Identity Crisis

It happens every time. I’ve been in San Francisco the past few days for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society for Biblical Literature, listening to lots of papers (30 and counting), responses, and discussion. Some were good, a few were very good, and a very few just were not either of those. But I’ve gained much from all of it.

One truth of which I have been reminded is that I am a generalist in a specialist world. It creates something of an identity crisis in that I am totally overwhelmed by the depth of knowledge many of the presenters have about a very small, yet significant aspect of the Christian faith and its interaction with other ideas about how life works and where the world is headed. What am I doing here among these experts? What is there to contribute to the more technical aspects of these discussions?

Then, usually just before total despair, I am reminded that being a specialist is a gift or a calling or an opportunity that some have been afforded. My place is as a generalist, who needs to know a little about a lot, rather than a lot about a little. I am grateful for the specialists; I have listened to some of them in the fields of ethics, ecclesiology, New Testament studies, pneumatology, and public theology. It’s my role to learn what I can and use it in the wonderful task of guiding the training of church leaders. But while here, I do confess to losing that sense of purpose momentarily.

Losing a sense of who we are and who we are not happens to most us at some point. It happens when we think we know how we would handle things differently if we were the ones making choices in all sorts of situations about which we know far less than those doing the real work–does the phrase “armchair quarterback” come to mind? It happens when we live beyond our financial means. It happens when Christians act like the rest of the world. We forget our true identity, and as a result we take on the persona of someone who has not been redeemed. We act on impulses rather than being led by God’s Spirit, we plan for our benefit rather than the Lord’s intent, we save rather than give, judge rather than heal, and generally curse rather than bless. We have an identity crisis indeed.

And sometimes we think more about the gifts and opportunities that are not ours while neglecting those that are. The small church pastor who isn’t in charge of a megachurch, the teacher who isn’t as well known, the worker who isn’t a company president, the mother who isn’t the neighborhood supermom with her gullying profession, perfect house, and well behaved kids–so many forms that our lack contentment can take.

Could it be that we don’t truly believe that the best is yet to come, and that it has to happen tangibly, now? Could it be that we don’t believe God can take our faithfulness in little and redeem it for much? Just wondering.

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