A Peculiar IDentity

Mirror image of me

I love the writings of W.E.B. DuBois (The Souls of Black Folk, 1995) and have had his words come to mind countless times over the years. He talks of a “double-consciousness,” a surreal sense of feeling as though you have more than one identity.  Mr. Dubois laments, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—-an American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

I have intimately identified with Mr. DuBois’ words over the years.  Anyone who is in a minority status, is vulnerable, or feels low in status or power can relate to the concept of double-consciousness. When I lived in New York, I always felt a surreal sense of being a “New Yorker and a Christian.” Those 2 identities didn’t mesh and although my allegiance was to my God, I continually was told in overt and covert ways that I was to keep that “part” of me to myself.  It was a peculiar sensation to be a follower of Christ and yet have that part of my identity be denied. Likewise, I grew up in a patriarchal church, where the attributes of males were lauded and prized.  I was a woman and a Christian but my “compassionate, discerning” feminine identity was not valued or affirmed.  It was a peculiar sensation.

How many other people feel this twoness; this peculiar feeling that they are part of a whole but not valued or included on the inside? What about the widow(er) or the single individual? Does our culture value married relationships over individuals?  How about the poor, who live in a prosperous nation?  What about the people of diverse nationalities that continue to pour through our illustrious gateways? What about children? They have so little power and clout. And what about the people with disabilities? When our mental or physical health is no longer optimal and some part of our bodies prevents us from functioning as well as another average person, do we feel as though we no longer hold value as a contributing human being? And let us not forget other diverse populations who may feel this twoness: The elderly, those who have limited education,  and on and on the list goes.

Two overarching themes come from these musings. First, we need to move beyond ourselves and always be looking to see who is on the outside and needs to be drawn into the fold. You feel as though you are on the outside? Good! Then work to draw others into a tight grouping of people that feel like they belong with you and the others that you draw into community.  It is in “community” that we are strong, supported, and have a sense of belonging.  Secondly, as human beings we will always have a sense of “double consciousness.” We are meant to feel this way until we truly see our one and only identity in Christ.  It is only when we come to know the one true God and see how intricately he formed us on an individual basis, endowed us with His attributes, gifts, and characteristics, and poured His love into each one of us on a minute-by-minute basis that we are going to understand the depth of our value and membership in His family.  It is only after we see ourselves through the lens of God’s adoring eyes that we will lose the “double-consciousness;” the sense that we don’t measure up to some capricious ideal that other human beings have foisted and propogated upon one another.

I have long felt a double-consciousness.  It is part of the human condition.  We humans do not know how to properly love each other because we do not understand how God first loved us.  So we jostle and vie for position, attempting to dominate and subvert one another.  We forget one thing, however.  Our membership is not in being an American, or even in being a member of the human race.  Our TRUE membership is in being a daughter or son of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Our membership comes when we submit our will and accept our rightful place in God’s Kingdom.   There is everything…… and nothing peculiar about it!

 

 

Jeremiah 1:5  (NIV)

 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…”
Psalm 139:13-14  (NIV)
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Will You Still Praise Me?

 

Will you still Praise me

Years ago, when we had teens of our own, my husband and I would take large groups of teens yearly to a local theme park for a 3-day faith-based gathering filled with big-name Christian concerts, seminars, and spiritually relevant events. It was all we could do to afford tickets for this rag-tag bunch of teens so we arrived at the resort campgrounds with a dilapidated assortment of tents and tarps woefully pieced together. This event was always held during the first week of August and inevitably we encountered 3 days of non-stop rain pouring down on our beleaguered little encampment. The teens loved it and years later told us that they prayed for rain yearly because they loved the way God showed up and wove His miracles around their fun and relationships. Me? I never would have prayed for rain. My days were spent cooking and preparing food for those ever-hungry fiends, mending their upsets and emotional wounds, and making sure that they were accounted for and taken care of. It was a huge responsibility and I felt it.

After days of non-stop rain, the campground became a big, miry cesspool of tents, mud, and humanity. I was exhausted and cold and badly needed a hot shower. The bathrooms were communal so it took a lot of patience and a real desire for cleanliness to stand in line for the required half hour. One pair of clean jeans remained in my mud-deluged wardrobe and I determined that my life was going to change for the better if I were to have a shower and inhabit those jeans. Coincidentally, my husband was of the same mind, so we hopped in our truck and headed off to the closest bathhouse. The tires on our truck slipped and skidded through the field of mud and then, inevitably, got stuck. It took a large number of volunteers to push, tug, and exorcise our truck out of that black hole. After we were finally clear of the mud, my husband looked down to see that his last pair of jeans were covered in the brown remains of the campground. He, who is rarely frustrated, was frustrated!

We arrived at the bathhouse in silence and soberly went off to our respective gender-dictated shower rooms. As true to life as ever, my husband walked right into his side of the bathhouse and immediately was met with a hot shower. Not so for me. I stood in line for half an hour. Finally, a shower opened up and I pitifully squeezed behind the limp curtain. I was shaking all over from the cold and barely managed to shimmy out of my filthy clothes. In a matter of moments, however, I would have warm, soothing waves of water showering over me. How wrong I was. Instead, a flick of my wrist produced nothing but a little trickle of water. A frigid trickle of water! I could have cried if I hadn’t been shaking so violently from the cold. Instead, I became determined that I was going to get clean no matter how long it took me. Unfortunately, though, there was one other problem: There was an apple-sized hole in the wall that allowed me to see right into the men’s side of the bathhouse. What was worse was that I could be seen in my au naturel state from their side. The next 15 minutes consisted of me putting too much shampoo in my hair and desperately trying to rinse it out with the pathetic little water stream while I violently shook from the cold, danced away from the hole in the wall, and sobbed with hot, angry tears.

