By NICOLE BURROWS
I am not a religious person; I want to be very clear about that. Nevertheless, I have had a full exposure to the Christian church – the Anglican church, to be specific.
My beloved, late uncle was a priest and one of my many father figures. As a child, I went to two or three different churches each week for any number of occasions.
I attended an Anglican school – primary and secondary. And, like most other Anglican school students, I went to mass at school once during the week and again at church on Sundays. My paternal relatives are devout Catholics.
But, today, I do not subscribe to Christianity or religion the way I may have done so before.
If you ever have a chance to make it beyond the confines of this island or this country, at least in spirit, you will find that there is a whole world of religion out there. Christianity is not the only religion, and it is not the oldest religion. But the way the Christian doctrine is taught in our country does not allow for the open and honest discussion of this fact.
I won’t deny that Christianity has done some good things in helping to create fine citizens with sound upbringings, teaching the “straight and narrow way”. For the most part, it seems the Christian belief system works to keep people fairly decent and out of trouble. But so do many other religions and systems of faith. Religion is a stabiliser.
I get it; people have religion because people need to believe in something, a greater purpose for being that helps them through the pains of human life. What I don’t get and can’t accept is that people will hate each other to the death for believing in different things. Even within the parameters of one religion, there is so much discord. There’s good and bad in everyone, yet people can be so hateful when they disagree, even to their own.
Life is difficult enough without fighting to be right about something that is a belief, something that no one knows for a fact is “right” or “wrong”. And my question is “why”? Why can’t we all just respect one another’s beliefs and rights to believe whatsoever we choose, without the hostility?
It’s been thousands of years since religion has been documented amongst humans, but still we’re fighting about whose is best or most right. Some are even fighting in favour of principles which have no root whatsoever in the practice of the very religion to which they subscribe.
It’s too much turmoil. I’d rather be on the outside and watch it and write about it, and so I do.
To my sight, religion is the worst thing to happen to humanity. It is the most divisive thing on the face of this earth; nothing separates people more, nothing stirs up more hatred, and nothing causes more death and destruction in too many countries of the world. As a result, I want nothing to do with claiming one faith over another.
What I do want, however, is that people should practice real love as their first religion, press pause on the religious theory and scripture and embrace each other as human beings. Real love for one another gives rise to genuine respect for one another. And from there everything else flows.
But human beings are obsessed with being the most right and the best (at worshipping), that they remove respect from the equation altogether. Even though my own beliefs will likely serve as my religion to the end of time, I recognise that others will continue to believe as they do. I just wish they would believe in themselves first, before looking to the outside for something to believe in.
Undoubtedly, out of many religions there will come good and bad things; I hope for the best from all of them.
There are many leaders of the world, of the Bahamas, who have arisen from the (Christian) church and many of them have been outstanding in reaching people with positive messages which serve to elevate and not diminish. At varying times in my life, I have benefitted from these messages and this outreach. And I respect the messengers enough to know that they can have their faiths and I can disagree in part or whole with their religious theories, but at the end of the day how much good do they do, how many people’s lives they influence to make better, I think is most important.
I may not agree with all of Dr Myles Munroe’s beliefs or methods, but I appreciate his ability to rise above making a mockery of other religions the way many do.
Some people feel that his teachings didn’t focus enough on bible theory and rote scripture. Some think he went too far outside the box with his principles for productive living. In fact, I clearly remember when I was a young girl and Myles Munroe’s church services were televised from the two-storey building on Mackey Street, how the ignorant and hateful religious people would talk about “dat Myles Munroe and his funny church”, as if their church was the only one that ever needed to exist. I remember thinking this man must be really something to upset so many people like this.
And, while I still may not agree with the foundations of how or why Dr Munroe believed what he believed, I respect that he had his own road to walk and I feel that he did exactly what was necessary with religion. He took it outside the church walls. He gave religion real life application. He figured out how to reach people others could not reach, to give them a kind or inspiring word. He was able to reach young people like most other religious entities could not and still cannot. He made people see how their everyday lives could be improved by recognising their own potential, identifying self-purpose and giving their all to ensure they were the best at whatever they could do.
