Identity Crisis

(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.”

TL:DR Summary:

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?

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5 Rules for Enjoying the New Star Wars Movie

You may not be aware, but there’s this new movie that came out recently called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ok, but in all seriousness, if you’ve managed to miss the merchandising and advertisements that started back in July – please tell me your secret to living a life of perfect peace and harmony stealthily avoiding the mass media push.

Anyway, after viewing the movie, I have a few rules to ensure that you enjoy the movie to its fullest potential. So here we go:

  1. Take off your nostalgia glasses at the door. No, really. Do not, I repeat, do not go into this as an adult expecting to have the same awe-stricken response as you did when you were a kid. Yes, it’s a fun action-sci-fi romp in a well-established franchise, but just see it as what it is… a sci-fi series born because the original creator couldn’t get the rights to Buck Rogers. (No, really, look it up.) There is camp, cheese, but also some heavy symbolism, witty dialogue, and great camera shots. (And Abrams even toned down the lens flares on this one!) It’s a well-written script that, for good reasons, echoes the original trilogy in order to tell a unique new story.
  2. Bring a kid. Please, make sure it is your kid or you have permission… otherwise, that’s kidnapping and punishable by law. As an adult, you may not get the awe-stricken jaw drop of a child, but bring a 9-10 year old to this, and watch it happen the first time a lightsaber appears on screen. (Priceless!) The story is clear-cut, with an obvious bad side and good side complete with black/white color scheme to make sure it’s as apparent as possible. The characters are lovable, but flawed; humorous, but well-rounded; and there are some clear moments of virtue strewn about.
  3. Watch the original trilogy – or don’t. This movie does not require you to have seen any other Star Wars movies to enjoy it. There are a couple of ponderous exposition scenes, but they are spaced out enough to be informative and not detrimental to the experience. But, if you do watch the original trilogy, there are little echoes, cameos, and jokes hidden throughout the movie. They’re quick, precise, and designed to make aficionados say, “I caught that reference,” and newcomers say, “Huh… that was neat.”
  4. Have fun. After all, this movie is supposed to be entertainment. Analyze it too much and it becomes a chore and a job, though some nerds do enjoy over analyzing things. (Why do you think I have a blog but to over analyze things?) The jokes are well timed, the action is well paced, the bad guys are intense, the good guys relate-able. Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie and think you might, too. (But if Star Wars isn’t your thing, we won’t judge you.)

 

Lastly, from a Christian point of view, I have to speak to some of the religious elements of the movie. There is a semi-mystical Force that pervades the series which has some similarities with Buddhism and Taoism. But, the dark side is never hailed as something to aspire to. The dark side members often are prone to fits of rage, violence, and oppression. Meanwhile, the light side members tend to err on the side of mercy, self-sacrifice, and protection of others. Yes, there are spiritual elements, but at its core, The Force Awakens contains a very clear moral code that indicates who’s good and who’s bad. There are even elements of forgiveness and sacrifice in the pursuit of offering forgiveness.

So as a last rule:

5. Talk with your kids about movies and entertainment. This is less a Star Wars rule and more a rule for life. Think your kids may be wrestling with content? Ask some questions. “What did you think about _________?” “If you were ____________ how would you have acted?” “Why do you think ______________ was wrong?” Simple questions can open up some great conversations.

So, may the force be with you. God bless you and your family this Christmas season.

Attacking the Needy

I’ve been thinking about a couple of stories lately that seem somewhat relevant to current events. They are Old Testament stories, which are often exciting and full of danger, mystery, wonder, and God’s direct action! These, stories, though, are kind of sad, really. They show a darker side of humanity which should be examined every once in a while.

The first comes from Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped the chaos, suffering, and pain of their Egyptian slavery. They’ve recently received divine help through the gifts of manna, quail, and water to feed them and quench their thirst in the wilderness. This rag-tag group of former brick makers and builders are now having to forage and become tent dwellers in a wandering city. They’ve been blessed with supplies, but eventually they will run out or become scarce. Any identity they had with their job or place of living has been stripped away.

In their distress, one of the national powers of the region take an interest in them… but not to the Israelites’ benefit. You see, the nation of Amalek sees a people who look weak, easy to plunder and gear up for an attack. Suddenly, the rag-tag group of nomads has to pick up weapons and learn how to wage war. God comes to their aid, but the Amalekites would suffer for their actions later in the book of Samuel.

The next story comes from Numbers in chapter 20 verses 14-21. This time, the Israelites would like a slightly shorter, straighter road for their journey. They are bumped up against the borders of Edom (descendants of Esau) and request passage. The Israelites do not ask for supplies, or water, or anything but the ability to pass through safely. Edom refuses, threatening violence if the Israelites so much as cross the border.

Despite their poverty and relative weakness, two ancient kingdoms refused to show them mercy or kindness. It seems odd to see someone in need and to threaten violence, but it happens even today.

When you family sees someone in need, what is your first reaction? How does your family talk about the poor, the needy, the hurt, and oppressed? As a subject of King Jesus, what role do you think your family could play in caring for others?