Snapshots: A Spiritual Walk

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Can a walk literally bring you closer to God? Jeff Obafemi Carr describes how a run-in with religious relatives got him thinking about his own spiritual journey. Carr is an actor, playwright, and radio host based in Nashville.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Can a walk literally bring you closer to God? Well, a stroll got actor and playwright Jeff Obafemi Carr thinking. And here he is with this week's Snapshot.

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Actor; Playwright): I was walking through my neighborhood a few Sundays ago, headed home, when a car slowed down beside me carrying two of my cousins, one of them from out of town. They spoke heartedly and I returned the greetings. I love my family. You ought to come on and go with us, one of them said enthusiastically. I was kind of hungry and although I had a ton of work to do, I figured, hey, maybe I do need a break.

Where are you all going? I shouted back with a slight smile. To church. I paused then struggled to maintain the smile. But I know they sensed the shift. It caught me off guard and I didn't know how to respond. I knew instantly I didn't want to go, but how could I express to them in the small span of seconds that I didn't take offense to the invitation. It was nothing personal. I wasn't anti-God. I'm not a heathen. How can I tell them the truth? I just didn't feel like getting beaten up that day.

In my father's relative's houses, there are many denominations. If it were not so, I would have told you. And in many of those houses, people were proud to go ahead and prepare a place for you in heaven if you were of their denomination and in the fiery pits of hell if you were not. Even as a kid, that got old quick. Growing up, I watched my father - a highly spiritual man - defend the souls of his wife and children against the onslaught of damnation heaped upon us by some of our relatives.

My daddy was raised Church of Christ, but he had the tolerance of a Buddhist, the inquisitiveness of an agnostic and was known to welcome the Jehovah's Witnesses into our living room. He died a Baptist deacon, which I'm sure angered some people. That was a good funeral with no scripts who were beat downs under the auspices of the eulogy or words of comfort.

So on that Sunday afternoon, I decided I didn't want to go to a church where I would hear about a God fashioned in men's own image. A wrathful, vengeful, spiteful God who created a flawed creature called man then doomed the vast majority of them to burn forever in a fiery lake for simply acting out of their own nature.

I decided that if I had to go to church, I would wait until I could go hear about a God who loved his children, children who were made in his or even her own image. I wanted to hear about a God who pulled people together, not tore them apart, who wanted us to serve the poor and the downtrodden, to free the prisoners, to take care of the elderly and abused. Yeah, that's the God I wanted to hear about. So I decided in that moment of reflection, to decline the invitation. I forced a pseudo friendly grin and said, well, you all go ahead.

They nodded back. I supposed they knew what I would say because we'd all been down that road before. Say a prayer for me, I said, somehow knowing it would lighten the situation. My visiting cousins smiled back, okay, we will. Walking into my house to fix some dinner, I was okay with knowing that their prayer for me that evening would probably be for me to wake up and smell the spiritual coffee, to have a revelation and to know the truth so the truth could make me free. Ironically, my prayer for them would be the same.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I know the Lord will make a way. Oh, yes he will.

CHIDEYA: Jeff Obafemi Carr is an actor, playwright and co-host of the radio show, "Freestyle." He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

And that's NEWS & NOTES.

To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Next week, we talk to soul singer Teddy Pendergrass.

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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