“Are you a Christian?”

I was at a faith-based university and had talked for 50 minutes on our global and local connection with people around the world who make many of the things that we take for granted. I talked about global poverty and introduced the audience to Arifa in Bangladesh who earned $24 per month. I showed pictures of a dump in Cambodia where barefoot kids pick through trash for 25-cents per day. I shared the story of my friend Amilcar, who risked his life for his family traveling from Honduras to the United States riding on top of trains and outrunning bandits who wanted to hold him for ransom.

And “Are you a Christian?” is the first question the audience asked. It just kind of hung there.  This was fairly early on in my years of speaking about these stories and it was the first time I had been asked the question, but it wouldn’t be the last.

I think I said something about being raised Catholic and then proceeded to give a very humanistic answer. But on the inside I was screaming, “Does it matter?!”

Every story I share I do my best to put my heart into. The stories and the kindness of those who entrusted me with their stories still motivates and moves me even if I’ve shared their stories hundreds of times. So I had just put my heart out there and then the question came as if my answer could devalue everything I had just shared.

Maybe I read too much into the question. Maybe it was a “just curious” question and nothing more. But it felt an awful lot like an “are you on my team?” question.  I felt like my answer lost some of the students. Like they were all about my work and stories until I stepped around the question.

The professor responsible for inviting me continued to use WEARING in his class and he would get the question about my faith too. Here’s what he wrote me:

I always get asked by students whether I know anything about your faith. I point them to your blog entry where you discuss that. In my mind, I see you as being more like Jesus than many who call themselves Christians. I try to challenge my students to think about what the gospel message really is. It is all about loving God and loving neighbors — loving God by loving neighbors. And the fact that you are out there loving and serving ‘the least of these’, promoting justice among people everywhere, that’s what I hope for from them. From myself, too.

That’s a pretty humbling comment from a man I greatly respect. It’s also one that I’m a little embarrassed to share.  “This guy said I’m like Jesus!” #humblebrag!!” But I feel like it gets to the heart of what I want to get at with a response of “Does it matter?”

We’ve since discussed this question at greater length and settled on that maybe the best response is, “What do you think?”

Am I a Christian?

Recently Annie and the kids and I have been attending Commonway Church where my friend Matt is the pastor. Matt asked me to talk at church about listening. The point being that before loving your neighbor you have to know their name and listen to them. Two weeks ago, I gave my talk. Or should I say it was a sermon?

I didn’t talk about Jesus or the Bible, I just did what I always do and talked about the people I listened to and how they’ve made me want to be a better person.  After my talk Matt connected it to the Bible.

I gave a sermon in a church (listen to it ), yet I’m no more or less a Christian than I was when I was first asked the question.

Am I a Christian?

That’s still a question that I find very complicated to answer.

What do you think?

 
24 comments
Jaime says:

Kelsey,
I really appreciate this post. I believe we put labels on things like “Christians” or ask questions like “Are you a Christian” because we don’t have words or a vocabulary to accurately express what we hear/think/feel.

I appreciate the response from the professor because that’s exactly how I believe God intended Christians to be – like Christ. The message of the Bible in bits and pieces shows legalistic views, spiritual realms hard to comprehend and parables that sometimes don’t make a lot of sense out of context of the culture at the time. But the Bible in its entirety, highlighted by the life Jesus lived displays grace, mercy, restoration, humanity, value, LOVE.

That’s what I love about the response from the professor. You see people, not in just a visual sense, but you SEE people. You listen to them. You earn the right to share their story and you love them. That IS what Jesus did. Your gifts, I believe, are from God and are ones that bring humanity and life to those you encounter. That is bringing the Gospel to life.

Glad to know you and glad to be getting to know you more. I appreciate you sharing.

Kelsey says:

Jaime,

Thanks for the kind words.

You inspire me to be a better local and neighbor. I’m still convinced that you have cloned yourself so you could make a bigger, ever present impact in the Muncie community.

