I am a Christian before I am an American.

{I’ve written this post in response to the recent Refugee Crisis in America & abroad, as well as recent political discourse}

I am a Christian before I am an American. I don’t believe these two identities should be intermingled beyond recognition, though I believe that this intermingling is repeatedly done within the United States of America. While being a Christian undoubtedly should make me a better American, I don’t believe that because I’m American, that makes me a better and more competent Christian. As a Christian, my faith informs me to affirm the humanity and the dignity of all individuals who are made in God’s image.

Growing up, I thought that America had it all together because I learned from school and television and church that America was “the greatest country on the face of the earth.” Why? Because America is a “Christian nation.” And we are to be “a city on a hill” to all the other countries who are not “Christian” countries. As a result, I heard rumblings about “those Islamic countries” or those “postmodern, atheistic countries,” disapproving of their politics, and whether consciously or unconsciously, disapproving of their very people.

These responses make sense in the field of social psychology.  Important psychological concepts exist called the “in group” and the “out group” phenomenon.  Of course, being part of a group can be a positive experience; it’s how we feel belonged, included, cherished. However, when we’re part of a group, we undoubtedly begin distinguishing who is an insider to our group, and who is an outsider. As we scope out those in the “out group,” we notice that these individuals are different from “us.” We as humans easily demonize “different,” assuming that because someone is not like us, they are wrong, they are evil, they are inhuman. Our snap judgments cause us to make automatic reactions towards an individual. For example, the color of one’s skin or the kind of clothing he or she wears may make us feel in danger because of what we’ve seen on the news or in popular media about a people group.

I believe this in group and out group thinking plays a prominent role in how American Christians interact with others who do not claim our faith, and even with those who do.

I saw this idea of American exceptionalism at work in my own heart when I was overseas in a rural Eurasian country doing missions work. I went overseas with the understanding that because I was an American Christian, I was going to uniquely and beautifully add to the experience of the Christian nationals in the country. After all, because America has such a Christian culture, I should be able to inform these individuals of who Jesus really is. It took about fifteen minutes (if that) sitting cross-legged in my first church service in Eurasia to realize that as an American, I do not have a monopoly on Jesus. I do not have a monopoly on what Christian culture ought to look like because I live in a “Christian nation.” In fact, I’d go as far as to say that in Eurasia, I saw such a purer and richer form of Christianity than I had ever before beheld.

Jesus didn’t choose to establish an earthly kingdom by reforming the government of Israel. Instead, his kingdom was and is not of this world (John 18:36). Before his ascension (documented in Acts 1), his disciples are earnestly and anxiously asking him when he will restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus basically tells them again that that’s not what His kingdom is all about. He encourages his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power to come upon them, for they will be his witnesses throughout all of the world. He doesn’t instruct them to subvert governments. He doesn’t tell them that they will “take Israel back for God – by militaristic force, if necessary.” No, he instructs them that they will love and serve him best by living by the Holy Spirit’s peace- and truth-giving power. His people (the Church) was and continues to be the vehicle of His love until His return.

What would Jesus do if he was living in the United States today, specifically regarding the refugee crisis? One could only guess what his actions would be. But I don’t believe he would be one to build fences or to fear difference of opinion. I don’t think he would involve himself in such efforts. I think he would do justice and would love kindness and would walk humbly with his dear Father (Micah 6:8). This is not abstract living; I believe we can see examples of his living this out all throughout his earthly ministry. He affirmed the dignity of all humans he interacted with, recognizing that they were made in the very image of God.

I think he would compassionately utter, “All you refugees, come home.” Home to his salvation, his freedom, his loving arms. For, we were all once refugees before Christ became our Savior. And when he invited us home to his heart, he didn’t check our passport, the color of our skin, our clothing choices, our past decisions. He took us in fully, filthy rags and all, for his salvation and grace and forgiveness were and are the only qualifiers for our redemption and homecoming. As Christians, we don’t have to deny this home to the refugee out of fear. We as the Church can continue living as the vehicle of God’s love, whether or not the government follows suit.

So, am I glad to be an American? I feel blessed. But I am even more glad to be a Christian, joining the company of a great, big body of Christ-followers who have a rich and vibrant faith – not only in the United States of America, but across the entire face of the earth. And I will not allow my citizenship and allegiance to the United States of America interfere with who I am as a Christ-follower. I don’t care that God’s moral law may never be passed by the U.S. legislature; for, whether this country is “Christian” or not, I know that does not affect my security, and that does not affect the way I live. In Christ alone my hope is found, and because he has freely accepted me into his arms, I will open my arms wide to the “foreigner,” knowing fear has no place in this heart.

To the Introverted Evangelical.

“Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know Thee.” – St. Augustine

Introversion. What a beautiful word. It’s a word I wasn’t aware of until the last few years, and grasping an awareness of this term has released me to understand my faith in Christ in a deeper way than I could ever have imagined.

