There was a moment, an opportunity, to proclaim and affirm my faith. And I froze.
Over a drink with a few friends, the subject of religion came up. One person said she didn't buy into any of it. Another said he dabbled in various philosophies and enjoyed them as parables. Myths.
I didn't say a word, and I've been trying to figure out why. It's honestly been eating at me for days. In my silence, I denied my beliefs.
Being a Christian is tough right now, and not in a bullshit, fabricated "War On Christmas" faux-persecution kind of way. This isn't North Korea. This isn't Iran. In America, Christians are as free as they've ever been to practice their faith without fear. Sure, a teacher can't lead her public school class in prayer anymore, but separation of church and state is not oppression. Not even close.
When you claim Christianity, people assume a lot about you: that you're intolerant, closed-minded, hypocritical, judgmental, uneducated, or, worst of all, a Tim Tebow fan. (Just because he loves Jesus doesn't mean he can throw a pass. Come on.)
I hate to say it, but there's a damn good reason why people perceive Christians this way. We have a terrible public face. Our most prominent figureheads are Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Rick Santorum, and the Chick-Fil-A cows. Our churches hide scandals to protect their own. Our leaders condemn the sins of others from the center of their own scandals. Politicians on the Christian right look out for the wealthy and ignore those in need. If I were an outsider, this is not a group I'd have any interest in being a part of.
But, I'm not an outsider. I was born into this mess, but I was lucky enough to be taught from an early age the lesson that most of the church seems to miss. Matthew 22:35-40, from the mouth of Jesus himself. "'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.' This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, 'Thou shalt love your neighbor as thyself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
The whole law. Everything. That's it. Religions and sects and denominations depend on pages and pages of rules, structure and meaningless rhetoric, but Christ's most important commandments, two simple rules, get tossed aside.
I think that's why I balked when I had the opportunity to share my beliefs. I'm not ashamed of my faith. I'm ashamed of what's been done to it. I'm ashamed of what people think my faith says about me. Part of me even started to wonder if there's something different people who don't like the direction of the modern church can call ourselves. Something that doesn't leave a bad taste in so many mouths.
But, screw that. I want Christianity back. I want my faith to mean the same thing to the world that it means to me, what it meant 2,000 years ago. Love God. Love each other. It's a long road, but that's a damn good place to start.