Two semesters ago, I sat on a shaded bench on campus and had one of the most intriguing conversations I've had in a long time.
I was being interviewed by a classmate as part of an assignment to practice writing profile stories.
The questions started out with generalities —
mostly about school, my major and my future aspirations.
As the questions progressed, I began expressing my love for singing and playing piano.
Then I decided to say it. The revelation that always prompts strange looks and a barrage of questions.
I told him that one of my true passions is utilizing my music in church.
He was quiet as I tried to discern his thoughts.
I knew that his perspective of me had immediately changed, as it usually does when I mention the “church” word to people.
“You’re religious?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered, a little offended that he seemed so shocked.
He was silent a moment longer and then said, “I’m just surprised because you’re not crazy and you don’t go around hating on people all the time.”
“That’s the stereotype of Christians?” I asked, bewildered.
I guess I shouldn't have been so stunned.
Christians are often portrayed as being a little off-kilter.
In TV shows, they’re the ones taking the law into their own hands, committing horrific “faith-based” murders, bombing abortion clinics or screaming
homophobic slurs and condemning sinners to hell in protests.
I would argue that people who really do engage in those kinds of activities should reconsider calling themselves followers of Jesus Christ.
After all, Jesus had no problem associating with dishonest tax collectors and prostitutes. He even washed the feet of sinners.
As I tried to explain to my classmate, being a Christian is about showing love, not spite.
I told him that because of my religious beliefs, there are indeed certain things I don’t advocate, such as abortion, the LGBT culture or sexual promiscuity.
Even so, I would never hail down hatred or judgment on someone because they think or act differently than me, just as I would expect the same respect for my beliefs.
All people have the right to make choices. God carries the role of judge, not me. The only thing I can do is show love to people and live by what I know to be true.
What really struck me during our conversation, however, was that because I was not raining down fire and brimstone and shoving my beliefs down people’s throats, my classmate assumed I wasn't religious.
How incredibly sad it is that people have come to associate Christians with hatred. It truly breaks my heart.
I made a vow that day to work not just to change that stereotype, but to be more open about what faith means from the very beginning.
Christianity is not about standing behind a religious label. It’s about having a personal relationship with God.
In Him, I find my true identity and define the way I live.
That doesn't mean I’m going to walk around singing “hallelujah” all day and telling everyone they’re going to hell unless they change their ways.
But it does mean that people need to see Jesus in me. As the ancient saying suggests, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
I am willing to admit that there are numerous flaws and failures embedded in me that could make it difficult for people to identify me as a Christian at times.
Obviously I am ashamed of those things, but I am not in denial.
For such shortcomings, Christians are often called “hypocrites.”
I do not, however, claim to be anywhere near perfect or better than anyone else.
In fact, it’s just the opposite
— I've turned to Jesus because I fully recognize my desperate need to be saved.
This classmate who had spoken to me only a handful of times prior to our interview knew I
strove to be a good person, but I don’t think that’s enough.
He needed to know why.
My personal belief can be summed up as this: I believe that if God could sacrifice his perfect Son in place of me, a worthless sinner, and raise Him to life to guarantee my eternal salvation, I should certainly strive to live for Him in every way that I can.
Who wouldn't express limitless gratitude for a free life-changing gift?
My point is that Christians, myself included, need to find their balance.
We are not called to fill the role of God or promote hatred and condemnation through obnoxious outbursts, but we are not called to be unrecognized either.
I decided that day that I will not deny who I am — but work harder to let my true identity be seen.
I want to share the joy I have through God's love to everyone I come in contact with
— to freely offer it, not force it.
While my classmate and I were a bit surprised that our interview turned purely conversational, I think we were both enlightened that day.
He realized that there is a different definition of what it means to be a Christian
— one that he actually liked and respected — and I realized that more people need to see that, too.