{Bringing Up Boogie} Jesus, Boogie & the Bible: Wading in the Sticky Waters of Religion


Boogie loves Jesus. I'm not sure he's clear on who exactly Jesus is, but he's fully into him these days. He gets it from my father, who is slightly less Catholic than the Pope (except pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and pro-feminist). My dad is just really, really into church. I don't fully understand why, because he's so progressive and everything he seems to believe in and vote for goes against what the Church and the Vatican are into, but my daddy loves Jesus too and so he sidesteps all of that to be there for his homeboy. He's in the Knights of Columbus (yes, I know) and at St. Mathias, he's head of both fundraising and the ushers. Between meetings, mass and functions, my dad is at church at least three times a week. He's in church so much that when he goes to work, Boogie thinks he's at church. He's at church so much, that sometimes he goes to OTHER churches just to help out. No. Seriously.

Boogie and his grandpa are the best of friends. So when he started realizing that good solid hanging out time with grandpa was being interrupted by this church thing, he started getting interested in checking it out too. He started asking me if he could go to church with grandpa. I never said no; I just sort of avoided the question all together or bribed him with waffles and bacon. It's not that I have anything against church. Actually, it is because I have something against church. I just don't like it. Religion, I mean. I've seen how it's changed the climate of this country and how reasonably compassionate and empathetic human beings become hateful and intolerant because some preacher or priest told them that Jesus and God dislikes something or another.

I was lucky to be raised by a father who was very progressive in his thinking and teachings. Church for him was about community and fellowship and being in the House of the Lord. He took the other stuff in stride, but was comfortable enough not believing it himself to keep going without seeing a conflict. I am not that evolved. I stopped going to church 15 years ago and never looked back. I was fine with Boogie going because he is his own person and if that's what he wants to do, then that's what he can do. It's not like he was asking if he could go to a dog fight it's church. What's the harm?

Then I thought about it.

Um, what if he starts to believe some of the things that I'm fully against? What if he doesn't get a balance of other spiritual practices and beliefs? I'd taught him how to do a Buddhist chant when he was younger and he regularily understands now my rainbow key hole is what mommy says when she needs to calm down, but he has no real understanding of God or spirituality.

How am I supposed to teach him any of that if I don't let him explore some things on his own and worse what if my lack of involvement makes him rebel and become one of those religious right Republicans? That I won't stand for. We don't tolerate that lifestyle in my house.

My parents made me go to church when I was younger. I went to a Southern Baptist church in Stillwater because my parents worked on Sundays and this church sent a bus around to pick up all the poor kids and hold them hosta… take them to Sunday School for an entire day. I became a bit of a religious fanatic. I loved the songs and the rituals and I loved reading the Bible. I read it cover to cover when I was in middle school. I was constantly getting thrown out of Sunday school for asking too many questions. I mean, really, if you don't know what day God created dinosaurs, then just say so!

As I got older, I started to get disillusioned by church and religion. I didn't like what it did to people. I didn't like how religions seemed to be pitted against each other. I was having a difficult time believing in Jesus Christ the way everyone else did. I knew that Jesus lived and died but I thought him less the son of God and more a man who was in touch with his God self someone who was spiritual more so than religious. And I didn't understand why religion was taking away his humanity and making him supernatural. It was almost as if to make it easier for us to not follow his direct footsteps and the way he treated other people and make him a super being that we were to worship not emulate. I started getting interested in Islam after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X and I fell in love with the beauty of the Koran. I decided that Islam and it's dedication to prayer and ritual was more my style than Catholicism. I traveled through that and into Buddhism and other world religions. I realized that religion wasn't for me but the aspect of spirituality I created and adopted for myself worked fine.

I'll spare you the details because it's a much longer blog than this, but I wanted my son to have access to his own journey. He was free to go to church and I would sleep until he got back. Then I thought about my concerns about church and its teachings and realized if I wasn't there to hear what was being taught, how could I be sure that what he was learning was in line with the beliefs I hoped to instill in him? After a long battle with myself and my need to stay in pajamas all day on Sunday, I decided, I needed to go to church a few times. I'd already made the decision that he would be attending Catholic school next Fall. That's a lot of church and church-type stuff for my intellectual sponge of a little boy.

So three weeks ago, I decided to go to church with him and my parents. What I discovered there actually gave me pause. I'd forgotten how quiet and peaceful the sanctuary was. I'd missed the ritual of going somewhere and kneeling and standing and praying and meditating in a more structured way. It was calming and it was peaceful and it was beautiful.

