I’ve walked various paths in my four decades and had multiple incarnations. One of my earliest incarnations-but not my first-is what my grandmother molded me to be. Rose’s grandbaby, who lived with her, was a devout Missionary Baptist girl in this version. She rose at 7am every Sunday morning. She attended Sunday School, Morning Worship, Wednesday bible study, and countless pastors and church anniversaries until her twentieth birthday. She also knew the Bible. She read it cover to cover three times, even diligently referring to Strong’s Concordance because she wanted a deeper understanding.
But I stepped away from that girl in my early twenties. This disappointed and frustrated many in my circle. My family and my congregation looked at my religiosity and believed that’s who I genuinely was. I could not blame them for this. But they were wrong.
My oldest, most sincere incarnation is not Grandma’s proper, religious child; it is my mother’s studious, intellectual and curious one. Indeed, when I look back on my early childhood, it almost feels like Mama unwittingly predestined me to be this way. Mama had me reading the encyclopedia years before I ever read the Bible. Mama allowed-no, ENCOURAGED me to question and explore. Mama listened to my thoughts and made me believe my insights were valuable. Because of her, my early years were devoid of the intolerance, rigidity, anti-intellectualism, and judgment that organized religion introduced me to. Psychologically, Mama created a space for me that was free of indoctrination.
But when I was baptized at ten years, I was immersed in a new world, drastically different from what Mama had built for me. Joining the Baptist Church showed me what traditional, conservative religious observance looked like-and I didn’t care for most of it.
This sparked an internal conflict that would rage for decades. The two versions of myself-Diane’s cerebral twin and Rosia Lee’s proper religious grandbaby would fight for control. Thankfully, I am at a point where the war between myself isn’t as intense; the flames are cooled by maturity and balance.
Grandma frequently quoted the words of Proverbs 22:6 to me: Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. For me, there is a unique truth in these words. I have had to accept that the different values Mama and Grandma seared into me are inseparable elements of my identity. But the intellectual, curious, and idealistic Danielle ultimately dominates and governs how I move in the world.
Nevertheless, vestiges of my former devoutly religious life pop up at times. Sometimes it’s the urge to listen and sing along to an old hymn-I still love “I Won’t Complain.” On other occasions, it is Scriptures randomly popping into my head. Romans 2:15 is one of them, and I reflect on it often. In these verses, the apostle Paul discusses Gentiles obeying the law written by God on their hearts and receiving credit for it.
There is a law written on my heart as well. I don’t know if I count as a believer or heathen at this point. To traditional Christians, I’m decidedly in the heathen camp. While I want to believe in a Creator, I do not follow Christian orthodoxy and do not view the Bible as God’s literal, inerrant word. I do not hold traditional, conservative Christian opinions on most topics. I gave up trying to fit in with the Church and accepted that I do not belong there.
But there’s still a law in my heart that guides me daily, influencing how I see the world and treat others. I am ultimately loyal to this law, what we may call a conscience. It stays with me; it is a quiet and still voice, a whisper, with unyielding conviction. I’ve come to know it very well.
The law in my heart winced when ministers insisted queer people were sinners and had to change.
The law in my heart recoiled when told a loving and just God will punish his children eternally in hell. It asked “why” when I was told women cannot lead or teach men and must submit to them. Because of it, I recoiled when I heard fellow Americans cheer violence and ignore the death caused by our war machine as if the victims were children of a lesser God.
I know without a doubt and believe with every ounce of my being that I am not superior to anyone else on this planet. I see my reflection and humanity in every human regardless of skin color, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or economic class. It may sound silly, Pollyanna-ish, and downright naïve. But it is who I am. I have tried to adopt a more brutal cynical facade. And while I battle with pessimism at times, my faith in mankind remains, and I cannot get rid of it.
I understand that my conscience and the law written on my heart, the code I seek to abide by, do not match what I was given by my family, my native religion, and my larger society. But I know in my soul that it is correct, and I will continue to follow it. For me, there is no other way.