Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

My Problem With Church

An episode of “the shitty” — the drunk sleep that occurs when you go to bed while inebriated and, for whatever reason, wake up far earlier than you would under normal circumstances — last Saturday night woke me at 8:30am, an ungodly hour for an “I aint got shit to do all day” Sunday morning.

Unable to go back to sleep, I remembered that a group of 20 or so guys play pick-up basketball every Sunday morning at a nearby gym, so I got out of bed and decided to go play.

I made it there by 9:15 or so, played a few games, dunked in a game for the first time in maybe 10 months, slightly sprained my ankle while jumping around and screaming like a banshee after celebrating said dunk, and made it back home by 11.

After showering and glancing at the time after getting out of the shower, I thought a thought I hadn’t thought in (at least) a few months:

“Hmm. I think I should try to make it to church.”

I got dressed, ran out the door, and made it in time for the 11:45 service.

Now, my reasons for not attending church more often range from lazy (I just never get up early enough to go.) and logistical (I occasionally spend Sunday mornings working on various writing projects.) to practical (My favorite brunch spot stops serving food at 1:30. I usually don’t get out of church until 1:15.) and pragmatic, but the main thing limiting my appearances to one per every three months is the fact that I just don’t feel anything when I go.

I understand that everyone isn’t going to catch the Holy Ghost whenever they attend service, and I also get the fact that even in church, your personal relationship with God — not your connection to the parishioners — is what really matters.

But while I do always enjoy myself when I’m there, I never seem to actually be doing what I’m supposed to be doing. While we’re supposed to be praying, I’m thinking about how many calls and texts I’ve missed since I’ve been there. While we’re supposed to be paying attention to the word, I’m scanning the crowd to spot familiar faces (and thinking some, um “unChristian” things about some of them). While we’re supposed to be standing and singing, I’m wondering if the people behind me notice that it’s been a month since I took the suit I’m wearing to the cleaners.

This isn’t a new development, btw. Even as a child, I was never able to immerse myself into church the same way some of my classmates and family members seemed to. And yes, I realize that a good percentage of that was probably an act — many of the kids were likely just going through the motions to appease their parents and teachers — but I didn’t even care/feel enough to fake it.

Despite all of this, I’m not one of those faux intellectuals who think that they’re just too smart and too analytical to be swayed by God, church, and religion in the same way many others are. In fact, my belief in God — and yes, I do believe in God — is from an intellectual perspective.

Basically, I believe in God because the existence of Earth and the universe (and Stacey Dash) — the evidence of His existence — proves that He is real. I also understand and respect the purpose of religion and church. I’ve just never been able to cultivate the type of spiritual and emotional connection that seems to keep churchgoers “filled.”

I’m also not a church cynic. Both the church I attend when I do go to church and the pastor at that church are the embodiment of what’s good about Black churches. I give (most) churchgoers, even the more demonstrative ones, the benefit of the doubt, and I’m definitely not sitting there thinking “Look at these fake-ass motherf*ckers hooting and hollering.” Not only do I believe that they feel the way they act and say they feel, I’m envious of it.

I realize that my issues with church could just be a case of confirmation bias. I know how I’ve felt before while there, so perhaps every time I enter the building now I just assume that things are going to play out the exact same way, and I start to look for things and search for feelings to prove my point.

I discussed this issue with a friend yesterday afternoon, and she thought my inability to connect was a bit deeper than that.

“Your problem is that you expect your relationship with church and God to be easy. It’s not. You have to work at it and want it to be successful. It’s actually like any other relationship with friends or even a romantic partner. Things aren’t just going to magically work. You have to put in the work for it to work, and the basis of this effort is the love you have for your friend. You want things to work because you love them and you know your life is better with them in it. You’re not connecting with church and God the way you think you should be able to because you’re just not trying hard enough to keep a consistent dialogue. As close as I am to my best friend, if I went two years without calling her, we definitely wouldn’t be as close anymore.”

I think she’s right. Perhaps my problem with church is basically just my problem with me, and “going all in” with things. I guess it’s just up to me to decide how important it is to change that.

Anyway, people of VSB.com, can anyone relate to my struggles connecting with church and/or religion? For those who are able to make that connection, how were you able to do it?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • 1) I predict a 1000 response thread

    2) I think the problem isn’t church – it’s church PEOPLE. It’s like that Gandhi quote “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians.” Church people can be so holier than thou, forgetting that – surprise! – they are no better, they aren’t God, and they don’t decide who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t

  • I believe I can relate. I know my relationship with God is very strong and very real. I just don’t get the “go to church to be at church” thing that many have. I understand the whole “gather together in my name” thing, but where does it say that this has to be done every Sunday at 11, Tuesday at 6, and Thursday at 7?

  • JK

    I don’t like church. I grew up, went back after my daughter was born, and send her with my godparents every once in a while (yes, on Easter). Someone once told me I didn’t like church because I’ve never been through a tragic situation. I’m not going. I love God, but I don’t like church because I don’t, same way I don’t like Tyrese, but Sweet Lady still bangs on my iPod. Too many folks want to question your spirituality based on where you spend Sunday morning even though they’d be ashamed to admit where they spent Saturday night.

  • demondog06

    well…i’m an atheist so….there’s that

  • MObetta

    Christianity (as I assume you’re Christian…sorry if I’m wrong), like your very smart friend pointed out, is a relationship built on faith. Attempting to approach it from an intellectual standpoint will leave you unfulfilled every time.

    How I was able to connect and strengthen my relationship with God? I reached a point in my life where He was all I had. No cliche…real life.

  • I actually had the same issue. Born and raised catholic, went to college decided to find God for myself instead of what family wanted me to be, visited a bunch of diff churches and found a great nondenominational one. Became more spiritual and less religious. Also read blue like jazz by Donald miller…put a lot into perspective.

  • Amen?

  • Leila

    I enjoy going to church, but ever since I left my hometown a few yrs ago it hasn’t been the same experience. Growing up in NY, my family went to a church where many people were like a 2nd family. I’ve always felt a deep connection with God and feel a sense of peace when I’m in church. i cant describe the feeling. It has been tough finding a church in my new city. I still enjoy service, but not the same experience.

  • Growing up, Ma Dukes made sure that I was in church faithfully every Sunday. I sang on the Youth Choir, went to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, y’know.. all that good stuff.

    Then, once I turned 14, she stopped forcing me to go. I stopped going and haven’t been regularly since. I have a short attention span, so sitting somewhere for 2-3 hours was (and still partially is) not my thing.

    Now that I’ve gotten older, I still hold onto my faith and pray regularly. I just don’t feel the need to attend church.


    My issue with the church, and all organised religion, is that when you start looking to people for spirituality instead of holy books and meditation/reflection, you set yourself up to be one of those ‘faux intellectuals who think they’re just too smart and too analytical to be swayed by God, church, and religion’. You can find fault in man but you cant find fault in god. And organised religion is based off the backs, and pocketbooks, of the believers and not the belief.

    Not only that, from a young age, the average parent spends more time getting their kids ready to go to that sermon and saying your hellos to the other parishoners that are there then we do discussing the sermon and making sure the children understand the lessons from it. If we’re taught that religion is a physical act of going through the motions, rather than an intellectual one of understanding, being, becoming, then it’s only a matter of time that religion dies out.

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