You Have An Identity. Where’d You Get It?

Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Love Dinner

A few weeks ago, a guy named Barry spoke at Mercy Ships and asked us the following questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • When your circumstances collide with your identity, what wins?
  • What are you doing here?
  • Who are you doing it with?

I say he’s a guy named Barry because I Googled him ahead of time to see what kind of Christian hotshot he was, what he’s written, how many Twitter followers he has, you know those important metrics that indicate one is worthy of attention. Here’s all I found:

Barry enjoys people, bikes, bbq, and a really good tomato. Currently, he teaches and facilitates retreats, consults and mentors various non-profits in San Francisco. Barry hopes to spend the rest of his life in San Francisco helping it live up to the name of its patron Saint, St. Francis – as a city on a hill.

Wait, a Christian speaker with no website, no platform and a scrubbed Google profile? Besides this other teacher 2000 years ago, who “ordered them not to make him known,” who does that? Especially since every publishing industry professional says get famous first, then we’ll talk about your book.

Jesus didn’t do it like that.

What Jesus did was show up at a muddy stretch of the Jordan River to be baptized by a guy in camel skins. Before doing anything to earn it, he received his identity then headed right into the wilderness for beta testing. He came out, made some friends, and then he went to the synagogue to teach.

Evidently, even Jesus had to absorb his identity before there was much to write home about.

Barry made me wonder if publishing my book, as a life goal, even matters. If I am awash with the passionate love of God and convinced that I am precious and pleasing even before I do anything fancy, does it matter if “bestselling author” ever modifies my name, like I want it to? Don’t I have what I want already?

“We go looking for identity in mission,” Barry said. “But if your achievements are your identity, you’re only as good as your last success.”

OMG that explains a lot of human behavior doesn’t it?

What I want is to be fully known and loved anyway, and if I choose to believe the gospel, I already have that. So, Barry suggests, whether I’m writing books or cooking spam in West Africa, my vocation is merely the context in which I am transformed into someone interesting and beneficial to those around me. This is also what I want.

“The reward for the process, is the person you get to become,” Barry said.

So what if we believed the gospel without all the mental gymnastics, disclaimers and doubt? What if we believed we actually are passionately loved, clean, holy, purchased and royal? What if we trusted Jesus enough to come to him like children and just follow him, wherever that leads?

What would happen then?

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Telling the Truth in Provence

There are only two ways to live your life,” Einstein said. “One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

Impfondo, Congo

Moonlight swim. Congo. Photo Credit: Martha Rodriguez

Last weekend, I was drinking wine in a beautiful French farmhouse chatting with two secular humanists about Jesus. Both of them believe that a historical Jesus was probably a fabrication, definitely an institutionalized myth, an opiate for the masses and certainly not the Christ.

It was jarring, especially after spending so much time recently on a big, white ship in West Africa, surrounded by some of the world’s most radical Christians.

And yet this is where I live now – sacred and secular all tangled up together, confusing the territory, demanding that I answer the question: Why bother with Jesus? Can’t one do good work without all that? I’m learning to respond in a way that loves people regardless of my opinion on their faith. Because really, who cares what I think about their faith?

But in Provence, I was on the ropes, taking a few punches, without any big, smart Christians around to defend me and why I live like I do now.  It’s one thing to hang out with people who think just like you do, it’s another to talk openly about Jesus to a couple very shrewd, uber-rational atheists.

Hello rubber. Meet road.

So, do I trust Jesus to help me speak with clarity and kindness, no matter the audience? Can I articulate what I’m doing with Mercy Ships and why? Can I talk about Jesus honestly, like he’s in the room? How do I explain, without hysteria, what he did for me to people who think he is a myth?

I don’t know. So I just told them the truth – mine.

It didn’t take long for the “Jesus is a crutch for you” comment to drop like a bomb. Considering it afresh I thought:

Jesus isn’t crutch for me. He’s a stretcher upon which I collapsed and wearily admitted that I don’t know how to quit being selfish and to do work that matters in Africa or anywhere else.  That, as it turns out, was a great place to start.

But the woman knowing what had happened to her came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her “Daughter your faith as made you well, go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:33-34

IMG_8504So it doesn’t matter where I am now, Congo, France, Texas, if you ask, I’m just going to tell you the truth, and frankly, it’s kind of messy. Sorry. Other Christians are doing the same. Meet Glennon. Meet Shauna. Meet Sarah.

Yes, it’s terrifying to lay yourself bare for others to inspect and challenge, because they do. Yes, I hear the enemy calling me a self-aggrandizing jerk and I squirm with fear and self-doubt. But every time I simply answer the question, every time I just tell the truth, inevitably a young woman will pull me aside afterward and say:

“Thank you for saying that out loud.”

And that to me is work that matters.

Choose A Cape – Not A Cardigan.

When I was 16, I worked as a counselor for a Christian day camp, at a leafy summer spot across the lake from my house. Although I liked singing every morning in the round theater that smelled like old milk and cedar, I kind of faked it because I didn’t want to become the churchy weirdo who misses out on every bit of teenage fun.

Photo Credit: shenamt

Photo Credit: shenamt

Because as far as I could tell, the Christians were selling cardigans, and I wanted a cape. It looked to me like people would take a deep breath, step to the front of the line, pull on their scratchy, over-tight synthetic sweater, and promptly start dying.

But the world is huge and I was hungry. I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to date inappropriate men and lose my shoes in a bar in Cancun. I wanted a big job where people knew my name, and to drive across country listening to EmmyLou Harris. I wanted red deserts and empty coastlines, art and chaos, perfect liberty and rapture.

And I thought Jesus wouldn’t let me have that, so I played along, picking and choosing. Maybe you’re doing the same.

But nobody ever told me, perhaps because they didn’t know either, that Jesus is all about capes, and he wasn’t the only one who walked on water. Peter did it too because Jesus told him to.

He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. Matthew 14:29

I want to walk on water and I want you to come too. Forget the bumper stickers and election season rhetoric. If I lose 100 lbs you’re going to ask me how I did it. Well, I lost 100 lbs of shame and rejection. Fear doesn’t sit on my chest anymore. I no longer burn endless heaps of mental garbage and have imaginary arguments with people before meetings.

Yes, I absolutely had to quit losing my shoes in bars and running around with bad men, but what I got in return so thoroughly eclipsed those amusements, I can’t believe I ever chose them over Jesus. And if the proof’s in the pudding, here are a couple of things happening around here lately:

I quit my lucrative job in corporate insurance sales and became the writer I’ve wanted to be since I was 12. Though I have a lot less money now, I seem to always have what I need, so I give some of it away, which makes me happier than anything else I do. Surprise!

Last month, I spoke from the back of my horse, to an arena full of East Texas cowboys. I talked about how proud we are of the leaky cisterns we build, and how Jesus just wants to smash them and start over with us, building something that can actually hold water.

I leave Tuesday for West Africa, a place I never imagined going. Not only does my new job at Mercy Ships send me around the world, but it gives me unfettered access to people who are  groping their way toward the light too. They are also known as friends.

Look out world!

The fabulous Lisa Long, author Bob Goff and me.

And I’ve finally met the Christians I didn’t know when I was 16 – people like author Bob Goff who wears his cape like a freak flag and swoops into people’s lives and makes them better.

The Bible says God is no respecter of persons, so if he’ll do it for me, he’ll do it for you. It’s a process but if it’s one you’ve considered, here’s me cheering you on.

Wondering where to start? Try the Gospel of John. It’s refreshing to see what Jesus actually says, not what people say he says.