No, today’s not my thirtieth birthday — I’m still forty-four and twenty months away from entering middle age. But, it has been thirty years since I converted to Christianity, two weeks before Easter Sunday ’84, sometime between 8:55 and 9 am. You could say — and many would — that this marks three full decades since my spiritual rebirth, a milestone as significant as my birthday on the final Saturday of the ’60s at Mount Vernon Hospital.
In many ways, it was a renewal, a reboot, a beginning of sorts. To claim control over my life and my destiny, at least, as much control as I could muster. In the past thirty years, the issues of control and perfection, faith, knowledge and wisdom, and the expectations I have of myself, my God and those who either don’t see God as real or as real to me have remained constants in my life.
Perhaps this has been because of how I became a Christian in the first place, a bit more than three months after an aborted suicide attempt on my fourteenth birthday. With my abusive stepfather Maurice and his insistence that we were Hebrew-Israelites, I couldn’t be open about my conversion or the thought and faith process that led me to Christianity. At least, I didn’t feel strong enough back then to be open about it. I remained a clandestine Christian for five months before I stood up to the idiot after my first day of tenth grade — my first time not wearing my kufi since sixth grade — and dared him to kill me. He didn’t, and it was my first full victory against my stepfather.
As for my classmates, the splits between the denominational Christian, agnostic, atheist and Nation of Islam sets were ones I’d become aware of long before my conversion. And, by tenth grade, it was obvious that many of my immediate Humanities classmates were about as accepting of the spiritual as Bill Maher and the late Christopher Hitchens. Maybe not openly so, but the barrier of intolerance and disdain was there.
Over the years, my walk with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has grown more complicated, with euphoric highs, quiet lows, and periods of almost evangelical revival along the way. Still, I remain faithful, even as I remain disillusioned, about my life, humanity, the universe and the afterlife. I still pray, and believe that God listens to my prayers, but understand that prayer without action is tantamount to talking to myself. “Faith without works is dead,” is what the good book actually says. Unfortunately, there are way too many alleged Christians in exalted places and in positions of power who practice neither faith nor the works of Jesus. All they do is talk about their Christianity while acting like pagan Roman emperors.
I no longer welcome debate about what and in whom I believe. I find those who smirk and call my walk the equivalent of someone with a mental illness or an imaginary friend about as bigoted as a Christian who believes that all atheists are the sons and daughters of Satan. There’s a certain hubris in claiming the nonexistence of the spiritual because the people whom are representatives of the religious are themselves flawed and full of crap. Then, I guess, there’s a certain hypocrisy in the universe, in evolution, in all life, and I don’t think any of us have enough knowledge to be that cynical and nihilistic.
I no longer regularly attend church. I’ve been to at least a dozen churches in the DC area over the past decade and a half, and combined, I’ve gotten less out of all of those services than in one service I attended at my mother-in-law’s church in Pittsburgh last September. Heck, I’ve found more wisdom and compassion and realness in some of the courses I’ve taught than at most of these churches. Church is a place for fellowship with other Christians, but I have a hard time with my own contradictions, much less those of others.
For my son Noah’s sake, though, I want to find a place or two where we can feel comfortable exposing him to Christianity. Places where the hypocrisy quotient isn’t so high, and with the understanding that this is a long spiritual walk, not a magical carpet ride of infinite miracles and treasure chests full of gold. I’m tired of the megachurches, the Gospel of Prosperity, the overly emotional, the attempts to strangle human behaviors, and the endless predictions of apocalypse based on homophobia, misogyny, Whiteness, and a terrible understanding of history.
But I do have a one-on-one spiritual walk that’s mine, that no one — atheist or evangelical — can take away from me. It’s a walk that has taken me far from the despair and abuse of my youth, warts and all.