Freewriting about God (with my Improving Writing Students)

This Fall 2013 semester I find myself teaching a group of Improving Writing students who are adamant about God’s existence.  Students refer to God as “He.”  They seem to believe “He” lives in the sky–in heaven.  And although I haven’t asked them yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they imagine God a white man . . . with dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, and doves flying around “His” head–maybe even a glowing halo.  I’m not trippin’ though.  That’s the God I use to know.  “He’s” the God I prayed to at night–when I use to get down on my knees in prayer.  (I haven’t done that in 11 years though–since my father passed.  I prayed to God to give me the strength to accept “His” will.)  But that God I use to gaze at every Sunday morning on my church walls was white–white skin, white gown, white cherubs.  But I see God so differently now–and I think only because I was reared to believe in God is my mind still attached to God’s existence–in the institutionalized ideology of God’s being.  I mean, I know there is a higher power–& maybe that power’s name is God.  But since reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, along with various texts by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön, I prefer to call God “Universe” or “Love.”  Such renaming allows me to detach from the idea that God is outside of me, that God is a white man–a member of a group of people who have historically enslaved, dehumanized, and degraded African American people–and that God is some power I will meet only after I die.

But my students think I don’t believe in “God,” cause I don’t believe in their “God.” And ohhhmyyyyyGOD, they become judgmental about my disbelief.  Lol.  But isn’t that what happens when human beings get attached to certain ideas?  If others don’t prescribe to particular beliefs, they are “othered” and pushed to the margins.  Blackballed.  Blacklisted.  Blacksheeped.

In The Color Purple, Shug Avery (the blacksheep character, of sorts) taught Celie to see God beyond her image of a white man.  Shug told Celie that God is everywhere–in the trees, in the gardens, in love making.  She taught Celie that we are not separate from God or each other, human and non-human. If a tree gets cut, her arm will bleed, she says.  Shug claims that God lives inside of us and that we manifest God in our ability to create, to love, to forgive, and to understand ourselves and each other.  How awesome is that?  Isn’t that God–which Shug calls “It”–actually ALL mighty? ALL knowing?  ALL powerful?


  1. I think people are entitled to their own opinions about God. I don’t believe that God is white because Jesus is black. You can believe what you want to believe. It’s your belief not everyone else.

  2. Dr. Bryant I knew this entire Tim that you believed in something of higher power. I never believed you were atheis as everyone else thought you were. It’s interesting to read about how you describe what you believe in. I would’ve never thought about it like that and as many times as I’ve seen the color purple I would’ve never analyzed it like that. God may not what we believe to be or should I say what they describe him to be. I feel similar to what you feel. It is something of higher power, which we won’t see or know of until we die.

  3. This post was quite interesting to me Dr. Bryant I never once believed that you were an atheist. I always knew it was something deeper to your ideology. I don’t think that everyone sees god as a white man you say it yourself it is more of a society thing where they portray god as such and that is all we see. I find amazing that you use alternative ways of referring to God. I believe that helps in understand what person believes in in their own way.

  4. Dr. Bryant, this post is very mind intriguing. At first I did question your beliefs if you were just joking with the class when you would say you don’t believe in “our God.” However, I know not to judge the beliefs of others, simply because you are entitled to your own ideology. I like how you described what you thought God was, and how you perceived him to be a white man based off the paintings in the church. I never thought of God to be black, white, or any other race. To me God is of all races because he made all of man. Lastly, as many times that I have seen the color purple, I never took the time to analyze what Shug was explaining to Celie about how God works. The way you analyzed that part of the movie and put it into this blog was very intellectual. It served as the moral of this blog to let people know that God is more than what we think he is, and comes in many different titles. Regardless of what we refer to God as, he is (as you stated) the “ALL Mighty and ALL powerful.”

  5. Yes, the “It” Shug refers to, is that One. Most definitely one in the same. Let me start by saying, The Color Purple is my all-time favorite movie.! I agree with Shug Avery’s views about God. Man was created in the image of God, but God never walked the Earth. Instead, he sent Jesus which according to scripture is a piece (a part) of Himself. You said, “But my students think I don’t believe in “God,” cause I don’t believe in their “God.” First off, I believe you meant to put BECAUSE instead of CAUSE. Secondly, I believe that “your” God, “their” God, and “my” God are all one. A supreme being, “one who is all knowing” and forever present everywhere and all the time. That Power higher than ourselves, that separated the deep waters from the land, that brought with HIM light therefore darkness had to go, created every animal two by two,created the wet of dawn to satisfy the need of water for the plants, trees and grass, THEN created man and woman.

  6. In response to jesicahmitchell1 comment : Dr. Bryant’s blog was referencing whether we thought God was black or white. According to scripture, no man has ever been able to stand in the present of God. Therefore, he has never been seen and may cover ever color in the rainbow, plus some. He could very well be multicolored for all we know. In my opinion, God may shine like the sun or be translucent. Giving Him a color is least of our worries.

