Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Spiritual Journey

Today I woke up thinking about this blog that has become the recipient of my writings and my reflections as I prepare for the next phase of my life. Below is a very brief account of my spiritual journey. I have sought and successfully integrated those parts of my Christian background that I desire. Now in this phase of my life I seek to do the same with those Islamic experiences and theology that fit. This class, Islam in India is the path by which I am beginning that journey. Unlike most religions, Unitarian Universalism encourages us to seek truth and build our theology. I have done so with passion and integrity. May Spirit be pleased with my efforts.

My Spiritual Journey

There have been three faith communities and four denominations that have influenced my life. The faith communities in a chronological order include Christianity, Islam and Unitarian Universalism. The denominations include the aforementioned ones and Religious Science. This essay will focus primarily on Christianity and Religious Science. I grew up in a large two parent working class family with a deeply devout mother who was a Preachers Kid (PK). We “kept the Sabbath” and were not allowed to play, listen to music, perform work on God’s day for many years. Gradually my mother loosened up. I spent the first seventeen years of my life all day in church on Sundays and part of the week that included prayer meetings and choir rehearsal at the very least. I was a deeply devout child that loved being good and doing good and I loved church. For not only did it feed something inside that gravitated toward the sacred and holy, but it represented my extended family and my only real social outlet outside of school and my immediate neighborhood for many years. Until I began college at Wayne State University in Detroit where I grew up, I led a very sheltered life. As far as I can remember, I didn’t know any atheists or agnostics. I thought everybody believed in God even if everybody did not attend church. When I began Wayne State University I met student activists and intellectuals who were brilliant orators and debaters and many were agnostics and atheists. That was when I began my "God is dead" period. My childhood churches, first Mt. Huron Baptist church and later Greater St. Stephens Missionary Baptist Church, did not prepare me for engaging brilliant men and women who had the gift of gab and could easily challenge everything I said. Baptists were not big on questioning their beliefs and rote learning was pretty much the order of the day. So I had no answers for their questions. So I sat God on a shelf and proceeded to get on with my life. But how does one do that when their world view has been turned upside down? So I became an activist because that was something that I could hold onto and the example of Jesus was consistent with what I had learned and was now learning about justice issues. Coming from a poor working class background it was also an easy leap to Marxist Leninism. His sympathy for the poor and downtrodden and alignment with the workers at the point of production paralleled my life as the child of a father working in the steele mill at the Ford River Rouge Plant. I do not do anything halfheartedly so I traveled to Cuba for three months in 1972. That trip was a transformative experience in my life. We were selected from young activists all over the country. Some of the then young activists who today are household names were at the early stages of what would prove to be illustrious careers in social change. Individuals like Robert Allen (I have forgotten what he wrote, something about Race in America) but he was the long time companion of Alice Walker, although they were not together then) and Linda Burnham, a now well now attorney and social activist, were two individuals on the Brigage.

When I returned, I was feeling really restless as I rode in from the airport in New Jersey and the bright lights were illuminating my deepest fear and that was that I might not be able to sustain my passion and practice back in Babylon. I longed for a spiritual connection. I was very alienated from Christianity and so I knew that I would not be exploring that path. I liked the Afro centric philosophy of the Muslims and their emphasis on self sufficiency and Black economics. So I made my way to the nearest mosque and began the journey of a devout Muslima, moving through various sects for the next ten years before settling into the Sufi tradition. When some of the restrictions of living as a religious minority began to alienate me from my children, thus forcing difficult parenting choices I decided that I was spiritual and a good person before I became Muslim and that I would continue my journey. So I left the Muslim community in Ann Arbor, MI. That was a very difficult decision and I did not realize that my standing in the Muslim community and my leadership as a Muslima was based on the fact that I was a Muslim and not because I was a serious human being on a journey toward God. It didn't help that I had agreed to an interview with a reporter that took my words out of context and it appeared from the article that I had said that converts to Islam, particularly AFrican-American Muslims and Muslims from abroad worshipped different Gods. I also more than hinted at the racism. That coupled with my decision to cease practicing Islam was the kiss of death for me. Of course people were praying for me. I never realized that it one thing to request people's prayers and it is another thing for them to perceive you needing their prayers because in their opinion you are living in sin. I resented these self righteous prayers. It was a horrible time for me but I knew that somehow I had to step away and reclaim my perspective and regroup for my spiritual journey that lay ahead.

So I graduated from the University of Michigan where otherwise I have some fond memories and my children were exposed to a supportive academic community and the Muslim community that nurtured and financially supported us through undergraduate and graduate school. I began attending a non-denominational church in Atlanta where I moved after graduation. I joined, Hillside International Truth Center, pastored by Dr. Barbara King. I was working in the field of domestic violence and she led the prayer for a breakfast for law enforcement in Clayton County, where I worked.She started the prayer, "Mother, Father, God" and I thought - who is this woman and how do I find her church? I later joined because I loved the “power of positive thinking” combined with the sense of self agency and the theology that perceived God as energy and divine law that responded to our application of law. The current craze around the movie, The Secret, is a personification of those beliefs. However, I dreaded the thought of someone finding out that I did not believe that Jesus was the son of God or some of the other idiosyncratic beliefs left over from my Muslim faith that I continue to hold onto. Possessing the conscious and unconscious notion that I could “build my own theology” and that this was indeed pleasing to God and not blasphemy placed me in an awkward spiritual limbo. I stayed at Hillside for a year or two until my work schedule restrictions precluded my attendance at that or any church.

In the meantime I did the "Fire walk" that was popularized in the new age community. If you can get your head around walking across a burning bed of glowing coals then you can harness your mind to do almost anything. Many years previously, using the same kind of mentality for my 30th birthday I asked myself what was the most kick ass kind of thing I could do to tap my inner power and push the fears away (and I had a lot). By then I was a single mom with two children living on poverty wages. This as before returning to school. So I went sky diving! Sometimes even now when I get scared I remind myself that I jumped out of a plane and I have walked on burning coals. And I talk myself, pray myself and push myself through my fears. I have given up thinking that I can disappear all my fears. The most I can do sometimes is simply not let them paralyze me or hold me hostage. So I proceed - fears and all!

In the process of all my searchings I moved to a part of town where it wasn’t practical to drive across town to worship. When I examined my options which included every possible denomination I decided I wanted to check out Unitarian Universalists. That was fifteen years ago. In some ways my journey has been preparing me all my life for ministry, but I formally began that process in 2003. This year, 2007 I will finish Meadville Lombard Theological School, receive fellowship on December 1 and ordination, December 9 and in January, 2008 I will move to either Cape Town South Africa to begin my academic and ministerial careers. My plan is to affiliate with the University of Cape Town as a visiting scholar in either their Religious Studies Department and/or their Gender Studies Department. Also, the Unitarian Congregation in Cape Town is currently in search for a minister. How awesome is that? I would love to be called by them and work to bring Unitarian Universalism and "Beloved Community" with a focus on interfaith social justice as my ministry and gift. What would be blessed to receive is far more than I could even express. Isaiah 6:8 expresses it like this, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" and I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Blessed Be!

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