Church Heathens

Kristi Keller

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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Those who hide behind the organization.

On my way to work each Sunday morning, I drive past the community church. At the time of day I drive by, church service is letting out and I see all the men and women exiting the building, dressed in their Sunday best. I can tell they feel uplifted and ready to face another week devoted to their “higher up.”

Or do they?

Are some of them just going through the motions because they think it’s the right thing to do? I suspect many attend church for that reason alone, which isn’t a bad reason to go.

I once heard a quote, probably in church:

“I’d rather live life thinking there is a God and find out there isn’t, than live life thinking there isn’t a God and find out there is.”

Is that way of thinking fear driven? Or is it genuinely love driven? I never felt the love in the church.

I was raised in a Catholic household and went to church out of obligation as a child and teenager. My mom made us go with her every Sunday.

Before graduating from Catholic high school I became the anti-Christ for a while. Obviously….I was pregnant at 18.

When my son was born, I had him baptized. Partly out of duty, partly out of fear, and mostly out of love. I thought if there indeed WAS a way to save a child through baptism, who was I to deny him of that holy benefit?

After that, I was in and out of church for most of my adult life. I diverted from the Catholic faith and started attending a non-denominational church. It just felt better. The Catholic faith is too rigid and stern for me. Too much kneeling and Bible reading, not enough of that spiritual injection I was looking for.

I wanted to feel the words coming from a preacher, not just hear them. I wanted to be as uplifted as you see on TV inside black churches. That’s some holiness going on inside those walls and I wanted it.

I ended up finding that feeling in the Christian church I attended for many years. But it was a gigantic parish and I still never felt like part of its community, among the thousands of people who attended. It was just too big.

During some of the toughest years of my life, the church eventually became uncomfortable because I felt it so much that I’d sit there bawling through every service. It made me hyper-focused on the sadness in my life and I could do nothing but cry.

My fellow churchgoers would just look at me, probably wondering why I was crying, but they never reached out. Not a single soul reached out to understand why this woman was so upset all the time.

That’s why I stopped going to church. If you see a fellow human being who is obviously distraught, shouldn’t you reach out to them? Offer comfort? Offer some sort of concern, as a child of God?

Church made me feel alone so I stopped going. I could pray on my own, with or without a church. I didn’t need to sit among thousands of people who were content to watch me cry and say nothing. I could cry at home.

I guess I wasn’t doing church right.

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I remember in the spring of 2004 I took a vacation to Jamaica. I would be there over Easter.

On Easter Sunday morning in Jamaica, I was having breakfast on an uncrowded beach. Through the quiet sound of the Caribbean sea lapping at the shore, I could hear Christian music playing from a bar nearby. Jamaica is a very Christian nation so it’s not uncommon to hear spiritual music playing everywhere on Christian holidays.

I remember thinking to myself, “Who needs church? This is as close to God as I’ll ever feel.”

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Feeling close to God and your neighbors?

That was back in the days before I understood the dialect of Jamaican patois as fluently as I do now.

Credit for the title of this story, Church Heathens, is actually owed to the Jamaican artist, Shaggy. He has a song called Church Heathens, and it aptly describes what makes me question all organized religion. Not because Shaggy says it, but because we can see the behavior on any given day among churchgoers.

Accurately translated, here are many of the behavioral aspects Shaggy sings about in the song.

  • His woman constantly pressures him to attend church and go to confession, so he gives in, just to kill the conversation.
  • He sits beside sister Pam who gossips to him about the entire congregation.
  • Sister Paulette’s husband is gay on the down-low, so she’s sleeping with the bus driver.
  • Sister Gwen calls herself a Christian but last night she was spotted at a street party, behaving badly.
  • He mentions the Deacon who drives the fancy Benz, but where does he get the money from? It’s the reason why no one wants to contribute to the church collection.
  • Every Sunday is like a competition to see who will wear the best name brands.
  • The men only come to church to look for women but Shaggy can’t comment on that because he, himself, is one of those men.
  • He goes to church to secure his walk through the pearly gates.

That’s just paraphrasing the lyrics because you’ll never understand them if you don’t understand the dialect.

Unfortunately, this type of church behavior isn’t exclusive to one region or another. It’s worldwide.

Pretty much the only topic Shaggy doesn’t touch on in the song is bad behavior by preachers. But we don’t need Shaggy to hear about those issues. The news covers that for us.

While I don’t judge church goers nor religious people, I do question the behavior of some people who supposedly devote their lives to God.

My mother is a devout Catholic and she’s an amazing woman who always strives to do good for others. Without her, I wouldn’t have had all the support I’ve had through my hard years. But even she has trouble leaving gossip alone, even she has trouble being non-judgemental towards others.

In the true sense of being a devout Christian, one is supposed to throw out all those notions. I went to church, I listened, I know what is expected of members of the church. But rarely do I see it, even in genuinely good people.

We all falter. We all turn a blind eye. We all give in to the less desirable traits of being human.

So what is the church is supposed to do for us that a simple prayer or moment of silence and meditation can’t?

If anyone believes in a higher power that makes them a better person, it can’t be wrong, no matter what that power is.

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I'm an old school travel writer who's been flung into another writing world through life experience. I have a compassionate eye, a different opinion, and strong words for this world we live in. I also know a thing or two.

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