Who are you? Who am I? These are some of the essential questions I've been faced with as I started the first readings for my Womanist-Feminist Worldviews class. And while I know that some people roll their eyes at feminist theory, if there's one thing that I've taken away from these readings so far it's about identity. What makes us who we are? Well, much of the reading I've done this week suggests that our identities are imposed on us by social, political, and environmental constructs. What I mean is, I am who you say I am. You are who we say you are. You see me as a white, middle-class, young, married woman. You know that I'm not from this town, that my place of origin is the south-eastern part of the United States. According to the schools I've attended, it would be assumed that I'm well educated. Some of you know other things about me based on conversations, looking around my office walls, or perusing my bookshelf. And there's no denying that all of these assumptions are based on observation, and I can make similar observations about you, neither of us know each other's inner-most secrets, hopes, fears or desires. That part of ourselves we keep secret. That part of our identity is completely self-constructed, and it has been argued that even that part is influenced by our social, political and environmental location. Maybe some of us deeply desire that we had treated our someone kinder, or spoken up against an injustice we observed, or had moved away from our homes of origin. But who are we really? When we think about our identity, and then take away all these interior and exterior judgments, what are we left with? Who are we really?
In Psalm 139, one of my favorite psalms (and I love The Message translation in particular), we can start to answer that question. We are children of God. Our identity rests in God. God knows us, inside and out, intimately, deeply and lovingly. God created us, knit us together, traces our journeys, and truly knows us. Our identity, the value of our lives, isn't determined by what we achieve, possess or what others think about us. No, it’s based in God's love and how wonderful that is! The psalmist says (according to The Message) "I thank you, High God--you're breathtaking!" We are children of God.
In the Gospel of John, we are again faced with the question of identity. When Philip invites Nathanael to join him in following Jesus, Nathanael responds with "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?". It's a fair question. Nazareth isn't a particularly important place...it's just a tiny village. And what proof does Philip have that Jesus is the answer to their Messianic hope? You see, Nathanael is making observations and assumptions about Jesus' identity. Instead of arguing with him, Philip simply says "Come and see". And when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, Jesus also makes observations about Nathanael's identity--that he is a righteous and honest man. But Jesus' observations aren't based on where Nathanael comes from, or what he looks like, or who his parents are. Jesus looked into Nathanael's heart; he got to the core of his identity--that Nathanael was a child of God. And what is Nathanael's response to this intimate knowledge that Jesus has of him? He also sees Jesus for who he really is and identifies him as the Son of God, the King of Israel.
So who are you? Who am I? We are invited to receive an identity rooted not in what society deems meaningful and valuable, but in the One who knows us deeply and lovingly. What would it feel like if we stopped identifying ourselves, and stopped making assumptions about the identity of others, based on social, political or environmental factors? What would it feel like if we started to really identify ourselves, and those around us, as children of God? I think it would open the door to healing, to making the world around us a little bit better. I think we'd be able to start bringing about the kingdom of God. What if we stopped thinking of the cold and hungry as "those people we make sandwiches for" and started thinking of them as "fellow children of God"? Would they render our pity, or call us to be charitable? We could ask this same question around any person or group we encounter. It could be life changing and revolutionary! Look at Dr. King. He was striving to build bridges in communities so that the oppression that exists in an "us/them", "black/white" world could cease. He was striving to help all of us come together and acknowledge our differences and similarities, and ultimately acknowledge our identities as children of God. His work, like the work of so many who seek to change their world, was inspired by the idea that we are intimately known by God, and that our identity rests in God, and it is that identity which ultimately binds us together.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.