Have I Told You I'm a Christian?

Apparently on Thurdays it's Let Me Talk to You About Something Personal Day.  

For some reason, my heart is thumping as I type this out. Deep breath. Okay. 

When I worked for Teach For America in Memphis, I was in a cohort of about 8 people. Together, we managed teachers across the city. But we were also really close friends. 

In our first series of meetings, our fantastic manager came up with a plan. Each week, a different one of us should bring in an "artifact" to help explain who we are as individuals. When my week rolled around, I decided to bring the stole that my dad had worn as associate minister of our church in Decatur when I was growing up. 

I laid it on the table, and suddenly got really, really nervous. 

"I brought this because I consider myself to be deeply United Methodist. BUT, don't worry...I'm not gross or mean or hateful." I went on to and differentiate myself from what I thought they must have in their heads: the sometimes awful archetype of an opinionated Christian from the deep South. 

My first instinct in that moment was to start defending myself against assumptions.

Maybe it's because my cohort included two gay men who probably have probably been beaten with the church's occasionally bigoted language. 

Maybe it's because I wanted my manager, who is Jewish, to understand that I consider his faith to be a major, central part of my own.

Maybe it's because I worried that by saying that, I'd somehow conveyed that the only good and noble life is a Christian one.

If I'm honest with myself, though, I think I have always felt this way about sharing my faith with others. "I am a Christian." Four words that don't easily tumble out of my mouth, despite the fact that all the nuance wrapped up in them is what points my life in a direction.

I know that part of this is because I grew up in the Bible Belt. In the South, we really, really like the way things are. We like tradition. And that makes us wonderful in so many dazzling ways. It also, unfortunately, can make us the stubborn great aunt of the religious community - the one at the Thanksgiving table who says a lot of insensitive, bigoted things, and gets a "pass" because "that's just the way she is." 

That's just the way we are? 

Just this week, one of my former co-teachers (we'll call her Anne) posted a Facebook status explaining something that had happened to her. Anne's Facebook friend, a Christian, dropped onto her Facebook page, said something hateful on Anne's wall, then unfriended Anne because she wasn't "living her life according to the word of God." Anne is part of the LGBT community. 

These are the kinds of actions I feel an impulse to distance myself from. These are the kinds of things that I worry pop into people's heads when I use the word "Christian." 

I will freely admit that I am an overthinker. It's very possible that around the table in Memphis that day, absolutely no one jumped to the conclusion that because I'd said I was a Christian, I must also be a bigoted monster who spews hate. 

In fact, so few of us are.  

But the ones who yell the loudest often create the image of the whole community.

And the yell-y, angry, hateful, "You kids get off my lawn," faction of Christianity is just so distant from what the word "Christian" means to me. And, if you're reading this and are also a Christian, I bet it's also distant from what the word means to you. 

So, because this blog is feeling increasingly like an extension of my brain, and because I've already told you about so many things that are important to me (food, my family, my friends, Jordan, my dog, bad reality TV, my obsession with Sarah Jessica Parker -- oh, we haven't gotten to that last one yet? Okay, well. Stick around. It's inevitable), it seems dishonest not to talk a little about something that's major in my world, which is my faith. 

Even in this moment, I'm uncomfortable sharing. Part of this is just my WASP-y, "keep private things private" ways. But this really shouldn't be private, should it? So that I'll never have to wonder what kind of Christian you think I might be, here is the kind that I am: 

I am the kind who messes up. A LOT. Who says things she shouldn't, who thinks things she shouldn't, who wastes time that could be spent on other people or on self-improvement. I am crippled by self-consciousness and place too much stock in the opinions of others. I am the kind who is broken wide open by the music of the church, and who experiences God in tiny ways (the right song coming on at the right moment, conversations with my best friends) and in grand ways (this view). I like answers to my questions - and I have a lot of questions - but I believe in the mystery of faith. I've been taught, loved, and welcomed into conversation by extremely conservative and evangelical Christians, though I myself am more left-leaning doctrinally. And my circle of very closest friends includes folks who don't claim a faith tradition. The peace I've found in faith is the greatest that I know of. I stand in God's healing, loving gaze and am blown away that the miracle of a joyful life is something that we get to experience every single day. I think the idea that being a good Christian has anything to do with being a buttoned-up, humorless, lame-o is tragic and off-base.

Most importantly, and at the height of what I believe Christ taught, I believe in loving each other deeply and boundlessly, because we are loved deeply and boundlessly. This doesn't mean gooey gumdrop Spice Girls love all the time - it means that my dearest friends have the responsibility to say, "This is a curious path you've chosen in this moment, and it concerns me. Can we talk about it?" It means hard-hitting social justice love, and righting wrongs. It also means that that person from earlier who commented on my friend Anne's status is just as loved by God as Anne is, and as I am - because being loved by God isn't a contest in who is the holiest. It means that people should know that God is good - that God is love - by being around the folks who lay claim to the cross. And I am so sorry when we as a faith community fall short of proving that point. 

I believe in service and "others first." I believe in being the salve to a wounded world - not because I have all the answers, but because I want to be an emotional first responder to the needs of my brothers and sisters. And I believe the capacity to sit with people in their brokenness is a result of drawing from the deepest well of love that there is. I believe in joy in all things. And I revel in the fascinating twists and turns of theology, which I'd love to talk to you about on a less public platform (I'm being brave, but I'm not being that brave). I believe that scripture should be a welcoming beacon and not a "KEEP OUT" sign. I believe that the arms of God are big enough for everyone.

Inevitably, I've said something clumsily or glossed over a point I wanted to make. But this is my offering to you this morning. I hope you'll accept it, warts and all. I hope you still like me.

So. Here are those four scary words. "I am a Christian." And I hope that I have loved you enough to prove it.