Who are you?
Have you ever been interviewed? Probably not like somebody on a late-night television show or seeing the 60 Minutes people at your door and trying to run the other direction. But sometimes when we’re in a conference or seminar, one of the “get to know you” activities is to interview the stranger by whom you’re sitting. There is often a set of questions that connect to the particular subject matter of the conference so that you not only receive information about the person’s name and situation in life but start conversation around the general area of interest you have either chosen or been mandated to receive with participation in the conference.
We focused on identity in our worship last Sunday, and I started by asking us all who we are. After we say our name, our vocation, our place of origin and our family; after we talk about our hobbies and interests, after we share where we’ve traveled and maybe even our hopes and dreams; where does our identity as a person of faith come into view? And do we think about our faith in terms of our identities? And maybe why is it more difficult to talk about our essence of faith than it is to talk about most everything else?
It feels so subjective, doesn’t it? If I claim faith as a part of my essence, how do I describe that, how do I answer questions about it, how do I claim it without sounding self-righteous, or critical about other religious systems? How do we claim our journey of faith and at the same time be very clear about our own brokenness and the imperfections of however and wherever we choose to live out our faith in community? Because all that feels so complex, I think we often simply leave that very foundational part of who we are off to the side with an understanding that it is important to us but doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of our conversation around identity.
Honestly I struggle along with you in my own way of understanding how this essential part of my identity might be communicated in a way that is generous and hospitable and authentic without disregarding folks whose life-experience is different than my own.
So I asked us at the end of the in-person service to interview ourselves. That really does intrigue me. I didn’t hand out interview questions – I did ask us to persist with that interview beyond our names, vocations, and that “most normal” list when we’re getting to know someone. Where do we start into that which is most vulnerable, most deep, in some ways most strong because it is the heart of how we make decisions, guides our language, and is that sort of unwritten or unspoken set of life values out of which we get up each day and live? Often, we don’t particularly reflect on any of that until or unless there is a catastrophic experience in our lives that forces us by necessity to ask ourselves who we are in the midst of the unexpected and starkly raw situation. Maybe it’s o.k. to interview ourselves and know ourselves at that deeper level before or even if we are not ever faced with that traumatic experience.
Why? Why is any of this important? In my faith, the authority of the scripture is about a broad understanding as a lens or a window into God’s identity. So Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the disciples, the prophets, the Psalms, the Epistles et. al., are all glimpses of, windows into, the identity of that which can never be fully known. As Christian people of faith, we say God is most comprehensively known within our human limitation in Jesus. And even with the life of Jesus, we can’t completely know because the witness comes to us through the experience and then reporting of those living far earlier in time than we do. Given all of that, it is our responsibility to gather as much of a glimpse of God in these witnessing words as we can together. And then using that to connect with our own lives as our lives relate to the life of the world.
So what? Great question. The what is that in a world where many of us feel rather inconsequential in relation to how polarized and hate-filled and violent and self-destructive everything seems to be, to know and claim our identity in faith means we’re willing to engage the identity of our God in Jesus and ask ourselves where we fit in that life and in that story and what does that mean with how we live and speak and learn and grow.
For me the end game here, is that I’m weary of the pain people are experiencing across the board and the consequences of that pain. Including but not limited to deep loneliness, increases in depression both clinically diagnosed and situational, grief from losing loved ones and not being able to celebrate life in ways that we remember, and uncertainty about a future that feels way too fluid. I strongly believe one way to stabilize our reality in this time and place is the way God’s people have done it from the beginning – recalling the creator and creative God that has been present in every day and every time. We cannot capture God, we can invite God’s revelation of identity through the scriptures, through our experiences of life, and a willingness of understanding our identities together as people of faith.
Why am I so serious today? People are in crisis. You may or may not know that, and it may or may not be you, but large numbers of people are in crisis, and honestly too much of the time we feel helpless if not hopeless. I somehow want to find some, however small, ways for us to meet a crisis-filled world with a God who partners and empowers us to be listeners, healers, advocates, upstanders, and allies of one another as human beings. To do that we need to first catch a glimpse of our identity as part of God’s identity and family and see that as a power that cannot be overcome.
So who are you? Who are you in faith and the reality of a God who never gives in and never gives up? Know this – you have already been named beloved by God – maybe you can claim that for yourself and then loving God and neighbor won’t be quite so difficult.
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