I wrote a paper about resurrection last fall. I had never done that before. The paper came back with Professor Kadetsky's scribbles in the margins. They kept repeating the phrase "Stop throat clearing". I had no idea what this meant. I visited office hours to ask. My problem? That I kept trying to shuffle off the responsibility of bold statements with caveats, "In my opinions", side comments to add a touch of flippancy and non-committal language to get me out of saying exactly what I needed to say. I was, as I noted in a previous post, scared of using my own voice, because using my own voice would mean drawing on blatantly Christian voices. And that, I had somehow come to feel, was jepordizing what seemed a hard won battle to be a valued and respected student at a secular university. For example, I found early on that using "Well, the Bible says" as a rhetorical devise to be fairly useless in a classroom setting. Across coffee? Go for it. To your professors or classmates face when you are discussing how bizarre Byron actually was? Not the best idea.
But why have I felt this tension? Lived in this status of I can't say I'm Christian? Why do I feel that to claim that title would make it harder for me to be listened to or respected? While much of this can be traced to my own fears, I don't believe this can be traced only to imagined threats. Take, for example, what a poetry professor declared last week: "There is no place in poetry or the poet for religious convictions. No poet wants the hand of doctrine over their mouth...Existentialism is the true religious feeling of the intellectual." I couldn't disagree more. But I said nothing. For the moment, I had passed.
There are times, though, that I do not, and I wonder if it is a negative or a positive that for just a few moments, the core of my identity was revealed. In writing workshops it happens when someone picks out a theme in a poem or story that I didn't know was there but is clearly from religious experience. Often times, it gets noticed when I can pick up Biblical references or clarify half remembered Sunday School stories when studying a piece of literature. Or, as happened once, another student wrote a story full of religious imagery, knowing that I would be the only one to get it when the time came. I was, and emailed him later to ask more questions about the story. "I wrote it for you in a way. I knew you were a Christian," he noted. I was stunned. One moment that I did it on purpose was when I wrote the essay about resurrection. I couldn't write the essay honestly without "going there" as it were.
A rather difficult and negative part of all of this is my intense concern with how people will view Christianity because of me. Maybe "UnChristian" by Gabe Lyons had more of a negative affect than a positive one for me. I hesitate to declare my commitment here until I knew that my work has won the approval of my professors or classmates. Yes, as I've said, part of that wants to preserve my own status. But another part wants to preserve my faith's status until I know that I've made a good showing for it.
Sounds like paralyzing fear, to me.