I understood better what my dad found there and what my son was starting to see. It was then I decided to go to church at least a couple of times a month. When the priest is saying his prayer, I'm saying my own. When we kneel to hear the word of God, I'm meditating and reflecting on the God I witness every day in the people and places I go. Religion and church for me are about structure and ritual. I don't even really listen to the priest or readers, I'm in my own head and having my own conversation with God. I just need a quiet place to do it.

I want my son to have a place to go when he feels like he needs a bit of solitude and peace something to quiet the stern and angry voices that can erupt from adolescence. As he gets older, I will continue to introduce him to other religions and spiritual practices. I will teach him ways to meditate and seek peace on his own, but for now, if my 4-year-old is so hell bent on going to church, the very least I can do as a mother is support him.

I also need an excuse to buy some of the cutest pencil skirt dresses, and tiny little boy suits and church shoes ever. I've been dying to get in Calvin Klein's sensible dresswear but had no where to wear them.

What? Yes, I'm going to church but I still gotta be me. Fancy, huh?


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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Wow! It’s wonderful that your son “loves Jesus” even though he may not fully understand it, it is filtering into his subconscious. Our son recently discovered “Amen!” and likes to say it often. LOL

    • LOL. I think you might have missed the point of the blog. It was less about Jesus and Christianity and more about his baby steps towards spiritual awakening. I’d actual prefer it if he chose something other than Christianity as he gets older but I do want him to be free to make that choice himself. I’m only a guide.

      • Wow, that’s not a nice comment. I came away, thinking it was your child that helped you back to God.

        • It’s not nice to comment without reading the post. I didn’t see mention anywhere of her losing her touch with God, her child helped her use church as yet another vessel to connect with Him.

  2. It’s always so awesome to hear of how children see Jesus. I teach Sunday School, 3 services to a excited group of 4 year olds, and I LOVE hearing them tell how they see God working in their lives. Like, for instance one of my students named Landon was explaining how things got into the stores “God makes things and Heaven and then He **ninja/karate chop hand motion** chops it into the stores!!” It’s the sweetest thing, ever!

  3. I really enjoyed this. I love the generational story and how you understand that spirituality is both personal and communal. I love the fact that you are allowing boogie to find his “quiet space” where he can experience the beauty of THAT which created us all, how labels are man made and that spirituality can be found in many places and can be called a myriad of names. Keep up the great work. U keep us constantly in awe.

  4. Provide him with some Gerald Massey, John G Jackson, Ben Jochannan, Dr. John Henik Clarke…real historians, and his spiritual journey will be cool. We all pick our own “god” to worship, just know the history behind the picking!

    • He’s a little young for Doc Ben and his ilk. Right now, his love of church if very innocent. When his opinions start taking form and some of the teachings become questionable, then I’ll introduce him to the others.

  5. I don’t go to church. I tried though. I had three different occurrences that finalized it not being the place for me. In short, one was the pastor’s use of the term “sissy” the other was the blind faith bit (I am very much so into incorporating relative history as while as language into the teachings” and lastly the pastor making a comment about people coming to church when the new year begins because after the devil has worn them out the previous year they want something new (is that a bad thing rev?) Anyway, I called it quits. I’ve decided that I don’t need a mediator and that has worked for me.

    • I had the exact same experience and truth be told, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be attending. One homophobic or anti-choice “word of God” and I’ll probably be out again. I will, however, seek out more progressive meetings and gatherings. I miss the fellowship. I plan on taking Boogie to some of the Church of Light gatherings in the area. It’s more in line with my personal spiritual beliefs.

    • I’m right there with you! I’ve tried multiple times to do the church thing, but I never feel like I’m a member of the church. Then I realized that I probably don’t feel comfortable because I’m fiercely independent and refuse to devote my entire life to my “church family” or “church events”. I’ve also had the experience that the amount of hypocrisy in the churches I’ve visited was enough to choke a horse, but that’s neither here nor there.

      I’m not gonna knock it; clearly church works well for some people, just not me. I’m happy that I’m finally at peace with the idea, and that there are others out there that have a similar opinion. Usually when I say something like this I get the crazy “she’s going to hell”, “her momma didn’t raise her right” looks. I’m also happy to be at peace with the idea that me and the man/woman upstairs have a good relationship and I don’t feel like I need to go to church to “prove” anything!

