Monday, February 7, 2011

Who Are You?

Last week I felt overwhelmed by the number of blogs I read about depression. This is at once disheartening and encouraging. Paul was right when he admonished the early church to "carry each other's burdens." He knew that this life we walk through contains a lifetime of scrapes, bruises and bone crushing agony. He knew because he lived it, in prison, being beaten, living on the generosity of others. Paul knew a world of hurt. Paul was not too big for his britches. He knew humility and he practiced it when first meeting the disciples, when speaking to crowds, when giving thanks for the many gifts he'd received. Paul knew that when we share burdens, it makes them lighter. Duh.

Seems like another burden I'm hearing about is this question of who we are. I recently spent about an hour with some wise women on twitter talking through identities, categories (boxes), and busting them down. Jules offered this: "I just don't know where I fit in all this."

Isn't that a question of the ages. Where do I fit in? Do I want to fit in? Am I compromising some other aspect of my identity in fitting in? Does the act of fitting in over here shortchange me or my peers over there?

Kristin reminded us of the dreaded "twitter bio," wherein one boils the self down to a few well-chosen descriptors. Or not. I've long had a knee jerk reaction to personality tests and other methods whereby we ascribe certain characteristics to another. They feel so limiting and prescribed: answer these questions this way, then we'll draw a perfect little box around you, and there YOU are. Forever and always. Just so reductive and far too simple.

Except, not really. Read the chapters in Exodus where God through Moses tells the Israelites exactly how to construct the ark of the covenant. He doesn't simply say, "Hey. You know what would be totally rad? What if we had, like, a pretty box, or something, and you could all carry it around?" Nope. He goes on for CHAPTERS about the kind of wood, the types of workers, which sides the angels heads should face. He describes in detail what kind of fabric to use for curtains, how far apart to space the clasps, which are to be made from specified metals. From start to finish he is intimately involved in the design and execution of production.

As I read, on and on and on about the ark and all these seemingly senseless directions, knowing full well that they each, I'm sure, have their reasons, I couldn't help but think in much smaller terms. The twitter convo reminded me of that. If God spent that much time giving explicit mandates for the ark, if he cared that much about this piece of wood and metal and fabric, how much more time does he spend being the ultimate artist, calling us to a glorious, messy, fantastic identity.

If he cared so much about something that he'd blast apart with the birth of his son, then what does that say about how he views his people?

I don't have the answers, and I know it's trite, but really, isn't this the beginning and the end of the identity question? Where do we begin? Where do we end? Can we live in a world without descriptors? If not, then how can we engage them to work for us rather than against us?

I don't know. What do you think?


  1. Excellent questions. I've always tried to answer this with two faithful pieces of scripture. The first, Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." The second, Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." When I think about "who am I" or "where do I fit in" ... I stand amazed that the One who put the stars in place; the one who said , "Let there by light"; the One who sent His Son to die for me; the One who pursued me in all of my sin to reconcile me back to Himself. Who am I? I am a child of the living God! Bless you my friend.

  2. Ooh, such good questions!

    "Am I compromising some other aspect of my identity in fitting in? Does the act of fitting in over here shortchange me or my peers over there?"

    These, too:

    "Can we live in a world without descriptors? If not, then how can we engage them to work for us rather than against us?"

    They're good questions, of course, because they aren't easy to answer (thus the never-ending love-hate relationship with good questions). It's going to require much more pondering, but here are two initial thoughts:

    First, we need to let go of stereotypes and suspend our judgment/understanding of others. Rather than assume we have someone figured out, we need to assume we don't. Rather than expect the expected out of people, we should expect to be surprised by them, over and over (and then we can be surprised later if we find out they are actually predictable and dull).

    Second, we need to stop trying to "craft" our identities and brands, teasing and playing with every little detail we put out. We're trying way too hard to be clever, different, and attention-grabbing that we forget to keep it real. That doesn't mean we just throw any bio up on Twitter or our blog, without thinking. That just means that we give ourselves more freedom and space to *be* who we were created to be, and then we let that contradictory mess spill over into a bio, more free-form and real.

    What is that Dr. Seuss quote about being yourself, and how the people who really matter will appreciate it?