Crisis of Identity

As I’ve said before, I’m somewhat of a professional provocateur. I enjoy posing thought provoking ideas to challenge our opinions on topics. Sometimes it works out and great dialogue ensues where everyone learns, and other times I get called bigoted, brainwashed, or small minded. Thankfully, the measure of right and wrong has never been based on the popularity of an idea because I will continue to speak the truth, as I see it, regardless of how many rude or vulgar words are used to describe me.Speaking the truth through the lens of love though is a difficult balancing act and is one that I have not yet mastered. If I’m being honest, I probably will never fully master it because of the ridiculous thoughts and lack of facts that people have a proclivity to base their opinions on, and the fact that I am not perfect. No matter how many ludicrous ideas are out there, everyday there seems to be another one that “out-crazies” yesterday’s cause-du-jour.

Regardless of what may be said around me though I still try my best to respond in ways that reflect the perfect love that I claim as being true. So when I look around at the abundance of confusion in our current culture, I am left wondering how to respond. How in the world can I speak the truth without invoking the abhorrent term “Bigot”, which always makes me quote Inigo Montoya “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”? How can I possibly convey that the current trajectory of certain policies and cultural norms will land our society in a place that few want and fewer can safely navigate? Well, keep reading. Just know that the opinions contained below are raw and unfiltered. You have been sufficiently warned.

I was driving to work last week listening to a radio station that was doing a segment about a 7 year old girl who wants to be a boy, and whose parents are encouraging of this concept. The story reached national headlines and this girl is known as Ryland. I ultimately had to change the radio station out of frustration because I was already stuck going 5 mph in traffic on the infamous Don Holt Bridge, and any additional stress would likely result in me setting my car on fire and pushing it off the bridge. What triggered my blood pressure to rise was this radio show host (who I won’t name, but it’s a nation-wide show and rhymes with “The Smert Snow”) who said “Good for Ryland’s parents for letting him be who he really is”. But were they? This little girl’s confusion allegedly began around the age of 4, which is typically a time in one’s life when you’re more focused on figuring out your alphabet than what gender role you intend to fill in life. If Ryland’s parents were truly letting her be who she was then wouldn’t they simply let her be a young girl who enjoys more boy-specific activities and not pigeon-hole her into being something that she is not (male)? For the record, that thought process also works for parents who convince their children they will grow up and go to X college and be a __________, thus writing their kid’s future for them. It is, I am sure, done with the best intentions yet has the potential for disastrous outcomes. But I digress.

In today’s fast paced, goal-oriented society we have muddied the waters between who we are and what we do. Admittedly, that concept has done some good in my own life because, like a tree stretching towards the sun, I stretch towards my goals. I am always reaching to achieve more, and at a faster pace. I’m known amongst my work-crew as the over achiever, not because I do amazing work but because I’m always reaching. The down side, of course, is when I don’t reach those goals. Much like a tree with no sun, I die a little bit inside. This phenomenon happens because my identity (who I am) is encased by what I do.

When I lost my job in 2012 I went through several phases. There was the “Well I’m glad that’s over” phase. Then there was the righteous indignation phase. Followed closely by the Boredom/Depression phase. Binge watching Netflix while applying for jobs may sound glamorous, but in reality it was a downward spiral sparked by my identity being pulled out from under me like Aladdin’s magic carpet.

As a result of this (and other scenarios like it) something I have learned yet continue to struggle with is figuring out how to separate my actions from my identity. There is only one way my identity is defined by what I do, and that’s when I let the circumstances and voices around me write that identity for me. I know this fairly well yet, when my circumstances turn sour or I’m forced to sit in 1.5 hours of traffic on ONE.STINKING.BRIDGE and I don’t handle it well, I begin questioning my identity. I lack self control. I’m not worthy of respect. My staff hate me. Joy couldn’t possibly forgive me. My boss isn’t going to put up with my crap anymore. All of these things are things that I’ve told myself (most of which while on the Don Holt Bridge). All of these things are also attempts to shift my identity from who I am to what I’ve done.

