PATCHWORK COUSINS: The Religious Quilt of Our Nation

Talking Drum: At Peace...Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  (U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1, “Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression”)

Coming from a religious family, with a Southern Baptist preacher dad and a Pentecostal Evangelist grandmother, I’ve been bombarded with religious dogma, teachings and suppositions all of my life. Predictably- my own premonition– I even rebelled against the inoculative onslaught of various religious doctrines, at various times in my life.  And, the seemingly recurring squabbles over various tenet minutiae still irritate me.  So, I partially understand the vitriolic attacks- out of ignorance– on the various branches of religion, in the United States, depending on what’s popular, or not popular, within the prevailing regions of the mind, or corners of the nation, today.  But, only partially…

Somehow, the inconsistent arguments for and against the strategic placement of an Islamic mosque or center near New York’s “Ground Zero” have reached unfathomable heights, even laughable extremes, in my opinion.  Yet, I humbly admit to also having no all-encompassing solution.  Like others, what I have are simply observations, honed for many years within the narrow human experience of surviving various mortal challenges and attempts to live in harmony with others, within the limited understanding of our sacred, yet profane, environs.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed an assortment of theologians- self-described theologians, jackleg theologians and theologian wannabees- intentionally and unintentionally distort the true teachings of Christ and basic Christian ethics within their own personal quests for redemption, as well as their professed desires to lead others to a unique oneness with God, “…in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” I’ve been blessed to be within earshot of more esteemed theologians, as well.

Of course, by now, you’ve probably guessed that I am no theologian.  And, neither do I profess to be.  However, I do profess to be a Christian- at least, an on-going work-in-progress, as such.  Regardless of my own human frailties, like everyone else, I also have some opinion on the matter.

Ironically, my “rebellion” probably started around the same time I was introduced to the combined worship experiences of white and black Christians- mostly German-, Dutch- and African-Americans- within the farming community of Zanesville, Ohio.  The Pentecostal Church there was the worship meeting place for my grandparents.  And, I spent many, long days and evenings there, following work on the farm, during many summer months in my youth.  Other “meeting places” included homes, tent revivals and the farms, themselves. The experience was in sharp contrast to the black-only, Baptist church experience I grew up with back home, in Kentucky.  In Ohio, we not only worked each other’s farms, together, we ate and worshiped together, sometimes in the fields, as well.  In Kentucky, back then, such interrelationships were unheard of, even in the newly integrating South.  And, farmers didn’t help each other that way, as I recall.  Instead, they’d travel to nearby cities to hire “day laborers,” especially during harvest time. Yet, being the rebellious “preacher’s kid” that I was, I still found time to stay in trouble- within both experiences.

At one point in my life, when I was probably the most rebellious, during high school and early-on in the military, I recall swearing that I’d never set foot inside another church, based on the disappointing human-element dynamics I’d witnessed over the years, as well as my general teenage proclivity for rebellion.  But, somewhere between the end of my military service and being married, with three children to raise, I began to see things a little differently, while continuing to grow, myself.

In fact, while in college, also married, with children and working, I once took an elective course in religion, called “Introduction to Religious Studious.” Frankly, there’s a lot I probably don’t recall, other than getting great grades, challenging classroom discussions and a professor who studied, for about nine years, as a Buddhist monk- in Japan.  And, I distinctly remember the Lotus position, we all worked so hard to get comfortable in, during our extensive studies of Hindu Yoga. But, what I remember most were the ideas I came away with, concerning the concept of crossing over into other religions, including various primitive ones; then, coming back to my own beliefs- the religion to which I was born into.  It meant returning to my own with an even greater understanding and appreciation for the motley mix of belief systems across the globe, including the one I “inherited.”  On one hand, my “rebellion” intensified.  On the other hand, it was just the beginning of the mellowing within my own system of synergized beliefs. 

Personally, I feel the constant clash of religious thought, and hotly contested practices or beliefs, might begin to fade to more “ah-ha” moments if more Americans actively sought to experience other dimensions of human religiosity or indoctrinations, from time to time.  For whites, this might include more “crossing over” to experience the fullness of the unique African-American worship services, born out of the harsh realities of slavery, tempered by the gospels, as well as flavorings of Ancient-African experiences, melded at birth within our souls.  On the flip-side, perhaps, black or African-Americans might choose to occasionally experience the white worship experience, tracing back to the colonies and beyond.  Certainly, we all might benefit from getting closer to the multifarious beliefs of the first Americans- our Native American brothers, as well as the many other religious practices within our nation’s elastic boundaries, including our Islamic brethren. Besides, from what I recall, most religions probably have some notion of a higher-order mandated beginning.  Some, monotheistic… Some, polytheistic…

As for me, the one certain principle I’ve learned over the years is the idea that we’re all some-part “cousin,” stemming from the various branches of races and religions of the world and the perceived common beginnings of mankind.  For most, this includes our quest for peace and human understanding, as well as the unique oneness with God; for some, “…in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Of course, I can only speak for myself, from my own restricted perspectives and limited human understanding.

HOW ABOUT YOU:  Has the freedom to practice religion, speak freely, assemble peacefully and the fundamental right to complain- without reprisals- helped you to appreciate the rights of others to do so, as well?  Or, is this first part of our constitutional Bill of Rights important, anymore?  Please tell us how you feel within the ‘comments’ section, below.  Thanks.  “Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.

(Initially  posted @ rizingcubenterprises on September 13, 2010 by Backstreet Djeli)


One thought on “PATCHWORK COUSINS: The Religious Quilt of Our Nation

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About William "Duke" Smither (a.k.a., "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy. A second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue...."] is pending completion.