  6. beautiful, Bas! i love reading your Boogie journeys ~ so wonderful. And you two are adorable!!!!!!!! lotsa love, Ish & Sulei 😉

  7. Bassey….

    I adore you for writing this post. When my son was born we decided to raise him in Islam, his father’s religion. Like you I identify myself as a “spiritual being” and believe there are many paths to one truth – an idea that both Islam and Christianity refuse, therefore I rarely go to Church or Mosque. I’m constantly struggling against my agreement to raise him Muslim and my desire to introduce him to various religions and then set him free to explore his own way of worshiping God/Divine. I’m glad you’ve made peace with your decision, I pray that one day the answer will be revealed to me as well.

  8. There is a purpose behind all things in life. There is a reason why your son, even at his young age, would openly confess his love of Jesus Christ to you. I can also assure you that there are many people who even as adults proclaim that Jesus Christ is there Lord and savior, but their actions speaks extremely louder than their words. Many people and many churches are so stuck on “tradition” that they are failing in their purpose which is to be symbol of the love of Christ. It is that very reason that people who don’t believe in Christ are wary to entrust their faith to Christ and Christ alone. I hope I don’t strike a nerve with this next sentence but, some older people only go to church because they can no longer go to the places they used to go to. Worshiping Christ is not a fashion show and it’s not a popularity contest. This reply could be very long but I just want to leave you with a question. I know you said you had an issue with religion but… What consumes your thoughts? (there you will find your religion)

  9. I haven’t gone to a church service in a long time. Religion isn’t really my thing though I do consider myself to have a strong personal relationship with God. About a year ago, a good friend gave me a gift in that he took me to a catholic church at night. Apparently, they’re ALWAYS open for the public. I had been having a tough time emotionally, and he said, “I’m going to take you somewhere and I need you to trust me.” I was a wreck, but I agreed. He took me to the church at 11pm. We walked right in, found a pew, we knelt and prayed for an hour.

    Some of the prayer was just us talking to one another, some of it was directed toward the soft candlelight coming from the front of the church, some toward God. I cried the entire time and he just held me, and prayed, and was solid where I had gone soft. I still go to that church at night when I need to really reinforce my quiet time and get in touch with my praying self. It was hard, but I had to realize that I had to let something stronger than me be strong for me.

    I probably wrote too much, but it felt good to get all that out. Thanks, Bassey.

  10. I feel like I need to clarify. My son has no idea who Jesus is. He think he’s a friend of my dad’s. His “I love Jesus” isn’t some sort of religious prodigy. It’s a 4 year old saying, he loves Jesus the same way he says he loves Spiderman and jelly beans. I understand that folks are attaching their religious love to the comment but based on the rest of the blog, I thought it was evident that his church leanings had more to do with spending time with my father than it does realizing his Christianity at the tender age of 4.
    We’re not Christians. We are people who live spiritual and universal lives. We don’t subscribe to any one faith. We’re doing church right now.

  11. My response to your post was a lot less about your son and more about you. There’s no such thing as “doing church.” It’s either you believe in Christ or you don’t and from there you have to live your life accordingly.

    • That’s absurd and your opinion. I believe that Jesus the Christ lived as I believe Muhammad and the Buddha lived. To say that there’s an either or based on your narrow religious views is ridiculous.
      I’m going to church to support my son and while there I realized that I liked the tranquility that the sanctuary offered. It’s like saying you’re not allowed to go to a playground unless you plan on being on the swings. People do different things and go different places for their own personal reasons.
      It’s exactly that attitude that turns quite a lot of good people off to church.

      as far as the fashion show comment, it was clearly a joke. Clearly.

  12. My comments were not an attempt to condemn you beliefs in Christianity because everyone has to seek Christ for themselves. I was surely in agreement with you concerning the questioning of why people attend church. My comment about church being a fashion show was in no way an attempt to bash your comment about dressing for church , but to support my comment about why some people indeed do go to church. But my comment about believing in Christ or not was not misunderstood by you. I pray that as you seek to understand how religion is embedded in your life that you make an affirmative decision about who you believe to be the one and only God.

