My Identity Is Not A Costume

Halloween 1

As a preschool teacher, October is a month of pumpkins, scarecrows, and Halloween. For weeks, my students have been talking about the costumes they will wear for trick-or-treating. When you’re a kid, Halloween is the opportunity to live out your fantasies; most of my kids tell me they’re going to be superheroes (Batman was the most popular this year) or princesses (Elsa and Ariel came up more than once). Some are dressing up as their real-life heroes: firefighters, soldiers and police officers.

While adults don’t go trick-or-treating, for many, Halloween is still an excuse to dress up. Some try on a new identify for an evening, while others take who they are day-in, day-out, and kick it up a few notches. The single girl with a couple of cats becomes Crazy Cat Lady; the guy who loves sports becomes a SuperFan, covered from head to toe in the colors of his favorite team.

As an adult, I must admit my costumes have not been very whimsical. I tend to take a piece of my identity and use that to inform my costume choice. One of my hobbies is running, mostly 5K races. Many times I have spent Halloween dressed as a “runner”, with a race bib and medal adorning my workout clothes. I’m also known for my love of the St. Louis Cardinals. Most years, if I’m not dressed as a runner, I’m dressed as a Cards fan-which basically means I wear track pants, a Cardinals shirt and baseball cap.

Both of these “looks” are comfortable, easy, and best of all, free. That’s the main reason I keep going back to them year after year. I like the comfort and convenience, while also getting to put a little bit of “me” out there to the world beyond my preschool teacher persona. The race t-shirts or Cardinals World Series sweatshirts are often great conversation starters.

Still, when I think about it, I realize that there’s another reason I pick costumes like these, if you can even really call them costumes. They are honestly just facets of my identity. But in both cases, they are “safe,” generally accepted pieces of me. Sure, a marathoner may feel superior to me and my 4K Tap-N-Run finisher’s medal–which conveniently is also a bottle opener–and Cubs fans may especially enjoy teasing me for my Cardinals gear this year, but those are pretty benign things about which to be teased. This year my two coworkers and I may dress as cats, and be the 3 Little Kittens. All three of us are cat owners and cat lovers, so it makes sense, but again, it’s a safe choice based on a fairly surface-level facet of our personalities. Nobody ever got attacked for being dressed as a mitten-less kitten.

My real identity, who I am at my core, is too precious to me to be used as a costume. I realize I have it pretty good, as who I am is rarely channeled into a costume in the first place, unlike my Mexican or Native American friends. Still that, doesn’t mean that the “real me” isn’t routinely mocked and/or scorned by the world these days.

Halloween 2

Who am I, really? I’m a divorced mom of two amazing kids. I’m also a writer, a lover of nature, and a fan of thick books of fantasy/fiction–the kind with hand-drawn maps in the front. None of those are really costume-worthy identities, and while they each describe one facet of my life or another, they’re still the outer layers of my being–not my core.

At the center of my being, the root of everything I am, I am a Christian. Outside of my faith, I have nothing. Apart from my Savior, Jesus, I am nothing. Even as I write this I can feel myself wanting to explain, to defend, to justify. To make others understand.

I see how Christians are frequently portrayed in the media. The Simpsons’ character Ned Flanders instantly springs to mind. Christians are often depicted as endlessly, maddeningly cheerful, always smiling and blessing your heart and just wondering at the beauty it is to be alive, while also being chock full of naïveté and an unwillingness to see the world for what it is, instead clinging to the idea that Everything is Awesome and that People are Generally Good and Trustworthy.   When media isn’t portraying Christians as happy-go-lucky simpletons, they are often painting them as deceivers and deviants–people who put on a good show in public but who embrace every kind of debauchery behind closed doors. We’ve all seen the shows where the killer or the rapist or the child predator turns out to be the town’s beloved pastor, or the comedies where the local choir leader is really a wild child when freed from the constraints of public expectation. Network news and social media seem to get their kicks off of stories like those surrounding the Duggars of late, giddy when someone they have picked out the pack and built up to represent All Christians finds himself smack dab in the middle of a sex scandal. The schadenfreude is palpable.

As a Christian, this upsets me, because we seem to be a class of people it’s okay to mock. It’s sexist to disparage women; it’s racist to disparage people of color; it’s bigoted to disparage someone because of their sexual orientation; even so, it’s still somehow acceptable to mock Christians, because I mean they are just so weird, am I right?

What I most wish people understood about my Christian identity is that I did not choose it, like one might choose an outfit or a hair color. In my heart of hearts, my faith is an integral part of who I am, inseparable from my being. I cannot separate Christian from my identity any more than a person can separate themselves from their gender, their race, or their sexual identity. It is simply, and yet profoundly, who I am. It is interwoven into every aspect of my life. As I said, I did not choose it. In Ephesians it says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world”. It’s not a hobby, like running, or a chosen diversion, like reading. I’m not a fan of Christ in the way I am a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. For lack of better words, being a Christian is a prime factor of who I am–you can strip away mother, daughter, friend, coworker, runner, reader, writer, teacher, or any other component of my being, but you cannot strip away my identity in Christ.

I suppose ultimately for me, Halloween is a time to have some lighthearted fun. It doesn’t make me feel vulnerable to showcase a facet of myself through my costume, because I choose what to reveal. Still, the reason I would never dress up as a Christian (honestly I don’t even know what kind of costume that would entail anyway) isn’t because I don’t want people to know about that part of me or because I fear being mocked. I would hope anyone who knows me knows I am a Christian. I make no secret of it in conversation or in posts on social media. In fact, my Twitter bio leads off with my faith: Follower of Jesus, single mom, conservatarian, Cardinals fan.   No, the reason I wouldn’t make my core identity a Halloween costume is because it’s too important to trot out one day a year and then to hang back up in the closet to sit until the next time I feel like pulling it out. Being a Christian is who I am, every day, in trials and in victories, in hope and in despair, in mourning and in rejoicing, in loneliness and in fellowship. I wouldn’t change it, even if I could. It is who I am.