An English teacher.
President of a non-profit.
A follower of Christ.
A student of culture.
All of these and more were ways that I used to answer when people in Italy asked who I was or what I was doing in their country. We would often talk about it as a team - how do we present ourselves? I remember one team member pointedly experimented with various answers to gauge what kind of response they would illicit.
Inevitably, the responses were similar as they got to the core of why we were there. "Oh, THAT'S why you are here..." To convert. To proselytize. To change me.
One of the questions I was most anxious to answer in returning to the U.S. was, "What kind of person would I be when I wasn't paid to be good?" "What kind of disciple of Jesus would I be when my livelihood didn't depend on it?"
The answer to the question has come with an ironic twist. Whereas before I was somewhat embarrassed because my answer seemed to bring out peoples' defensiveness, or their neatly-packaged answers to faith, or their long-held suspicions, or their all-too-quick labels of 'mormon' or 'J-W', upon my return here I was embarrassed for a different reason. In answering 'salesman' or 'manager' or 'blinds man' I was touching a still-tender part of my identity that was and still is changing and forming. There is a strange, pre-wired hitch in the way I answer; as if 11 years of flinching when I answered has embedded itself in my DNA.
But lately, that has changed. As I've begun to really embrace my new location and role and situation, I've begun to truly enjoy answering the question. In talking with people, when the question comes up, I can simply answer, 'I'm normal. Just like you. Work a job. File a regular 1040." And it's not about not being weird or different as much as I love how it levels the playing field when it comes to sharing my story and how Jesus has changed me and is directing my life.
I'm still weird. But now I'm just normal.