Who determines who I am? Me or you (with you being you or society or events or circumstances)?
The rising awareness of identity politics would suggest that I say who I am. The rising conflicts
in some quarters would suggest that not everyone is agreeing! Of course there’s always going
to be tensions here – names reflect and clash with realities. And when those realities are biological, socially constructed, economic, political, and religious then we are wading through interpretations and perceptions while hoping to get on well or at least live together with some level of safety.
Who am I? Australian? British? Male? Son? Brother? Sexual? Married? Father? Grandfather? Left handed? Selfish? Arrogant? Nice? Kind? A resident of Beck Row? Christian? Lutheran? ELCE Lutheran? LCA Lutheran? Senior? Pastor? Teacher? Chaplain? Tax Payer? Lustful? Vengeful? Truthful? Honest? Weak? Strong? Faithful? Faithless? More? Actually much less?
Am I all of the above? Do all of the above combine to make me?
When it comes to names and naming we are talking about power. Who has the power or the authority to name? I think that is a big part of the issues of today. People want self fulfilment from within and the world around them to be shaped accordingly. Of course we should listen. That is most important. And then seek to do what we think is best for the one and for the many.
But if there is more to this world and to life than us and the words we say about and to each other; if there is a God, then hearing that perspective is also good. And on this Day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus are reminded that there is a Holy Spirit and he was sent to people (poured out?) so that they would be witnesses of Christ.
Jesus described the Holy Spirit’s work succinctly. “And when [the Helper; the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:8-11 ESV)
Thus Jesus gives his people an identity – names and labels – and that is what the Holy Spirit keeps doing – reminding the world what Jesus is all about – Jesus is here to forgive sins (therefore my identity involves sin); Jesus is here to bring us to God who has made peace with the world (therefore my identity involves being God’s child); and Jesus is here to rule and reign (and therefore my identity involves serving and maybe suffering because the meek (the weak) shall inherit the Earth). Christian discipleship is living these truths, these identities in all my other identities – through faith – because all I or you see is me in all my identities.
Thank you Holy Spirit, thank you Jesus, and thank you God the Father for making me yours and calling me by my name to be loved by you.
A poem I tried to printed in the bulletin but ran out of space was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Who Am I?’ written in 1944 in prison which, for me, articulates well the struggle that goes on within us about our Christian identity. There’s no running out of space now …
“Who am I?”
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (March 4, 1945)
Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who am I?” in Letters & Papers From Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1953/1997), 347-8.