Dr Munroe taught leadership principles and, for the Christians and others of similar faith, he made the Bible make more sense. He took the ancient stories and drew the lessons within them. He showed potential leaders their potential as leaders and how they could become the best leaders. His sphere of influence was wide enough to reach the furthest places and people.
But the one thing he did better than any other leaders in our country – particularly religious leaders – was teach people how to transfer their leadership and make leaders out of other people.
When I started at the College of The Bahamas at the ripe old, new age of 16, it was a whole new world for me in so many ways. I had a particular lecturer who became a mentor to many of his students. He guided us not just in our academics, but in our life planning. He helped us to make decisions about the real world we would become a part of when we either left for college abroad or when we entered the work force. He became like a father to us, which, at the time, was pretty significant to a teenage girl with no father, and I would later call him “Pops”.
I did not have my biological father, but I had many surrogate fathers, and “Pops” became chief among them. He guided me through my entire college career, helping me to make decisions about electives, boyfriends and job applications. I swear we must have racked up more hours on the phone talking philosophy about the Clinton administration, the Bay of Pigs, historic black musicians and their loss of royalties, Joseph Stalin, the Tuskegee Airmen ... and on the list goes. Those conversations of life were always more interesting than my classes.
Wherever he was in America, “Pops” would bring me over for a visit, to see and learn something new. And it never dawned on me that this man was teaching me how to be well-rounded, how to maximise every ability I had, how to develop my inquiry and how to learn not just in school but in life.
He introduced me to my favourite (Einstein) quote – “nothing happens until something moves” – which has, subliminally, kept me looking forward all this time.
“Pops” always advised me to get up and go after what I wanted, “do something, do anything”, he would say. “If you never start, you’ll never get anywhere. I don’t care if it’s basket-weaving you study, just go to school, because once you get your education they ain’t got nothin’ in this world that can take that from you.”
“Pops” had a colourful, complicated life of his own, one we knew nothing of while he taught us. Eventually he would tell me all about it in fascinating excerpts. And even though we don’t talk as often now as we did back then – because he thinks I’m grown up enough now to know things – his lessons to me about his life and life in general have helped me to build my own individual strengths.
He told me some years ago, “You taught me what it means to be a father. You didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t the best father. I wasn’t a good father. But because you needed me to be one, I became a better one.”
He says he needed us, his students, more than we needed him and that we taught him more about being a father than he taught us about being good people. And guess who taught him about being a good person, a good father, a good leader ...
Dr Myles Munroe.
“Pops” believed in Dr Munroe’s lessons of purpose and potential so much that one of the graduation gifts he gave me 21 years ago was a book Dr Munroe had written called Understanding Your Potential. And the inscription in the book reads: “Be Yourself and Believe Your Dreams. Maximise Yourself.”
For me, this will be Dr Munroe’s legacy, encouraging people to be exactly who they are, to believe in themselves and their abilities to achieve great things, and to make the best of themselves in any circumstances. He taught this to someone who taught this to me and I will forever be grateful.
In one of my visits to Parliament, last August, to hear the House debates on the Equality Bills, I bumped into Dr Munroe. I had crossed paths with him many times while in college, waiting for flights at Atlanta Hartsfield (long before the name changed), though I never introduced myself. And this meeting in Parliament was the strangest introduction I have ever had to anyone, especially someone with whom I had many opportunities to make an acquaintance.
I literally backed into him, turning around to leave the foyer, just inside the entrance. He had just walked in and was greeting someone else when I bumped him. I turned around, he looked at me, smiled, stuck his hand out, I took his hand and squeezed it, and we smiled; no ‘hello’, no names, no words, just smiles. And I turned around and left the building.
Since his passing, I reflect on that quiet encounter with Myles Munroe, and how funny it is that so much can be said with no words at all. I hope that, in the final moments of their lives, there was a quietness between Dr Myles and his wife Ruth ... that he could hold her hand and look into her eyes and smile (inside) one last time.
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