religion

Dear Lola (and Amma). Pt 2 of Faith, Fidelity, and Family

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WHOA. I don’t know what to say, but THANK YOU. I’m not one to be very outwardly emotional (y’all know this), so you can probably imagine the inner struggle I had writing and actually posting my last blog, but your response has only confirmed that it was the right thing to do. After posting ‘Knowing Before You Know‘, I received so much love through calls, emails, whatsapp messages, informal discussions- thanking me for being so blunt open, it was kinda crazy weird. Not to mention the fact that y’all really shared the post – it was the highest single day viewed post in the history of this blog, by more than double… ya, crazy times.

So without getting too emo on you again, I wanted to say thanks for the encouragement and support…and the sharing of the post! It’s great to know people relate to and appreciate what we’re writing.

On a last note, I want to clear up that that post wasn’t about bashing the guy or men in general; there are great guys out there, and I actually think he’s one of them. Judging from the way he treats his family and friends, I know he’s going to be a great husband to his wife one day; my post was about the fact that ‘she’ wasn’t me… and I should have been more attentive to the signs so I could have bowed out of the game much earlier and been on a path to find the person who was for me.

Anyhoo on to my actual post, which is a response to Amma’s piece on Faith, Fidelity and Family.

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photoIf I’m honest, I’ve often wondered if when this subject would come up. In fact, it’s such a dicey topic that it’s taken me over three months to pull a response together. Amma and I have had several too many conversations to count on this topic, because it’s a little too close to home for us. Like Amma, I also grew up in a strong faith-based home. Although not quite the Pentecostal hooting and hollering-type, it was definitely the grounded in faith, grounded in The Word and church-type. And like Amma, I also fell in love with someone who didn’t share in my faith  was basically atheisty- agnosticy, and I had to grapple with how I wanted to proceed. Following the relationship, I still have to say that my feelings toward being with someone outside of my faith aren’t hellbent on ‘no’. Too much has happened since then for me to know that life is complicated, and sometimes love is complicated too. So as much as I would love to be with someone who shares my same beliefs, I can’t guarantee that if put in the exact same situation again, I wouldn’t continue on with the relationship… And that’s just real talk.

The topic of inter-faith or faith/no-faith relationships has reared it’s head several times in the last few months, not only with the referenced letter in Amma’s post, but also with an intriguing conversation that I had with some new friends of mine here in Accra. And because you know I love to retell a good story… let’s begin:

The setting is the apartment of a young married couple in Accra. I’m having a friendly discussion with the man of the house about everything and nothing in particular. The conversation slowly steers towards the standard, “how is life in Accra treating you as a ‘returnee’ ‘half-outsider’?” Armed and loaded with my ‘young returnee answer tool kit’, I respond politely that things are fine and uneventful.

“And dating in Accra?”>> ‘bold, much?’ I think to myself, ‘this usually doesn’t come up till further into these types of conversations…’ But still, I present my neatly packaged response: “uneventful.”

“Are your standards too high?” Was the subsequent question. Which for now I’ve come to expect when I give anyone a less than stellar response to the “Are you seeing anyone?”-type question. Unfortunately for me, the one word response of ‘No’ is never believed by whomever I’m speaking to, and spending time explaining how their assessment of me is incorrect is always a very conscious decision because it means getting into an exhausting argument exchange that I’m so over before it begins. However, as life would have it I found this gentleman mildly worthy to continue engaging with me on this topic, so I gave him a half truth in response, ‘I’m not picky, but I do think wanting someone that loves Jesus in a genuine- genuine meaning not illogical fanatic way**- is hard to come by these days (read here how some studies brand Christians less intelligent than atheists).

“Aaaa you’re one of those. Like my wife.”unequally-yoked

“Excuse me?”

“My wife is religious, and I’m not in the least.”

