“Who am I?”

28 Jan

After completely embarrassing himself at an awards show in which he was up for a multiple repeat “Male Model of the Year” award, Derek Zoolander looks at himself in a puddle of water and asks the question, “Who am I?” His entire life revolved around his modeling career and his looks, and his loss to the immensely talented Hansel (“he’s so hot right now!) set Derek on a search for his identity. But while we may laugh off the identity crisis that makes up the movie Zoolander, we would be remiss to overlook our own identity crises.
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Who am I?

Sadly, none of us is really any different from Derek Zoolander. And it is even more sad that the majority of people ignore the fact that they are constantly appraising their personal value based on what they do. It’s engrained in our nature to long for recognition of some kind, anything to feed our longing to be either known or loved. Surprisingly, this is no less true among Christians. I recently had the privilege of attending the Southern Baptist Convention’s national conference for hispanic churches. It was an encouraging time of teaching and worship with my spanish speaking brothers and sisters in Christ. There was one question, however, that people kept asking me which began to get on my nerves.

“Are you a Pastor, or a helper?”

By itself, it seems innocent enough, right? As more people asked me whether or not I was a Pastor, I started asking myself why it was so important. I found myself wanting to dig deeper into their question through questions of my own. Like, “do you mean, am I the Pastor of a congregation that meets every Sunday?” Or, “are you asking whether or not I shepherd people?” All I did was try to explain to them what exactly I was doing in Laramie, why I was at the conference in San Antonio, and give them at least a hint of what I am all about.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough for many. The empty stares that followed my answers spoke more than ten thousand words ever could. They were looking for a simple yes or no.

It turns out that being a Pastor in that cultural context is very closely linked to authority. So, when someone asked whether or not I was a Pastor, they were really asking, “do I need to speak to you with respect, or can I just talk to you as if we were equals?” This kind of situation is not something I handle well. I’m very egalitarian (not in the sense of men’s and women’s roles in the church) when it comes to this area of Christianity. After an exchange with someone less mature in the faith I often leave encouraged and feeling like they “discipled” me. We are, after all, brothers and sisters and equal in our relationship with God. But at the conference, people were begging to find out where I fit in the spiritual strata.

So, why did the question bother me so much?

There is a great chapter in the book Red Like Blood where a pastor describes how all that we say and do as humans can be explained by an economy of m&m’s. The red ones are given for love, and the green ones for recognition. In everything we do, we are hoping that other people will give us the love and recognition that we long for. That means that every time you see someone driving around in a Mercedes, they aren’t just enthusiasts of German cars, they are really screaming for someone to come dump a truckload of green m&m’s on top of them. This is exactly how it works in hispanic churches, though it is not that they do it on purpose. Many desire to become Pastors not out of a call from the Lord into ministry, but because of a desire for the green m&m’s that come with it. And they are especially looking for God’s green m&m’s.

“Well done, good and faithful servant, you did what I called you to do”, is transformed into, “well done…you did more and better than the rest of those ‘Christians.'”

And this isn’t peculiar to hispanic cultures. We are all plagued by an identity crisis. We answer the question, “Who am I?”, by describing what we do. But the  question is existential, not practical. We long to define ourselves by what we do precisely because we don’t know who we are. I’m not a Pastor in the sense that my inquisitors were seeking. I’m a sinner saved by grace in the same manner as those I minister to. There is real freedom in that truth. No high horse to climb up on. No looking down our nose at others. Just pure, plain and simple grace, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

We are tempted to define who we are based on what we do, but in reality, we should base what we do on who we are. When we define ourselves by what we do, our significance is summed up in our accomplishments. The fewer, or more insignificant, our accomplishments, the less we feel loved and accepted. But when we acknowledge that God’s infinite love for us can never be diminished, whether qualitatively or quantitatively, we are free to act without seeking the approval of others. There is no better place to go than Romans 8 to see this truth.

Now, from where do you get your identity?

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2 Responses to ““Who am I?””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Where is my Identity? « Ethos Pathos Logos - January 31, 2013

    […] Mike Gorski’s recent post, “Who Am I?“, he raised a marvelous question regarding our personal identity. Mike wrote, […]

  2. Where is My Identity? | Brian W Johnson - January 31, 2013

    […] Mike Gorski’s recent post, “Who Am I?“, he raised a marvelous question regarding our personal identity. Mike wrote, […]

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