Sitting on a black leather covered banquette in a funky basement performance space in the East Village last night while a group of passionate and talented writers read smart, often hilarious, stories about their bumbling, stumbling and wrangling toward faith, the seemingly simple but always loaded question, “What kind of Christian are you?” left me searching for words. “What kind of Christian?” I returned the question with a question, instinctually buying time before attempting to muscle my way toward an answer.
I was at the release party for a compilation of personal essays called Believer, Beware: First Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith.
The anthology, “a collection of true confession, skeptical testimonies and personal revelations of religion lost, found and then lost again,” is the second anthology to emerge from Killing the Buddha, an online literary magazine for people “made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the spirituality section of the bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God.” The site is worth a visit if you love good writing and want to be challenged – no matter what you believe.
“I’m a Christian,” I repeated over the noise of the bar, hoping he just hadn’t heard me the first time. “I know, but what kind?” he asked, betraying a hint of friendly frustration and outing himself as a person schooled in the reality of the distinctions that exist within the Body of Christ. I could not sure where he was coming from but, having fielded this query from all matter of believers, non-believers, conservatives, progressives and everything in between, experience said that this particular question is rarely posed by people who don’t have strong feelings about how Christianity should or should not be done.
“Well,” I started, surely looking as uncomfortable as I felt, my eyes rolling upward as if an articulate way of saying “I have no idea” might be written on the ceiling.
I went on to briefly discuss how I’d grown up without faith and, after years of atheism, had come to faith in my late 30s – thrust into it by way of a radical conversion and naive to the fact that that there were more kinds of Christians than there are flavors of ice cream. I told him that I sometimes feel like the Goldilocks of Christianity – confident that I’d found a home in this faith, but still walking from room to room among churches, denominations, styles, doctrines and political and theological factions tasting porridge, sleeping in lumpy beds, and sitting in too-big chairs wondering why it is that I am expected to find a “tribe” within the Christian “TRIBE.” He smiled, told me a little about an upcoming book project, and offered to send me a readers copy of his new book for a possible review. He also said he’d be happy to take a look at mine.
About an hour later, an author friend/mentor and I were walking to the train and talking about endorsements. She dropped a name of a New York Times bestselling author who might be hard to get to, but is “exactly the kind of person I needed to endorse my book.”
“Are you kidding me?” I chirped. “That’s the guy I was just talking to! He said he’d have his publisher send me a copy of his upcoming book and that he’d read mine!”
Now I am not sure if this will actually happen. Lots of promised connections never actually get made. But, to me, the outcome is not the main event. When I think about my faith and what kind of Christian I am becoming, I find these moments – moments I think of as Holy Spirit serendipity – compelling. They propel me forward as I attempt to learn more about what it means to be Christian, to follow the teachings and example of Jesus and to become, one day at a time, the woman I am meant to be.
So, what kind of Christian am I? Only time will tell.