My faith defines who I am and how I see and interact with the world. Yet, most people I meet are surprised to learn that I, a Christian, don’t line up with the evangelical right on matters of theology—the stereotypical American believer. I don’t accept, as they do, the Bible as a defacto, clearcut instruction manual without error. I read God’s word like poetry and understand that books like, for example, Genesis are allegory—beautiful, replete with enriching wisdom, but not to be taken literally. So, am I an outlier? No, there are millions like me, who appreciate science, who believe in evolution (God-guided), who believe the nature of how mankind has considered and understood God has changed throughout time, and who delight in His grace and redemption.
However, I am weary of people lumping myself in with the young-earth-creationists and intelligent design theorists types. When I meet new people, especially those I want to make a good impression with, I tend to conceal my faith. I don’t know about you, but I sort of wish I had, jokingly, a business card with a QR code for people to scan, linking them to an online page explaining all the nuances of my personality. Basically, it would say, “look I’m not like those crazy other people and here is why.” I get tired of answering the questions, people are apt to ask, as they explore whether or not I am going to be a problem to them. They are weary of judgement. This is particularly true in the artistic and academic communities—places I hang my hat.
Recently, I joined a writer’s group. Everyone shares what they are writing and offer snips of advice. I was so nervous to attend, and my head was filled with all the worries one can expect when one opens their heart to complete strangers. I wrestled with what I should bring, I thought of reading a current project, or a previous—finished—one; I chose the latter. The problem? It was a Christian piece and, by far, my best writing. If I read this one, these strangers, these artists, might worry if they could be open with their own work around me. People can be rightly skeptical of how judgmental Christians can be. I, of course, am not like those believers. But they didn’t know that.
When the day came, and it was my turn to read the story, I did what I always do: I started with a disclaimer. I sat there, my eyes darting back-and-forth between the others, my bottom lip quivered, and my speech turned to blubber. I managed to say, somewhat cohesively, something like, “You don’t know me, but you will think, after I am finished, that I am reading a Christian story. It is, however, religious themed, but not specifically Christian.” I had practiced that last line on the drive over a dozen times. I did not want to make anyone uncomfortable, and so I stretched the truth to get them to like me. When I was done, my heart bleated in the open, and I counted the microseconds before, I feared, their disapproval would come slashing. However, I was shocked.
They loved my story, they complimented my sentences’ rhythm and its arc, but, more importantly, they loved my story’s theme and idea. I was filled with light, and, then I remembered, I screwed up: I projected my fear onto them. I should not have disclaimed that my work was something different than it was because I feared they would mistake me for some stereotype. To share what one is writing is to share something equivalent to sex. Writing is your intellect naked. I have never been so happy to have worried over nothing.
Perhaps, it is a sign of our times that I would worry that people would not like me if they found out how religious I am. It is easy, for us Episcopalians, to get lumped together with the more vocal, more represented, more controversial and larger evangelical community. Of course, I pass no judgement on them. I have in the past been one myself. We truly believe the same core doctrines, but we have different approaches to reasoning out what Jesus teaches. Sometimes, I refer to myself at school as a Two Great Commandments Christian—see Matthew 22:36-40. I attend a Christian university, and, well, everyone gets my reference. They joke, “ah, you’re a democrat then, lol.” The weight of attaching political ideology to one’s religious perspective is one way, I believe, the American church has gotten it wrong, but that is a discussion for a different time and on a different kind of blog. My point is this: I found this group of artists, painters of words, did not hold any animosity toward the religious, and that I was projecting onto them what I thought they wanted to hear. It turned out a few of them are pretty serious about their faith, too. I should learn to just be myself and let the cards fall where they may—one day, maybe I will be like that, but probably not. The hilarious part of all this is that all of it was in my head; to them, I was just a new guy reading a story. That is it. I think too much.
The next week I shared a darker piece, another, in my opinion, well written piece, but one full of grotesque language, horrific scenes, and themes of rape and abuse. Which brings me to another concern: Have I really, truly, decided if I am a Christian author or not?
I want to say yes. I want to yell from the mountaintops, “I write for God;” I want stand loud and proud. I want to tug the hearts of the faithful, and share God’s truth with the curious. I want to entertain and nourish, teach and entreat my readers. Except, can I be a religious author and tell the truth? As an artist, the most important thing to write is the truth. That truth, for me, is that life isn’t sanitized; in fact, life is often a horror story; if you live long enough, you begin to see this complexity and all its colors—philosophically, the one truth about life is: it is not black and white.
This question, right now, sings by the hour in my head: Can I write as a Christian and not hold back? Am I allowed the freedom to share life as it is—full of sex, lies, triumphs, excuses, noble ambitions, petty revenges, destructions, hypocrisies, coveting, etcetera? If I was to write a Christian novel, I would have to write, like all writers do, a human canvas navigating and experiencing life as it is lived; I would have to write the truth. Think Victor Hugo and Les Miserable! At least, this is what I want to do.
Thank you for reading this piece. I would love to hear your thoughts. In fact, it would be a comfort for me talk these things out with you. Please share your thoughts, and share this post with others. It is no easy thing to be so honest, so naked online, but I do it because I believe writing the truth is the highest virtue in the art of writing. Help me grow my blog by sharing my posts with others and subscribing. God bless.—W. Alexander