Cliche reversals

Perhaps not unusually, I approach cliche, pithy reversed sayings with mingled delight and disgust. Oh, how felicitously memorable, how strikingly apt, those aphorisms, like "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," and "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called." One can't be on Facebook long before stumbling across one. But they're just so irritatingly pat, so simplistically tidy.
And then there's identity. I was about to speculate maybe it's just evangelicals -- and Mennonites (yes, those are overlapping categories, but they also have distinctions) -- who are so obsessed with hammering it out, but then I recalled the number of times a character fervently declares "I'm a surgeon!" or "I'm a cop!" on Grey's Anatomy and Rookie Blue (yes, my tastes in TV lean strongly toward the soapy), so it seems a desperate need to define our identity and a pathological insecurity about whether we're living up to it are endemic to humanity.

So why was I so captivated by a recent guest speaker's assertion in a sermon that our identity as Christians is not about who we are, but whose we are?

Christian writers and speakers urge us not to find our identity in what we do but in what we are, suggesting that being "a child of the king" should be the locus of self-definition. But I find that unsatisfying. We do things -- and that is a God-given ability that should be celebrated. It's a good thing to have gifts, abilities, skills, and to take pleasure in using them. We are God's handiwork, created in Christ to do good works (Eph 2:10). Does it not stand to reason that some degree of self-image should be shaped by our actions?

But abilities change, fade, are suddenly taken away, or simply never attainable. We ascribe a certain worth simply to being. Created in the image of God, we believe that confers a value on us, even if we merely exist, incapable of any work.

There's another imperative aspect to how we're created that neither of the aforementioned pieces sufficiently address: we're social creatures. To be a person is not merely to do things, nor reducible to having breath in oneself; we are connected to other people. So as a convinced (though sadly lacking in practice) Anabaptist, I think a discussion on identity is greatly helped by considering whose we are. The pithy Christian answer is "God's," but community is clearly a major part of God's intention for us. Who I am is not merely a follower of Jesus; not only an editor, tutoring volunteer, and church committee member; but also a daughter, sister, coworker, and member of my church family.

Mennonites are ribbed for playing "the Mennonite game" (a new acquaintance is plied with "Do you know Jim/Susan/Bill/Peggy/etc.?" until a common denominator is found, often resulting in the discovery you're 5th cousin), but there's something of a recognition of the importance of community there. It's not just about family in the biological sense, but about family in a spiritual sense. In whose lives are we invested? Who shares our joys and griefs? Who are we surrounded by and shaped day in, day out? The Mennonite game says we are not free agents alone in the universe, but interdependent, interrelated entities.

So, whose are you?


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