Where Everything Faith Feels Fake
In all my observations on belief, fraudulence in people of faith seems to be the ultimate cause of widespread unbelief. When you figure that with the reputation of ‘jailhouse religion’ (see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “Pain and Gain”), our typical response is *in first-grade teacher enthusiasm* “Who’s ready to vomit?!” The entire class eagerly raises their waving hands. I’ve been to the place where everything ‘faith’ feels ‘fake’.
Something along the prison corridor, a man smiles, and waves. I smile and wave. Social expectations fulfilled, our grins melt into the elements they were forged from apathy, disinterest, depression, impatience, and a wee pinch of resentment. And we float on...
While the first four sentiments may be comprehensible when trying to understand the machine that prison is, might I elaborate upon resentment and what it had to do with faith? In under 260 characters, I’ll give it to you: They have absolutely nothing to do with each other. (51) That’s the contradictory state of faith here; all is well, then all is hell. Hugging and hating the hugged happens simultaneously here.
I find myself fighting myself in an effort to be consistent in my beliefs, while finding those around me to be an inconvenience. I’m called to be perfect, but the 300 bajillion people on the planet keep getting in my way! I go to the chapel, and they’re worse! Really, I see my own wretchedness in the weaknesses of others, like in the mirror, and I’m in denial.
Somewhere along the prison corridor, a man smiles and waves. I smile and wave. Oh, now he wants to talk?! This is a friggin’ nightmare!!
But, I have faith. My faith says, “Love God, love people, believe as a child, suffer as a king”. Yet in a matter of minutes, I can disobey God (which is contrary to love), hate people, hate myself, stab everything in the heart with my cynicism, and whine like a dog at the mere mention of discomfort. My faith meter is depleted. I have faith?
I want to have faith. But sometimes I want faith like guys here want to be Lil’ Wayne. They drum chow hall tables and rap verses with constricted nasal cavities. I thumb Bible pages and read verses in a posture not my own.
Does ‘trying to be’ merit ‘being’? ... I heard someone in the back shout, “NO!”
Whoever you were, you’re right... I think. I’ve been to the place where everything ‘faith’ feels ‘fake’.
But when I was there, I didn’t know it. Only in hindsight is it visible that I confused being a practitioner with being a performer.
Many lessons concerning my past and ignorance in faith equipped me with uncomfortable but necessary truths that have become guiding wisdom in my journey.
Somewhere along the prison corridor, a man smiles and waves. I pretend I don’t see him. I pat myself down looking for lost things. “Where in the world is my ID?” I go the other way.
I’ve tried sharing discovered truths about myself with those of my faith. But, silly me, I forgot that penitentiary protocol generally trumps any execution of faith practice. It’s like when you enter the front door, the guards snatch away your identity and the prisoners replace it with a part for you to play, casting you in this guard prison drama.
“But, but...I can’t be ‘Vicious Mexican gang member #4!’ I’m a Christian!”
“We have enough Christians... now go shave your head and get a skull tat!!!”
Being yourself or sharing your struggles and fears in prison require a miracle. I mean, most are more afraid of uncomfortable truths than they are of shanks! Hardly matters what you believe. So 9 to 1, opening up to a fellow believer wasn’t all grace, mercy, and hallelujah.
“Keep it to yourself.”
When I ask “Why?”, I’m given fear-inspired explanations.
“You can’t trust everyone.... You don’t know what they’ll do with your private matters.... They might try to use it against you....They might use it to excuse their own behavior....”
I’m forced to sit in a posture not my own and pretend to be comfortable; as if sitting Indian-style trying not to crack the three boiled eggs from the chow hall in my back pocket.
It’s not comfortable though. And I’m glad it wasn’t, because my job concealing truth birthed in me the appreciation for revealing it. Sharing uncomfortable truths and shame, being transparent with another human genuinely capable of sympathy, is a type of salvation. The two of you create a safe space, de-skeleton your closets, then rest in the relief. This has bled into other aspects of my life but fundamentally concerns my faith. (In prison, we call it “Bein’ one-Hunnid”)
I want real faith, and when it’s not real, I want to be real about it.
Somewhere along the prison corridor, a man smiles and waves. I nod and show him either the ‘V’ for victory or the raised fist which means, “I’m still fighting for it.”
He approaches, asking “How are you?” I say, “I’m good,” (“Well” if I’m feeling ‘free-world’.) With a dot of skepticism in his scan of my face, he opens his mouth to respond, but I beat him to it. “No. I’m not good. I’m actually enduring the hardness of all this”, I raise my hands at the prison over my head, “And learning that it’s okay to not be okay.” He says, “In my country, they say, ‘If you’re enduring... you’re kickin’ ash and takin’ name.’” I go,
“Where ya’ from?”
“Oh, ha... cool.”
It’s strange; despite all the smiling and waving and‘how-you-doing?’-I’m-blessed-and-highly-favored’-ing, I feel like his spare humor-- a humane appetizer of comic relief-- was a cube of HEB Party Tray Salami to all this cheese food I’ve been wading in. As brief as the moment was, “Bein’ One-Hunnid”has a lasting effect; like it leaves a residue of authentic existence.
Suddenly, my nearly-expired-faith-meter was up to a whopping week’s worth of ‘I believe’. I was refreshed; in these moments, I could believe in, seemingly anything... even humanity.
When all I want to do is lay down my cross, it’s miraculous to me when an instance of transparency on my behalf and acceptance on the behalf of another alleviates my spiritual nausea.
Prison is very often the place where ‘faith’ feels like ‘fake’. But, I believe among the cast, among the aggressively religious, there are a few who trust, sow the risk of judgment, reap the reward of a safe-space relationship, lend their shoulder for another’s burden and, day and night, keep it “One-Hunnid”.