Updated: Apr 29, 2022
When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16
I remember a class in seminary where we were discussing "culture" and "ethnicity", two aspects of identity that help share up as human beings in and around other human beings. When the lovely older White woman sitting next to me declared she was not "ethnic" I broke out into my best Maine accent and declared my ethnicity as a Mainer with all of the shared food, language and cultural idioms. Yes, I am a Mainer culturally and ethnically. It has been a core identity for the last 60 years of my life. Ay'a Identity is an important factor in how we organize ourselves as human societies. It allows us to know how to engage, how to interact. We don't interact with children the way we do with adults. We don't engage with strangers the way we do with our closest friends and family. And when we don't trust the identity of a person or a group we will tend not to engage at all! For good or ill, our identities form and inform who we are as individuals and as a community.
Alice's response to the Caterpillar, like the Disciple's to Jesus, are answers filled with both curiosity and confusion. "Maybe this and maybe that..." How often do we feel this way ourselves about who we are as individuals and as a congregation? It is often easier to say who are are NOT and define ourselves as NOT something, as opposed to clearly saying who we are. And on top of that, what was proclaimed in the past may or may not be so clear anymore. Being Open and Affirming (ONA) 30 years ago is quite different from what being ONA means today.
We see this throughout our society in so many ways right now. Being an "American" when I was a kid did not demand a political, musical or décor choice. Today, flying an American flag, using the word "patriot" and listening to Country music has become synonymous with "real" America. I mourn the loss of the flag and the word "patriot" because of what these symbols have come to mean. I mourn that I am NOT a "real American" as to be one has become identified with things I do not condone.
We can see it in our faith lives, too. How many of us cling to "traditional" worship styles simply to avoid being seen as Evangelical? What attributes do you associate with that identity? I know there are plenty who return the favor by using the word "liberal" as a pejorative, both politically and religiously. How often do we "throw the baby out with the bath water" in order to avoid answering the question, "Who ARE you?"
As a congregation we are (again?) in a place where answering the question, "Who are you?" is critical to the future we are being called to by the Spirit in service of God's Beloved Community. We cannot simply declare who we are NOT. We must claim and proclaim who we ARE! A scary proposition for those of us who identify as being "radically welcoming." We want to believe that we accept everyone just as they are and yet I know we struggle with the shame of not actually living up to this ideal.
The truth is, when we claim and proclaim who we ARE there will be some who do not identify with that. Our willingness to mourn the losses as we declare who we are is part of what builds resilience. We allow this so we can traverse unmapped terrain, meet strangers that seem scary, remain curious and open to the gifts along the way, and ultimately, be guided to the missions that are ours to fulfill when we know who and whose we are!
Peter claimed and proclaimed that Jesus was the "Messiah, the Son of the Living God." The disciples claimed and proclaimed their identity as followers of that Jesus. The Church over millennia has wrestled with this basic declaration of identity and now it is our time to ask anew, Who do we say we are?
Join the dialogue on May 21st as we gather to discern our answer together.
Congregational Gathering #1 - IDENTITY May 21st 9:30AM - 12:30PM Talkington Hall