(Insert probably needless hedging statement here about how this is an observation and generalization that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. And as you read, you’ll realize just how oddly appropriate this is. Skip to the bottom for the too long; didn’t read summary.)
Recently, I have noticed more and more that language is beginning to get rocky as more and more things are considered problematic to say in public. Pronouns, opinions, and jokes are getting tossed aside left and right in order to create safer communication where no one gets offended. And, yet, I see people getting offended at trying not to offend people. And then people getting offended at those people… And you get the idea.
So what’s the issue? One part of the issues (because, I’ll say the unpopular, “There’s never just one thing wrong or an easy fix,” that news sources and a lot of popular writers conveniently ignore) stems from a severe lack of identity. I’m noticing more and more that the word “identity” is coming up more, but losing its meaning. The question, “Who am I?” continues to be muddied as people seem to be increasingly dependent on one aspect of who they are to define their entire reality.
If that happens, then some people can quickly devolve into shouting matches when they feel their identity is threatened… and I see this happening with lots of different people. Gun rights advocates, sexual identity, Republicans, Democrats, and even Christians.
Why does this happen with Christians? Why, all of a sudden, did Christians flip out because of a Starbucks cup or over saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?” It may, in part, stem from an identity issue.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, begins with the Beatitudes, a list of individuals who, according to some, would be ineligible for the Kingdom, but Jesus is letting them know that regardless of who they are, they can be a part of God’s family. He’s effectively saying, your identity is based on me and what I am doing instead of anything this world has to offer. In other words, “Find your identity in me, the one who loves you unconditionally, and you’ll have an identity beyond questioning.” (Don’t misunderstand this as being someone who never has doubts, but rather someone who knows who they are.
People who find their identity in Christianity (or a particular way of practicing their belief) get offended just as easily as those who find their identity in something like their physical abilities or beauty, intelligence, charisma, shrewdness, or sexuality. Take a few minutes on your Facebook wall and notice how many fights Christians get into on the internet – especially in the name of “defending Christianity.” Honestly, if they wanted to defend it, they’d get out of the way and let their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control do the talking and allow Jesus to work through that. Normally, though, frustration, anger, contempt, fear, and reflex take over and that doesn’t leave Jesus much to work with. The problem here is that Jesus, for Christians, is God. If he is God, then we don’t need to defend him. Read Revelation 19 sometime and note who actually gears up for battle. (Spoiler: It’s not Jesus’ followers. We stand by without so much as a Christmas wrapping paper tube to swing while making light saber noises.) Or read Luke 9:51-56 and see how Jesus himself dealt with people who rejected him.
If our identity truly is in Jesus, then mean words and phrases don’t mean quite as much, because we are loved by the King. If we mess up and lose our cool, we can humbly ask for forgiveness because we are loved and forgiven by the King. If we see someone with amazing talents and gifts, we can rejoice with them because we are loved and cherished by the King.
If our identity is anywhere else, we lose the ability to not get defensive and protect our ego. If our identity is in Jesus, we’ve already faced the idea of handing over our ego (day after day). And, if he’s holding it, then it’s protected.
This isn’t a quick-fix that will make every day sunshine and roses and fluffy clouds and unicorns. It’s a day-to-day, minute-to-minute decision to find our worth, our hope, our trust, our identity in the one who created us. It’s not easy, and it might hurt a little at first. Doctor’s visits rarely end with me saying, “Boy, howdy, that was fun!” Instead, they end with me rubbing a sore spot or puncture wound saying, “Well, at least I’m getting better now.”
If our identity is solidly based in the fact that the King of the Universe, the Creator, loves us, then we can stop ourselves from getting caught in the cycle of endless offenses. It’s not easy, and may hurt at first, but it’s a necessary part of being transformed into the image of Christ.
Where is your identity? Ask yourself truly… Who or What would make you angry, or disappointed if it didn’t meet your expectations? What’s the one thing that’s hardest to give up or let go? What is it that causes you to get offended most often. Why?