Lately, my thoughts are consumed with the idea of identity. Perhaps it is a mid-life crisis brought on by my recent birthday; perhaps it is simply that I sit at one of those crossroads in life where my choices would be best served by a good solid dose of self-knowledge. Or, maybe it is the season — this season of holy reflection that was the time when I decided to take yet another ecumenical change of dance steps and become a member of a Baptist community. Whatever the reason for the feeling, the feeling is palpable and will not be denied — it is time to seriously ponder the idea of identity, personal and corporate.
Of course, I am beginning my quest with a book. I am just beginning the book Rethinking Christian Identity: Doctrine and Discipleship (2012) by Medi Ann Volpe and my framework for this discussion has already exploded. She groups her discussion for the Christian in three categories — that of self-identity, community identity, and the group of identifiable beliefs and practices that are called Christian. This is a schema that pretty much covers what I want to talk about as well. And so, over the next few weeks, I hope you will join me as I walk through my own process of thinking about my identity as a member of the body of Christ.
To get us started, however, I wanted to revisit something that I wrote during Advent of 2013. Yes, I know it is Lent, not Advent, and that the Passion week beckons us onward in our journey. And yet, there is no more important time to stop and ponder our identity as disciples. This is the time in the story when disciples were made — it was one thing to follow a living, teaching, visible Jesus; now those who physically walked beside Him would be called to a very different identity, an identity as believers, as teachers themselves, as the faithful who carried on a work without his physical presence.
So, to begin, I offer this small reflection on John 1:19-23 from December 2013:
One evening in Church History class the lecture began with this question: who are you? It was a good opening; it made me start, it made me pay attention. It was not the words I expected in that place at that time. And it was a great question with which to frame the discussion of the early Christian persecutions that followed. I did not at that time realize the ways in which that question would echo forward through my life. I certainly did not then nor do I now have as clear an answer as our Gospel reports that John the Baptist offered when asked the same question:
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.
I come from the generation that identified and labelled the terms “identity crisis” and “midlife crisis”, both psychological terms for the kind of inquisitive searching started with the simple question “Who are you?” But John knew who he was…he was there to be the voice of the prophet from Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, and Psalm 68:4.
If I were to go back to the beginning of this devotional process to state my theme for the writing of these days, I would change my theme to “living as disciples,” because that is where each text so far has taken me. Maybe it is in the text, maybe it is just in me; but again in our reading I hear a call to stop waiting and to acknowledge that I, like John, have life and breath because I am “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” It is the great answer to the question of a generation, “Who am I?”