Coming out as Christian in public.

This may sound strange, but I’ve noticed that I get emotional when I feel free to talk about God with people. And I mean with, not at. I mean I get a little weepy when I’m around people who are on the same page with me when it comes to how awesome God is.

I wonder if this is the same as coming out. I feel more like myself when I’m around other people who “get” God. I feel like I’ve had to hide who I am for a long time.

Now, this may sound strange because I live not only in America, but in the South. Christians are in the majority here. The South is sometimes jokingly referred to as “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Yet there is a stigma. So many Christians don’t want to be associated with “those” people who say they are Christian but they act anything but. You know who I mean. Those people who hold up “God hates…” signs and burn the Koran. Those people who take pride in their cultural ignorance and in telling people who aren’t exactly like them that they are going to hell.

Out of self defense a lot of actual Christians are really subtle about their faith.

In a way it is like a Mason finding another Mason. The signs are there if you know what to look for. When they do find each other they connect and communicate on a different level.

I never want to make other people uncomfortable, especially when talking about God. This is why the blog helps. Don’t like it, don’t read it. It isn’t pushy like an in-person encounter would be. I’m comforted by the number of friends who are atheists or agnostic or pagan who read my blog. I’m unabashedly Christian, but they still like to read what I have to say.

In public it is different. I often wear a cross, because I want to let people know it is safe to talk about God with me. It is like speaking another language. Somehow we shift how we talk when we realize that each other is on the same wavelength.

I’ve learned other languages and about other cultures. I try to figure out where other people are coming from so I know how to communicate with them. When I was working at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the most common non-English language was German. I could talk in German for quite a while. This is true about other cultures as well. Wherever you are from – culturally, religiously, socially, I’ve probably read something about your story. I think it is part of being a good neighbor and a global citizen.

It is something I like to be able to do – I want to make other people feel comfortable. I like being able to adjust how I talk so that we can communicate. I get to where they are, rather than expecting them to get where I am. But it takes a lot of work. After a while it is very tiring. It is far easier and more relaxing when I don’t have to do this.

It is kind of like how I feel when I go to a science fiction convention. I feel I’m finally around people who are like me. We can talk about the things we love and not feel like we are weirdos because of it.

I’m still angry that I didn’t find that kind of feeling and camaraderie at my old church. I’m still angry that my priest actually told me to stop talking about God talking to me. I’m starting to feel that she did me a favor because otherwise my spiritual growth would have remained stunted. I was starting to resemble a bonsai, with tiny roots and a stunted, artificial shape. God wants us to have deep roots, so we are strong. God wants us to grow to our full potential so that God is glorified. Some ministers feel threatened by their congregants getting strong and growing in their faith, but that is just a sign of their own shaky ground.

I’ve currently been piecing together my own version of a faith community. I have a friend who hosts a circle gathering quarterly where about a dozen people share their hearts. We listen together. Many people in this gathering are former members of an alternative church. They went there because they’d been ostracized from “normal” church. Even that wasn’t what they needed. I understand this feeling. I also go to a spiritual director monthly. I’ve learned more about how to drive this “bus of faith” from her than I ever have from any minister. I have another friend who is a spiritual director and she hosted the retreat I recently went on.

All of these experiences are healing to me. It is so refreshing to be around other people who are comfortable talking about how much they love God and what God is saying to them.

But then these are expected circumstances. I expect to find people who are comfortable talking about God at a circle gathering or a retreat. It is when I find like-minded souls out in “the real world” that I get emotional.

I needed to find a chiropractor recently. My coworker had recommended hers months ago but I’d forgotten his name. Rather than call her, I pulled up the doctor directory for my insurance and prayed. I asked God to show me who to pick. One name shone out. I called. They were taking new patients. I could see him in an hour. His office was nearby, and in fact close to another doctor I go to. I felt a lot better that I didn’t have to find a new place. That eased my anxiety. This is a new thing for me to pray before something as mundane as picking out a doctor. So these positive signs helped confirm that I’d heard correctly.

Then there was a sign on his office building with a quote from Paul – “All things work together for good…” – this helped. It was something I needed to see. I’m having a hard time trusting this whole experience as being part of God’s plan because it hurts and it is expensive. So that helped. He had numerous signs that I could “read” as being Christian, but they weren’t obnoxiously so. Hopefully you know what I mean.

I felt comforted, and affirmed. I felt like I’d heard God’s call correctly. I felt at home, which is a good thing to feel when you are in pain and in an unfamiliar environment. And I felt like I could relax and be myself. That alone was healing.

It is exhausting having to hide who I am. I’m grateful to be able to blog about what being a Jesus-follower means to me. I’m grateful to find people who are fellow pilgrims on this journey – it is like finding an oasis. I look forward to finding a new faith community, so I can drink of this living water more often.