So when I hear stories about gay marriage this or transgender that I start to ask questions. You know, the really complex questions like:

  1. Who told this girl she must be a boy because she likes trucks instead of tea parties?
  2. Who told this boy he must be a girl because he likes the gentler side of life?

Really. Difficult. Questions.

Because from where I stand, what makes me male goes deeper than simply whether I wear pants or a dress. What makes me a man goes deeper than whether I’d prefer trucks or tea parties. And I’m grateful for that because I’d much rather sip on some tea than play with trucks any day. Does that make me transgender? Nope, it simply means I enjoy the conversations had around hot beverages. How about when my wife would rather watch Transformers than 27 Dresses? Does that make her a man? Certainly not. Does the fact that I enjoy home renovations and trying to improve the decor of our house make me gay? Nope, it means I take pride in my home. Our gender is set because of our DNA, not what we wear, nor our hobbies. My status as a man is set because of my identity. And that’s why it is imperative that my identity be founded in something more permanent than playing with trucks in a sandbox or hosting a tea party with stuffed animals.

My second thought is actually more about art. I once heard a funny tag line about church-goers. It says: Going to Church makes you no more a Christian than standing in your garage makes you a car. While true, it also holds consistent across other truths as well. I could stand in my garage all day long and tell people I’m a car. But the reality is that I am nothing more than a facsimile of something intended for a different purpose. Is it possible for me to become a car? Not a very useful one. How about if I tried painting Monet’s Water Lillies? Would it be as genuine and authentic as the original? Nope. Or how about if I decided to call myself the President of the United States? Does that make me the President of the United States? If it did the world would be much more efficient, I promise, but no…it does not.

Saying that a man is actually a woman ignores the genetics of human biology. You know, all the X’s and Y’s we all learn about in high school. But it also ignores something way more powerful: the beautiful complexities of being a woman. I won’t ever fully understand the struggles that women face, nor will I ever experience them. But I do know that to say women are nothing more than dresses and external appearances is essentially reducing Monet’s Water Lillies down to that of a child’s finger painting. Women are a beautiful masterpiece which can not be copied or forged. Women hold so much more unique value and possess more complexities than any number of surgeries could ever re-assign.

So. Now that I got that off my chest, what does it all mean for Christians? Well here’s a few truths about my faith that are helping me to response a little better:

  1. Remember who the author of your story is. Don’t let the world tell you that you must be ____ because you do ____. You are wonderfully made with all of your unique qualities. No matter what “gender role” society says you are filling or need to fill, you are made either uniquely male or uniquely female. Only the author of a book has the authority to alter it, therefore let no one in this world alter your story for you.

        In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

  2. Embrace your unique complexities. We all face circumstances that can have an impact on how we view ourselves. It is up to you to defy these circumstances that say you’re something less than you are or nothing more than your actions. After having fought a bear, a lion, and a 6’9″ beast of a man, won dozens of wars, and ruled a kingdom, David reflected on his life in the book of Psalms. He said:

    Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it.

    Although that may sound conceited to call yourself “marvelous”, it’s true. David realized how incredibly complex he was and appreciated the handiwork of it all. Don’t allow your circumstances to reduce you down to a mere set of ingredients.

  3. Choose Love. A guy named Paul once wrote a letter to a group of people in the city of Ephesus. There’s a section in the letter that addresses unity, and at the end of this section Paul says:

    Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear themAnd do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

    It seems pretty clear, but I tend to skim read things…so I’ll recap. Paul is telling the people of Ephesus to quit being jerks to each other and build each other up. We need to be encouraging people, using our thoughts and emotions to help build each other up. We need to be affirming each other’s identities because, quite frankly, searching for one’s identity is something we all struggle with. In the dichotomy between finding our identity in the permanency of Christ and finding it anywhere else, we all need a voice to point us towards the former. Be that voice.

Remember. Embrace. Love.

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