We are more than just good or bad: How the God of the Binary fails Black people
To survive this world of gross interpretations of the Word, I decided that decolonizing my spirituality was my safest option
By Itoro Udofia
I grew up under the tutelage of The God of the Binary. He was forever in opposition to a ubiquitous outside force. He was the Good opposed to Evil. The Strong opposed to Weak. Right opposed to Wrong. There I stood, an eager and inquisitive girl child, making mistakes and looking for a modicum of acceptance for who I was. And there was this all-knowing God, saying that the way to holiness was through Him and Him only, and that my salvation lay in accepting my inherent badness. I had to disinherit the stirrings of my soul in exchange for whatever was promised in heaven.
God, as I understood Him, was a stranger. He was a white cis man with a long beard. He was eons older than I was. He liked to wear white robes and spoke with Morgan Freeman like intonations (in other words, He was Santa Claus without the red suit and the “ho ho ho”). His beloved Son was this long-haired, somewhat hippie-looking golden-locked man, with blue or green eyes, and he liked to wear robes too. It felt like they were the farthest symbols from myself.
Naturally, I grew up fearing my imminent death and punishment. If they were all these holy things, and I was who I was, the gap was too great. I accepted that I was in perpetual breach of the “right” way to be.
My fear that God would smite me heightened when I attended Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings. Whenever I was told that I couldn’t celebrate a birthday, and that celebrating any holiday was wrong, I knew I was going to fail this God of The Binary because I would choose cake and dancing over kneeling down to say my prayers every time. Somehow I understood that I could not exist in these binaries.
What would I do about my dark skin that would never turn snow white? What would I do about the fact that my sexual attraction went beyond heteronormative ideas into a feeling that could love people of any gender? What would I do about my complicated life, a life so antithetical to the White supremacist, patriarchal, imperialist, evangelical Christianized ideology that in order to thrive I’ve had to imagine realities beyond the paradigms that have been given?
No matter how many prayers I said to The God of the Binary it didn’t soothe the fact that He could not provide a reasonable answer for the suffering in my life. I had tried to follow His precepts, especially the decree to honor and trust the different authority figures in my life: My parents, my teachers, my doctor, my pastor, my elders etc. “Honor thy father and mother,” He said, but what if they didn’t honor you?
I lived in a “do as I say, not as I do” world, and by the time I turned fifteen I couldn’t ignore the inconsistencies of those authorities in my life who did not have my best interest at heart. I could forgive the racist teacher who constantly mispronounced my name and engaged in behaviors that chipped away at my dignity, but she had so much power and I had to see her every day. Would I just have to grin and bear it? And how about that older man who kept leering at me? Sure, he may have attended church on Sunday, but it was Tuesday and he didn’t seem bothered that I was a minor.
To survive this world of unintegrated adults, inequitable structures, and gross interpretations of the Word, I decided that decolonizing my spirituality was my safest and sanest option. I had to explore and learn how to trust my inner voice to reconcile the many contradictions I faced. “How do I respond to this moment?” became my mantra to address the world down here, rather than biding my time for the heaven up there.
I’ve been that “angry” Black woman yelling in a meeting because I knew that raising my voice was the medicine needed to shut down the hypocrisy and silence the mess. I’ve also been that person who has sought forgiveness and learned that at times the best medicine is to simply live, and embody those values I hold dear.
My life has been all about possibilities. I chose to not follow The God of the Binary because His black and white way wasn’t a sustainable path for my life and needs. I chose to access those parts of myself that with a little time and attention, knew how to find their own North Star. The answers came when I closed my eyes and paid close attention to the imagination and soft hums of my inner world.
I believe that Black people, queer people, trans people, those identifying with womanhood, children, disabled people, and anyone who has to slay a God not of their own making has also had to realize the magic that can only be retrieved when one steps into their inner world. We have wielded the power of our intention to create a more loving world for a long time.
When the overseer stood over his “slaves” thinking they were singing spirituals to pass along the time, he didn’t know that those songs were codes, messages of healing, a way of escape and freedom. He didn’t know that the people he enslaved had a world within a world, and they were in the midst of a conversation within a conversation. They knew that the sacred wasn’t confined to four walls or hidden in a book, that the sacred could be revealed in a field with the soul crying out for another possibility, but he didn’t.
Part of my spiritual practice today is developing a rich inner life; not one that shuts out the outside world, but a life that refuses to give that external world built on fear and exclusion the final say. As a former Christian turned I’m-not-quite-sure-what, I’ve had to find a spiritual practice that’s right for me. If I go to church, it’s usually non-denominational and the music is always lit. I believe in the Orishas and the Buddha. I consult the I-Ching, astrology, dear friends, healers, spirit guides, and my ancestors when I’m in need of more information. I get energy healings and acupuncture when I can.
I believe in the healing power of sister circles and any affinity group that aims to break the curse of living under the God of the Binary. Sometimes, I read bible passages because I’ve found incredible gems there. Jesus probably did live and if he did that brother had hair of wool and skin of bronze (which means he’s no white man). I feel closest to my spiritual center when I’m in the Indian Ocean, looking at a tree, or counting my breath.
I left Christianity when I went to college. Thankfully, I had the support of friends who were also seeking their own truth, so we explored our values together. Learning how to listen to my inner world has been a lifesaver, but it’s also meant that at times I’ve had to stand alone in my integrity. I’ve had to pay attention to those parts of myself eager for external validation, and I’ve sat with wounds that festered in my soul for too long.
Spiritual practice is a humbling. It’s helped me continue loving those in my life who are happily Christian—so long as there’s no intolerance and fear, I am open. The God of my own making allows me to paint a reality that’s more inclusive and relatable. In this world I create, I conjure a God who has many faces and oftentimes, this God looks like a sister or a close friend.
Itoro Udofia is a writer, cultural worker, composer and avid meditator living a creative life. She has received residencies and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the San Francisco Writers Grotto, The Edward Albee Foundation and The Aroji Drama Academy (Kenya). Last year, she won third place in the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award for her story, “To the Children Growing Up in the Aftermath of their Parents’ War.” She has recently published an article in YES! Magazine and is currently working on her first novel entitled, The Soil Below, a story following four generations of Nigerian women grappling with generational trauma, migration, and change as they weave themselves into the American fabric. Her gender pronouns are her and she. Follow her onInstagram and Twitter for up to date information about latest projects.
For inquiries visit https://www.itoroudofia.com/