When I’m socializing in secular settings and the circumstance allows for a bit of sincere conversation, I might be asked how I came to be an ordained minister. Generally, I sense this question is motivated differently than a question directed to, say, a finance guy about his work. Especially in New York, broker, lawyer, teacher, techie, actor, vice president of marketing, all make sense— “ordained Methodist minister” falls out differently, sort of like an exotic curio.
This tracks along the cultural evolution with greater numbers of people eschewing religious identification, again especially in New York City. If someone finds religion irrelevant to her life, well, then it stands to reason a professional religionist has given himself over to an irrelevant occupation. Sometimes I sense this judgment informing a questioner’s point of view.
But then, everyone who identifies as Christian shares a similar burden. From what I’ve heard from parishioners, Christian New Yorkers are not inclined to readily self-identify in most environments, say, in one’s workplace, for instance—although over time this might leak out.
How about dating sites? I’ve had a lot of chats about that in recent years, the pros and cons of Christian self-disclosure, and more often than not the cons, due to stereotyped perceptions. Many want to let that out a bit later on when forming a new relationship.
On that front, I don’t have any useful advice (just gratitude I’ve graduated from the necessity of using OKCupid). But this does cause me to reflect on what’s at stake in our willingness to self-identify.
A pithy bit of wisdom attributed to St. Francis goes like this: “Preach the gospel: if necessary use words.” The content of our lives takes precedence over everything else. We demonstrate what we value by the wake we leave behind as we make our way forward in life’s currents, rather than whatever we blather on about in the meantime. As C.S. Lewis put it, “What you do screams so loud I can’t hear what you say”—a crucially relevant bit of wisdom for parents, not to exclude all the rest of us.
But as I said last week, words matter quite a lot. How we align our words with our faith seems especially important today. We need to get braver about this, willing to take a risk or two. Let’s not have the fundamentalists on the right or left define what it means to be Christian, giving up on our language of faith for fear of being misunderstood. The quality of our love-in-action is our proof of what we mean. We should be able to confidently say this.