A few weeks ago, late show host Jimmy Kimmel sent a camera crew to a park to ask people two questions. The first question was, "Do you eat gluten?" To this question the residents of Los Angeles gave a horrified gasp and replied, wide-eyed, "No! I lead a gluten-free, sugar-free, meat-free, wheat-free, fun-free life." The next question the interviewer posed was, "What is gluten?" This question was met with "Uh. I think it's, uh, you know, the stuff in bread?"
It was quite comical. My favorite answer came from the sincere lady who explained that gluten is "in rice and stuff" (rice is gluten free, for those keeping score at home). With all due respect to those who are trying to stay on any diet (it's not easy), it was really funny how many folks polled in L.A. had adopted a label and identity because it seemed trendy, without fully understanding what they had signed up for in the first place.
A few years ago, a teen I chaperoned at a summer camp named Mikey had a pretty severe wheat allergy -- and if you're familiar with the summer camp diet of mac 'n' cheese, burgers, corn dogs and biscuits, you can imagine just how careful poor Mikey had to be at meal time. Mikey's allergy wasn't a trend he was trying out. Analyzing ingredient lists and skipping out on any questionable foods were habits he had adopted to stay healthy.
As comical as I found the L.A. gluten-phobes showcased by Jimmy Kimmel, I realized that I can sometimes treat my faith the same way. I'm quick to label myself a Christian, but I can be less-than-conscientious about the actions that accompany this label. For example, I'm a bumper-sticker junkie. I think it's because my car is a pretty generic-looking brown Honda sedan, so I add a few stickers on the bumper to make it feel more personal. One of the stickers bluntly says, "I love being Catholic." (Because I do.)
I rarely remember this sticker is even there. That is, until I cut someone off in traffic or almost back into a shopper in the parking lot who dashed into my blind spot. Then, I'm painfully aware that I've chosen to tell the world that I'm a Catholic -- yet the actions I'm taking are unkind and even dangerous. It's not enough to slap a "Catholic" label on my car -- I need to be sure my actions follow suit. This might seem like a silly example, but there are plenty of times I'm painfully aware that I have failed to be a good witness of what I claim to believe.
For Mikey, being gluten-free was more than a label. It was a lifestyle he chose to live in order to stay healthy and out of the hospital. His life depended on it.
In the same way, my faith needs to be more than a bumper sticker or a cross around my neck. If those tokens remind me of the life I've chosen, that's great, but life has to be more than labels.
Getting involved in a church or synagogue, reading Scripture and spiritual books, talking to a pastor or spiritual mentor about difficult choices and taking time each day for personal prayer are all ways to go beyond a label to be sure that we give our faith a chance to take root. After all, if it's what we believe, our eternal lives depend on it.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.