Some years ago while watching a documentary on PBS, I suddenly became offended. As I watched a scene depicting black people in worship, it occurred to me that every representation I’d seen on TV of black folk in church involved hand clapping, a shouting minister, several Amens and a soulful, yet inarticulate, sound expressing the affirmative that consist of the word “well” drawn out to about seven syllables. While I know several people who do worship this way, some in my own though not immediate family, I do not myself worship this way.
I was raised in an Episcopal church (not AME, just plain old Episcopal) which is very much like a Catholic service except there’s no third party arbitration byway of a priest. An Episcopalian’s sins are strictly between himself and God. An Episcopal priest is there to tell you what page of the hymnal to turn to and to give you something to think about without scaring you to death. My earliest memories include being swathed in sandalwood incense and being soothed by the dulcet tones of Gregorian chanting. This is in complete contrast with the experience I had when I spent the summer with my favorite cousin in Pennsylvania. Her parents were Baptists and going to church there was, for me, like viewing a disturbing thriller. I was on the edge of my seat. I watched wide-eyed the stirring delivery of the reverend as he inflamed the congregation and moved them to “get the Holy Ghost.” I remember watching in fascination as women dressed in white, like nurses complete with those little folded triangle hats that nurses don’t wear anymore, came to the aid of the overwhelmed by fanning them with cardboard faces of Jesus. It was truly theatrical, and I couldn’t wait to leave.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one particular form of worship is better than the next – in fact, I don’t go to church at all anymore. I don’t even consider myself a Christian (more on this in a minute). What I am trying to say is not all black people worship the same way. As I watched that documentary, it planted the seed for this blog. My people, black people, African Americans are a varied and heterogenous group. We aren’t all the same. We have different upbringings, different life experiences, different religions (I made up my own belief system), different political views. We don’t all like Tyler Perry movies though it might be safe to say we all do love Tyler Perry and his amazing story.
With this blog, I hope that more people will come to appreciate the many facets of the African American community. I encourage you to send me your questions and I will do my best to answer them honestly and in good humor or to get indignant if I need to. So consider this your place to find out all you ever wanted to know about black people but were afraid to ask.