  13. Other commenters aside, Bassey, this gives me much insight into how I will treat the subject of religion with my own children should I have them one day. I’m pretty much an Athiest, the concept of blind faith in anything feels just weird to me. I feel like religion is a thing that some people need to hale them make sense of life’s randomness. Others need it to help them to act right. I’m all for those needs, but I don’t have them. I will have to prepare myself, starting now, to be tolerant of whatever path my children would like to take. Thank you.

  14. Bassey, I enjoyed this post. My husband and I aren’t Christian and are actually in an Interfaith marriage. We want our son to be able to choose for himself what his religious beliefs will be. So, we’ll have to expose him to as many beliefs as possible. I’m not much for attending church but if he comes to me and says that he wants to experience it, like you, I’ll be right there with him.

  15. This was awesome, Bassey. Thx for this post.
    Totally digging on your cutie son and he totally has me thinking more about Jesus.

  16. What an amazing post to read today. I’m in church all the time because it’s my job. I share your criticisms and I have plenty of my own coupled with some deeply painful experiences. I feel myself breathing a little more deeply.

    Thank you.

  17. hey Bassey

    I feel you on the church issue… I do not go to church, nor do i describe to any particular tenet of any of the world’s religions. My greatest religious influences come from my grandmother who has been a devout Jehovah’s Witness for over 60 years. My mother and father waffled between studying with the witnesses and having no clear religious leanings whatsoever for my entire childhood. I’ve never felt comfortable in church, so i don’t go. Sermons often seem overblown and full of theatrics and my eyerolling does not sit well with the regular churchgoing folk.

    My kids on the other hand are a different story. My oldest is 14 and a baptized member of her paternal grandmother’s Baptist church. This kid is on the choir and everything. My twins are almost 8 and they also like going to church with family. My cousins non-denominational church has a very engaging youth ministry and they love to go and have a good time. Sometimes I feel that i am doing them a disservice by not having a more structured worship environment for them, but if my heart and mind can’t commit then i also think it’s better for them to have to opportunity to explore and come to me with the hard questions.

    As always, your post is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Love you!

  18. I’m like your father. I chose Christianity after looking lots of different places because Jesus and the way he lived and teaches us to live resonates with me. The other stuff I let wash over me. It helps that our church doesn’t dwell on it. We go to church for the fellowship and the singing and every now and again someone will preach a word that is enlightening. Church is a place for community, where we do good things for others, where people are nice and kind and we can exist free from hostility. The ritual of Sunday morning allows me to put all my burdens down, of which I have many sometimes; I want my children to experience that surrender, to be able to feel that sense of peace. To know that something is bigger than them. But we also practice yoga and meditate along with reading our Bibles. Yet we never talk about “being Christians.” The label of the religion doesn’t matter at all. I could care less if they knew they were “Christians,” I care about who they are as people. Jesus is our model for how to act in the world. We praise him, yes, but we mostly talk about how to follow him.

  19. I’m spiritual myself although I do believe in fellowship. Church is not my thing. That said I also believe my kids need to have their own spiritual journey.

    My daughter loves the color purple…the color not the movie…so I offered to buy her a bible that covered in purple leather. She replied, “I don’t want to be one of those bible humpers!” I said, “Do you mean bible thumpers?” LOL!

    We had a good laugh about that & I haven’t brought it up since.

  20. Interesting post…finding God, Jesus and a Higher Power is something that everyone has to do for themselves….but (I can’t say for this for sure obviously) everyone has a belief in a Higher Being…even people who profess not to believe in God…I just think this is way too beautiful and too complex of a world to think that it all just spontaneously appeared with no rhyme or reason…And God can use anything to draw us to himself…who knows? Maybe it will be pencil skirts for you:)

  21. I think it’s so dope that you’re letting him explore spirituality in this way. As parents, all we can do is guide. I like that church is a place where people can have the space to connect and talk with God. And I think Boogie will appreciate that as he grows. He already does. And how CUTE is he (and you) in that picture! LOVE it!

  22. Excellent post. I was in a similar boat for a long time, and I also had folks trying to drill into my head that the only “true” religion was Christianity – well, I’ll leave it to them to banish me to Hell all they want, or pray for me, or whatever, but I refuse to believe that a huge chunk of the world’s population is doomed to hell, simply because they aren’t Christians. That’s not even up for discussion, and I won’t respond to anyone who tries to “save” me. Bassey, you’re doing what’s best for your child, and for yourself, and for that, I applaud you. I was raised the same way, by my mother, and I am SO happy that I didn’t have to come home to fire-and-brimstone dogma. I’m sure your son will thank you, as well.