Becki says:

People make a lot of assumptions about religion. As a reference librarian at a public library, I believe that I have a responsibility to not let any part of my personal religious beliefs show up in how I help library patrons. As a result, many people assume I believe exactly what they do because I listen well. One older man was convinced I was a daily-church-confessing-rosary-praying Catholic like him (I was raised in a Quaker family, so it’s hard to be more unlike his assumptions). Another woman once told me, after watching me work with people all day, “You’d make a great Christian.” I took it as the compliment she intended, although it bothered me a bit. I just try to be the best reference librarian I can be. :)

Kelsey says:

Becki, That’s a great story. I’m always amazed how many people assume that we believe exactly like they do. Being a great librarian is a pretty high calling in my mind!

Thanks for sharing this, Kelsey. A person’s work and worldview are influenced by so many things, including faith. But categorizing the individual creates barriers to the impact that work can have on the world. I have a son in the music industry and he is often asked that question because of his “clean” act, though he looks like and performs like a “rocker”. We, Christian or not, are humanity and hopefully we’re positively impacting our world. The work you’ve done and are doing to create awareness is valuable, no matter how you categorize yourself.

Kelsey says:

Ingrid, I think it’s important to not let the categories that other folks lump us into convince us that we belong there. Love that your son is challenging those around him.

Kim Zehnder says:

You know this question – are you a christian, can bring a lot of angst. I was baptized at approximately 10 years old. I attended church with my neighbors and was baptized in their church. My parents did not attend church – yet they modeled for me the virtues of christianity at a level I have rarely seen paralleled since. Soon after my baptism, someone asked me if my parents were saved? (baptized) I said no (my parents told me it was my choice to go to church and be baptized, and it was their choice not to attend church) The person who asked me the question then proceeded to tell me that my parents were not going to heaven. I may have renounced my baptism on the spot, because I replied – well I’ll just go where there going!

Terri says:

​Wow, what a great question. The responses are really thought provoking. I​ too agree with the professor​.​ ​You are following the model that Jesus left for us​.​

I think faith is ​really very simple. Believe in Christ and pattern your life after Him.​

“Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.” ​(1 John 2:6).​ This scripture ​pretty much sums ​up the Christian life​.

Christ was all about relationships with all kinds of people from all walks of life, all levels.​You model this daily, building relationships with those who are easy to love and those who seem unlovable. I believe that those who know you, see this in you.

Kelsey says:

Terri, your post got caught in the SPAM by the SPAM Gods. Are you not a SPAM God worshipper? Kidding. Thank you for the kind words and thoughts.

Kelsey says:

Kim, Religion shouldn’t be used as a pedestal to look down on folks. I guess the only consolation is that the people who told you that were really concerned for your parents (maybe). So there’s that. But in general . . . ick. Kudos to you for not punching them in the face. You didn’t, did you?

I’m with you. Why does it matter? And if it does, shouldn’t a person’s actions provide the proof someone “needs”?

As someone who writes about faith, I’ve discovered that it’s the first question I’m asked in every interview. “So, Kelly, tell us about your faith…” “Tell us how you came to Christ,” etc. At first it bothered me. And somehow surprised me. But then, when I’m not feeling cynical, I think it’s just a way of someone anchoring what I’m about to say. Just like if we describe someone as white or black, how that changes our perceptions of what that person might look like (not in a bigoted way, just an observational one). People seem to want to know what my church background is so they can put what I’m about to say in context. I can’t say I completely agree. I get nervous when questions are asked in a way that leads to judgment. But I have to say that sometimes, at least, the spirit of the question is not to judge or even to use it as a way to disregard what comes next. Although, sadly, I think that is often the intent.

I read your Relevant article years ago but had forgotten how absolutely beautiful it is. In answer to your question, I’ll say this: in the original language, the word “love” was an action verb, not an emotion. (Or so I’ve been taught.) You live out—in ways most people could only someday hope to attain—your love and compassion for people all the time. It shows in the way you interact, in the things you care about. Whether or not you call yourself a Christian doesn’t matter to me. I agree with the professor. You are more like Christ than most (#humblebrag or not!), and I’m proud to call you a friend. I love the way you represent your faith (and/or doubts and hesitations)—you’re real, not pretentious, and your insights mean so much more because of it.

Kelsey says:

Thanks, Kelly. I have to admit when I pressed publish on this piece I was a bit nervous that some of my faithier (I just made that up) friends might struggle with it. When I read your comment I breathed a sigh of relief!

