What's Tony Thinking

Transfiguring Identity


Identity is a big thing these days, isn’t it? Today we have identity politics, curating your on-line identity, building your brand, maintaining your image — all amped up by social media.

Apparently this has contributed to a whole lot of anxiety and to mental health issues for young people, particularly young women. Life under the on-line microscope can be pretty brutal.

So a discussion of “identity” from a faith perspective is timely and interesting. Here is the link to this week’s discussion of that topic with author and theologian Chris Green. I actually had to miss this week, so I’m not on this video. I anticipate being back next week.

The church has something — a lot really — to say about our identity as a gift from God, given and celebrated in the sacrament of baptism. As such, a solid ground in a world of so much instability and anxiety about identity. A relevant text is Matthew 4: 1 – 11, or its analogues in the other synoptic gospels, the “Temptation” story. It is all about identity, about Jesus being tempted to find his identity in things other than God. The fact that the Satan goes after him on this basis — identity — indicates just what an important topic it is. Satan is perhaps very busy on this front today, stirring up anxiety.

As an aside, next up in this Crackers and Juice webinar series will be the study and discussion of my book, What’s Theology Got To Do with It? Convictions, Vitality and the Church. That will start either Monday, April 17 or 24. I will post the info here when it is available, along with a few more notes about that book.

Pastors might be able to use this as an adult ed program for Eastertide. Consider encouraging a group from your church to take part together. Six weeks. A group could listen in together on Mondays and then discuss in person or on-line, or people could watch during the week (at their convenience) and gather on Sunday for discussion.

In closing, this week’s discussion of identity made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s poem, from prison, “Who Am I?” I’ve always loved it, especially the final two lines. Here it is:

Who Am I? by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

“Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible, woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine.”

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