What I was searching for was me

I’m taking this senior seminar on the Gospel. It’s been kicking my butt recently, trying to figure out what my theology of the Gospel is and wondering what Gospel it is that I will be preaching when I’m a pastor. Asking hard questions like whether we are creating disciples of Christ or people who think they are going to heaven no matter what. It’s been a really challenging and rewarding class.
This week we had a lecture from one of our Old Testament professors. Somehow we got onto the topic of individualism and the formation of our identity. Our professor (who is nuts about the discussion of identity) was talking about how there is this new generation in the church (or just in our culture) that are really into this whole idea of being an individual and not like anyone else. And then he started talking about our identity and asked us how much of our identity was completely up to us. How much of our formation was our own doing? He wanted a percentage.
I thought about it, about the things that I claim have created me into the person I am and realized that the majority of identity forming events and people in my life were not of my own doing. I didn’t choose them, I didn’t choose the way I reacted to them (at least not consciously), I didn’t choose any of it. Identity has happened to me…creation has happened to me. I am a passive identity-maker.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have responsibility for the person that I am, that’s not it. It’s more that the people that I am surrounded by and the events that have endured are what have shaped my identity. To speak in more spiritual terms, my identity has been handed down to me by the Creator. I have become who I am now because of how he formed me and the people that he has placed in my life and around me.
So if that is true, how much of an individual can I be? How can I stand out and be “different” than anyone else if I have little control in who I am? And in all honesty, being an individual in this culture in this time means more of how I dress or what music I listen to than fundamentally who I am. I think about how many people struggle and fight to become different than everyone around them only to become more like the people around them.
So when we are talking about youth ministry, when we are talking about students who are consciously trying to figure out who they are–how do we instill in them that their identity is not their own but rather handed down from their Creator. That there is a God out there that has an plan of who they are and how they should live. Yes their God created them as an individual but an individual called to live in community with other individuals.
We are individuals created by a creative God who wants to see us living in communities with other individuals without being individuals. We have a common good, we have a common goal, we have a common God to worship together.
Still thinking through this one…what are your thoughts?

blessed are the weak

My Christian Ethics class is blowing my mind. I already knew this would happen. People that have gone before me have warned me that this Ethics class with this professor was amazing.
Each week there is an insane amount of reading (like a book a week) and then we sit in class and discuss issues such as remembering suffered wrongs, poverty, immigration etc. Today we have an immigration specialist talking about the current immigration situation in the US and the Ethics we are called to in response.
This guest lecturer (who is awesome btw) is a Catholic theologian and talks about how the beginning of a person, in Catholic anthropology, is the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God. This is the right of Human Dignity in the 4 rights that Catholics teach in their Social Teaching. Human Dignity states that the human person precedes the state.
Within the question of immigration, human dignity asks – how does your position on immigration that “those people” are made in God’s image and likeness”?
I know that the discussion on immigration is big and complicated. And to be completely honest I have stayed a little bit out of this conversation because of my personal connection to the issue. Which I know, means I should have educated myself on it but considering some of the experiences I have had with anti-immigration people and groups – I’ve decided to be hands off. Until now.
We had to read a book for this class called Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R. (Who is a prof at Denver Sem…by the way). It not only lays out the history of immigration in the US but also how the Bible deals with issues of immigrants and immigration. It’s actually a great read that makes you see the side of the argument that as Christians, we are called to care for those in our country who are seeking refuge or a better life. To borrow a commonly used phrase around seminary, that could preach.
As I’m learning more about myself and more about my call I realize that if you want to get my attention on something – show me a person who is unfairly having their human dignity stripped. My heart will be wrenched everytime. I will want to jump in and do something about it. Last week we went to the juvenile detention center and ever since then I’ve had this thought about wanting to work there. I went to a meeting at Midwinter about education in the US and the court systems and again – I wanted to get involved.
Seminary has rocked my world in a lot of ways. Not entirely the classes (they’re good too) but the experience of being educated by people who are passionate about various issues and educate others on those issues. My eyes are being opened to things I knew were problems but I’m finally educating myself on. Fascinating.

I need you so much closer

So there is this show that I watch called Parenthood. It’s on NBC and if you ever get the chance to watch it from the beginning, you should. It’s an incredible show about the love and challenges that a family can provide for us. It’s a big messy family that all live near each other and have so many intertwined stories and lives that it wouldn’t be easy for me to give you a synapsis of who is who and their life struggles at the moment. For this post all you need to know that it is a family of two parents, four adult children and their significant others and a total of seven grandchildren.
One of my favorite parts of this show is that whoever picks the music for the show nails it every time. EVERY single time – the song fits the moment perfectly. It’s the little moments of joy or sadness that make me cry with the perfect guitar strums and lyrics that cut into my heart. Yes, this show makes me cry … a lot. Almost weekly.
A couple of weeks ago one of the stories showed a triumph for one family with a son who has a form of autism. The series has watched the parents of this young boy struggle with the diagnosis and treatment of their son. In this particular episode it becomes clear that Max (the son) is being bullied at school but doesn’t mind so much when he finds a friend who shares in his struggles. At the end of the episode, Max invites this friend over and this friends parents come with him to give Max’s parents instructions on caring for their son. The two sets of parents stand in the foyer and have a moment of understanding for the other family’s struggles dealing with disability. Not in a patronizing way but in a way that they are both so glad to finally find someone that understands.
This is when you slowly hear the opening strums Ian Brit’s “The Shape of Us.”
This song is beautiful. It’s soft, melodic and simple. Guitar, bass and what sounds like a drum box. One line that gets me from the verse says, “we’ve got all the strength we need in the shape of us, in the shape of us The chorus says: “Hold my hand, hold my heart, Let go of your fears, darling I will always be here.” Basically the whole song is about fighting the hardships of the world with someone(s) by your side.
Another great moment comes from a different family in the show. Julia and her husband have been trying so hard to have a second child. When they discover they can’t get pregnant again they encounter a young pregnant girl who agrees to let them adopt her unborn son. After a long pregnancy where the girl moves in with Julia and her family, Zoey gives birth to her son and decides to keep him. Before Julia even tells her husband and their daughter she sneaks away from everyone, into an empty hospital room and cries her eyes out. This is so perfectly set to the tune of “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab For Cutie.
Once again, it’s soft at first and all you can really make out between Julia’s sobs is the perfect repeated line “I need you so much closer.” I instantly ran to my computer to hear this song in its entirety and it’s the tale of being far away from the ones you love and needing them near you to take on the battle.
I know what you’re thinking… it’s just another drawn out TV drama where everything that can go bad will go bad just to make good ratings. And that’s probably true. But the characters are so real, the acting is actually quite good and the scenarios draw from real life without pounding you every single episode (cough.glee.cough).
And maybe it’s just the incredibly high emotion week I just had or maybe it’s the fact that I feel incredibly thankful for the people in my life right now. But I’m realizing more and more that life is made up of the people you are surrounded by, whether by choice or by blood. Life is characterized by who you choose to let into your life to fight the battles with, to laugh with, to study with, to encounter God with, to cry with, to process with, to watch crappy tv with, to drink coffee with, to not drink coffee with, to learn from and to walk with.
Living life with people is messy, really messy at times. But at the end of the day it is extremely rewarding to have someone in your corner and to know that you’re in theirs too. To have someone(s) who will help you through this life on earth.