Saturday, May 6, 2023

The dead end of identity. . .

Modernity has made life even harder for our children and youth.  On top of everything else, it has saddled them with the need to create, define, and promote their identity.  As if pimples and growing pains and awkwardness were not enough, now we have to decide who we are, organize that definition so that we can tell others, and then spend the rest of our lives fine tuning and publishing that identity.  

The reality is that our identity was never ours to discover but was always a given.  It was given to us by our parents who not only gave us birth but named us so that we might be known even outside the family.  Some of us even got nicknames along the way.  There were probably stories to go along with the names and certainly the nicknames.  We learned these but did not choose them.

For most of our formative years, we were told who we are by defining who our family was and is.  We learned them as grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins.  The stories of life before we were born and the stories added to the corporate memory after our birth were not details given to us to deliberate over or decide.  We grew up with this identity as a given for our lives.

Our friends and foes in school all contributed to this.  From those peers came nuances and profound examples to further identify us.  With these came identities shaped by abilities we discovered and those we honed -- athletic prowess, intellectual gifts, socialization skills, etc.  We were not given the choice even of what was important.  Some things just stuck on us and we ended up internalizing them and assuming them into the rest of our identity learned from others.

Those of this generation would undoubtedly add the inevitable screen to the mix.  The amount of time once spent in front of a TV gave way to other devices and other influences over us.  Indeed, we learned how to interact and made a practice of interacting as much through social media as we have in person and face to face.  This was not quite a matter of choice but an accident of the moment in history into which we were born and the technology that came to define that moment.

Though it is especially true of us as adults, it is also true that in our childhoods we were and are defined by those who market their products to us.  The increasingly personal and individual shape of this advertising has had a profound affect on what we think, how we think, what we believe, and what we deem to be normal about the world around us and about each of us as part of that larger world.

It was also true that what we did for a living, our occupation, was a great influence over our identity.  Work once defined us as individuals and as a nation but we are seeing work replaced the amusement and entertainment.  In fact it is as if work now exists only to finance what we really want -- our distractions from reality and the our fun.  As the availability of leisure time has increased, so has the pursuit of leisure activities influenced our identity even more.

Faith was once a pivotal mark of our identity -- again, not something chosen but something that became a part of us as it was given to us in the words and deeds of faith's doctrine and practices.  It appears to less significant as a factor in and an influence over our identity than it once was but we should not write it off yet.  In fact, according to Christianity, faith is the most profound given to who we are, our place within the world, and the future before us in life and in death.

If then you were raised with Christ [in Holy Baptism], seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.(Col. 3:1–4)

In place of this eternal reality, culture has presumed desire and our feelings.  As faith has declined in influence over our identity, desire has increased and with it feelings to replace facts.  Our identities have become the passions of our lives, the most important pursuits that lay claim to us and to our days.  These are not momentary or temporary distractions but the central foci of our attention and the central claim upon our resources.  The worst of it, however, is that these have become our greatest temptation -- the temptation to settle for identity as the goal of our days instead of the pursuit of the eternal.  At least the identity given us by God in baptism offered something beyond the moment.  There is nothing in the modern pursuit, definition, and promotion of self and our individual identities to hold onto over the long haul.  No, sadly, we end up stuck in the moment rather than free to fulfill it.  We have not found the kairos of our destiny but we did find the prison of the present, of whim, of desire, and of choice.  I guess if you have already dismissed the resurrection from the list of choices, the only thing left is to rise up at a different moment in time with all the same questions to be answered from among the same questions put to us.  Maybe it is about time for us to remember where this is supposed to be leading so that we have a chance to jump off the merry go round and actually get somewhere.

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