“There are all sorts of opinions as to how Jesus came to understand his identity and calling, but I am convinced that it was a journey that led him there, a journey of faith and discovery…”
—From Ch. 11 ("On and On") of Jesus Journey
My identity is constantly changing. Nearly eight years ago, I embraced my identity as a husband, shortly thereafter as that of a father.
I’m still in the process of discovering and wrestling through both of these identities, even as I work through the shedding of others: my bachelorhood, my youth, my high school triple jump record (or is that still standing?).
I struggle with how the son of a pastor’s kid who grew up in France, who is now losing his ability to speak German, is to reconcile an adult life that put me on a journey from skyscraper offices in Chicago to living with Bedouin in the Sinai, working with refugees resettled in Massachusetts to landing in the hills of West Virginia (go Mountaineers!), where I presently study food banking networks. (And all of that doesn't even include one of my newest identities here—homeowner. I'm still working through that one as well…)
Identity theorists use the word “intersectionality” to describe the multiple, complicated and overlapping social identities that make up each person’s understanding of themselves. We don’t put on identity like clothes or masks—we grow into them… all of them.
We’re constantly working through who and what we are in relation to others. In fact, identities cannot exist outside of others, we can’t understand ourselves without first constructing the “other”, what we are not. These identities are reinforced by long standing and often oppressive human made systems, which is why identity politics are so messy.
Socially constructed boxes and categories define us sometimes subtly, at other times violently. We all carry them around, some front and center, others hidden away or purposefully forgotten: gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, age, height, weight, disability… the list goes (on and on).
Shortly before I got married I was working on trying to reconcile my different life experiences and identities into something that made sense, that fit into a social box. I felt I needed to have it more together, and the fact that I couldn’t was a bit of a crisis. During that time I leaned on Trent to talk things through, and we delved together into deep identity questions over coffee one day.
I wanted to know, to peer into the future and understand what these intersecting identities and experiences had all been for. Where was it all leading? (Confession: I still do that sometimes, probably too often.)
Did Jesus fully know what awaited him for the next three years of his life after John baptized him? Did he know the names of the blind who came to him for sight, or the faces of the lame who asked him for strength to walk? Did he expect the curses and gossip his enemies would spread about him, and the pain of his death? Personally, I don’t think he knew each and every part of how it would all unfold...
But, did he always rest in the knowledge of his identity as the beloved Son in whom God delights? Yes, I believe he did. And the constancy of that rest is why I trust and worship him.
I’ve never experienced Holy Spirit descending on me like a dove, but I have lived through special moments when all my identities melt away and I am left with only one… a beloved son in whom God delights.
One such moment was driving on Interstate 5 in 2003. Another was on a swing in a park in 2009. Still another was two weeks ago on my way back from a conference. In those rare moments, I am always overwhelmed by tears. The tears flow as a release from all the pressures of trying to conform my identity to the molds constructed by others.
Unlike Jesus, these experiences are few and far between for me, but they are etched in my memory and I look back on them for courage in times of doubt along my faith journey.
I imagine Jesus too leaned heavily on the defining heaven-tearing-open, dove-descending, Father-speaking memory of his baptism when he began sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane.
Today's guest post is by Josh Lohnes: Josh is becoming a geography doctor. He lives with his wife Jenna and children Evie-Lou, Elias, and Jude in Morgantown, West Virginia. He likes planting seeds and watching them grow, but very much dislikes mosquitoes and poison ivy. Josh has a hard time saying no to things because he sees every project as an opportunity to get involved with people. Even though he’s an introvert, his favorite thing is cultivating relationships. He hopes that being a geography doctor will give him the chance to see all the friends he’s made in different places as often as possible.
Photo credits: "Italy" and "Coffee"—Cheslea Hudson / "Ocean"—Bill Pekrul