Nobody Knows That I'm a Christian


July 24, 2015

[Note from Tracy:   My daughter Tori and I talk about being a Christian in our society. (I’m a Presbyterian minister. The fact that I’m a follower of Jesus is not going to surprise anyone. She’s a playwright.  She surprises people.) I asked her to write a blog about her experience, and she writes here very frankly about how her Christian faith shapes her relationships and the way she encounters the world. We both know that lack of civil discourse not only between Christians and non-Christians, but among Christians who disagree with each other, makes the vulnerability of frank sharing a scary thing. Thank you, Tori.]

One year, on a whim, I bought a present for my best friend. It was a powder blue t-shirt with black velvet letters that read “Nobody Knows That I’m A Lesbian.” She sent me pictures of herself wearing it around Chicago, at a Sleater Kinney concert, and at her Boys Town apartment. In my favorite, she mugs as she pulls up the sleeve to show off the new tattoo on her porcelain bicep. She’s 31 now, and a powerhouse businesswoman, but in that picture, I can still see the doll-faced 5th-grader who slept with a stuffed dog, devised my best adventures, and threw sand in my face when I toed the edge of preteen self-pity. And I… well, I gave her a funny t-shirt that she wears. On weekends.

Weekdays, she wears dresses. And skirts. And long sleeves. She does this not only to be professional (I wear slacks to big meetings) but so that, she explained, she wouldn’t have to “have the conversation.” Her voice sinks as she says this. It sounds old. Or not old, just – done. And I know what she means. She means the conversation she had first at 11, when she came out to her family, and again at 15, when she came out to our big suburban high school, and again every time she went to a new school, and again every time she started a new job, and again every time she made a new friend, and again every time she found someone who might be a friend one day, and again, and again and... And so, I understand why she might spend more days than not not having the conversation. Why she might sometimes avoid mentioning the woman she’s loved and lived with for ten years when clients trade weekend plans and wallet photos or when some lady at a conference asks politely what her husband does. It must just get… old.

She can get married now. I almost can’t believe it. I painted my face rainbow to celebrate.
And then my Facebook feed got loud.
Many friends cheered for the ruling, while others shared foreboding prayers for guidance for our country, while still others posted snarky one-liners next to links like “Supreme Court Ruling and Christian Outrage” and “Christians should prepare for persecution.”
I think it’s taking us a while to fully absorb what the ruling means.  And as we do, it’s loud in here.
So loud, in fact, that it’s hard to hear some of the other voices that are speaking.
Like Rachel Held Evans, whose letter to Christians who feel persecuted by the Supreme Court ruling calls us all to look more closely at what we talk about when we talk about practicing faith.
Like Matthew Vines, whose thoughtful book makes a researched, faithful, compelling case for a deeper understanding of what the Bible teaches about love and about same-sex relationships.
While I’m grateful for voices like these, the noise around them makes me wonder, do I feel silenced as a Christian?

The truth is, yes. But not because of gay people or diverse understandings of our relationship to God.
I feel silenced as a Christian because… well…  because when a new friend asks if I’m religious, I hesitate.Because I know, if I say, “I’m a Christian,” the first thing I’ll see in her eyes is alarm.
Because some of us have loudly cornered the word "Christian" and have attached it to spiritually violent, self-preserving behavior that (as such) I find antithetical to my understanding of God’s spirit and Christ’s teaching.

Out there in the Facebook-loud world, they keep using that word: Christian. And “I don’t think it means what they seem to think it means.” I know that the meanings behind symbols have evolved for as long as there have been symbols. But because “Christian” no longer means only (or even primarily) “like Christ,” if I choose to wear our symbols out in public, I have to deal with the knowledge that, unless I stop every person I pass and explain my theology to her, I may be perceived to be tacitly endorsing oppression, judgment, and spiritual violence. I don’t want to have to talk to everyone I pass. I just don’t want to have "the conversation."

And so, I tend to keep quiet. And yet, in doing so, aren’t I also tacitly endorsing the loudest working definition of “Christian”? And therefore, am I not also tacitly endorsing the spiritual violence it represents?

So when a new friend asks, “Are you religious?” I take a deep breath. Because I know I’ll have to use the rest of the breath to say, “But don’t worry. I won’t judge you. I see faith as a deeply alive but also deeply intimate experience that I struggle to describe, and I feel awkward(not to mention impolite) parading it. Also, my people are Presbyterian, and we love to be polite.  But just so you know, since you asked, I love gay people. Some of my favorite people in the world are gay, and whom they love is part of who they are. I think God loves gay people too and that God made them gay and that  God loves love more than anything else and that, through God, love wins. Through God, love makes us free. And I think that what God fights is smallness, violence, smugness, and oppression. So even though I’m a Christian, I won’t hurt you. Well, OK, I might. But I won’t say God wants me to, not that I’m speaking for God, because God is still speaking, and it’s rude to interrupt, and anyway, you can’t yell and listen at the same time.

That’s a lot to ask of one breath. I don’t know. Maybe it would fit on a t-shirt.

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