  7. In regards to troygaskins comment : About not truly knowing our higher power until we die, I strongly agree with this concept. Some things can not be revealed in this realm of life. Some things we won’t know until we cross over. Such as, in the movie Matrix, Thomas Anderson could do, perform, and manipulate the environment in the “other” world in ways unknown to man. He was transformed and not conformed in the “other” world; his name even changed to Neo.

  8. For me I understand the differences that you mentioned in your blog because as I am getting older, I see God in a different way also. For me because I know that others wrote the bible and as time changed so did others opinions, I think our perspective is being altered of who God is, personally I believe nobody knows who God really is. I also believe God has always been black because of the many descriptions of how God looks. The only reason why people began to think God was white was because of the enslavement period. Whites wanted to be able to say that God called for the enslavement period and whites believed that controlling and killing the blacks is their calling to protect God’s land from any corruption.

  9. Your post is very surprising. I never judged you when you said that you were an atheist because I am just not a judgmental person. I believe that everyone is entitled to his or her own belief. At first, I thought that you did not believe in God because of your sexual preferences, and then I did not really sit there and think about it. Moreover, I agree when you say that God could be inside of a person instead of just thinking about him as an outsider.

  10. Wow Dr. Bryant I find it quite interesting that you assumed that your students think that God is white. I cannot speak for the entire class but, personally I do not. God and the phrase “God” are two different things. I think the stereotypical person who regurgitates everything that surrounds them, believes in the traditional blonde haired, blue eyed God. Stereotypical people do not understand the depth of God and who he is and what he stands for. Stereotypical people believe in the phrase God. However, I am not stereotypical. I did not just inherit this religion, this belief. God is whoever/whomever you want and need him to be. In your world God may be love. I will never, ever judge you, criticize you, or think differently of you because of that. I have opinions of people based off of what they say and do. My God is love, acceptance, and forgiveness. I am unaware of how he looks but , forgiveness looks like a black man and love looks like a black woman and acceptance looks like black newborn babies. All I can do is imagine, I will not know until I am deceased. But, what I do know is that he is real and existent in my world just like love is in yours. Regardless, I respect it no lol.

  11. I find it comical that you think that the class believes God is some sort of fairy-like creature that sings with the doves and dances with the cherubs. As comical as it is, I think that you would be hard-pressed to find an individual (at least in our class) that thinks this way. Reflecting on my peers, I honestly can’t see the majority of them believing that he is white either. It’s interesting that you believe that “Our God” and “Your God” are two completely separate entities. God is the universe. God is love. God is a being. He does live outside of us. However, He also lives within the hearts of all who believe. However, God also gave us free will. We can believe in whatever we want and I respect your beliefs. So, now that the sermon’s over, how was your Thanksgiving? I hope all is well with you and your loved ones. God Bless.

  12. Dr. Bryant I am happy to know now that you do believe in a higher power and force which I feel would be the same God I believe in because there is only one with a capital G who is “God”. I knew a person of humbleness and a advocate peace such as yourself couldn’t be any kind of none believer but a believer yourself. Also my image of God is not any kind of white man so I’m not one of those students you are referring to. I actually believe the only human form God sent of himself was his son Jesus. I am thankful and Graceful yo have my professor express her beliefs to her students because that was something you Dr. Bryant didn’t have to do but you did

  13. Dr. Bryant, I knew from the day I came to your office to check on my grades around mid-terms that you believed in God or in your words, “Love.” I think everybody is entitled to believe in whatever they want to believe in. It just warms my heart when I know another Sister has accepted a greater power and acknowledges it. It’s beautiful how God is all forms of positive, of peace, of direction, strength, and power. I’m glad he reaches everybody in his own way.

  14. Hello, Dr. Bryant on my behalf I would like to say is that I never believed in the white image of God. In addition I never judged you when you first made your statement in class saying “you don’t believe in God”. I am not a judgmental person for I have friends who don’t believe in anything at all. However, I like and agree with the fact that God is in everything living or breathing. He is with us mind, body, and spirit.

  15. In response, I truly have a different outlook on god myself. Not because of your beliefs but because of mine, for years I had been tricking myself into believing what people have been saying about their traditional god. How he is white, and how the almighty is and doesn’t allow anything bad to happen to us and how you have to act and be a certain way for your god to love you. In my reality and beliefs, I do believe that god is real and I do believe there is a heaven, but I truly believe it’s deeper than what some book or some preacher can tell us. I believe god teaches us lessons after lesson and I also believe he helps save us when we need saving. As I read this I kind of sound contradicting but I’m not I just don’t feel as if I know everything about god that I need to know but that comes with life and learning and believing what you want to believe in. I like how your beliefs weren’t effected by anything negative just by something that changed your life and I also like how you don’t force your beliefs on any people such as how our fellow Christians try and do . In all this was a great blog on your view of god and why it’s the way it is.

