Friday, April 16, 2010

Answering identity questions

It’s common to answer those initial identity-establishing questions with an answer that defines who you are largely in terms of what you do for paid (or significant non-paid) employment. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this – it’s a very short-hand way of contextualising the person you’re speaking with. Add a couple of other salient facts, where they grew up and where they live, and you’re in a position to make a rapid assessment, i.e. to stereotype them. We tend to think stereotyping is bad, but stereotyping serves all sorts of purposes. If we refuse to revise our udnerstanding of someone because our stereotype has closed that off, then we have a particular problem.

Moving on though, Christians in particular like to answer the “who are you” question by first going to their family. This is something I’ve noticed particularly of late, that they will name their spouse, then their children, before moving on to soemthing else. Again, there’s much to be commended in using our family to identify us.

But I want to suggest something that Christians ‘get’ theologically, but don’t get pragmatically. Our identity is first and foremost shaped by our relationship with God in and through Christ. So I am an adopted child of God through union with Christ by the Spirit of adoption. That is the primary identity I bear, and it’s one that shapes all others.

What if we made the conscious effort to start off our new conversations and interactions with that fact. But don’t stop there. Saying, “Hi, I’m a child of God,” in our culture sounds a little bit wacky and the conversation may well stop dead. We need to link our identity in Christ with our living it in the world. So, something like this, “Well, the most important thing in my life is believing in Jesus, and so that has led me to do X, Y, Z as a career, because of values A, B, C.” You’ve introduced Jesus at the start of this conversation, used it to ground your identity, communicated something about your work, and linked it to the values you have and practice as a Christian. And your conversationalist can pick up the work element and talk about that if that’s safest for them. Or maybe they’ll want to explore more about the role of Jesus. Who knows? But it’s there, at the start, shaping the relationship.

No comments: