Identity

A few days ago a conversation developed on my Facebook newsfeed about loving people even when you disagree with them. The phrase “Agreement and acceptance are two very different things” caused a little bit of a reaction, with some suggesting that disagreement about something vital to a persons identity could NOT happen at the same time as acceptance.  Obviously there is a lot of stuff to unfold there, but one of the things that one of my friends took away was the question of what actually does make us who we are? What actually is vital to a person’s identity?

Having gone through a lot of change in the past couple years I found this question particularly intriguing. Some people answered their job, others their personality, still others their beliefs, or some their family, friends, or relationships to others (“Mom” etc).

For me, I have recenlty realised that my job does not define me. I’ve gone through a few different jobs in the past few years, and though some definitely provided more fulfilment than others, I’ve realised that my job does not make me who I am.  Heck, I thought I’d learned this one already but it’s been hitting home even more in the past few days as I got laid off from my job and likely will not be able to get another one until I go on Mat Leave! Even having a job you hate is different than not working for income! Weird feeling! (but I digress).

As for my family, they do not define me either. Yes, they have contributed a lot to who I am, but that is not where my identity comes from. My husband and I are VERY different people. I love him to pieces, but if someone was going to try and guess at who I was by knowing him… I think they’d be surprised. My parents , who I love dearly, OBVIOUSLY had a hand in who I’ve become but they’ve definitely be able to tell you that there are parts of me that they don’t understand at all. My brother, my sister, my nieces and nephews… they all have an impact on who I am, but they don’t MAKE me who I am. Does that make sense?

It’s made even more complicated by the fact that as humans, we always seem to be changing/growing (or at least the capacity is there).

For instance, there is the beliefs factor. Do our beliefs make us who we are? What if your beliefs change? Does that completely change your identity??

Or your dreams/goals? Are THEY what makes you you? What if they change?

Or you could answer our personalities as some people have… and that makes me think of a conversation my family had one about personality traits and I remember my Mom telling my Dad that he MADE himself become more of an extrovert … suggesting that even those are subject to change as well.

So I tried figuring out who I am without all those things, without my job, my family, my beliefs… what am I? How do I define myself?

I started to think maybe my wit. I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I am intelligent, and I definitely rely on my intelligence. I do not know who I am without it. I am a quick learner, and I’m fairly proud of that fact. But then I started to think, what if even that was taken away? I thought of my grandmother, and then wondered if I got Alziehmers, would that change who I am? Would I cease to be me?

No. I would still be the same person who has impacted my friends and family, with the same successes, the same mistakes.

You see, my Mom even got in on the facebook action of trying to define our identity, saying this “We are the sum total to all our experiences, reactions, genetic make up. Our longing, desires. We are also much more than we know. For who really understands themselves.”

And I totally agree with her! But then again, I don’t believe that a person needs to be defined by their past… so I hesitate to put too much weight on how much our experiences define us. And I’ve already mentioned the fact that our longings can change…

So the biggest part I guess I agree with? We are also much more than we know. Maybe all these things that we try to define ourselves with are just not enough. Maybe we are supposed to be getting our identity from somewhere else.*

Maybe who we really are is a big mix of who we’ve been and who we are meant to be. A mix of the present and the potential. And in that I think knowing what God thinks of us is incredibly important to knowing our true identity. Everything else we try to define ourselves by can be so fluid.

For me, I’ve had too many things change in my life to let anybody but God define me. Even myself. But how about you? What do you think makes you you? What if it was taken away? Who would you be then, and how would you know?

*Also… in the course of writing this I thought of the book Searching for God Knows What. If you haven’t read it I seriously suggest it.

God. Misrepresented.

I believe in God. I believe He exists, I believe He designed this world. I have difficulty at looking at the immense vastness of what is on earth – and not seeing that someone incredibly intelligent and creative put it all together. So many ecosystems, so many food chains… So many aspects of life “inter-dependent” and reliant on each other – I look at these things and see planning. I can’t comprehend how any one could consider that all these things happened by chance.

