What Is Your Identity?
On April 9, Pat and I took a bus trip to New York City. The bus dropped us off in uptown and we could do whatever we wanted and then meet the bus back at the pick-up point by 6:00 p.m. It was a good day for us. We started the day off by taking the subway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
After several hours of checking out what we wanted to see in the museum, we decided to visit the gift shops at the museum and then look for a bite to eat. We found a clearance sale book shop on the lower floor of the Museum and decided to take a look. Pat found a few things and was in line waiting to purchase her items.
The woman in front of her bought quite a few items and it was taking the cashier some time to take care of this woman’s needs. So I decided to go to another part of the shop and take some pictures of Pat standing in line.
After I was done, Pat motioned for me to come and take her place in line while she looked for something else. And while I was standing there, the woman at the front of the line asked me why I was taking her picture at the other end of the store earlier. I explained that I wasn’t really taking her picture but I was taking a few pics of my fiancé.
Then she said she hoped I was not offended by her question but she had heard that some people can get the credit card number from a customer transacting business simply by taking a picture. She said she had recently had her identity stolen and she did not want to go through that again. So that is why she asked what I was up to. I told her that I was not offended and we talked a bit about her ordeal of identity theft.
We all have heard horror stories about someone who has had their identity stolen. It is a mess. You have to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. You then have to fill out an identity theft report and then close all accounts that you think may have been tampered with. Then you have to file a report with the police in the community where the identity theft took place and then you must file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Needless to say, it is an experience that none of us wants to encounter.
No one wishes to have their identity stolen. But this may raise a larger question. What is our identity in the first place? Do we have a clue who we are and if our identity was stolen what would be missing? What is our identity as a Christian? What is our identity as a church?
These questions are pertinent to us at the moment because the identity of the church is changing. The church is not the center of most communities like it used to be in years past. We are hearing new terminology such as the “emergent church” or the “missional church.” In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle says that the church is experiencing a change that is on the same scale as the Protestant Reformation that took place in the 1500s. We have people who want to deny the changes that are taking place in the church and who pine for the good old days 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago.
And we have others who are excited about the new directions in which the church could go.
So who are we as a church? Over the years the Church of the Brethren has struggled with their identity. We are smaller than most denominations and many people have never heard of us and it is sometimes difficult to articulate who we are. In the 1980s we hired a communications corporation to help us with our identity and they came up with the tagline: Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together. So in one sense, our identity begins with Jesus and then it takes off from there. If we struggle with our identity as a Christian or as a church, if we are not sure what it is, the key is to begin with Jesus. He will help us to discover who we really are.