The headline to this blog post might not make much of a statement to you, but to me it’s been something that has nagged at me for a while now. So what better way to process it than to pour it all into a blog and throw it into cyber space to see what the internet thinks.
A while ago I was given a beautiful cross pendant, one that sparkles when the sun hits it and looks far nicer and more feminine than my usual jewelry choices. I wore it for months with pride, not just because it was beautiful, and not just because it was a gift from a dear friend, but because it was also a symbol of a part of myself I didn’t tend to share very much. My faith. Of course I live my faith every day, and try to be a good person, and of course I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And yes, I go to bible study, and all that. But for a while now I’ve really grimaced at the thought of admitting out loud that I am a Christian. Not because I’m ashamed of my faith, goodness no. Rather I’m reluctant to call myself a Christian because I see what some people who profess to be of the same faith as me do to those who disagree with them.
So a while ago I switched out this beautiful cross pendant for a different one, a heart with the American Flag engraved across it. It’s a symbol of something else I believe strongly in – this country – and it’s something I wear proudly every day, whether people know what it means or not.
And I’m not alone in my thinking. I’ve read many blog posts and opinion pieces from other Christians who go to great pains to point out they’re not like ‘those’ people, the angry Christians. The ones who want to pass legislation to say that being gay is a sin and that marriage equality is an abomination. The ones who think that discrimination isn’t discrimination if it’s wrapped up in some belief system that is protected by the constitution. Well, I hate to say it, but hate is hate. And from the Messiah himself who said:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34, New American Standard Bible)
it makes me wonder what these angry Christians are thinking. Because the love and grace and kindness Jesus spoke of was not conditional to whether you are gay or not. His message was one of hope and salvation, not tearing down another person whether they are good or not just because you personally don’t believe in their ‘lifestyle choices’. Which, for the record, is no more a choice than me ‘choosing’ to have green eyes. But we can argue that until we are blue in the face and the angry Christians will still choose to tell me I’m wrong. Whatever. To them I say this: I would rather be wrong, and live my life treating other people with love and respect, seeing them as the beautiful people God made them to be, and be wrong, than seeing them the way you do and spending my life hating them, condemning them, judging them, or whatever else I am expected to do as a follower of Christ. My judgement will come, and you will not be there with me to hold my hand, or vouch for me. Only I will be standing before the Lord being accountable for my actions and my words.
A long time ago I was a part of a church that believed the only way to heaven was with hard work. And boy did I work hard. I bent over backwards to share my faith and its message, and I took part in every aspect of the church environment it was possible to, until my whole social calendar was chock full of everything church, and nothing of anything else. It was exhausting because I never felt as though I was accomplishing anything. The harder I struggled and worked towards all these goals, the more I fell short, and the more I believed my salvation was at stake. I asked questions, and wrestled with the answers because they were all based on this false doctrine that said the only way to get the rewards in heaven were through hard work and many layers of atonement to gain worthiness.
I left, but not before their twisted doctrine had chewed up my insides and distorted everything I thought I knew about God and Jesus and salvation. They also believed the cross pendants I owned were representative of the death, not the resurrection, so confiscated them. In essence, they took everything they could of the faith I brought in with me, and flipped it on its head till what I had left was barely recognizable. They would say “the bible is accurate only as far as it’s translated” but I chose to hang onto this one verse in spite of all that, the one about faith as small as a mustard seed being enough to move mountains. And truly I clung to it. When I left the church I had no friends (because I was now a ‘corruptive influence’), and no social calendar because my whole time with them was living and breathing everything to do with their church. I was adrift, so to speak, in an ocean that was as dark as it was foreign, with nothing on the horizon but more darkness. It was the hardest part of my faith walk because I was truly alone. There were no church friends to lean on because I was now isolated from them, and their doctrine was flawed anyway so what would it have gained me to reach out? Only this mustard seed faith, this tiny grain of hope that Jesus loved me, and that I was worth loving, pushed me on.
When I was in an antique shop in England one day, I saw a beautiful gold pendant. It was a cross, not very big, nor very expensive. But it was beautiful. And I could afford it. In spite of the confused state of my faith, this tiny morsel of a mustard seed gave me the confidence to buy it, and I had it inscribed with “no matter what”, to remind myself every day that, no matter what, Jesus loved me. I wore it for quite a few years, and every time I touched it, my mustard seed of faith was reminded that Jesus did indeed love me. It was a symbol of hope to me, something to draw courage from, and something that symbolized the promise Jesus made to me that – in spite of their best efforts – this church had failed to destroy. It is perhaps the only time as an adult I’ve worn something so symbolic because I’ve needed to, because my brokenness wasn’t brave enough on it’s own, and the gold shaped cross around my neck somehow made everything all right.
