My mentor sent me this book the other day and asked me to read it. I knew why he wanted me to read it, or I thought I knew. I imagined that the book was an attempt to get me to grow closer to God. That’s what I thought. When I received the book, I put it at the top of my reading list and began reading right away. The book drew me in so fast; the story amazed me. I wanted to confirm what my hypothesis about why my mentor had chosen this book for me to read.
Before I go any further it is important that I let you know that if you ever come across a book called, The Shack, I would recommend you read it. I read a lot of books but this one took me to the depths of which many will never reach. It made me explore those parts of my soul, spirituality and identity in ways that only the hand of God has done before. This isn’t a book for Christians or believers, it’s a book for all walks of life.
I won’t spoil the plot of the story or the book for any of you. I would rather tell you a story. It’s a story about how I became the way I became and how I relate to this universe in my spirituality.
I grew up in the church. I had all the pieces that are needed to raise a child; I was deeply rooted in the church, I had a praying mother and I had a praying grandmother. I accepted the Lord into my life at a young age. I sat in Sunday School at the age of six learning about God, Jesus and the love that he had for me. It was after a lesson and I felt compelled. I’ve always been a very cerebral and logical person and even at a young age, I was intrigued by God. One day, the intrigue went away and I heard the voice of God saying, “This is real, this is me, I’m here.” I knew God was with me and he was with all those around me. I knew that without him nothing around me made sense. How could I be so loved when everything around me was not in order? My Sunday School teacher returned to the classroom to find me sitting in my seat saying that I wanted to know more about God and what his plan was for me. I just understood that not only was there a God, but that he loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for our sins on the cross.
I was baptized a few weeks later and became a faithful disciple of the word. As a child I would read everything I could get my hands on, literally everything. I found the stories to be powerful and insightful. I couldn’t get enough. I read scripture, I led prayer, I sang in the choir, I gave God my talents on the piano and let him guide me. Everything was going as planned until my freshman year of college. (I should say now that I should apologize to my mentor that he’ll likely read this and may have never heard this part of the story.) My freshman year of college, I lived on the multicultural living and learning community floor in my dorm. I met people from all walks of life, backgrounds and faiths. I always thought that by engaging in conversations with believers, whether Christian or other, it would help me build a better connection with God. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. While I was able to be a soldier for Jesus, I found myself questioning why I was learning all of this now. I was troubled and it affected my faith. Each Sunday I would attend church on campus, but I felt that somehow I had been done a disservice. I had been taught that anything that wasn’t through Christ to God would result in hell. I phoned my mother at this time and began to tell her what was going on with me and urged her to not tell a soul in my family.
Of course she didn’t. My grandmother began calling, my aunts began calling and I even received a letter from my Pastor. When I returned home, I met with my Pastor and I asked him why I hadn’t been taught about all the other religions of the world. He had few answers but to say that the Holy Spirit had touched me and wouldn’t touch everyone. He told me that through prayer, if it was in God’s plan for those who were non-believers to know, they would see the Light.
Despite all of that, I still didn’t feel right.
Continue reading on the next page.
Let’s pause for a moment because it’s key that we understand that most Black men at this point in time will stop. They will stop looking for answers, they will resolve that their relationship with God doesn’t make sense and they feel a disconnect. Growing up like many Black men, I observed that older Black men didn’t go to church. They believed in God but it wasn’t until they were late in age that they returned to the church. I put them in that category that Bill Cosby talks about when he said, “That’s an old person trying to get into heaven.” That wasn’t for me, it wouldn’t be adequate. The small child who climbed into his grandmother’s bed and asked, “Gruma, what you reading?” needed answers.
I only knew one thing and that was prayer. I prayed and I asked God a question that I didn’t think believers should ever ask. I asked God, “Why?”
In prayer, I found a deeper relationship building. I always thought that God was a close friend of mine. That we could talk about anything and I could truly be myself; so I asked all my questions.
What if someone was in a part of the world where there were no information about You or Your great love for us? Why is it us against them? How could a God who claims to love us all not be known by all? How can I be in love with a God who believes heaven and hell? Hell always bothered me because I didn’t believe in the concept that everlasting love could ever do that to a believer.
In prayer, I found answers. God showed me that I needed to know that most of religion was created by man, it wasn’t him. God showed me that he was truly in love with all. God showed me that he is a god of love and understanding. After many days of prayer, I didn’t tell anyone but I had grown so much and I knew what I believed.
I had visited my Shack. I had my moment when everything made sense for me.
I watched a commercial on the USA network and in it an Indian woman said, “I believe in all paths to God.” I don’t know why that commercial that I may have seen ten years ago has stayed with me so long, but it has. That’s exactly what I believe! That’s what resonates in me. I can’t believe in a God that doesn’t love Muslims, Jews or Buddhists. I could only believe in a God that examined the hearts of all and if they had love in their heart, they would be granted the gifts that God had for me. I loved the story of Jesus and I felt (much like a character in The Shack) that if someone didn’t know God and his love, I would rather them to go to Heaven before me. Surely if a person was a good person then they deserve to feel that love and I would sacrifice myself for them.
I decided that for me, meditation and deep thought worked better for my relationship with God. I would read my Bible, but I also felt drawn to read the texts of other faiths. I became a disciple of my spirituality, instead of a disciple of just one faith.
Every now and then, I return to those moments that would be best described as my Shack. Honestly I’ll admit I may not do it weekly, but I try.
What’s most important to note is that many Black men decide to stunt or stop their faith and spirituality, but I didn’t. My questions and my insecurity led me closer to God and my spirituality. I tell my friends and those I do not know that I don’t think it’s important that you affiliate with a particular denomination as long as you believe in selfless love. That you believe in the betterment of the Earth and this universe. Even if you don’t believe in a being such as God that you believe that while on Earth you must be a loving member to humanity.
That’s where The Shack took me. That’s what it reminded me to do. To take time to remind myself that I’m not idle in my faith, but my faith is growing. I’m reminded that it’s not up to me to judge, but to have an undying love for all. For me to give myself as a tool for inspiration and motivation, but as an active member of God’s plan. I often ask many Christians, “If there was no promise of eternal life, would you still believe in God?” It’s interesting to hear the responses. I know for myself that I wouldn’t change a thing, not one thing. Walking this path isn’t about the path of eternal life – it’s about understanding your connection with the universe. It’s about understanding that your soul is rooted in spirituality and not in religion. I believe that’s where many go wrong and I’ve chosen not to go wrong.