Faith has always been that elusive “unseen” component of the Christian movement. It has this supernatural quality that makes Christianity possible. Faith is the unspoken hope that makes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ a reality and makes Scientology look as stupid as Santa Claus to grown people about over the age or 10 years old. Faith has ultimately informed life decisions as to whether to go left, or to go right, to go up or to go down, to accept the job offer or to turn it down; whether to go in or to go out–all based on this inner “divine consciousness” that we all possess.
Faith has also become a scapegoat.
Faith is what we use to explain the unfathomable qualities of Christianity. Faith is what we say when posed with the enduring questions of “Why” and “For what reason….” in fact we blame it on faith. Faith is the stopgap between comprehension and action that justifies the “if” to our “then” giving ontological reason to our existence. It is faith by which we do what we do, and be what we be.
As anti-religious as I can be, I am nonetheless moved when I do attend church and see the faith of the saints testifying during service. There is something about watching the old church mother’s shout during service, something that pulls on my heartstrings that’s totally an emotional response. I’ll admit, not much cognitive worship takes place, but it’s something about watching the old saints ability to say “If it had not been for the Lord who was on my side, where would I be?”
Most who read this blog know that I’m a “Trust, but verify” kind of guy (who actually thought I would have used a Reaganism on this blog of all place) with much emphasis on the “but verify” clause. As a result, I’ve written papers and eluded to in blogs just how much of the emotive aspects of church are learned results equated to classical conditioning (just think Pavlov’s dog experiment) and Larry Trotter’s “My Worship Is For Real” becomes a false proof-positive for attention seekers to wipe out a whole pew of parishoners.
But it’s something about seeing the old saints shout.
I was over at uppity Negress‘ house this past Sunday, and I got to hear her grandmother talk. Her grandmother remembered me from when I was younger and through random conversation, she had no problem saying about how she went to what is now Tennessee State University in Nashville just in order to “get out of the cotton patch” and how she didn’t have money to pay for new shoes, but that she “discovered a rubber band” and had looped that over the uppers of her shoe and the soles that had got to flapping every time she walked. It’s when I hear stories such as that, that I begin to wonder what is really playing in the recorded memory of the saints when they shout.
I believe it’s when they take the time to psychologically pause and press rewind and begin to play back through the memories of their own life and think about how they made it over through adversity, through hard trials, through temptations, through many dangers, toils and snares, and they’re “soul looks back and wonders how they got over.”
It’s in the wonder part that the shout happens.
I would be remiss not to say that faith plays a major role in African American culture. Most people align this faith with Christianity, but it is quite evident that the 60’s challenged African American’s understanding of Christian faith with the rise of the Nation of Islam and many other blacks became agnostic as a result of Eurocentric-influenced Christianity. Enter James Cone and this idea of Black Liberation Theology. Without going down a rabbit-hole, our current existence in this country has made a decided shift down the road of nihilism, or simply put, a belief in nothing.
Even to me, on a good anti-religion and anti-church day, I agree with a few of the “proof of God” theories that have circulated over the many years, perhaps I wasn’t inclined to refer to the deity as “God” but nonetheless, I do believe rational thought does support this idea of a “higher power” be it elusive or not. That said, I think one’s nihilistic proclivities still make a god out of “nothing” allowing one’s belief structure to be centered off of “it is what it is” ideals. However, in the midst of “nothing worship” there is still a faith, or a suspended belief that whatever happens has some supernatural characteristic to it, be it acknowledged by the worshipper or not.
Okay, that was rambling, if anyone needs clarification, just drop a comment and I’ll be more than glad to work through that.
Above all, I think we not just as African Americans but as humans need to cherish the right to determine for ourselves in that which we place our faith. I think the African American struggle is beautifully summed up with James Weldon Johnson’s second stanza to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” where he wrote:
Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chast’ning rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, ‘Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
It provides the history of the African living here in America and the eschatological hope coming through hard trials and tribulations with the ability to stand proud and tall at the end. The faith based initiative is the jump between “We have come treading out path through the blood of the slaughtered” and “out from the gloomy past.” One asks the question, “Well how do you get from being slaughtered to coming out of a gloomy past?” The actual response is, “I don’t know, and I’ll be wondering the same thing when I stand on the other side of this mountain.” Nat Turner didn’t know how slavery was going to end, but he knew that it was going to end someday, and he said that day might as well be today. Neither W.E.B. DuBois nor Booker T. Washington knew exactly how to best address race relations in this country, but both of them knew that eventually the color line issue in this country would be resolved and both of them said that day might as well be today. Martin Luther King didn’t know how we’d make it to the promised land, but he knew that we would and he said we might as well start that journey today.
One’s innate ability to make someday, today is the ability to work out the faith that when it’s all over, it’ll be alright.
Oh, by the way, Happy New Year.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL