Monday, 25 October 2010

Religion versus Spirituality

Religious versus Spirituality. This has always been a big struggle for me. It's not because I am questioning God, but I question religion and how it has bound people to a strict code which from my own personal experience, has not even been exercised within the church. I think the fundamental difference between being religious and spiritual is this: Religion is about the externals, and being spiritual is a truer picture of the self, one that has been recreated in the image of Jesus Christ. I am religious about alot of things: the way, I eat, shower, dress, etc., these things are not neceassrily bad, right or wrong. They are just the routine ways I do things. Religiousity then is the routine ways we practice our faith. This certainly can be detrimental to our health. I think this is what happens to a large number of our congregants. Sunday, each have their own set of religious routines that we follow. I think in large part this mechanical way we go about church helps to keep people away. Outsiders want a Jesus they can see, touch, smell, and talk to. I think religion exalts tradition over the Word, and in some cases, religion is a bad thing for everyone involved. I will go one further and say that religion doesn’t have room for new expressions of faith, and certainly doesn’t have time for questions that challenge the status quo.

I think we needn’t be afraid of practing what it means to be spiritual. I see here the difference, between authenticity and churchanity. To me being spiritual is living out our lives as recreated beings, remade in the image of Christ.

Since coming and living in Netherlands, I wanted to find a church that was inviting, warm, unconditional, non judgemental et al. Basically, I was looking for a church that welcomed me and my discerning nature. I was searching for a church that I could have a positive experience and exhale and inhale my spirit on a weekly basis to be revived, renewed and refreshed from living in an isolated environment that has been quite difficult for me to navigate through. A place that each Sunday I could get a spiritual pick up and high from the Word of God. I thought that I found that in Mountain Glory Parish of Arnhem. I was so wrong and I should've listened to my gut instincts from the very beginning.

This church is a pentecostal church, so it ticked all the boxes for me. It reminded me of the church I used to attend with my mother when I was younger. The African hymns and the loud praising and worship, I felt truly at home. The loud drummings and the joyous 'halleujahs'I felt at one with. I could worship without any kind of judgement. However, after a while being there, I still felt like an outsider. My husband (who initially found the church at the beginning of this year) felt like an outsider. See, my husband is a Rasta, and he truly from his heart and soul loves God. He doesn't see Haile Selaisse as his 'god' at all. He has been seeking God for a long time, that is why I felt aligned to him in the first place.

The church is populated by a majority of West Africans (Nigerians, Sierra Leones, a smattering of Cameroon et al). Now,I am aware of the prejudices that SOME Africans have with locks and Rasta in general - you know, the redundant stereotypes that all rasta do is smoke weed ad nauseum. Well, my husband doesn't partake. Not to say that he hasn't previously, but he no longer smokes weed and nor have I - especially if it is coming from a church perspective; they're the most judgemental folk ever, especially when it one does not fit their cookie type image - fake hair weaves and lots of gold jewellery and the satorical trends that I wouldn't be seen dead in!

Remember earlier I mentioned my discerning nature? I'm somebody that likes to ask a lot of questions, and I did in this particular church, as of other churches that I have attended in the past. I didn't question the religious content per se, but I questioned the controlling aspects of the religious dogma; about the enforced code of what the church today tries to coerce their congregations into.. The continuous ways that they attempted to tell members how to pray, how to worship, how to praise and if you are a 'worker' in the church, how to be that 'worker' without questioning the pastor. I felt that I was in a cult and I do not drink any flavour of kool aid at all. I had issues with this and I said it aloud, which then quickly placed me into the category of 'troublemaker'. I saw so many contradictions that each week it became a downer on my spirit. Here I was, trying to align with His Word and presence, and yet, I am told how to pray, worship and praise. I felt the emotional blackmail that is often employed towards weak minded spirits who are seeking God for their own salvation, but have no idea of how to discern or have their own identities. How they place their pastor on the altar of spiritual wisdom and insight, but have no clue how to be discerning themselves - not just the congregation but the pastor himself. He never, ever moved me in a sermon. Instead, he used to preach from the pulpit about people in the congregation - mostly it was pointed at me. I wasn't being paranoid. I read between the lines.He was very passive-agressive and he is one of those men who feel totally threatened and intimidated by women who have so much more intelligence then him. I say this with no bias. I mean, his wife is about 15-20 years younger then him and is totally submissive. Anyway, back on topic...

For the last few weeks, my spirit has been extremely lethargic; I have tried to pray but I just can't find the words to say. A lot of it had to do with how these so called 'christians' in this church were towards each other, the insincerity. the fake concern for others and the cliqueness of the inner circle. I saw all of this, but my concern was the issue of financial impropriety. I questioned this. In fact, me and my husband were the only ones to question this. Oh, I forgot to mention, this so called pastor wasn't 'called' by God when he initiated this church. First of all,this church was established in Nigeria. Apparently (although, since then I have had red flags constantly at full mast) the church tithes are sent to Nigeria. When I asked about this months ago, the pastor then said that it wasn't happening anymore. I do not pay tithes as I do not believe that tithes should be practised in modern churches today. I give free will what I have, but I refused to be bullied into paying tithes. My husband also felt this way.
At this point, let me state quite eviqivocably, many red flags went up for me over my time at this church. But I guess I was seeking some spiritual sanctuary and also, my isolation has been very high, and I was seeking fellow sisters to make friends with. It was difficult for me though. Because, to be honest, and for fear of not me sounding too 'snooty', these women were just not of my calibre. I had nothing in common with them. Don't get me wrong, a few of them were decent and I clicked with them in my own way, but I was the only woman there who had her natural hair - you see where I'm going here? lol But most more importantly, I had nothing to really converse with them outside of church. I miss the genuine banter of my true friends, and it was frustrating to be seen as the 'troublemaker' amongst the women whenever I decided to question the pastor.

The final straw for me happened last week. Last week was the first year anniversary of the church being established. The weeks before then - in fact, months before then, I had suggested printing a newsletter. I informed the pastor that I had lots of articles that I could contribute to. As usual, the pastor did not have his priorities in order - I told him this a couple of weeks back, which in hindsight I now know he detested.
So, with the newsletter I said that I would help him get it together, as he had no idea how to edit, write and put together a newsletter. I did.
Now, at this point the pastor didn't assign me the duties of the newsletter. As usual - because again I am speaking in hindsight - he assigned two of the members of his congregation who never, ever question him. Let me say at this point it was a husband and wife team. A husband and wife who 'divorced', had loads of issues in the church - this was played out one week after church finished, oh the drama - where the husband told my husband and I in confidence about his wife going on facebook pretending to be him and 'chat' to other women; how he was not in 'love' with her; how he loved somebody else ad nauseum. Can you see the picture emerging with this so called decorum of 'christianity' decency within this church?. Now, I am not perfect. I have never claimed to be perfect and I know that I fall short of His glory at all times. But most of these church members have an 'holier than thou' stance when it came to this church. Again, it may have something to do with the pastor having an invested interest - his mother-in-law who is Surinam and can barely speak English, is the choir leader. Get this. She is tone deaf, has no idea about music and the choir sounds TERRIBLE. Week in, week out. I used to belong to the choir as I have had many experiences in church choirs and I can sing in tune! My husband is a musician. He played drums for the choir. Each time he attempted to assist and help them out, but to no avail. Last week was the final straw though.
As usual, every Friday night is choir practice - for one hour. To be honest, this choir needs more than one hour of rehearsal as they have NO IDEA. Anyway, I digress. I usually do not attend choir practise or their prayer meetings, because I am tired of others dictating to me how I should pray/worship/praise God. However, as it was the weekend of the anniversary celebrations, I wanted to find out about the newsletter - which by the way, I managed to edit it to a decent format, ad the pastor's contributions, as well as the two testimonies that I received were, to put it mildly, were grammically really bad. I had to rewrite all of the testimonies and the pastor's pieces as they would've not been publishable.
The pastor thanked me in his underhand way. I think he was too scared to compliment me, but heck, as I said then, I did it for the church, not for him. I was not looking for any glory at all - if I was I would've put my name as an editor in the newsletter. No members of the congregration, who saw the newsletter by the way did not say anything to me about how it had turned out. There was no acknowledgement at all.

Back to the choir practice.
When my husband got there, he saw somebody sitting in the drummer seat. The pastor didn't even have the nerve to inform my husband earlier on that he had invited another drummer to drum for the church on Sunday when the big event was going to happen! Can you believe that. So what I am saying is, the pastor went behind my husband's back, got somebody else without telling him. Although my husband challenged him he again was all apologetic. I was there. It smelled of insincerity. Period. The pastor's justification was so that the drummer could tell him how to 'drum african style'! I was completely shocked. My husband was nonplussed about the situation, but by then, I became angry about the audacity and the insincerity of the pastor's position regarding the matter. And most amazingly, nobody from the choir, the choir that he always held together with his skilled drumming, came to my husband and stuck by his side with any kind of loyalty. So much for 'christian' loyalty. Basically, this drummer was going to be used for the Sunday service because my husband and his 'look' didn't fit the church. The pastor wanted to front, preen and put on an act so he could 'impress' the masses.

Additionally, I had my run in with the wife of the 'husband and wife' team. Let me just say, she is a typical white Dutch woman, and thinks that because she is 'married' to an African man she can talk to me anyhow. I repeatedly asked her about the newsletter, as she was meant to translate it into Dutch. She was so nonchalant about it all. I then blew up at her and accused her of sabotaging the near to impossible efforts that I had made of the newsletter. Then her fake tears began. I was so through. I was through with her insincere concerns of me, her faux Nigerian accent (can you imagine! lol) and her underhand digs at me in the past. I never liked her spirit, but I always tolerated her as I felt it was my 'christian' duty. That Friday I 'read' her. I felt that she had disrespected me and I told her that. As usual, the pastor was being a weak minded vessel and couldn't tell her the truth. Basically, she said the reason why it wasn't translated and gave me a table long of excuses: Computer not working at home; she works 40 hours a week; virus on computer ad nauseum. I responded to her and stated if she knew all of this, why did she avail herself and overstretch herself to duties that she could not do. I said I hated the way that I had no form of communication with the pastor regarding the newsletter and if it was going to be published. I hated the fakeness of the Dutch woman and her overall mannerisms and approach towards me. That is the whole ethos of this church. They want to do it for glory and vanity. They are weak minded and do not have a mind for themselves.

So, anyway, Saturday evening I decided not to attend the first day celebration. I was so through and I told my husband that I never wanted to attend the church again. I said that the pastor blatantly lied about the financial records. I heard him stuttering and stammering. His body language was just off when I challenged him on Friday night about the financial records.
When my husband returned on that Saturday evening he told me that the preaching was on fire - this was because a guest pastor had spoken, and according to my husband he was the 'truth'. I still was in two minds about attending the church for the celebration, but I prayed on it and attended on the Sunday.

In my opinion, God sees everything...
On Sunday, the drummer, who was to teach my husband 'african drumming' didn't even turn up. He switched his mobile off, in fact, he was persona non-gratis! Who did they all turn to? Yep, my husband! Because he is a humble spirit, he did the drumming on that day. My husband was right, the guest pastor was on 'fire'. I felt the Holy Spirit and I had a great time. Still, deep inside, I was still in two minds about attending the church and being a member and a 'worker' for the church. Yesterday, my gut instinct was proved right.

The pastor decided to preach fire and brimstone from his pulpit yesterday afternoon. I looked at him and felt so sorry for him. That he had to use his pulpit to talk to me, to point his judgemental finger towards me.
Whilst I was half listening to his 'sermon', I quietly asked God to give me the grace and mercy; to forgive him. Because I believe in God and the way that he has always directed me, especially in terms of my creativity, I started writing in my prayer journal a prayer:

Sunday 24th October 2010

Heavenly Father,
Please continue to give me the grace and mercy to keep on hearing your Word. Give me the continual spiritual strength to know your mercy and to bear witness to your spirit that is progressing within me.
Lord, keep me upright in your uprighteousness as I continue to walk and meditate with the Spirit.
Lord, I will continue to glorify your name and your name only. I will not be bind by Man and his ways, but only by Spirit.
Lord, keep me awake in spirit and always allow me to be a discerning presence in your word. I pray this all in your name, Amen!

When I finished writing the prayer, I began to think even deeper regarding the issue around spirituality and religion. It's something that I have always struggled with. I guess being brought up in the church, this has always been a dilemma for me. In church, you are bound by strict rules and codes - that is religion and it's dogma. A lot of the time, they are punitive towards you, especially if you are a woman who is of a discerning, questioning nature; an intelligent one at that. They want to shut you down - FAST. Now, I am not on some kind of 'bleeding heart' feminist, but my eyes will always be open to the woman force within the church of today. I have a lot of respect towards women who stand up and question and challenge the status quo of church. You only have to look around churches today to see how women dominate in the congregation.How women hold the pillars of the church to survive. Yet, you have weak minded pastors who want to keep some women down and oppress them so that their voices will always be submissive and weak. They use, in my humble opinion, scriptures to keep womens voices suppressed, but at the same time, uplift us and say that we are the 'strength' of the church. it's really a contradiction of sorts.

Whilst sitting in church yesterday, I was inspired to write a list of points of why I attended church and the reasons why I have stopped (from yesterday). Bear in mind that these points are interchangeable and will probably grow over the years.

Why I attended church:

*To hear the Word of God
*To feel the Holy Spirit and presence of God
*To be united with the Gospel
*To be consistent, constant and vigligant towards God
*To become more focused on God and my ongoing journey and walk with God/Spirit
*To be in constant, genuine and consistent fellowhip with fellow believers - unconditionally.
*To walk upright and become righteous in my walk with Christ
To be aware of my flaws, know that I am not perfect, but to glorify in the unconditional love that God has for me

The reasons why I stopped attending church:

*I refuse to be dictated by MAN on my walk with Christ. Therefore, my relationship with God is PERSONAL. Thus, no one in church can tell/dictate how I pray, worship and praise God (Matthew 6: 5-6)
*No judgement on my walk with Christ
*Not to be preached from a pastor who has no spiritual insight, truth or wisdom. Who preaches from a victim perspective.
*The threat of using scriptures to justify their spiritual weaknesses
*The incorrect ministering and context of scriptures to justify the pastor's own personal means - eg financial, mind control

One of my dilemmas of attending church was my role as a strong woman within church. I no way wanted to dilute who I was, but I had to be aware of how I may come across to some people. I wanted to be 'true' to myself and my inner spirit. Therefore, I have finally come to the decision and conclusion that I will no longer attend that church or any other church. In fact, my time as an avid churchgoer is over. When I decide to attend church it will only be as an observer and to soak in God's word. I will not be a member where religious dogma will have a say and then ultimately, dictate on my own spirituality and my own personal relationship with my Creator. All the lessons I have learnt from attending that church and other churches over the years, have been massive blessings for me. These lessons have in an essence been a blessing to my spirit and soul, and have shaped me into who I have become today.

I look forward to my oncoming journey to my spirituality, thus, no more bowing down to religious dogma for. Free at last, thank God I am finally free at last.

Praise God!!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment