Shadow of the Cross

 

shadow

Photo by: Sparkliece

After months with my head in words and writing, I decided to take some much-needed time off, and I can’t shout loud enough how much better I feel! Time seems unlimited, and I can finally finish all of my housekeeping. I normally set aside some time in the morning to meditate, pray, and give thanks, but lately things have been so busy at work the only thing I can find time to give thanks for is the bed—paid off in full with a 10 year warranty—which catches me as I collapse. If I manage to ward off fatigue with coffee and tea, then I’m flanked by worries about my future and obsessions about my career path. Yet at the end of the day, I’m still on the brink of losing to my own self-doubt—with a caffeine headache to boot. So as you can see, sometimes my spiritual housekeeping takes a backseat to my physical and mental wellbeing. Apart from the comfort of my bed, there are only two other places where I can hide from these constant assaults, sacred spaces where there is silence and peace: the campus library and the spare bedroom in my apartment I call my “S-cave.”

Given that I was dedicated to not set foot on campus for these two days, and given that the library is not an appropriate place to voice my worries aloud, I decided to go to my cave to flex my vocal chords. I’m that person who prefers speaking my prayers aloud, unscripted and in private—completely from the heart. Taking time out to do this helps a lot, even practically: it keeps me honest and helps me to moderate how much information I share with other people. I mean, the Bible does say, “For of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”…or something like that.

Even though I know much about the Bible and work at a school that is founded upon Free Will Baptist values, I—as an adult who tries to embrace what feels right and what makes me unique— vehemently fight and reject what I view to be the Christian identity. But, like many other black children in the South, I was definitely brought up with Christian values that I can never shake off. What I know I learned during family Bible studies and my father’s regurgitation of scriptures during day-to-day events. I remember the pride attached to going to church and the silent rules of Sunday School…or is it Wednesday School? I mean, honestly, I don’t really know what it’s called. I just remember having to keep my brother on a leash constantly. Well, I do remember correcting my Sunday school teacher when she stated that Noah’s children were not Ham, Shem, and Japheth. Yep, I was that annoying child.

During the years spent dedicating time and effort to develop inner stillness and a sound mind, I discarded that air of religious pride, which I now view to be pompous and sorely inefficient. Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback when I felt the urge to pick up the Bible once again. I always thought, “I’ll pray about it when I have time.”

Well, now is that time.

I entered my cave, closed the door, sat in my chair, got comfortable, and I finally decided to open my mouth to speak aloud.

“Alright, I honestly don’t know where to start, because it’s been a while. I’m not sure…well, maybe the answers will come as I speak.”

I have long realized I find the answers I seek either through the hazy demilitarized zone of sleep and wakefulness or within my inner ear. Yeah, I know it’s weird, but it works for me.

“Lately, I’ve felt like reading the Bible,” I continued, “but I’m so turned off by the actions of those who proclaim themselves to be Christians that I’m terrified of even touching it.”

I heard a response before I finished the last part of my statement. The Holy Spirit, or spirit, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t always very kind to me. No words are beyond interruption.

“You have no problem studying Hinduism, Greek mythology, and Buddhism,” a quiet voice responded.

Though I was interrupted, I can’t argue with this tidbit of truth. I’ve always been the one who loved reading up and studying different religions. Honestly, I really wanted to be Buddhist, but, yeah, it just never stuck. Back before I was interested in developing mystically and spiritually, I was enchanted by the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

As I was sitting at the computer in the corner of the living room, I read my cheat sheet. I was committed to knowing the basic tenets of Buddhism by memory. Somehow, the idea of nirvana, the release from the pattern of birth, death, and rebirth clicked and made sense.

When one of my parents saw what I was printing off, they asked, “What is the Eightfold Path?”

“Right speech, right concentration, right association, and uh….” I looked back down on my printed sheet as I struggled to remember the other five paths.

A voice from the kitchen interjected, “You can’t even do the first one right!”

I can’t remember my response, but I probably felt as irritated by the comment as I do today at its memory.

“What’s wrong with Christianity?” They asked.

“There’s nothing wrong with it, I just really feel drawn to this,” I replied.

“What about Jesus?” They pressured me.

“I don’t necessarily think there is a right or wrong religion. I mean, if someone was born in India, they may have never hear about Jesus. So I think all religions are right,” I responded, uncertain. I didn’t want to break apart from my family’s beliefs, but Buddhism is really beautiful. I spent hours in my room engaging online communities where there were people who identified as both Christian and Buddhist.

In any case, I agree: studying something does not necessarily mean becoming what you read. Well, at least not entirely.

But that is not ALL that concerned me about picking up the Bible again.

“Well, yeah, that’s true,” I responded slightly taken aback from the sudden response. “But what about the hate and animosity?” Memories of hateful words and prejudice towards flooded my mind.

Especially on Facebook. The Young Turks has a commercial clip where a comedian said something like, “Facebook is the perfect place to realize how much you hate your friends.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There were so many Bible thumpers who pulled shit from their ass to argue that gay marriage was not only Biblically unsound, but it was also unbeneficial to society because of a couple’s inability to produce children.

I just don’t get it. People who believe their opinions matter want to refer to the story in the Bible about Sodom and Gomorrah as a reason for why being gay is wrong, but they totally overlook the overarching themes of rape! The people sought to rape the Angels. Lot was willing to sacrifice his daughters, and those same daughters practically raped their father and had his children!

Why is any of this okay? Where in this story does it say the reason for the city’s destruction was because the men were gay and not just desperately evil! Hell, isn’t it worth mentioning that the Angels were warning Lot and his family to leave or they would destroy them with the city too?

I would go toe-to-toe with practically every other Bible verse used to fuel their hate, but I’ve only got 2000 words for this story and now is not the time!

“You could use what you learn to protect them,” the voice spoke and sliced through my feelings like butter.

Ugh, I can’t argue with that either. Damn.

Some of my closest friends are gay, lesbian, or struggle with gender constraints. These are friends with whom I fondly remember collaborating to make music and filling the air with melodies! These are friends with whom I yearned for camaraderie when they moved away out of town or out of state. These were friends who painted and drew beside me in the late afternoons. So why wouldn’t I care enough to defend them?

Let’s try another angle, I thought.

“I especially can’t stand the conflation of emotional passion with spiritual authority.”

Yes, I went there.

It’s a bit of a hypocritical statement: if I hear answers to my questions through silence and speaking truthfully, how likely is it for someone else who may hear their answers through the roar of anger?

I have a tendency to jump from church to church. Just out of town, I went to a church that was pretty chill and relatively technologically savvy, but the pastor preached that Netanyahu was possessed by a demon. About a year or two afterwards I went to a couple of smaller churches, and while the messages were not filled with hate, I could tell a stark difference between the value of men and women. They took what Paul said to heart and then some. No pants and no makeup.

A couple of weeks ago, as I listened in my chair with my lipstick, blouse, skirt, and hair down—I was taught to always look like royalty at church, a lesson I learned from my mother who is a fashion designer—I found myself cross referencing the pastor’s words with my own life.

‘Yeah, I can see how what you’re saying applies. I’ll change that,’ I said to myself when the pastor raised a valid point.

Nod after nod ensued until shouting—“shouting” as in the raising of the voice in unrestrained passion—began as the pastor passionately went on a tirade against the appropriation of genders being mixed and swapped: women dressing as men. Can I catch a break? First gay rights, now transvestite bashing in the church?

‘Are you really going to get on my case if you see me at work wearing pants and a blazer?’ I thought to myself.

His rant ensued for a hot ten minutes, as I sat and thought about how lucky I am that I can sift the sands to find gold. Everything else that followed in his sermon on the other hand was about as valuable as sand in a desert.

I refocused as I continued entreating to the higher powers that be, “What’s more venomous than mistaking unbridled passion for something sacred?”

And that was the only question for which I have yet to receive answer. I sat in reflection.

After returning to the Writing Center from my lunch break, I retrieved the sign-in sheets and I started my usual hours of rhythmic mundane work. I placed a mark near the number where I left off. Each page has 25 names, and I left off at number 24.

ID number. First name. Last name. Date. Time. Writing Coach. Purpose for visiting: Paper.

I flipped to the next page.

ID number. First name. Last name. Date. Time. Writing Coach. Purpose for visiting: English.

ID number. First name. Last name. Date. Time. Writing Coach. Purpose for visiting: English.

ID number. First name. Last name. Date. Time. Writing Coach. Purpose for visiting: English.

“This ‘Purpose for Visit’ section is pointless,” I said to a working Writing Coach, a psychology major. “I mean, everyone just copies whatever the previous person wrote as a reason. They don’t even care.”

“You know,” I continued “this reminds me of how I noticed whenever I’m helping a student with writing, sometimes I am affected by their disposition.”

“Oh really?” he said.

I’m pretty used to such a banal response, but I continued anyway. “For instance, when someone comes in unfocused, I really struggle to also remain focused and establish direction. It can really be hard sometimes.”

In the silence, I realized my real fear: conformity.

 

Brianka Morgan is a University of Mount Olive alumnae who graduated with a degree in Art. She currently works as the University’s Writing Center Coordinator. She has previous work published in Trojan Voices and is a member of Sigma Tau Delta’s Alumna Epsilon Chapter.

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