  23. Really enjoyed this blog
    I pray that in you and your son’s spiritual journey truth is revealed
    whatever it may be. For me Christianity is that truth but we all have our own…

    -Peace and Blessings Madame Bassey

  24. Bassey dearest,

    I read your post and smiled. You and I have had the opportunity to chat and you know my views and my belief in Jesus. For me, I am a christian for one reason, I am in relationship with Jesus Christ. The truth is I have many of the same concerns about church and religion but for me, true christianity is about relationship and a spiritual connection that is not restricted by manmade traditions and doctrines and while I worship in a church, I really feel my connection to God transcends it. That being said…
    I wanted to say that what I loved most about this post, is the way you love boogie and the loving way you talked about your father. Your willingness to share in an experience Boogie is having from his childlike perspective without pushing your own agenda. I thought it was beautiful the way you were able to see church again in a new way because of “what he was starting to see”. I love how you expressed your father’s spirituality as a multilayered thing…progressive and yet traditional…sometimes I find myself in this space…but I try to focus on the fact that beyond everything God is love. And it is in this spirit, that I say…Jesus is my homeboy and you Bassey are my sis in more ways that you can realize and I hope that someday when Boogie and I finally meet…he will be my homeboy too!

  25. Brilliant. I love how intentional you are being about your son’s spiritual development. He is a lucky little guy.


  26. Loved this post. I was raised to be spiritual but not religious. While I am much more comfortable in my skin when it comes to spirituality and religion these days, I struggled with defining how I felt and figuring out where I fit in as a child — the only black kid I knew (besides my siblings) who didn’t regularly attend church and define themselves as Christians. I’m now married to a man who was raised Lutheran but is privately an agnostic (bordering on atheist), and I think about how spirituality and religion will fit into our future family all the time. I’ve decided that my parents’ “teach ’em how to pray but otherwise be hands off” style won’t work with the way I hope to parent. I’ve started looking into spiritual communities that our family might one day be able to be apart of and be comfortable in as we explore spirituality together — it’s been an interesting journey so far, and this post has encouraged me to finally do what I’ve said I’m going to do (but have always put off), and actually start visiting UU churchs in our area.

  27. It is beauitful to see how children are curious and eager to learn about God. Jesus said blessed are the little children. To see the sun raise and set in a day and the moon shine at night, the bright stars. The big dipper and little dipper that our ancestors used to help them escape from slavery is just part of the reason I know there is a God. Children
    are the sweetest and their minds know that somethiing created us and not we ourselves. Bless all the children and the parents that teach them that God is real in our lives each and every day. We did not come from a big explosion. We were not monkeys’ that evolved over time. God created us in his image…and he created us with his love.

  28. Hi, Bassey!
    Today I ran across your Tumblr. Page and was just loving it all and then I ran across this blog. I am very strong in my faith and we all have our right to be strong in whatever we choose to believe, even if that happens to be nothing at all. I live my life day from day trying to please God. I currently am Missionary Baptist and I love it. We are more about helping others while trying to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I don’t believe that people judging other people is okay. To me Jesus teachings show us to accept all people. And from reading these comments it breaks my heart because it sounds like you and many of your other fans were really turned away from Chrisitanity because of the other so called Christians that they claim to be. I apologize for all of those who you witness sitting in the pews pretending to be listening to the word of God but being a hypocrite by judging the person sitting next to them. I totally respect your beliefs and why you have them. I just want you to know that maybe you should just try some different denominations or a non-denominational church. There are true Christiansout there and we all love you. I pray for you and your family.

  29. I myself haven’t attended church in nearly four years. I was raised Catholic and went to the parochial elementary school. I did CCE and sponsored RCIA was in the youth group. I was an usher and a lector. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I also went to my friends Torah class and attended churches of other denominations (which got confusing as there was nothing to bow to and no holy water.) At some point in my late teens I decided that “god” was a being that depended on our belief to exist instead of the other way around and promptly became a heathen. I like to think i’m a decent human being and would never try to tell someone that their fundamental beliefs were wrong which is exactly the problem I have with religions that proselytize. That being said if I were to ever make babies I would expose them to as many different opinions as early on as possible. I don’t ever want to raise near sighted close minded children with a narrow world view who wouldn’t hesitate to condemn someone for something that is frankly none of their business. Sorry if I started preaching.

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