  16. I liked your honesty about how you feel about God and your beliefs. You are entitled to you opinion and I respect the fact that you included yourself in this exercise, so that we could see where you were coming from in terms of your beliefs. I see that you also have judgmental beliefs on how you think we envision God. Religion is such a touchy subject for most people, and I think that when you said that we did not believe you in terms of following God, It was the way it was preconceived and presented.There is only one God in my opinion and to say that you don’t believe in our “God” which in fact you do but, you do not like to associate the name God like some of us which is your opinion.

  17. First I would like say that yes I do believe in God, but if someone does not believe in him I do not judge them as we are all entitled t our own beliefs and opinions. However, I believe there’s no such thing as a “white God” I’m much like the character Shug you referred to in your blog. I believe that God is everywhere and is in everything that we do. I too believe the he lives inside of us and is apart of every decision we make and every action we choose. I most certainly believe that God is our enabler to love because we must first love him before we can love ourselves and then onto others. Also, you say you haven’t prayed to God in 11 years since your father passed, but we have to be open to God and accept the changes he make in our lives. We shouldn’t become angry with for taking away our loved ones but have faith and know that everything happens for a reason. Though, I’m not saying that we can’t be pained and confused by the loss of our beloved we just have to understand the works of God and that his will, will be done.

  18. I feel that you have a good point. We all have our own strong opinion about this higher power, and your right the media, our surroundings and many symbols or God make us believe he looks a certain way. I Feel different , I believe God is a spiritual feeling that only you know the relationship you have. Your God may not be my God but that’s OK, as long as you have a higher faith than yourself i feel like you with be at peace in your life.

  19. In response to Dr.Bryant;
    Why are you so amazing? Your blog was great. I wish I could write and make my readers have a different look on things after reading it. I love your blog it made me see religion and God in a different way. Your blog made realize that you don’t t have to believe in the “Traditional God” that world makes us believe, it so much more out there. I love that you prefer to call God “Love or Universe” I’m going to ask you in class why because I find that very interesting. You almost gave some of your students a heart attack when you said you don’t believe in God and after reading I understand now , you don’t believe in the white , blue eyed God that some do. You are your own women and you have your own beliefs and I look up to you for that. Question why did your stop getting on your knees and praying after your father passed?

  20. I feel like everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That why there are several different religions and different kinds of people on this earth. Who am I to knock anyone’s belief? I had an idea that you believed in some type of higher power and find it interesting. Even though I am Baptist I don’t find anything wrong with atheist’s .My father is atheists we just have different beliefs. We won’t know until the end of time who’s the “right” one is.

  21. I don’t think that anyone judges you when you say that you don’t believe in God, at least I don’t. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We may not believe in the same “God” but it’s the same concept, because we believe in a higher power. At some point of your life you did believe in him, and I knew it! I’m not too sure if people view him as how you described him, but this blog was very interesting, and I am now pleased to know the truth about your beliefs!

  22. Hey Dr. Bryant,

    I fully understand where you are coming from when you mention your belief upon God’s existence. I believe that there is a God but I do not believe he is white, black, hispanic, or any other race or ethnicity. I view God as a spirit everyone can relate to, I view him as someone to call upon to heal us in the times of need. I read a book over Thanksgiving break called “How to Hustle and Win” it was a book directed to boys in the Ghetto to help them stop creating a fool out of themselves and trapping their minds in this white society. Also it touch on a topic of christianity that I wasn’t aware of that disturbed me. It stated that men and women of color who where slaves were taught that slavery was the way to freedom and they learned that from their pastor that the white man sent to the church to install this mindset within the black folk community. I must admit that this has changed my views on christianity but I am not going to change my views about God because I know his is real because he has worked miracles in my life.

  23. Dr. Bryant I remember the first time you made a comment about God. You spoke as if you did not believe in him, but when I walked into your office one morning to my surprise you were playing gospel music. Now, I was taken aback because you so firmly defended the fact that you did not have a religion. Another thing that is going through my mind right now is that this blog is contradicting. I say this because it did not leave me with a definite impression of whether or not you believe in God. But for my sake I will just assume that you do believe in Him but are not super religious.

  24. I do believe that all people are entitled to their own beliefs, and feelings about God or a higher power. Dr Bryant I can understand your reasoning and you may have a point. But i believe the miracles and miraculous things that have happened can only be explained by the work of God. We are all entitled to believe what we want, and I do coincide that we will only find out after death, but Jesus is real in my mind and life, and hopefully you will come to see the reasoning, and feelings as to why we feel this way about our and your God! =)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s