“In the beginning, religion created a mask.”
~ Kirk Franklin
I wore this mask proudly – told myself for years, ‘I go to church, I pray (sometimes), I am a Christian.’ Growing up in a Christian household meant a few things: exposure to gospel music at an early stage, going to Church every Sunday and family devotions – all of which I am so pleased my parents instilled within me because it was these formative years that helped me gain knowledge of who God was and who He is. I sat wide-eyed letting my imagination run loose as I heard of stories about Daniel in the lion’s den and the crucifixion of Christ. At that young age, that’s what they were to me – stories that became my favourite fairytales. But because I grew up in a Christian home didn’t necessarily mean I truly let Jesus into the home of my heart. There are so many misconceived notions about Christianity as a ‘religion.’ For me, I only learnt last year that Christianity is less about a religion and more about a relationship. I began to see that FAITH was at the heart of this thing they called ‘Christianity.’ Faith is simply believing without seeing and understanding this vital fact is what allowed me to no longer refer to the stories as fairytales but rather as historical happenings.
So, the mask has fallen off and I can see clearly now! And what I’ve seen is an interesting reality of what it really means to be a Christian in this society.
The world we live in is highly volatile. One day we’re waking up to Brexit, the next to Donald Trump as President. But enough of the political talk – as a young Christian teenager there are several things society tells me that completely contrasted with my faith. Society says: ‘You’re not good enough’, ‘You need to do this or that to achieve that and this’, ‘Oh you don’t care about your appearance? You better! Appearance is everything!’. I’m met with silent stares as I express my belief in God amongst my peers because as they say, ‘God isn’t real. He doesn’t exist. Those stories are fabricated.’ I could receive hundreds of likes for a selfie on my instagram and be left with 20 – maybe 30? should I decide to post my favourite bible verse. Now all this may sound very trivial and not necessarily warrant viable irritation or confusion within me but sometimes it does. Sometimes, it’s hard to fully express myself with my peers if my values aren’t shared or understood. I think that has been the hardest part. ‘Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are’ – a saying we’re all familiar with and as a young Christian it’s one that I’m constantly reminded of. We’re encouraged to find like minded individuals who understand the intricacies of the Christian faith and will be a source of growth to our lives. But to me it always sounded like I had to separate my friends mentally – why should there be division? Why should I be closer to her simply because she professes to be a Christian too? These are just a few of the battles in my mind I encounter. It has been difficult to maintain a sense of sanity and refrain from trying to defend my Faith as though I were the elected President of Christianity.
But with the way in which it’s been presented, it’s as though this is something I have to resort to. The media does not like ‘religion.’ It does not like anything that purports to have strong beliefs. I’ve always found it interesting how Christmas ads find it more politically correct to say ‘Seasons Greetings’ or ‘Merry Xmas’, completely erasing the ‘Christ’ factor which is the main reason why we celebrate this time period. There is a huge amount of dilution across all forms of media because people fear looking too ‘radical.’ There’s this incessant need to either dilute it all or to disregard it completely.
The dilution occurs across all platforms – whether it be TV shows that claim to have Christian characters that would rather refer to themselves as ‘spiritual’ to avoid using the C-word at all costs, or singers who don’t want to claim their faith so they won’t be labelled as a ‘gospel’ artist; it’s as though Christianity is placed in a ‘do not touch’ box in society, leading many to believe that only the Pope can claim to know and revere God.
It’s a prevalent issue amongst young people especially. Our generation wants be young & free and not have anything tying us down. Religion to many is a vice that will judge us, leave us feeling constantly guilty. So basically the plan should be to wait until we’re in our 80s and need a hobby to bite into. It is interesting that due to how the media has painted religion, our perception remains skewed and young individuals like myself, who have found God for themselves are left bemused as to whether they can and should say proudly: ‘I am a Christian.’ The media says a Christian is an uptight, judgemental fellow who looks down on everyone from their pedestal of purity. It’s so ironic that this is far from the image Jesus himself aimed to project. The media plays a vital role in making it feel like a sin to be a Christian. Many a day, I feel as though my faith is that A on my chest, letting everyone know I’ve done something wrong. The media loves those few anomalies who lack a full understanding of what Christianity truly means and end up having louder voices that echo within the walls of our society. I mean the KKK is ‘Christian’ so what exactly is this ‘good news’ we speak of?
However, in choosing to pursue a relationship with Christ, I’ve found solace in the fact that what society tells me doesn’t have to be my reality. My reality is the fact that my Faith tells me that I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ When society says that as a young person of colour, there is always a cap to my success, a dead end I cannot run away from, my faith kicks in reminding me that ‘I will soar on wings like eagles, I will run and not grow weary.’ So, it’s clear that a bunch of my thoughts and motives are steered by what I read in the Bible. It’s my holy grail, my wikipedia, my life’s manual, my answer to all. This is precisely how I endeavour to stay connected because the world can be such a big and scary place that’s hard to manoeuvre through. I’m still learning so much about myself – from my mannerisms to my dreams, everything is evolving and the only way I can feel grounded is not through that TV programme, it’s not through that specific song but it’s through the Word of God.
Through my walk with God, I’ve never felt more accepted. Society that is filled with so many things that cause me anxiety and fear is blurred when I’m in God’s presence. I receive a pure type of love that is unmatched by anything. Though my generation is very outspoken and opinionated when it comes to shunning religion, I try my best to retreat from it all and educate myself about what I claim to believe so that I don’t feel that heavy burden of defending my reverence for God. I’m losing my ‘religion’ and finding that my faith is not a religion, it’s a lifestyle.
“Religion is a prison but truth sets us free”
~ Kirk Franklin