I was a physics nerd in High School – and even when I look at physics I see evidence of a creator. I mean, we are all proud of ourselves for finding equations that explain all the “forces”, but to me, that suggests not our own brilliance: to be able to apply math to something, but the brilliance of a creator who wasn’t just a “painter” making pretty pictures or scenery, but a biologist, a physicist, a botanist! There are so many specialists in this world who spend their lives studying different things in this world, and to me, all the ORDER they discover, or even disorder that still has balance, suggests a great planner.

I can’t really look at this world, or anything in it and think “accident” or “chance.” Do I understand it all? No. Not at all. But to me, so much in this world points to a creator that even when I thought He must be a jerk, I still always believed He existed.

Not everyone does though. I understand that. I’ve lived long enough that if someone tells me they are an atheist, I’m not shocked. There are people who look at this world and don’t see any sort of design, they just see chance. Even though this boggles my mind, I don’t understand how they can’t see it, I don’t automatically assume they are idiots for missing what seems plain to me.

The reaction to my beliefs, however, are not always the same. I remember the first time I read about the Flying Spaghetti Monster (link to be added). I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. The inference is that anyone who believes in a Higher Power is an absolute idiot. Yes, it’s insulting. I’ve since calmed down about it – people who don’t believe in God seem to have a tendency to think that everyone who does is delusional and desperately want to knock some ” sense” into them. This is their attempt. At least, I always like to see the good in people, so I’m hoping that’s it. Otherwise, they are just mocking millions of people for fun.

The reason I am saying this is to get to the point that there are so many people in the world who believe different things, and we have difficulty relating to each other. We see differences as larger than similarities, and always try to make the gap bigger – or so it seems. Not only can we not agree whether or not God exists, there are so many who can’t agree on who God is – or even if there is only one!

What has spurred this post? Recently a popular TV show did a “religious episode”, and (at least according to my facebook feed) it caused quite a stir. I read posts from all views, from being offended by it’s treatment of Christianity (Cheesus) to being offended that by the end, all the characters seemed okay with religion.

I liked the episode. Honestly, it reminded me a little of one of my favorite-ever TV shows Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Studio 60 made only one season, I’m guessing partly because of controversy it would have created, and partly because it was way too intelligent in the day and age of reality TV shows. I loved it because it portrayed the difficulty of atheists and Christians to relate to each other quite wonderfully.

I mean, think about it – do you believe that people who believe differently than you have less value? Do you ACT like they do? have you ever acted like their opinions, their concerns meant less, meant nothing?

I see this a lot with Christians because we believe that we know what truth is, and we want to tell people what truth is, but we forget to listen , to hear them, before we say anything at all.

We live in a society that is fairly hostile to Christianity. Christians tend to think that it is a form of persecution, that it is evidence of a world that is hostile to God. Really though… Sometimes I think they have a reason to be hostile. Atrocities have been committed in the name of Christ throughout history. Sure, the go-to example is the crusades. But let’s be honest, there are much more current examples of how the church manages to bungle the “ambassadors of Christ” thing. I’m not talking on a large scale either. It’s the one on one interactions where a lot of people have been burned and decided that Christianity obviously has no value.

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-control… In Galatians these are listed as the fruits of the Spirit. How evident are these in those that claim to be followers of Christ?

What about these: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy? Let’s be honest, sometimes these are WAY more likely to be seen in a church than the “fruit”. And what does Galatians say about these things? “Those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (5.21).

So, for those of you who have had a bad experience with people who are “Christians”, I’m sorry. If you’ve seen more hate and selfish ambition than love, patience and kindness, I am so sorry. If any of you have seen it in me,I am way more than sorry. I am horrified. Please let me know so I can be corrected.

