I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live transparently—especially when it comes to my digital life. For as long as I’ve been on social media (I first joined Facebook in 2005), I’ve oscillated between expressing myself honestly and expressing contrived personas that I broadcast on Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere else.
Take, for instance, my well-documented love of Rolling Rock. Anyone who follows me on any website knows I’ve posted endlessly about the famously watery beer for the past three years. My Instagram feed was once a veritable shrine to Rolling Rock. My friends gave me four cases of it for my birthday last year. Heck, my Twitter fan club (yes, it’s still weird to me, too) uses a picture of Rolling Rock as its header image! I know how to advertise my love for a product.
But here’s a confession: I don’t really like Rolling Rock all that much.
*Horrified gasps from the audience*
It’s true, people. I mean, I do enjoy pale ales, and I love Rolling Rock’s trademark green can, and I have a natural affinity for anything from western Pennsylvania. But there was never any special place in my heart for Rolling Rock until I moved to New York City and decided that loving such a sorry beer would be a funny way to brand myself. So I started professing my love for it both online and in real life.
And it worked! People know that I love Rolling Rock now! (Even if I really don’t.) A tongue-in-cheek storyline that I created online became a tangible identifier in my real life. That’s a pretty troubling trajectory—and it’s one I’m noticing is far more pervasive in my life than I ever originally thought. At some point, I got into the habit of projecting a digital version of myself that wasn’t totally true. And at some point (probably for much longer, actually), I began to do the same thing in person.
We all do this to some extent. We tailor our words and adjust our images to please different groups of people, and while this can be an effective communication technique, it can just as easily become a nefarious trap that breeds dishonest living. Suddenly, we find ourselves presenting completely different realities to each of our different audiences—often, as with my Rolling Rock posts, just to be funny. We begin caring about our own reputations above all else. We begin living without conviction. I’ve been especially struck lately by the way I’ve lived a double life in neglecting to express my Christianity to pretty much anyone outside my immediate church community. This was definitely true at my old job.
When I worked at Entertainment Weekly, I hid almost every aspect of my faith from my co-workers. I was okay letting it slip that I attended a church, but I didn’t like to go any deeper. I preferred to be thought of as a dorky square rather than an explicitly religious person, because I was terrified I’d be rejected if I actually expressed my beliefs. Obviously, it’s no secret that most people in the media—especially entertainment media—are liberal, and as a brand new college grad getting my first taste of the New York working world, I didn’t want to rock the boat by fully owning my identity as a Christian man. I assumed people would equate that identity with being an arrogant Southern conservative, so I kept my mouth shut.
I completely regret this way of thinking.
Not only did it make me feel as if I had to maintain a contrived persona in the workplace, but it also fostered within me a genuine shame about my faith. My status as a Christian embarrassed me at work—and on social media, too. Granted, that feeling did have some basis. Some staffers would scoff at celebrities who spoke about converting to Christianity or foregoing sex before marriage. An editor (who no longer works at the magazine) once called me into his office and snarkily asked me to brainstorm “fantasy movies” like The Passion of the Christ. Comments like those really shouldn’t bother a grown adult, but I reacted to them like an insecure sixth grader endlessly worried he was being labeled “uncool.”
That said, I was never told I that couldn’t express what I believed! In fact, I’d bet that a handful of my co-workers would have gladly listened to me talk about my faith. I censored myself, and I am the only person to blame for me feeling uncomfortable identifying myself as a Christian at work. I want to be clear about that point. I was consciously presenting my life differently to my work community (and to my meager online following) than I was to my friends and family, who know that my faith holds utmost importance in my life.
This strategy worked out well at first. I was able to strike up genuine friendships with co-workers who would have been turned off by an outspoken newbie who hadn’t put any effort into getting to know his environment. But years went by, and I never even shared one of my Christian values out loud. I preferred to tweet vaguely redemptive lyrics by Switchfoot or NEEDTOBREATHE and just hope that astute individuals could read between the lines. I was living a lie in hopes of being popular around the office, and that’s pretty sad.
If I really believe that the Bible is true and that the gospel is the best thing for humanity (which I do), then I should be bold, willing, and excited to share my perspective. That’s not to say I should shove it down people’s throats without gentleness or respect—that’s been done enough over the course of Christian history. But at the very least, I should be completely willing to offer my opinion. The last thing this world needs is another wishy-washy Christian, one who would rather cast a silent, judgmental glare than speak clearly about his beliefs.
But what if we didn’t mince words? What if we actually said what we thought—after carefully thinking about what we should say? What if we reconciled the person we are at home with the person we are at work or pretend to be on social media? What if all Christians offered their opinions clearly and unabashedly, so that the world might actually know that the vast majority of churchgoers are not, in fact, much like those Westboro protestors at all? I want to do this. I want to be a more transparent person who identifies himself, without shame, as a Christian at all times. That would be a more kind, honest, and loving way of treating my neighbors than to tacitly lie to them while guarding my own reputation. I’m ready to drop the facade—both in person and online.