Thursday, June 16, 2011

The power of a chosen identity

I am one of those people who has actively chosen her identity.

In my identity formation years, those years that we typically sort of separate from our parents and decide who we're going to become, I was living in Asia.  More than that, I'd just moved to Asia.  It was my first time living outside my own culture, so I had all those thoughts and feelings and questions that you have when you move to a new culture.  But those questions and thoughts and feelings coincided with the time that I was going to be deciding who I wanted to be.

I remember realizing that I actually had a choice about that.  And that maybe those choices were broader than I'd grown up thinking.  I remember realizing that my home culture valued dark skin (tans), while all my Asian friends thought it was great that I was so fair.  They wanted my skin.  I realized that what we think is beautiful is so much informed by what our culture tells us is beautiful (or by what we don't have).  That made me think that I could choose.  If they wanted to be white, and we wanted to be dark, why couldn't I just be happy with my own skin, my own teeth, my own hair, my own body?  And that made me think about other things.  Like the political system.  I grew up believing that our form of democracy is the best in the world.  It gives the most freedom, etc.  But they don't have the same system where I lived.  And people were generally happy with it.  In fact, most Singaporeans really believe that Singapore is the best place in the world.  (I learned later in a Sociology class that this is called ethnocentrism, and every culture has it).

Anyway, moving overseas when I did really opened up my eyes to see how many things that I believed were based on my culture.  And it kind of gave me permission to question everything.  So I did.  My process of identity formation was to hold up everything I knew and question its value.  Of course, at this time I had to figure out how I was going to measure that.  How was I going to decide what was good and what was bad?  How was I going to decide which things from my original culture I was going to keep and which things I was going to adopt from my new culture?  And because I was a Christian--I already had a relationship with God that was real and personal and becoming ever more so because of how much time I was spending with him (a whole other story...)--I decided to measure things based on how they held up against what I believed the Bible showed about who God is.  God's character, I guess you could say.

So I went through that process.  When I was deciding what I was going to value or how I was going to approach things or what things were going to take my time and energy, I held them up to God's character and to the moral principles that Scripture taught.  And little by little I chose my identity.  I chose it.  I made a rational decision about who I was going to be, where I was going to go, and what was going to be meaningful to me.

If someone now introduced me to a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new god... I don't think there's any way I would walk away from what I've already chosen.  In all my conversations with my atheist friend, I can appreciate every point that he makes.  I think a lot of them are valid--at least I can understand why and how believing there is no God leads him to make the decisions that he makes.  I can understand how another system, many other systems, can exist that give people a basis for morality and ethics and a philosophical approach to life.  But I have no reason to want to abandon my own.  I have no reason to walk away from my own.  Because I chose it.  I already ascribed value to it.  I have been living according to it now for a good 20 years.  To turn my back on it now would be to lose my identity.  A hard-fought-for, already proven identity.  Why would I do that?

If it's true that Jesus invites us into an identity--or even to our true identity--as created ones, the children of God, loved of God, ambassadors of Christ, then the fact that a person has already chosen a different identity must affect her openness and willingness to consider following Christ.  It's so much bigger for her than for people who don't have an identity yet (like children), whose identities are ascribed to them by others, who don't like the identity they have (like as a "poor" person or a "murderer"), or for those whose identity is not that much different from the identity that Jesus offers. 

What about the identity that Jesus offers is so compelling that it would motivate someone to lay down an identity he has chosen and receive the one that Jesus is offering?

. . . ?

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