Has anyone ever shamelessly uttered to you, “Why don’t you come out of your shell more?” Yeah? Me, too. (Cue the eye roll, please)

What does personality have to do with the way one interacts with Christ? In my opinion, it has practically everything to do with it. Because we are made in the very image of God, the way that we view Him directly impacts the way that we view ourselves; conversely, when we view ourselves as inadequate members of the body of Christ (as has been a common attitude I’ve observed in evangelical churches towards introverts), we don’t view ourselves as God would view us; thus, we fail to attribute the presence of God’s image being displayed in our uniqueness because we are not gregarious or outgoing enough.

Growing up, I was eager to attend summer kids camps and teen camps with my church to southern Illinois. Whenever our bus reached our campsite, I sighed with excitement in my heart for what I would experience that summer week. I thought to myself, “This is the week when I will grow closer to Christ,” as well as “This is the week I will become more extraverted” (though the latter phrase was uttered in secret).

As I adjusted to camp by meeting my camp counselor and other fellow campers, I knew that I was in for the week of a lifetime. As the week progressed, I was flooded with so many stimuli – from leaders speaking into foghorns, to team competitions, to loud ice cream social times at the end of each night. Honestly, I could care less what team I was placed on because I was overwhelmed by every team game (except for individual tennis, which I loved to compete in), and I hid in the corner with my fellow quietude lovers whenever we would have hour-long team pep rallies. I thought that surely the evening worship services would patch up how out-of-place I felt during the morning and afternoon activities, finally allowing me to encounter God for who I was instead of who camp culture thought I should be. However, my impressionable self felt like a failure when I couldn’t engage in jumping-and-shouting camp worship services. I thought camp surely was the height of the spiritual experience, and I was missing out because I was so distracted by the screams and the shouts and the lights and the smoke. The higher I jumped and the louder I shouted, I realized that the only marked experience occurring to me was that my body was growing tired and my voice was quickly turning hoarse. “Maybe tomorrow night will be my night at camp,” I’d say to myself and to my friends. “Tomorrow might be the night when I experience God for real. Tonight was just off for me.” I decided that I needed to define what a successful worship encounter would look like. “When I finally cry, that’s when I’ll know I’ve experienced God, just like everyone else.” This was my resolution. So I would hope for tears, seeking for the Holy Spirit to move in my heart in a tangible way so I could validate my experience to those around me – so I could validate my experience to myself. But I was tired. I was weary. I was disillusioned.

But when I least expected it, when all but a few campers had left the sanctuary for the night, I felt God’s sweet presence meeting me for who I was – quiet, contemplative me. I held to those moments.

After coming home from church camp, I returned to my same life routine; I still craved silent prayer time with Christ over corporate worship times at church. I was terribly nervous to go up to the altar during worship at my home church, but I also felt a sense of guilt if I didn’t make my faith known to those around me by my outward actions. I didn’t feel comfortable dancing or shouting in youth group. I was not only tired; I was tired of being tired. I was living my faith in light of the expectations I felt others had upon me. Instead of genuinely raising my hands during worship, I would strategically time when I would raise one hand, then two, higher, then higher, in order to make sure my outward expression was acceptable to match the “passionate” people around me.

By the time college rolled around, I had had enough. I just wanted Christ without the noise that had become all too familiar. I craved His presence not so I could say to others that I’d been in His presence. I craved His presence so I could know that He was near beyond tear-soaked tissues, present when lights and smoke weren’t circulating around an auditorium, and aware of my worship to Him when my heart was bowed before Him, even if my body wasn’t knelt at the altar. It was at this moment of the recognition of my own inward inauthenticity that I decided to visit an Anglican church. I desired a change of scenery, but what I needed was a deeper awareness of God’s presence in the quiet of my naturally contemplative soul. And He met me there. He met me in the quiet awe, the planned out liturgy, the passing of the peace, and the Eucharist. And He’s still meeting me there.

In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, she explains about the culture of the evangelical church at large, “Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme. If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly” (Cain 69).

As a newcomer to adulthood, I’ve become ever more comfortable and confident in my introversion. Though I’ve still had a fair share of extraversion-targeted conferences and events to attend during my college years, I have chosen to embrace the silence in my heart, as well as the opportunity to sneak into a hotel lobby on an upbeat family vacation to write a little (as I’m doing right now). So, back to that shell we’re both in.

I think it’s okay to be at home in that shell. For, that shell isn’t something to fight or to scorn, for God can use your unique, introverted personality to bring Him glory, revealing His praise through each reflective and sometimes silent step. It’s okay if you’re not into the flashing lights, the smoke, the dancing, the shouting, the raising of hands, or the running. Please, my friend, know that you aren’t alone on this journey of being an introverted evangelical in a very extraverted church culture. Though you may not be gregarious, you are valuable. Though you may not be the first to volunteer for being on the worship team, your worship to the Lord is valuable and is beautiful in His sight. Your personality is not flawed because you crave contemplation and silence; for, you are made in God’s very image, and He will be glorified through your willingness to love Him with all that you are. Let your unique song add to the beautiful cacophony of praise and worship being offered by all who follow Christ, extraverted and introverted Christians alike.