From here, he proceeds to tell me their story and how things work for them in a faith/no faith relationship. For some context: this is a young, well educated, well traveled couple with no kids. However, this isn’t the end of the story- his wife walks in and he invites her to join in on the discussion, which puts an interesting spin on things. I won’t waste too much time on the details of the rest of the exchange, but my two takeaways from the conversation were these:
1. It can work- Inter-faith and faith/ no-faith relationships. However, the can is a very big can. And that work, is very real work; and,
2. It is not ideal for the party that is Christian (particularly if this is the woman).

Obviously, I don’t know the ins and outs of Mr No Faith and Mrs Faith’s marriage, but as it pertains to #1, what I mean is that heaven doesn’t rain down fire and the world doesn’t come to a screeching halt (like some Christians would like to believe). However, undoubtedly sacrifices have to be made: Mr. No Faith mentioned he accompanies his wife to church on occasion because he knows ‘it’s important to her’, and Mrs. Faith mentioned that she doesn’t share with her husband her ‘God experiences’ knowing he wouldn’t appreciate them (I believe her actual words were, “he’d probably laugh”). In regards to #2, I say this isn’t ideal for the Christian spouse because marriage for Christians is supposed to have a deeper purpose of being one of the most important ways God uses to demonstrate His Nature -how He loves, how He commits, how He sacrifices, and how He forgives- to non-believers (and believers) on earth. Thus fundamentally, this is supposed to guide how a couple spends their time, money, and how they raise their children, etc. Particularly for the Christian wife, an ‘unequally yoked’ relationship isn’t ideal because men are looked to, in most people’s minds, as the (spiritual) leader of the home. Amma pointed out that this seems to be something women ‘obsess over’ more than men, and I think it’s because there is no substitute influence over a woman’s life and her children’s than the leadership of her man on all matters spiritual and none. With the number of ‘single’ women I see at church, children in tow, I often wonder what the dynamics are at home (for example, what is their continual response to their children when they ask, ‘How come daddy doesn’t have to go to church?’). [If you want to read more on this, here’s a good article on whether interfaith marriage is always wrong, from a Christian perspective].

I think similar to Amma’s dad, Mrs. Faith having crossed over the hurdle of nuptials has the luxury of saying things like, ‘you should try to find someone you’re spiritually compatible with from the get go’- which is indeed something she said during our conversation. Because both she and Amma’s dad successfully found someone they actually connected with enough to marry (even church and hateif it was only on a physical and emotional level), hindsight is now 20/20… especially when you’re rendering advice to single young women like me and Amma. But for us who haven’t been fortunate enough to have found our ride-or-die, lover, roomie, best friend person to share our lives with yet, we recognize that it’s quite a tall order these days to find someone who you connect with – mind, body, AND soul. And things become more complicated when you add in the fact that the difference between some Christians and non Christians is inconsequential, for the most part now. It also doesn’t work in your favor when you’re smitten by a particular type of guy- the highly educated, highly analytical, highly opinionated critical thinker who is not drawn to fables about an intangible God up in heaven looking out for us (and dictating how we have to live our lives), much less His incompetent followers gouging money from poor unsuspecting gullible people *side eye*- yes, Amma and I dated iterations of the.same.guy. Although these men were supportive of our individual relationships with Christ (and have a lot to do with why we have individually matured in our faith/beliefs even now), I know our relationships with them would have been richer if we could have been able to-

…pray with them and not at them

… go to church with them

… make jokes about the Israelites in the old testament stories with them (really, Amma?)

… encourage them through scripture and (co)prayer

… and talk about hearing from God or experiencing a move of the Spirit without them rolling their eyes and/or smirking, just like Amma said.

