DEAR HARRIETTE: I grew up religious and went to church faithfully every Sunday with my grandmother. As I grew older, I noticed that religion can and has been used to justify bad behaviors toward others. This caused me to question what I had been taught -- especially as an African American. For instance, Christianity was used to justify slavery and the killing of nonwhite people. Many Christians perpetuate an image of Jesus with blue eyes, fair skin and long hair, but I struggle with worshipping an entity that is depicted as looking like the oppressor.
I know this is a tough subject, but I also think it takes strength to not blindly follow the things we were taught as kids. I don’t want to give up my religion completely, and I still feel a spiritual connection with God. How can I balance the knowledge I gain with the faith I am supposed to have? -- Spiritual Wanderer
DEAR SPIRITUAL WANDERER: Many religions have stories that include exploitation of certain groups of people in the name of faith. Is that wrong? Absolutely. But it is common. Given what you know about your faith, should you walk away from it? Only you can make that decision.
I would recommend that you look for a denomination or a particular church where you feel resonance. Look for a pastor whose message is empowering and honest in your eyes. Continue to do your research so that you can be aware and clear about your beliefs and how they mesh with your faith.
Know that there are images of Jesus other than one with long, blond hair and blue eyes. In Catholicism, there are saints who are dark-skinned as well. Keep searching for answers to your spiritual and historic questions. A book you may enjoy is "Jesus and the Disinherited" by a formidable African American religious scholar, Howard Thurman.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been dating a nice guy for a few months now. He is so sweet to me. He is also so different from the guy I dated for several years who was never consistently attentive. That said, this guy has limited life experience. He grew up poor and hasn’t been exposed to much. Whenever we go out, there’s something new that he doesn’t know. I mean small stuff, like how to eat a formal meal or what to wear when you have to get dressed up. I know these things shouldn't matter so much, but they do. How can I educate him about some basic things without hurting his feelings? -- Step It Up
DEAR STEP IT UP: First, you have to figure out if you value this man enough to want to share more of your world with him as you also learn about his. Don’t start coaching him unless you are in it for the long haul. If you are, be honest. Tell him you want to share some pointers with him that may be helpful as you negotiate your way in life together. Ask for his blessing to teach you. Then take it easy. Don’t inundate him with a list of his mistakes. Share the details about social graces with him over time.
Also, be sure to pay attention to what he teaches you. His lessons will likely be just as beneficial.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)