I have a fairly complicated answer to that question as well. I believe in God and I believe that for me personally, the metaphor that makes the most sense to me is the story of Jesus. But I also don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and think Paul was a mad man.

I also consider myself a Zen Buddhist.

Basically I’m a heretic of every church. I will go to church of various denominations every few months on a whim. But I connect to no denomination and believe it to be too personal and esoteric to ever convey in a doctrine.

I suppose in reality I am a universalist whom happens to lean towards early Christian beliefs, before the catholics monopolized and canonized a so called Bible.

Thanks for posting about such a personal subject.

Kelsey says:

The many layers of Chris. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and see your take on the world. Sometimes I think I’m more of a “cultural christian,” but I worry that the terms is probably offensive to some. Oh well! Complex stuff!

Jane Haynes says:

I’d like to see the word “Christian” become a verb rather than a noun. At times, it is a good adjective. But, as a noun, it causes these identity issues – puts up fences rather than opening the heart and mind. So, when you are doing your work, you are Christianing, because, as Christ did, you are caring about people and affirming the value of all of us. When you are doing this, you are performing a Christian act. When I am critical and stingy, I am not Christianing. But when I rise above my weaker self and show kindness and generosity, I am committing Christian acts. Changing the part of speech could force us to a more complex view of what it means, not to be Christian, but to be Christ-like, at least to the extent we are able on occasion. Boom.

Kelsey says:

Jane! I love the concept of your verbage and of how you ended your comment! Boom!

ANA CRSTINA ROSERO says:

Love and do whatever you want (Saint Agustín). It contains all what a person need to know. if you do it you’re free and happy, but when we’ar selfish or we just have lived by ourselves money, youth or prestige never are going makes us feel complete. so, a good question could be… WHERE ARE YOU LOVING!

Kelsey says:

I loved my time in Colombia! Happy to get to know your community. Keep making Saint Augustine proud!

Rhonda Palmer says:

As a Baha’i I try hard to connect on any level with my fellow believers in Christ in a way that doesn’t bring out either the pitchforks OR that “click” in the eye that says any meaningful conversation is over. As a person of faith who believes intensely that service to humanity is the highest form of worship I know that your many many many (many) acts of true service are what we all get up in the morning for. So, yes you’re a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Baha’i (etc). Tell ’em I said so.
Grandma Rhonda

Kelsey says:

First, you act too young to be called Grandma Rhonda. Second, thanks! That’s a great compliment. I’ve spent a lot of time in Buddhist and Muslim communities and I’ve enjoyed being with them and learning from them all.

Angela Myers says:

I’m a bit of a heretic, myself. I believe very deeply and have as long as I can remember, but my beliefs aren’t exactly those of my friends in Sunday school. I don’t even pretend to understand how God’s mind works, much less why. The Bible tells us we can’t no matter how hard we try anyway. When people ask me if I’m a Christian, I reply, “Are you?”

Katherine (Kathy) Kennedy says:

WOW! I think you’ve missed the joy of affiliation. How would you reply if someone asked you “Are you a Timmerman?” If you are, no matter your ability to be the best or worst Timmerman ever born, you would, without hesitation say simply, “Yes.” If they asked, “Are you a Jones?”, you would most likely not analyze, but respond, “No.” Next question. All other responses seem so self-conscious that truth and transparency become occluded.

Kelsey says:

Kathy, I think the difficulty is that many different people have many different ideas of what it means to be a Christian. Also, consider the context of when the question was asked. If someone had asked me if I was a Timmerman or a Hoosier or a Colts fan or whatever, I think such a question would have been every bit as out of place as, “Are you a Christian?”

Cassie Kinney says:

You’re right, Kelsey. If it’s truth, it’s truth! Perhaps as a Christian my question should be, “What does God think about this?” no matter the messenger.

In defense of this college student, I know I say so many things before thinking. While I want to care about what God cares about, I admit that I fail at this EVERY day. I do care about injustices and want to stick up for those who need someone to stick up for them, yet I am certainly too selfish to do this as perfectly as Jesus Christ did and does. I am merely a person who is changed in order to care more and more for others and less and less about myself.

Kelsey, thank you for speaking about these injustices! Please don’t stop! True follower’s of Jesus Christ will begin to care about these injustices. The first ecposure is not always the last needed. :)

Let your voice be heard!