My prayer to God was something like this: “Father, please change this cold water into hot water and produce lots of it to cover me.” And when the water didn’t immediately obey my plea, my demands to God became more piteous and more righteous! “God, I have spent d-d-days serving you and your children. I cooked for these children, and counseled them, and made sure they were high and dry. And through all of this I had a good attitude.” My piety was now at an all-time high. I remember all this because I still often hear myself in a sad little voice trying to convince God of my righteousness and piety so that He will do my bidding. Surely He owed me something for all the self-sacrifice and martyrdom I had endured? …….Or did I owe Him something?

My entitled little conversation with God continued as I could stand no more of the icy water and started toweling off. I must have paused momentarily in my whining because all of a sudden I heard this still, small voice quietly say to me, “Yeah, but will you still worship me?” This unexpected question was so shocking to me that I stopped dead in my tracks and inhaled abruptly, my body frozen in a totally shocked and perplexed pose. I quietly put on my clothes, exited the bathhouse, and rode back to our campsite in a pensive mood. I said nothing to my husband for days about my encounter until the Spirit brought clarity to the event.

You see, it is easy to praise God when He is healing us and raining down His kindnesses and riches upon us. He delights in providing for our needs and spoiling us with extra gifts, tailor made to speak to our diversity and testifying to how much He loves us. But what about when God doesn’t give us what we ask for? What about when we’re asking Him for healing and it doesn’t come? Or we need relief from unemployment or a mortgage to be paid? Will we still praise Him? The real question we have is: Can I Trust God? If He doesn’t respond to the groanings of my soul with the expected answers, is He still a Being that I can trust my life and salvation to?

Years of walking with God has resoundingly assured me that He is always faithful and can be trusted. If there is ever a question about unfaithfulness, it is usually a candid testament to my own infidelity towards God. Never, is God unfaithful. Which leads me back to the cold shower whisper I encountered: Will I worship Him when things are going well ….AND when I am wading through the mud? I still struggle with this question and my human flesh probably always will. But quite often throughout the years, as I am whining and railing against life, I’ve heard the gentle prodding of the Spirit asking me, “Yeah, but will you still praise me?” I inhale abruptly, my body frozen in a totally shocked and perplexed pose. And then I praise Him.

 

 

Hosea 6:3  (NIV)
Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

 

Gaspar the “Treasurer”

happy boy 3

Every year I have a favorite little student that works his or her way around the corners of my heart. I really try not to do this but invariably one little person demonstrates a quality or sweetness that wraps itself so tightly into my psyche that I can’t explain to you what their endearing quality is. Last year it was “Yoyo.” He was the Asian boy that daily exasperated his teacher and was always sitting in a chair at the back of the room when I entered to give my lesson. This year it is Gaspar. Gaspar is one of the little Hispanic children that have spilled a beautiful richness into the diversity of our school.

I love diversity and find that I long for it in the people groups I inhabit. This may seem odd for a member of the majority group but there are 2 reasons why I love diversity: One of the things that my parents did really well was fill my childhood home and supper table with people of every nationality imaginable. So it is very normal and comfortable for me to expect to look around and see kinship and community in the faces that surround me. Secondly, when you are raised in a highly-controlled environment with unreachable standards of perfection, you long to be accepted for who you are and what gifts you can bring to this world. You rail at the “yellow pencil” standards that guide your life and continually whisper that you don’t measure up for some illusive reason that you can’t quite put your finger on because it doesn’t seem to hold any merit.

Now, back to Gaspar. Gaspar is a short little brown-haired boy who struggles to communicate clearly in English and has a lazy eye that makes him lose his balance sometimes. Today I came to Gaspar’s classroom and waited patiently outside the door to be let in. The children are not allowed to open the locked door for safety reasons, so I quietly waited for the teacher to untangle herself from the activity she was mired in and come to the door. Guess who spotted me first? Gaspar. As he peered through the glass door window, Gaspar’s little face lit up like a galaxy of stars and he threw his fists in the air, cheering and jumping simultaneously. This exhuberance did not abate even after I entered the room and made my way over to my chair. He just smiled and smiled at me, twirling in circles, and giving short gasps of excited non-intelligible words. Finally, he landed at my feet and tried to settle his wriggling little body as I began my lesson.

Gaspar in Spanish means “Treasurer”………keeper or overseer of assets holding great value or worth. According to tradition, Gaspar was the name of one of the three wise men who came to seek and honor Jesus at his birth. This little Gaspar doesn’t seem to hold within his treasury anything the world would say holds value or worth. His eye turns in; his skin is brown; he is short; and he struggles to communicate in a way that shows how intelligent he really is. But do not be fooled. For Gaspar is no fool. He brings a gift to the throne of the great, living God that is invaluable. It is a joyful, and loving spirit. God made Gaspar to be a perfect little reflection of Him in all His diversity. So Gaspar is perfect. And His resilient and enduring little spirit endears him to me…..and to God, even more. Gaspar seeks to present his gift of joy and love to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Now, go…… and stop questioning your worth and present your beautifully diverse gifts to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
He’s waiting…..
with the exuberant joy that Gaspar demonstrated!