Of course, the journey to undoing indoctrination is a long and complicated one, and it is a journey that is still ongoing even today, oh so many years later. But I guess that’s what happens when you invest three years of yourself inside a lie. You’re vulnerable and at risk of falling far more times than you care to count as you work your way back to being strong. I joined another church eventually and enjoyed it for a while. But I’m an opinionated soul, for those who didn’t get the memo, and I never seemed to feel truly comfortable in this new Christian gathering. Perhaps because it’s hard to find people who believe 100% what you do (unless you’re all in a cult – not recommended). Perhaps it’s because hypocrisy drives me crazy and I have this compulsion to call it out when I see it. Or perhaps it’s simply that I don’t trust people who don’t seem to want to trust me.
I’ve grown a lot since those days. I’ve also moved countries and built a life here surrounded by people who want to build me up instead of tear me down. It took a lot to get there, but I made it. And my faith is stronger than it has been in a long time. It’s not where it should be, I know that. But it is bigger than a mustard seed, and for that I’m happy. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can quote bible verses at the drop of a hat because it requires me to know them, but I have no patience or inclination in putting in the effort to do so. Call it a residual of indoctrination. Call it laziness. I just consider it a flaw that google can fix at the drop of a phrase into a search engine. There is also the horror of praying out loud, something I have never liked doing but am more phobic of now because there are so many rules and I don’t remember which ones are the good rules and which ones are the ‘earn your way into heaven’ rules. I also get tongue tied when I’m put on the spot. And I tend to swear. Who am I kidding, I swear even when I’m not put on the spot. But if I’m saying something special to God and a room full of people are listening, it’s most definitely not acceptable to drop an f-bomb or a cuss word into the mix.
Which brings me right back around to my pendant debate.
I look at the entertainment industry I’ve chosen to build my career in, and I see a lot of roles that are not suitable for a Christian to accept. And not just the ones that post ‘contains nudity’ in the breakdown. Now I’m not a prude. Well, yes, I am. But other people are not prudish, and when things are tastefully done, it’s all good. I’m also more than happy if it’s not my character that has to be the nude one, because it’s not something I’m comfortable with. And not just because I don’t look like a Victoria Secret swimwear model. But if it’s important to the story – and I’ve gone on auditions where it is, and have been very excited by the projects – I am supportive. But if I wear a cross, am I already giving more information than I need to the casting directors? I know that you don’t have to be a bully to play one on tv, and I certainly believe that you don’t have to be gay to take on the role of a gay character. But if I wear a cross to an audition, or in my profile pictures online am I revealing more than is true of myself to each of the people making decisions about my career? It does come down to being ‘not like them’, in a sense (thinking of the angry Christians I spoke of earlier), but more than that it’s because I don’t really consider myself a regular Christian either. I support marriage equality. I am pro choice because I can never advocate for something that removes a woman’s autonomy over her own body, no matter how it makes me feel. I don’t quote the bible (I’m prone to paraphrasing with hilarious results), and while I do go to bible study, I don’t go to church. I loathe the church environment, and I am not a fan of the mentality that you are a better Christian than someone else because you DO go to church, especially when it’s only to tick the box marked ‘church’ off on your 101 Ways To Look Like A Good Christian list.
When it comes down to it, I’m the bare bones Christian. I’m the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Christian, the one who might well still have just a mustard seed of faith when it comes down to it. I read the scripture about being a light unto the world, and loving your neighbor as yourself, but when it comes to most of the other stuff, it’s all about the interpretation. And the person doing the interpreting makes the rules. This is what I mean when I say the residuals of indoctrination linger long after the church has been purged from your system.
But then I look at the world we live in, and I start to question this choice. It may only be a symbol, and it was my anchor for a while when I needed it most, but is wearing a cross not something more important today? Now more than ever?
You don’t need to go too far into the news to read about Christians being kidnapped in the middle east, or the terrible things done to them. You don’t even need to leave the USA to see stories of religious persecution, be it a Jewish student being judged for her faith right here in Los Angeles, or the Anti-Israel sentiment sweeping our universities here and here for example. And that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s happening in Europe and the rest of the world.
So is wearing a cross pendant the way to go? Is it more fitting for me to declare my faith and stand up for what I believe in, in the face of opposition or persecution? I’m very lucky to live in a country where we have the freedom to practice (or to not practice) religion, and thus the judgements I am likely to face will be from other Christians. Being ‘not like them’ has served me well because it has opened me up to friendships and conversations I would have been too narrow to consider it I was made any other way. But will it burn more bridges to say I am a follower of Jesus, but not a ‘Christian’ like you read about in the news? Or is this all just a symbolic gesture that means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and rather it is the character of the person we should judge, not the piece of jewelry around their throat?
I await the comments with interest, for I genuinely want to know what people think.
Take care and much love,