My first encounter with church was a mixed experience, and it went progressively downhill from there. Somehow at five years old I had been enrolled in Sunday school with a friend. The fun part was the bus that picked us up and dropped us off. We sang silly songs (which I’m sure were geared toward familiarizing us with the Lord’s word, but was utterly lost on me), and best of all they gave us little toffees called Mojos. Looking back it seems like shameless bribery! However, at the time it seemed great. Free candies and songs…
The actual Sunday school was in the back of a church, smelled musty and looked like a dusty store room. We sat on metal fold out chairs and made crafts out of uncooked macaroni, sparkles, Elmer’s glue (always a bit too much was used so that it oozed out from under the macaroni…), and paper plates. I was unconcerned as to the significance of the guy with the beard and the cross. I was always just waiting for the ride home for more Mojos.
I promptly forgot all about it until around the age of twelve one of my friends invited me to church with her family. I asked my mom and her answer seemed strange. “If that’s what you want, by all means go and check it out”, or something along those lines.
I think it was an Anglican church. It was all very stark and somber. Everyone was white and middle class. Everyone dressed up, but not too flashy. Lots of brown and grey suits. Dull floral dresses and sensible shoes… and it was BORING! There were hymns that no one knew the words to, but opened the booklets in the pews and made a half-hearted attempt at mumbling through, along with the priest/pastor. The actual sermon was irrelevant in it’s topic and content. I wondered why anyone would consider the tribulations of people centuries ago, given that the world had changed so much.
It seemed like the longest hour of my life – akin to math class, where I always had to come up with clever ways of keeping myself awake.
I never went back.
When I had a Jamaican boyfriend in my later teens, his sister invited me to her ‘revival’ church. Wow! That was the closest thing to a pop concert that I could imagine a church to be. It was held in a huge hall and 95% of the worshippers were black, despite the fact that it was in downtown Toronto. Everyone was dressed to the nines – big hats, flashy dresses, snake skin patterned suits (it WAS the 80’s…).
There was an air of excitement as everyone made their way in, serenaded by a full gospel choir with a rock band accompaniment. When the preacher took the stage everyone cheered. He was an ex-WWF wrestler, turned born again preacher. This seemed like a major career change until I compared the both - on stage, performing.. I guess it was a good fit. He preached with vigour and might, enthusiasm and omnipotence. It all seemed so happy and lively until he started with the ‘scare tactics’. I was shocked when he brought out the old testament threats of fire and brimstone… I looked around and the people looked entranced, like docile lambs. Why would they believe this stuff? Why would they come every week to be threatened with supernatural horror movie style afterlife nightmare speeches?
And then came the ‘healings’. There is a Steve Martin movie that comes to mind. In the movie he is a ‘preacher’ who does a completely bogus ‘healing roadshow’…
One after another, people went down to the front and fell willingly to the ground when the ex-wrestler’s chubby hand touched their forehead , some in crumpled heaps, some rigid and convulsing like epileptic seizures, many in tears. I was amused but flabbergasted.
There followed obligatory dancing in the aisles and I slowly realised the insistence on everyone getting up and moving was a ploy to get each of us to pass by the collection box. Extortion!!!! And this church service lasted close to 6 hours!!!
I never went back.
In the meantime I had been learning about evolution in biology class – I found it one of the only truly interesting topics. And I couldn’t help but think how drastically these scientific theories contradicted the simple teachings of the bible – with the 7 days God created the earth, and the clay moulding of Adam with Eve as his rib…
It confirmed to me at the time that religion is a tool in society/culture; something that gives simple answers to the questions that in reality none of us can comprehend. The world and it’s creation is beyond any of us, so how preposterous for certain people to claim ‘the knowledge’. How even more preposterous to teach that there are certain rules of conduct that ‘please’ a god…. More mind control….
This was all before I headed to the mind-opening years of University, and my sojourns in Africa where I came to learn so many more things – where I saw the similarities of the Christianity practised by Afro-Canadians and the continent they ultimately came from. Where I learned about traditional religions and colonialism and power struggles and politics and the role of Christianity and Islam... but I’ll blog about them tomorrow.
Thanks Esi - for inspiring my contemplation on the topic today in your great blog post.