9:53 am – Sunday, April 5, 2020 – Breakfast Table
Eric and I were discussing our predictions for a post-Coronavirus world last night.
Eric has known me since sophomore year of college – back when I first started assaulting his inboxes with far-fetched predictions about U.S. socioeconomic institutions – so there was no reason for me to be measured with my thoughts. No need to be “realistic” now. I cracked my knuckles, straightened my back, and sent text after text about society’s dizzying acceleration toward the matrix.
A third political party emerges!
VR gyms! VR nightclubs! 5-star vacations through augmented reality!
The first generation of children to evolve past the need for physical contact!
And depending on how long this goes, I said as my final mic drop, sex robots becoming a lot more socially acceptable!
I was expecting to see a string of *mind blown* emojis the next time my phone dinged. A Wee Bey gif or something to show that his third eye had officially been opened. But I knew as soon as I picked up the phone that he wasn’t buying it.
MFs can barely figure out how to mute the microphone in Google Meet, he said. We’re far from a cyber dystopia.
What could I say expect a hearty touché?
But Eric wasn’t Mr. Logic and Reason with his post-COVID predictions either. Instead of a cyber dystopia like I was predicting, he was thinking more along the lines of The Walking Dead.
Two of my co-workers have family in Detroit with COVID who are showing signs of mental and emotional issues, he wrote, ominously. Maybe it’s the start of the crazies.
I was like wuuuuuuut and suggested that it might have something to do with isolation and perhaps those folks just needed time to readjust, but I didn’t push it. Or judge. Like our G-Chats from the problematic years of 2008-2012, our texts are a safe space. But I wasn’t about to take that highly suspect, anecdotal, third-party information seriously either.
That was, until this morning, when I saw my dad.
See if you can find some crackers! he said with an odd sense of urgency and none of the context or follow-up that would make the request make sense.
I’ve known this man since I was 5 years old and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him utter the words, see if you can find some crackers. Let alone “crackers!” with an exclamation mark. Who urgently asks people to help them find crackers at 9 am? Especially this person. He knows I don’t fuck with gluten.
The crazies, I thought. It’s the Walking Dead.
But it only took a few seconds for me to abandon the theory. And to see that my far-fetched inclination toward a cyber dystopia was right.
Dad had hooked up his laptop to the TV, and Rev. [Redacted] and [Redacted] were on the screen consecrating holy communion in front of an empty church house. Dad was trying to hurry and find some communion crackers for he and mom to eat along with the familiar faces on screen.
The new reality is here, I thought. Next thing you know, I’ll come down and they’ll be wearing VR headsets that make them feel like they’re really in church pews. Sensory preceptors so they can feel the organ notes reverberate in their souls!
Under normal circumstances – or, I should say, in the pre-COVID era – I would have grabbed my granola bar and bounced. Quickly made my way back upstairs before mom invited me to stay and join them in service, saving us both the heartache of having to politely decline.
Today, however, I pulled up a chair.
My interest was twofold. The first was cultural. Anthropological. This was a rare opportunity to not only witness history but provide a first layer of analysis. The church has, historically, been one of the most important institutions in black America, and that institution was undergoing an unprecedented evolutionary acceleration in real time. History was unfolding in my mama’s living room. The new world was being introduced on my dad’s TV. Whether I considered myself a “church girl” or not, I couldn’t live with myself for missing an experience like this.
Here are my initial observations:
- Even though there were no masses gathered – only the organizational essentials – them niggas were not standing no 6 ft. apart. Model it, people! Model it!
- We’ve seen who’s really essential to running our country (health care workers, grocery store workers, delivery people, etc.). Now we see who’s essential to running the church. There was the pastor and co-pastor on screen, of course. But the pianist was also in the pulpit. And whoever was operating cameras and microphones and whatnot had to be nearby. Even in times of crisis – even if you’re the church – the artists and communicators (a.k.a. the propagandists) are essential.
- After my parents finished eating of the organic tortilla chips that stood in for “crackers” and drinking of the beet juice that I cold pressed the day before, I thought about how much money the church is going to save on bulk purchases of the body and blood of Christ. Which led me to think about how much of a business the church really is. And, in 2020, with high production values for bible study promotions (I’m honestly not even sure if it was a bible study promotion that I was looking at or a promotion for some kind of Easter play, but whatever it was seemed to involve green screens and professional costume designers), I thought of the church as a content delivery platform. Which made me think about whether we would get to the point of churches jockeying for page views, clicks, likes, and shares like the rest of us.
- I also wondered if Rev. [Redacted] and [Redacted] had contemplated what it meant to be chosen for such positions at such a moment in the ether. Do they see themselves historically? Of course they do. They must! But are they scared? Nervous? Even a little bit shook?
