About 30 of us sit wide-eyed in the bright conference room, like trick-or-treaters waiting for candy. We are new hires at a Bay Area technology company on day one of orientation, about to receive our laptops. I’m actually a rehire. And I’m particularly eager – and nervous – to satisfy months of curiosity. Would my old company have a place for a new me – and people like me?
I slowly open my laptop, log on to our social network and type a word into the search field: “Christian.”
To explain my nervousness, I should note that Christianity in the Bay Area is, in a word, unpopular. Until a few months ago, I frowned upon Christianity, too. I equated it with the bigotry of picketers, or the self-righteousness of street-corner agitators.
Until, that is, some unexpected events happened in my life recently, events that shook my very core, my lifetime as a proud agnostic. I was humbled by the miracle of healing in my 10-year-old son, humbled by grace I didn’t deserve. And on the night of Jan. 11, I bent my knee in an Austin hotel room and, as author C.S. Lewis so powerfully put it, “admitted that God was God.”
But this is not a testimony of the events that led to that most important moment of my life. This post is an account of my experience coming out as a Christian in San Francisco, the third-least-religious city in the United States.
Let me dispel some stereotypes: No, I don’t condemn homosexuality; no, I don’t think women are inferior; no, I don’t think the Earth is 6,000 years old; and no, you won’t find me on a street corner shouting fire and brimstone. About me: I’m the main breadwinner for our family of five; many of my closest friends are LGBTQ; and brimstone gives me heartburn. Don’t worry, family, I believe in science, too!
So, what happened when I searched “Christianity” on our social network? A thousand pounds of worry melted, as up popped an internal group for Christians. I don’t have to hide, I realized at that moment. I can bring my whole, authentic self, the most important parts of that self, to work. Upon further searching, I found there were also places for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and many other groups. What a remarkable thing: to allow faith at work.
Emerging from the shadows
My exit from the shadows has been gradual these past three months, inching and checking over my shoulder each step of the way. And along with me, I see others inching out of the shadows, asking, “Are you sure it’s safe out there?” Yes! It appears to be!
We have meditation rooms, which I use every morning for prayer. Another employee and I started a weekly prayer group. I’ve been able to partner with employees of different faiths who are inching out of their own shadows, wondering if it’s safe to wear their hijabs or kippahs or simply to pray at work. My company gives me volunteer time to minister to the homeless of San Francisco, to serve them food and even pray with them.
When we express our faith in love, we are met with love. Knowing that I can wear my cross, pray with my brothers and sisters or use my volunteer time to minister to those in need gives purpose to my work, makes me more productive, more loyal to this company that gracefully accepts the most important parts of me.
Why share this?
I am excited by the new openness I see in the Bay Area. I want others to know it’s OK to express or explore their faith. I am not ashamed of this part of my identity.
Sisters and brothers of all faiths, it is safe to come out of the shadows in Silicon Valley. Do this for the ones behind you – they are watching. Do this for the ones in the middle of their own spiritual journeys who need someone to talk to, or to those just starting those journeys. And if you’ve faced resistance, don’t lose heart. We are called to influence and to forgive. Find strength in your faith and fellowship in others. And to friends of people of faith, don’t be afraid to ask about our journeys. Many of us could use a smiling face or helping hand as we take those tentative steps out the shadows.
Sue Warnke is director of infrastructure documentation at a Bay Area software company. Her story is featured on the website Finding God in Silicon Valley (findinggodinsiliconvalley.com) and provided by Los Altos resident Skip Vaccarello. Vaccarello authored a book with the same title.