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Mar 08 2009

Borgification Fuel: Authentic Identity

By John Immel

Here is a mirror. Who do you see? Can you, in a moment, define what is behind the face and be confident in its sum? Or is the reflection there but WHO you see is not  clear. Who am I? Does that question nag your soul? What is the source of identity? From within? From without? From Christ? From the Church?

Life is bumpy, with a few jagged curves, and some sheer drops; and those are the good days. God may or may not be doing something in your life. In the quiet moments, it is hard to tell. The nagging suspicion in your soul is that your life doesn’t matter–really matter. You matter to the kids and your spouse and the rest of your family–if you’re fortunate.

But do I matter to God?

>shrug<

The rumor seems to be that you are of great value to God. He loves you with goopy, drippy, link arms, sing Kumbaya divine love. But if you listen to most preachers, he doesn’t LIKE you very much. And all outward indicators seem to affirm that dislike. You sin, and sin, and sin, and are selfish, selfish, selfish. So, what else can you expect?

What are you worth? What is your identity? Is it the right identity? Is it an authentic identity? Is your life a valid expression of Christian life? How can you know?

There are those who claim to be experts on the subject of Authentic Christianity. They have buildings so they are easy to find; they are really easy to see behind Plexiglas podiums. They stand on a stage with a Shepherd’s crook and stone tablets in hand.

Well, maybe not the last part. But they do treat people like sheep, because sheep are stupid and cannot know themselves, or the desperate nature of their own inabilities. They tell us they are uniquely qualified to measure the truth, qualified to affirm our authenticity: “See, it says so right in the Bible.” If the sheep pen is big and the lights are bright, and the music is loud, and folks jump about like in a rock concert, it must be true. God must be present: a thousand people cannot be wrong.

Walk through the door of the sheep pens, shake some hands at the front door, smile big, take a seat in the pews, and it is easy to start your part in the group. Eventually, you will find a man in charge that places a gentle hand on your shoulder, and after a long hard look they will say: “You belong.”

Those words make us breathe easy in our bumpy, zig-zaggy, jumbled life, filling us with a sense of certainty, a measure of stability. It is easy to gobble down this morsel of inclusion because the words fill our soul with affirmation: we walk a little taller and sit a little straighter.

We are proud of our newfound identity, so we expand our Evangelistic message: Come to church with me on Sunday.

We ask everyone we see:  “Where do you go to Church?”

We display our bona fides:

“Well, yes, I go to Power Church. You know the one. The Pastor is a man of faith. Don’t you know about the miracles that happen on Sundays?”

Or,

“I go to Character Church. The men are so humble, and the Grace of God is so profound. It is such a privilege to know them, and to submit to their leadership.”

Or,

“I go to Worship Church. The Praise and Worship is so dynamic. And they have an Electric Guitar…I know. Can you believe it? It is so wonderful just to stand in the presence of God.”

Or,

“I go to Teen Hangout Church. They have such great programs for the kids and they have such safe friends. What would I do without the daycare and the Christian School?”

Or,

“I go to Mega Church. We have 20,000 people in our congregation. God is doing great things. The numbers prove it.”

Or,

“I go to Tiny Church. How can anyone have a real RELATIONSHIP at one of those BIG churches?”

Sound familiar?

Take a deep breath. Blink once. Take another breath. Now look back in the mirror.

Where do you get your identity? Do you source it from within? Or do you need to borrow the identity of a group? Can you stand with confidence with the power of your own ideas? Or do you need that deep soulful look in the eye and words, “you belong,” to bolster your assurance? Can you define yourself, offering your own ideas, your own mastery of truth as exhortation to those who need it? Or is your best evangelistic message: “Come to church with me on Sunday?” Fill in the blanks of your own soul and declare your value. Does that idea make you tremble and shake and say to yourself: “But what will others think of me?”

A borrowed identity is to have no identity. Fail to conform, and the very group that affirmed your authenticity will toss you back to the flaming abyss of your insecurities.

The fuel of collectivism is our desperate need for Authentic Identity.

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    39 comments

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    1. 36
      Dan

      Again…a very disturbing mental picture…

    2. 37
      John Immel

      my underoos are NOT twisted.  it’s Aquaman today!

    3. 38
      Juli

      Wow, I had no idea…golf anyone?

    4. 39
      Jacob

      You should do a part 2 to this post! I can relate to this a lot. I notice more and more when I walk into a church, the subtle push towards climbing the ecclesiastical totem pole. I just can’t bring myself to play a part, if it’s not authentic. I love the people I have met, and I truly like a lot of them, but it’s painfully obvious that they are waiting for you to show your Christian stripes. If you don’t play the song and dance routine of lamenting about our utter sinfulness, and sheep-ness, and talk about “God’s Will” a lot, you won’t be really accepted a lot. That being said, I have met a good amount of Christians on the opposite end of this spectrum too.

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