When God Left the Room
As a young Yoruba adult—in a world in which Parents were without a roadmap for teaching culture to American-raised children—I struggled with the slippery slope of finding my roots. For me, that meant curiosity about Ifa and other African traditional religions. I didn’t give my parents much credit back then, thinking them clueless and all, and was determined to decide for myself whether or not Ifa was “evil.”
There was a time in my life when I [categorically] gave up on God. It was impossible to pray to a God I had blatantly disobeyed—in such an irreversible way. So it became feasible to turn to other gods. To say incantations and prayers to other gods, whether I believed them or not. They seemed to work, and they made sense. That Olokun would keep me from drowning, that “osan gangan obamakin” would not allow me to see harm if I called it by name and acknowledged it in prayer.
Disclaimer: Many people that I deeply care for are in the “tradition”. Those that I speak of are some of the most beautiful, intelligent, warm-open-hearted, honest, balanced, loving, shirt-off-their back, last-bite-of-their-sandwich, last-shot-of-their-homegrown-wheatgrass, GIVING, GIVING, GIVING people I have ever known.
But on that day when I forgot to say the prayer, would I still be protected? If I forgot to speak my aura of protection into existence and a dragonfly flew into my eye, I would have only myself to blame. There seemed no cushion, no back up. If I screwed up, I had plenty to fear. But then I returned to a path where I’m taught that even when I screw up, I’m still protected, I’m still covered, that God has already made my crooked path straight. There is a lot of reassurance in the Bible. And for someone like me, who suddenly knew and lived perpetual fear—I worried about the most ridiculous things—a religion which required me to be fully responsible for my destiny would not suffice. You mean I can’t get ahead if I don’t kill this chicken? It just seemed too much for me. For as a child I knew that I could speak to God and good things would happen. I knew that as a child I would ask God for comfort, and would suddenly feel my chemistry change the same as if receiving a hug. So it was impossible for me to believe that this was no longer possible. So when I went for a reading and they told me what my Spirit had been telling me and I had been ignoring, it was impossible for me to believe that a chicken’s blood would resolve my issues. I just didn’t see it. I was certain that if I simply spoke to God, He* would [help me] fix it.
For Ifa to work for me, there would have to be a temple with a regular, frequent, fellowship, in which I would be reminded that I am powerful, that I am gifted, that I can do all things, if only I believe and obey The Spirit; that the truths of the religion would be broken down for me clearly. No mystery. Someone would have to show me the text or foundation of what they are teaching me and convince me of it. Simple. I don’t know many in the religion who receive this level of teaching. Those who do, have to pay for it. Yes, we may pay for ours with tithing, if that’s how you wish to look at it. But my pastor’s not going to block you at the church entrance if you don’t tithe. You’ll still get the information. You’ll still be able to make informed decisions, apply the teachings to your life, go and research them independently.
Ifa is inaccessible to most. I know some are working on this, making Ifa verses accessible to the world, so that we can begin to see how much of the verse is similar to Biblical and Islamic teachings. Great. But then, what? The African Fear of Traditional Religion is overbearing, suffocating, makes it difficult to break down real issues and get past them. We [African Christians] stand like we’re warding off vampires with our fingers in a cross. I think we’re better off just talking the elephant out of the room.
If the only argument that I should worship Ifa is that my ancestors did, I will need a lot more convincing, since many of their ancestors/cousins worshipped a Black man from East Africa—from whence they migrated—now known by english-speakers as Christ.
I have not known anyone closely—in Ifa—whose life I would like to emulate. The one friend who tried so hard to get me into the religion was so unhappy, I thought how can this person advertise a lifestyle when so miserable? Certainly there are a lot of Christians I would not want to emulate also. But the few people to whom I have some intimate access, whose lives I can see the inner workings of, believe in a power above themselves to whom they speak and are answered. They believe that they are powerful and can make good things happen in their lives. They believe they are covered, they are chosen, they are blessed. They believe that if they are true to LOVE in every situation, pursuing truth and fairness, they will enjoy eternal joy. They use these beliefs to make tangible gains in their lives. And when difficulty befalls them, they are only briefly—if at all—discouraged, turning back to that same source for inspiration, for strength, for resolve. And they make more gains, and their gains build upon each other. And they don’t hurt others—animals or people—to make these gains. And they gain these beliefs and this resolve in the Bible or in a Bible-teaching church… They are not controlled by outward appearance or devoted to artful inanimate sculptures. There will always be a lot of mystery to religion. We can all damn each other to hell, or we can seek to understand. I just don’t know that there is another religion that simply says, Love me, love your neighbor, love yourself—a pure love that is unselfish. There is a lot of violence in the Bible, I struggle with this. I doubt the men do. Am I wrong? I just don’t see the Spirit of God telling us to go and kill people in order to make them believers. Those who did so in the past—to my people—did so because they were evil, not the Bible that they took from us.
We Christians get a lot of flack for tithing. I find this so funny, especially coming from the traditional religions because they tithe as well. Their tithe may cost more than ten percent. May cost in the time to the store to get all the requirements for the ritual, to travel to where the ritual must be performed, PLUS CASH. If a pastor is rich and his parishioners are poor, there is something seriously wrong in that church. If he’s getting rich, his congregation better be improving financially too. In any religion, you are required to make all sorts of sacrifices. The bigger the sacrifice the bigger the reward. I am much happier sacrificing pride, recklessness, deception, lust and CASH, than looking for a goat—or human—to murder. I see the spiritual and FINANCIAL gains every time I tithe.
As I understand it, most of these deities were men or women who lived on earth and who died and were then deified. As people die, even now, traditionalists seek to raise them to deity status through a series of rituals. But I’m saying though, how many people I got to worship? I think it’s important to honor those who came before me, and I do so by keeping their legacy alive, by speaking well of their contributions, by learning and teaching from what they gave to the world. But how many pounded yam offerings is a sister going to have to make to get that new car? It just seems—again—like too much work. I would rather just ask God, Yo, is this new car for me? Do you want me to have it? Yeah? Bet. So what I got to do? Get a job? Aight, that makes sense. Where should I look? Oh, in IT? Word? So you saying I got to take 15 classes, get 10 certifications and then apply for a job and then I can have my new car? SACRIFICE. See this kind of sacrifice I could see getting me what I want. The chicken’s blood? The ram’s? I just don’t see it, Homie.
Yo, God, this dude…is he the one? Nah? Dang. Why not? You not going to tell me? I’ll see? That’s not fair. Wait, what? You going to bring a better one? Nah, I don’t believe it. Word? A better one? Yo, I can’t even see it…but I’m a try and hold out. But hurry up God, like for real.
There is a lot of confusion in the pan-African community about what dieties to worship, what they are called, what clothes to wear, what sacrifices to make, which rules to follow; because there are so many gradations of African traditional religions. To believe in something simply because it is African is very dangerous. With that philosophy, anyone can sell you anything.
Get to know that fine brother from East Africa who died so you would believe in love and be freed.
*Although I believe in the duality of God—male and female energy like everything in the world—I refer to God as He for several reasons. Another post on that one day.