However, I also know being a Christian doesn’t guarantee connection/compatibility (nor fidelity, honesty, good communication and all that other great stuff), so I can empathize with Lola that she was captivated by her husband by something other than his spirituality. I am happy that she found that special someone, and I recognize that people do change (note that it’s generally accepted that men take a longer time to ‘find religion/spirituality’ than women), but I also know that it’s not my job to change anyone, it’s God’s. So while not making any judgments on Lola’s situation, if I were to end up being with someone not of my faith, rather than placing stipulations on what their spirituality has to become ultimately, I would make peace with who I was marrying… as he was. And I would certainly make peace with the fact that I may be forever trucking to church solo, children-in tow, answering questions like ‘why doesn’t daddy have to go to church?’

**What I mean by this is you actually know why you believe what you believe, and how it translates to practical living, rather than blindly following any hooting and hollering pastor of the day, or just going to church because that’s what your parents did.

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Dear Lola (On Faith, Fidelity and Family)

If you have not already read the story of Lola and Dayo, then definitely check it out before proceeding in order to get the context and background story.

Dear Lola Akindele,

photo (7)First off let me say a big, huge congratulations. I am actually really jealous covetous happy that you have found someone with whom you can share your life. Afua sent me a message about a 93-year-old man who wrote the most beautiful love song to his recently deceased wife of 75 years and I hope that I too can one day experience the joy of meeting my ride-or-die lover-roomie-friend. After reading your letter, I was at first challenged in my faith. I know that I too believe that God can do outstanding things in various areas of my life and I definitely believe that it is in His power to bring me a tall dark handsome Lecrae-esque Obama character who will engage me in freestyle battles and discussions about DuBois and Foucalt God fearing man. Nevertheless, as someone who has dated an actual atheisty- agnosticy person, I found it very interesting that your partner was originally Muslim. Not because those two things are alike, but because in my super conservative, Pentecostal Ghanaian upbringing, to date someone who is not Christian, is essentially a banishment to the deepest depths of hell.

Essentially. *shrugs*

ImageEveryone I have ever known in all of my life has always said that we should never make it our mission to change our partners’ beliefs. I mean we can change our partner in so many other ways but in this one area, we should essentially just ‘not be unequally yoked’. Yet, after reading your story the second time, I am now burdened with a myriad of questions about religion and relationships. When I consider my own parents, I know that my father was not a believer when he married my mother (a woman who was like—literally—3 sneezes away from becoming a nun) but that he eventually came into the faith and after she passed, his faith has only deepened. Yet, even he will advise me that it is in my best interest to just ‘get it right the first time’. What’s interesting is that I love my dad. I baaaasically want my husband to be a 30 year old version of his 60 year old self (I know— talk about impossible standards). My dad wasn’t a ‘bad’ person when he wasn’t going to church with us or making us listen to Elder Mireku jams during long family trips. And I loved him then as I love him now, but I do notice how his countenance has changed. And I wish I could ask my mother the questions that I am now coming to ask you. So here goes… three essential questions about faith, fidelity and family that I want to know about your Saul-to Paul fairytale wedding…

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His Fidelity

ImageOk… so I completely understand that God told you he was going to become a Christian. But I do not get why you were dating before that actually happened. Why couldn’t the two of you have just been bff’s (since that’s all you were given the whole ‘no sex before marriage’— ‘no marriage before you get saved’ thing)? Why did he have to pledge his fidelity to you so early in the game? If I were him, I would be thinking, ‘Hmmmm… welt… since you know without a shadow of doubt I will come to Jesus… let me philander and/ or see what else is out there and if I come back to you a saved man… we just walk down the aisle the next day.’ And if it was his decision to date you in spite of yourself, what would compel a man to do this… especially one who may not understand all of your visions, dreams, signs and wonders? For me… I believe in a God born of a virgin who resurrected after being crucified. I recognize how ridiculous this is (foolish things confound the wise… its true) and I am therefore able to believe the other supernatural utterances of the faith— I mean really anything after that is possible. BUT for someone who has a completely different faith base, how do you convince him to stick around? And how does he not get weirded out by your uber spirituality? In my experience, I have found these things met with smirks, eye-rolling, face-slapping and general derision… so I want to know how that all panned out.