I also had another reason for tuning in.
Before leaving Houston, I was going to church 3-4 days a week. Bible study on Wednesday; choir practice on Thursday; service and Sunday School on Sunday; Girl Scouts, step team, Transformation, and whatever else the youth pastor could cook up on the other days. Since moving back home, I’ve been to church maybe four times total. I came back with a fair amount of fogginess about what I would call myself politically or how I wanted to be seen professionally. But one thing I was clear about was the fact that I did not identify as a Christian.
Looking back, I realize that my relationship with Christianity has been on the rocks since, like, the 6th grade, when my cousin Bryan opened one of the dusty bibles at my Big Ma’s back woods country church, pointed to a passage about creation where God says, “we,” then wrote, rhetorically, on the back of the church program, “who is ‘we’?”
The break down accelerated when one of my church’s beloved deacons seemed to go off script one day at Sunday School and started talking about “the lost books of the Bible” to a room full of 7th graders. “The ones that didn’t make it in,” he said.
To this day I remember how I felt in that moment. Like the soil I’d been planted in had been violently tilled. Like everything I knew to be rock solid had suddenly become porous.
The lost what?
The ones that who?!
What do you mean “didn’t make it in”???
A whole new part of my brain had been activated. Neurons fired that I had never felt fire before. Lines were drawn between dots I never knew connected. The bible was a publication. And publications had editorial committees and political considerations. Agendas. People – P E O P L E – were ultimately behind this thing that we hold up as the “end all, be all.” I realized there was so much I didn’t know and suddenly I was intensely curious about all of it. Even at, what, 11? 12-years-old? I knew I was never going back. That I couldn’t. That there were mysteries out there awaiting my discovery. That there had to be different sides to the story. That there was more to God and spirituality than what was printed on this very specific set of pages.
But that conditioned impulse to shun anything outside of Christianity – to look at non-mainstream spirituality as some spooky, shadowy, evil mischief – was strong. And so was the reality of daring to venture past the bounds of Christianity. That doing so would alienate me from my family and friends.
So, I did my best to suppress the desire for more. It wasn’t until my ex-boyfriend gave me a book on Egyptian Yoga – which instantly started to resonate with me in ways that the Bible never had – that I decided to lean into the well of curiosity that bubbled in me. It wasn’t until then that my journey really began.
I did not drop one religious system for another. I didn’t start calling myself a priestess or collecting folks’ hair and turning the strands into dolls.* I didn’t weaponize what little knowledge I’d gained to try and burst people’s bubbles about whatever system or modality they thought was right.
I just allowed myself to be curious about the things I hadn’t previously allowed myself to be curious about. I read about the I Ching, the Dhammapada, and the Masnavi. I listened to podcasts on Taoism and lectures by Alan Watts. I got my chart done by a sweet but problematic sex wizard who was really into astrology and made me hit the Wee Bey gif my damn self after pointing out the Libra/Aries polarity in my chart. I followed “the lost books of the Bible” to the Nag Hammadi and the Gospel of Thomas. I sat at the proverbial feet of Joseph Campbell. I got a Skype reading from a Creole daughter of Yemoja – who comes from both a Christian and an Ifa tradition – who told me to gon’ head and leave that astrology nigga alone. I got closer to nature. I became more convinced than ever that God is real, and that I have a not-insignificant fraction of its creative powers in me.
But instead of slapping a new label on my forehead, what’s developed is more of a loosely defined spiritual praxis. One that encourages me to do what works for me. One that encourages curiosity about the ways other folks access The Divine, instead of judgement about what name they use or which characters drive their story. It’s a praxis that discerns which activities resonate for me and encourages me to engage with them regularly. It’s a praxis that acknowledges that God is everywhere, in each of these holy books and even in the supposedly unholy rituals. Regardless of whatever material concerns and judgements humans put around them. Whether we’re in a cyber dystopia or a Walking Dead situation.
So, I figured, if I could be open to learning about energy work at one of my Twitter guides’ online Mystery School or to reading what Rumi has to say about Sufism, then it wouldn’t hurt for me to listen in on what the Christians are talmbout’ about every now and then.
What started as a journey away from Christianity has brought me to a place of being more open to receiving what it has to offer than ever.
I’ve already kind of dedicated my quarantine to diving deeper into the philosophical and spiritual rabbit holes that have been summoning me since those early days in non-VR pews and Sunday school seats. I’ve also dedicated my quarantine to spending more time with my parents. So, I figured, why not make this an opportunity for both? I’m grateful for the opportunity. Ashe. Ameen. Namaste. Amen.
* Nothing against this practice or anyone who participates!