“And also with you!” I say warmly and exuberantly. I flash a kind, full smile and answer various calculated questions with precision and ease. “You’re still studying a religion, right?” A friendly retired professor asks. “Yes sir! I am. What an incredible experience it has been! In fact, it’s been life changing.” I reply while holding my hand to heart.
Moving down the row, people pat my shoulders making inquisitive statements like “If I’m remembering this right, this is your junior year of college?” They should already know my answer because we discussed the same topic last week.
I tilt my head to the side hoping they will see my disappointment. I only see blank eyes and wine stained teeth. So I answer something cliché like “You know what? I’m actually graduating! Where did the time go?!”
They laugh with shock and look at me with pride. To them, I am a shining example of black achievement and they can say they walked along side me during my exodus of expected shortcomings.
A woman with pearls and white hair holds my hand firmly and says “You’ll do great things in life. Don’t worry!” I think she is staring at my forehead, not looking into my eyes. Or is it the bridge of my nose? Does my nose ring look too rebellious? I, however, take the sentiment and then take my seat after the call to worship.
This sweetly contrived experience is my comfort and my distress each Sunday morning. After the service, I get in my car and listen to the radio, replaying the sermon in my head. During my reflection, I think things like this: “If God is for the oppressed, why is his depiction in the stained glass that of my oppressor?” “How do I know my life matters to God?” “Wait, is Donald Trump seriously a potential candidate for president?” Or “Should I have worn a cardigan? That was too much shoulder for the 9 a.m. service!”
I never have answers to my inquiries. The only thing that is tangible is my feeling of longing and confusion surrounding God these days. More specifically, I call it doubt.
Cee Lo Green in “Crazy” expresses this doubt almost perfectly, “It wasn’t because I didn’t know enough, I just knew too much.”
I feel like I know too much. It turns out, Maryville College not only works, but it truly has “stretched my mind.”
From my Hebrew Bible and New Testament classes, to my Contemporary Theology and Qur’an in Contexts seminars, I can say I’ve learned a lot about God. I believe I have acquired some fragments of wisdom.
However, with much wisdom comes much sorrow.
My theological upbringing was literal and evangelical. I remember around seven years old testing my understanding of prayer. After kneeling for 15 minutes, asking God to grant me wings like eagles, I climbed on top of my bed, closed my eyes, jumped off, and expected to fly.
I rolled my ankle instead and cried to my mom about the failed power of my assumed anointing.
Somehow, I still had faith. Even in my occasional disappointment, the God of my youth was much more approachable and personal.
Temptation and the flesh explained people’s poor and hurtful behavior, the fall explained my desire to be dominant and open my own doors, the resurrection warranted hope and encouraged my patience as I endured my staunchly white and privileged junior high days.
Everything had the potential of being redeemed and I had proper perimeters surrounding good and wholesome behavior. Life was predictable and so was God.
As grew older, I began noticing things. No matter how much scripture I memorized, I still obsessed over the number on the scale. Small groups made me feel lonely and ostracized.
The twenty third psalm, while comforting, became my anxious coping mechanism when I didn’t get asked to homecoming for the third year in a row. It turns out my crush “wasn’t into to black girls like that.”
Beyond my contemplative growing pains, I began questioning the systematic validity of my faith. How could Lazarus literally be raised from the dead? How did Jonah survive in a big fish? And more importantly, why did I need to submit to my husband?
In the pews, I often think of my sweet grandmother, who battled many demons of her own. She was a survivor of domestic abuse and an avid cigarette smoker and coffee drinker.
I remember bleak winters siting out on the porch of her Chicago bungalow, late at night, watching that distant look of hopefulness and hopelessness on her face. Knowing she was petitioning her soul before God. Knowing that things never really seemed to get better for her.
The plume of nicotine smoke and the vapor of coffee beans acting as her fragrant offerings before the throne of God. If anyone met Christ in paradise, I hope it was her.
So what does all this doubt add up too? Well, a good portion, rests in the heart of a brown faced girl, longing to be devoted to something holy and extraordinary, who often lets the shower run over her hair and face until the temperature turns cool. There in that sacred space, she prays with closed eyes, silently asking God where he’s been, and recently, is not sure of the answer.