I am a C!
Of all the old school Christian camp songs I’ve taught my Unitarian Universalist boyfriend, his favorite is “I am a C!” The song starts slow and gets progressively faster as you spell:
I am a C, I am a Ch-
I am a C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n!
And I have C-h-r-i-s-t in my h-e-a-r-t,
and I will l-i-v-e e-t-e-r-n-a-l-l-y!
(Personally, my favorite camp song from my childhood is “If I had a little white box to put my Jesus in…” Any takers out there on that one?)
Tom often requests that I sing “I am a C,” and delights in my rendition. But there’s a deep and complicated significance to the idea of claiming the label “Christian,” one that I have felt often in my religious life.
As I’ve moved through different religious contexts — from growing up Lutheran, to attending a Jesuit college, to bouncing around every Protestant denomination, to living and learning at an inter-faith seminary in Berkeley — I’ve found that claiming my own Christianity has gotten more challenging.
There have been times when I’ve claimed it sincerely — when meeting kindred spirits in the religious world, or opening up to closer friends, or experiencing powerful worship.
There have been times when I’ve claimed it shamefully — when facing hostile atheists or non-Christians, or grappling with corruption or neglect within the church, or navigating my own spiritual deserts.
There have been times when I’ve claimed it vehemently — when feeling threatened, outnumbered, or misunderstood, when feeling insecure about my own religious identity.
And how I claim my own faith says so much more about me than it says about my audience, doesn’t it? That’s a truth I have to wrestle with.
Living as an Inter-faith Couple
Since I got together with my boyfriend (who is studying to be a Unitarian Universalist minister) a few years ago, I’ve had to face a whole new context of claiming my Christianity: as part of an inter-faith couple.
Often, this role requires that I advocate for a tradition that isn’t my own, since it’s my friends who are unfamiliar with UUism and have unanswered questions. It has also required me to become more comfortable with labeling myself.
In discussion groups or after worship, I have found myself in conversation with folks in the UU community when they ask about my religious tradition.
And it always comes out: “I’m a Christian.” Just as simple as that.
I don’t talk about the diversity of meaning behind the word Christian. I don’t talk about my own complicated journey from one denominational tradition to another. I don’t talk about my academic degrees in religion or my personal beliefs that fall outside traditional Christianity.
I just say it, and hold it as a part of me.
And it has become a new way of claiming my religious identity: openly. No shame, no vehemence. Just an honest statement of the tradition and scripture I love, a label that is only a piece of my complex, life-long faith journey.
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How do you identify yourself spiritually? How do you wrestle with claiming your faith tradition? What does the way you answer these questions reveal about your faith journey?