You see, I’ll be honest. I am a weak person. I do stupid things. I have been selfish in the past, I have been jealous… I have been a great many things. I would like to hope that I have never hurt anyone because of my own failings, but I know that isn’t true. It sucks, but I know that I have caused pain. Part of the whole point of being a Christian, I think, is being aware of our own failings and doing our best to rise above them. Too often we are concerned with the perceived flaws in those around us, instead of our own.

This brings me back to more of why I believe what I do. Not only does the beauty of creation suggest to me that there is a God and a creator, but when I look at the majority of pain and suffering in this world, and see how it tends to be caused, or worsened by people – people who could/should be HELPING instead of hurting – that is explained by Christianity to me. Donald Miller explains it WAY better than I ever could in his book “Searching for God Knows What” but knowing how selfish and self-centered we can all get, how we always managed to hurt each other, mankind and the earth by our actions makes sense in light of the fall. We, humanity, are meant to be a people in relationship with God – getting our value from him, learning how to love from him… But that relationship got broken, and in that, our ability to relate to anyone properly seemed to get broken. Try as we might, misunderstandings happen, selfishness happens, fights break out, discrimination and racism pop up, wars break out… starvation happens. The church is just as much a part of this – sometimes more so, than any other place. It is a horrible thing, but it is true. A place that I believe is meant to be filled with love, goodness and peace has been distorted frequently in the past, and present. I dream of a future where it can be reborn into the place/people it is supposed to be.

I look at the world and I see something beautiful, something designed. I look at the people in it, and for the most part, I see a mess. I mean myself as well… We, as humans, tend to be a mess. The most important person in our lives tends to be ourselves, our groups, our people… There always seems to be sides, and a striving for status. This to me, is explained by what the Bible tells us – that we were designed to be a certain way, and through our own choice, opened up a world of selfish ambition that has lead to the pain of today.

I think we need God. I know at least for myself, I totally need God. I’ve heard before that religion is a crutch. That people who believe in God do so because they are weak. I’ve thought about this a lot lately because it has become apparent to me just how weak I am. There is absolutely no way that I could go through life with God. Part of this could be because I’ve recently started trying to live completely as He wants to me, and it (not going to lie) gets tough sometime. The times when I am frightened, the times when I don’t understand what’s going on, I need him desperately. As I said, I’m weak. I honestly don’t know how someone could get on without Him. I literally couldn’t. I would be a puddle of a mess if I couldn’t go to God for comfort, peace and direction. If you are doing life on your own, without Him, I commend you. You are stronger than me – I would become jaded, very bitter, and quite hopeless. I have felt hopeless. I never want to be there again. Even in my darkest times I am able to cling to Him, the fact that He has a plan, and know that I can go on by taking one step at a time and holding his hand. I don’t know where your hope is – mine is in a man, who died to be with me for eternity.

What am I trying to say here is, I believe in God. I believe that something happened in history, and in each of our lives that broke us all, made us people who hurt instead of people who love and heal. And, I believe that Jesus Christ has made a way for us all to approach God – that He is the way, the truth, the life. (Jn 14.6)

I believe this because it has been proved true in my life over and over. I look at the world, I look at my life, and it is what speaks truth for me.

The thing that concerns me is that my own life, and those of others who claim the name Christian, have displayed the very opposite of what our true point and purpose is.

We are consumed by our own natures, concerns and thoughts, more concerned about the moral standing of the person next to us then their physical, emotional, or yes, even spiritual well-being.

How can you love someone unless you know them, unless you, at the very least, are WILLING to get to know them?

I’m not saying I’m great at this, I’m saying that I’m seeing a need. I long for a church that can truly represent God in the way He deserves, one that has a reputation for astounding love instead of hate.

Maybe you think you’re in the clear because you don’t hate, you don’t get mad, you don’t cause trouble… But what about love? Is that abounding?

Are we representing the one true God, or do we use his name to fight our own petty, yes, sinful battles?