that Jeremiah 29:11 is still as true of my life as when the Prophetess spoke into my spirit.
I believe I have ministered in God's house every time I helped a child read better, every time I sat down with my Bridges Group to reconcile our racial differences, every time I held the hand, hugged, or otherwise interacted with someone who would not have been on my radar back when I was in "the church." I believe that even my writing, this gift that He gave me, is a part of my ministry, that being spoken and confirmed to me even as I was just last month waiting to have unexpected surgery and God sending me a beautiful, black female chaplain to sit with me, pray with me if I wanted, and just be there the few moments before I was to go into the operation room. There was something divine and ordained in that exchange that reminded me that I am where I need to be.
One day I may be the first one up and dressed and ready to go and worship. My husband and my daughters may be surprised. Perhaps it will be when we can all sit together and the people surrounding us will be welcoming and inviting and simply want to love God more. Perhaps it will be where the pastor simply acts as a vessel and not seek to control the masses. Maybe it will be when the humanity of all is celebrated and not exploited for political gain. I am not sure when it will happen.
The Lord is my light and my salvation. I believe in HIM and trust in HIM for guidance and direction. I do believe HE hears and listens to the silent prayers that rage through my soul. And I believe that HE is standing there, behind those branches, whispering HIS love through the gentle breeze that blows on my face, the pleasant sunshine and cool almost fall weather, the sway of the branches and the playfulness of the squirrels. I believe that HE is letting us all know that worship is much more than we can imagine and like the air, is always available, regardless of the day.
For this Sunday morning, the worship of my soul is in the sway of the trees and the gentle breeze of the leaves, the silence of my home, the warmth of my latte, the kiss of the sunshine. And today, it is enough.