The world around me calls this day the “Black Friday,” a case study in American consumerism and materialism.
It is also the official start of the so-called holiday season. Christmas trees are up and radio stations are beginning to play Christmas songs.
In my childhood, because I was never raised in a particular religion, this time of the year always inspired my curiosity about religions and spiritual matters.
Lots of churches were using Christmas as a sort of recruitment tool. They had special services and events. When I was 14 years old, my curiosity oddly took me to a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall. They claimed to be the most authentic followers of the “First Century Christianity.” It did not take me five months before I questioned many of their cardinal doctrines. I left after their congregational leaders could not answer my question. I bet they never expected it from a 14-year-old. The Sunday before the following Christmas, I stepped into a fundamentalist Baptist church instead. By the spring, I was baptized.
The pastor who baptized me “prophesied” that I will be a preacher of God’s word wherever I would go.
The reasons why I looked into Christianity were three-fold:
First, Christianity seemed rational. Everything was based on the Bible and established interpretations over the centuries. Theology already drew my intellectual curiosity.
Second, Christianity was universal. It was international, and therefore, it appeared to me at the time that being part of the Christian church was to be part of the worldwide culture that was not confined in any ethnic, language, or national barriers.
Third, Christianity seemed to me that it promised a path of living my life to its best — a path of dedication to something that was far greater than I was, a true sense of purpose for the glory of God and for the furtherance of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Being a mediocre kid in school who was constantly ostracized by my peer and under-performing academically (despite being considered “gifted”), this hope for a greatness was the reason why I became Christian.
It has been almost 28 years since I first attended the Baptist church. For most of my adolescence and young adult life, everything revolved around a church or a faith community of one kind or another.
Occupy Wall Street swept through the world and my city also had a large Occupy encampment. I initially began my engagement with the encampment community on the first night of the camp as a convenor and organizer of the local, autonomous Protest Chaplains chapter. For the following 39 days, I led a group of religious ministers from several faith traditions, organized 20 or so faith-based events, and became the point person for the encampment’s need for spiritual support. But when I was doing all this, I realized that I was looking into churches for a sense of community and authentic human connections that I never could fulfill, that I found all this in Occupy. After the encampment, I became an active volunteer and organizer with the local Occupy organization–and eventually became a board member of the local Occupy non-profit. For the first time in many years, I stopped attending church and did not miss it at all. I thought I found my true calling.
At the time, I was enrolled in a seminary program. Occupy put my study on hold, and for a while, I was not sure I should go back to the program, considering how I “evolved.”
The Occupy non-profit was financially insolvent. The treasurer of the non-profit hid that fact from me for five months, and one late spring day I found out that we lost the lease of our humble office space due to non-payment and expired liability insurance. I felt I lost everything. That summer was one of the most miserable and hopeless summers.
I put the activist and non-profit world behind. I decided to go into social entrepreneurship.
In 2016, I founded a small brand management and public relations company. Initially, I had a handful of projects that paid me and kept me busy. Everything felt optimistic. The last two years of the Obama presidency introduced many progressive policies, such as nationwide same-sex marriage, DACA, and trans-non-discrimination regulations. Like many, I thought this trend would continue under Hillary Rodham Clinton. Everything looked great.
Until November 8, 2016.
President Trump Stress Disorder literally drove me insane. America no longer felt safe to me. Everywhere I looked, there were Proud Boys and KKK and ICE. Hate crimes have been on a steep increase, discriminations are now okay thanks to the Trump Administration and the Supreme Court of the United States. Racial profiling and ICE raids and Border Patrol checkpoints are the new norms.
As a queer person of color, these last two years were really the first time I became keenly aware of my race, gender, and sexual orientation being such liabilities. I also came to a rude awakening that many white Americans, who were previously too ashamed to openly admit to it, were racists, misogynists, and homophobes all along. I feel like I am a walking bull’s eye wherever I go these days.
Through all these, the topic of spirituality often comes back to me as a random thought. After all, at one point, I was an ordained clergyperson only if for a couple of years. I still hold a ministry credential in a certain Neo-Pagan organization “just in case,” though I have never engaged in an active ministry since the days of Occupy.
But I have never had any spiritual practice to speak of. Even when I was a fundamentalist Baptist, setting aside five minutes a day for prayer was a struggle. After I left Christianity, there was nothing to structure and guide me anymore. I’m not interested in fuzzy, structureless woo-woo. I need discipline and structure.
This brings you back to the title of this article: I did not write “spirituality.” I did, however, write “faith.”
Faith was something I possessed when I was a Christian. Faith not only gave me a sense of purpose but a kind of courage and resolve I would otherwise never have, being such a timid, introverted, cowardly kid I was.
As someone who occupies the autistic spectrum, spirituality always felt foreign to me.
But I was extremely good at religious observances, often knowing and practicing the minute details. I also excelled in theological discourse and learning about religion and its traditions. And I had enormous faith.
I actually miss those aspects of me.
I restarted this blog as a continuation of my defunct “Amaranthine Sacrarium” blog, which really had no focus and turned into a random and incoherent collection of writings. Though it was useful to record my thoughts at given moments, it was not serving any good purpose.
I am reassessing my relationship with faith.
I am also revisioning my vocation in general. The reality is, neither activism nor business fully motivates me though they too can serve the larger purpose. I still strongly desire to complete my master’s degree in theology, but I need a better context — more than just getting a degree for the degree’s sake.