My first day of grad school was pretty scary. For college, I had gone to a small Christian college in Southwest Missouri. But for grad school, I went to the University of Missouri, which is a pretty huge public university. And I went from being one of a few dozen Christians in my class to usually the only Evangelical Christian in my class. I was sitting outside the classroom for my first class with a couple of the other students (who would soon become my new friends), and they were talking about who they thought we’d be reading in this class. They were throwing out name after name of people I’d never heard. I immediately got worried… was I in over my head?
Those first few weeks were rough. I knew way less than my classmates and was playing a lot of catch-up. I felt in some ways that my Christian college education hadn’t prepared me as well for this work as their public school education had. But also in those first weeks, my new friends started jokingly referring to me as the ‘token Christian’. Someone said, “Every religion department needs a Christian, and JR. is ours,” and it just sort of stuck.
But that name – token Christian – actually helped me out a lot.
It gave me confidence because it carved out a space for me in the department. It was okay if I didn’t know something because I wasn’t just another first year student. I was the token Christian student. I wasn’t nervous to give my input because now it was okay if I sounded like a Christian – I was the token Christian! Being the token Christian helped me get through my first year of grad school.
Then I met Tom.
Tom started my second year. And in our first class, he introduced himself as a guy from a small Christian college in Northeast Missouri who had come to get a more well-rounded education.
I hated him instantly.
After class, I was with my grad school friends, and I commented on what a jerk Tom was. They were genuinely confused. Tom had seemed, to them, like a kind, genuine and friendly person. I wasn’t hearing it. As far as I was concerned, Tom was the worst.
Which is a terrible thing, isn’t it?
Let’s talk about anger: why we get angry and how to tell whether our anger is righteous or evil. It’s pretty obvious that my anger toward Tom was not the righteous kind – that’s because he was challenging my identity as the token Christian.