Overtly Christian — Part 1

November 9, 2011 — 4 Comments

For two and a half months, my “uniforms” (black clerical shirts with accompanying white, plastic, wrap-around, detachable collars) hung in a closet at home. From July 15 through September 30, I wore all manner of shirts, but nothing that would outwardly identify me as a clergy-type. And a funny thing happened. The longer I walked around incognito, the more I wondered how much I had come to depend on the uniform to identify me — not as a clergy person, but as a Christian.

What does it mean to be “overtly” Christian? Is it the accumulation of approved Christian trinkets — bumper stickers, wall plaques, art work or a plethora of crosses? Is it the repetition of recognized Christian phrases and buzzwords? Is it the ability to quote Scripture (citing “chapter and verse”) fluently and frequently?

At this point in the discussion, a good many of my mainline Christian friends will offer their favorite saint’s wisdom on this matter. Thank goodness (at least for Episcopalians!), Francis of Assisi is purported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.”! Thanks be to God, indeed! We’re off the hook! We don’t have to actually say any words that are uncomfortable to us, or make anyone uncomfortable around us! Now that all we have to do is “behave/serve/minister like Jesus”, and we needn’t ever mention his name!

Really? That’s it? I’m not so sure.

What about you, dear reader?

4 responses to Overtly Christian — Part 1

    Jan Kwiatkowski November 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    My experience with the neighboring congregation allowed me the opportunity to reflect quite a bit about this. My collar and black shirt were considered papish frappery, while for me they were outward symbols of who I was as minister among them. It was also very difficult not wearing the liturgical vestments I was used to wearing, but black and for some the black graduation garment.

    I (re) learned several things about myself, my ministry and what the word “Christian” means.
    Pardon the bullet points, but this is the easiest way to organize my thoughts.
    It’s all about building relationships
    The Peace Prayer of St. Francis is the Cliff notes for living the Gospel
    Outward appearance means nothing if not matched by a life of internal silence and
    dialogue with our God
    Even more important than calling myself or anyone else Christian, Jewish, Muslim
    or anything else is the deep realization that no matter what, NOTHING can change
    the reality that I am (we all are) a much loved Child of God.
    Perhaps the world would be a different place if we started there (see point directly above)
    No matter what I wear I couldn’t escape the fact that I am a women, priest, L.M.F.T, wife
    mom, grandma and many other persona’s even if I wanted too.
    God doesn’t care about the colors, the fabric of the bling
    It’s all about being an authentic child of God, a spiritual being on a human journey and
    whatever we are wearing, we are forever connected to each other and to our Creator.


      I agree whole-heartedly with what you’re saying…and believe me, I’m not simply talking about haberdashery…I simply keep wondering if (even with all the “good” actions people of faith take), if every now and then we need to give just a bit of voice to the motivation and/or belief system behind those actions. Something like, “We’re here in this soup kitchen serving meals not simply because we’re kind, compassionate people who care about our fellow human beings. We’re here because Jesus cares about everyone too, and because we’re his followers, we are walking in the steps of the One who said, ‘If you’ve fed the hungry then you’ve fed me’ (a la Matthew 25). So we’re here in the place Jesus would be and we’re looking for him in the faces of everyone around us.” Just a few words to explicate the Gospel we are attempting to preach by our actions might not be such a bad thing.


    You know that my faith journey has been something of a long, winding and bumpy road, the experience of which I’ve only really come to appreciate in the last few years for what it is: incredibly enriching and perhaps the only way available to me to develop a closer relationship with God. I’m not big on symbols – the bumperstickers on my car are generally political in nature, and I rarely wear a cross – but I’ve found that they tend to close more doors to conversation than open them, and maybe that’s why.

    There are a lot of Christians who seem to be very good at “talking the talk” without “walking the walk.” I think within our specific faith traditions, sometimes there is too much focus on the latter, and a rather large amount of discomfort with the former. For me the struggle has always been about finding the balance. Ask me to give of my time and talents? Absolutely. Ask me to talk about my faith in a public venue, with believers and non in the midst? Uh, which way to the door.

    In the not-too-far-off past, I would have been exceedingly uncomfortable in engaging those around me in a conversation about my faith outside the safety of the church. But as I’ve grown, and prayed, and learned more about what it is I believe and who I am as a follower of Christ, I’ve found myself increasingly dissatisfied by compartmentalizing my life. It’s central to who I am, and therefore I am called to do more than just volunteer at church, to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty by volunteering anonymously at a soup kitchen or shelter. Those things are all important, don’t get me wrong, but there’s been this niggling little voice in the back of my head that has chided me about sharing the gifts I’ve been given in a way that more obiously gives credit to the provider, as it were.

    I’m not going to lie, part of it is no doubt a perverse pleasure in the surprised expression of friends who find it hard to believe that their dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, bleeding heart, marches for all sorts of causes friend can quote verses of the Bible with the frequency with which she quotes punk anthems. That’s kind of fun, to be honest, and sparks some really interesting conversations about what it means to be Christian, and how big the flock really is.

    I think moreso, though, was the realization that my frustration with what so many perceive as the face of Christianity – a right-wing ideology that preaches fear and hate without context, thanks to a great PR plan and ample opportunities to be in front of the camera. This is not the Jesus I know. A lot of people seem to think being Christian is only screaming JESUS JESUS JESUS at the top of their lungs without any examination, ‘faith’ without works. This is not the God whose touch I have felt in my life on several significant occasions, in prayers answered, and maybe more especially in those that went unanswered. Because I’m surely as great a sinner as those that are so often condemned by these voices, and if I don’t raise mine to testify, than I am doing my faith, and the Trinity, no favors. But if I’m only testifying, then I’m not living out my faith,either.

    It’s a scary thing, terrifying even, but part of the beauty of our faith is that it encompasses the full range of emotions, that it asks us to give ALL. So I talk about God, at home, at work, out in the community, with friends and with strangers about what I have been taught, the hope and healing found in Christ’s love for all of us. More often than not, even with those who are inclined to disagree with me, I walk away from those conversations more full than I was beforehand. You don’t have to prosletyze. It’s just being honest about who you are. About holding up my end of the baptismal covenant. And when you do your best – because that’s all we can do, really – to try and live your life in a way that matches what comes from your mouth, then, well. At least in my case it keeps that niggling little voice in my head quiet, for the moment anyway.


    In our study of Luke on Tuesday, the subject of a persons fruits coming from what is their heart came up. The question posed – can you tell the heart of the person by their actions? My answer was that you could not tell someone’s heart by a single action – but by a life lived in context. We are unable to judge someone else’s motives because we do not inhabit their space.

    To me then, St. Francis’ quote is about living out of your heart. Each one of us should strive to be what we are called to be in the Bible, and it should show. However, ‘walking the talk’ or ‘being overtly Christian’ is not evangelism, and does not fullfill the Great Commission.

    I have met with a group of men every Thursday morning for the past two years. We discuss the questions that loosely correspond to the Group Reunion questions from Cursillo. How is your prayer life? How is you study? How is your evangelism? We stumble greatly on that last question beyond claiming “St. Francis’.

    The new question I am dealing with because of you (and I thank you for it) is: If I am preaching the Gospel with my actions, and the Gospel said to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”, is living an example without talking to anyone about Jesus really enough?

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