His Family

Now it seems your family was super involved in this plan for his soul. And that’s great… because we all know what they say about families that pray together. But then… what about his family? Because we also know that when you marry someone, you marry their family and from your letter it is not clear that anyone else changed their beliefs. How do they feel about the fact that their grandbabies and nephews won’t be called Ismael and Jamal? How do they feel about the influence of your prayers on their son? How will that affect your relationship with them going forward? I guess this means you won’t be coming around for the Eid celebrations then, eh? And what about the kids… I mean, a whole side of their family is Muslim— are there any implications for how you will raise them? I mean, my mothers father was Muslim and so a number of people on her side still practice the faith. It did not really have much an effect on me, but then we were separated by time, space and water, and I am assuming his family will be a bit closer.  Any thoughts?

His Faith

ImageAlrighty… soooo a soul is won for the kingdom. We rejoice! My question is… how will his infant faith and your adult faith come together in your home? Can he really be the head of household and the spiritual leader of the home if his faith is literally the size of a mustard seed while yours seems to be a mustard orchard of sorts? I know that the measure of faith isn’t necessarily time… but then if he has been Muslim his whole life there are a lot of things that he will have to change in his thinking to grow in his faith. Chief among those is the value of faith for salvation as opposed to ‘works’ for salvation— and even we Christians don’t get that right. And I am not sure when you plan on having kids but will he be able to admonish them in the faith? Is that important to you?

There are a number of very interesting nuances that come to bear when we talk relationships and religion. I, for one, do not have any the answers. After all my talk from my Pentecostal days about only dating ‘a man after God’s heart’… I ended up with someone who actually said, and I quote, ‘I, like Biggie, would rather go to hell than be stuck in heaven praising God’ end quote. To his credit, he was very disciplined about reminding me about living out my faith (without being all ‘… are Christians supposed to do thaaaat?’) and a lot of my maturity happened because of my experiences with him. Nevertheless, while I learned a lot from being with him, especially about what I believe and what I value in my faith… I wish I could have been able to pray with him and not at him…

willywonkaatheist… and to go to church with him

… and make jokes about the Israelites in the old testament stories with him (Golden calf?? Really?!?! After you see a whole Red Sea parted… REALLLLLYY?! Ha!)

… and to encourage him through scripture and (co)prayer

… and to talk about hearing from God or the move of the Spirit without him rolling his eyes and/or smirking

I think it’s awesome that these are things you will enjoy with someone who is in your faith and yet, as you can see, I still have questions and concerns. I would have really loved to get Dayo’s perspective because it would have helped a lot with some of my quandaries.  I have been talking to Afua a lot about this whole ‘marrying outside of your faith’ bit, and I am certain things are easier better when you are both strengthening each other with the same foundational faith. I see this in my parents’ relationships and some of my friends who have married recently. I also know that Christian marriages falter at about the same rate as secular marriages and actually more than those of other religions like Islam. I think a lot of that is more a testament of our own walk and commitment to God when we make our vows, but I think I will save that diatribe for another day. I am genuinely interested in understanding this, and though I have included my usual sarcasm and wit, I do in all sincerity have these concerns. We will be awaiting your response in our inbox: ramblingroomies@gmail.com.

Patiently Waiting,

Amma

PS. Afua? I know you got something to say girl… because you know it seems we Christians are the only ones up in arms about this whole inter-religion relationship thing. I went to a Muslim wedding in Tamale where I met loads of guys who said they could marry outside of their faith with no hesitation (don’t know if the same is true of women in the faith)— but that struck me as very interesting. In fact, most of the guys I know (Christian or otherwise) would be fine marrying outside of their faith. So is it just a thing us ladies are obsessed with? And if its gendered, why is that? And if its just our religion, why is that? Sheesh… all these questions!

CHECK OUT AFUA’S RESPONSE in Part II HERE!