“9, And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10, And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11, And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 12, And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. 13, And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. 14, Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.”
Several things stick out in this passage, and Henri Nouwen writes about this topic quite frequently in many of his writings. But most crucial for us is that we see Jesus’ identity being affirmed for who he is, and not because of what he does. Before we know much of anything of Jesus’ early life, and before he goes on to do his ministry, we see that his Father loves him and is well pleased with him. It’s because Jesus’ identity is rooted in his relationship with his Father, he is then able to be in the wilderness and then go out and preach the gospel.
It is only when our relationship is rooted in our relationship in Jesus Christ, then can we go out into the world and do what God has called us to do. The problem is that for most of us, our identity is rooted in what we do, not in who we are. So it shouldn’t be a surprise then when we go out into the world and feel lost if we continually have our identity in other things.
I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit, because what I have come to realize is that a lot of what I do is based on what I do, not on who I am. I start to wonder about why I blog, Twitter, write, etc. Where is my identity truly located? Is it in Jesus Christ, or in the identities that I have developed, and that are affirmed by others based on the things I do? And I’m certainly not the first to be asking questions about our use of social media, identity, etc. (here and here to start).
External Images of Identity
You see, the more and more we are engaged in social media technology, the more things that will compete for our attention, and the more things we tend to place our identity it.
I want to share a quote with you from one of the texts that was really important to my understanding of psychological/theological development:
“At present the modern self is becoming saturated by technologies that dominate life. Thus the modern self is beginning to be replaced by the postmodern self. Lacking a stable inner core or a reason-governed personality, the postmodern self is a relational self in which relationships with others are mediated by various technologies. Gergen predicts that forms of mediating technologies such as the Internet, cell phones and computer-based mate selection will increasingly dominate the formation of relationships in the future. Lacking an inner core, the identity within the postmodern self will exist only as a collection of external images.” (The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective, pp. 287, 2005)
I can’t possibly do justice to Gergen’s book in this short post, The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, but I think he is on target when he talks about our selves possibly existing only as a collection of external images. That may sound drastic to many people, but I think it’s quite possible if we don’t continually strive to find our identity in the person of Jesus Christ, rather than our blogging statistics, Twitter followers, vocation, money, education, etc….then, we can find our identity in just that…collections of external images.
What do you place your identity in?
Is it in Jesus Christ, because you are his son/daughter? Or is it based on what you do?
What things compete for your identity?
Do you ever find that your blog, or Twitter profile, Facebook profile, etc. compete for something to put your identity into?
Solitude, Silence, and Prayer
For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be looking at three principles that I think are helpful when we talk about issues of identity and our engagement in social media and technology. Since the wheel already exists I’m not going to try and re-invent it. But I am going to take some thoughts from Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, and then apply them to how we can more faithfully be our true selves in a culture where many other things want us to place our identity in them. I will be looking at the following:
- Solitude (flee/retreat)
I think Nouwen has amazing things (taken from the wisdom of the Desert Fathers/Mothers) that can speak amazing truth into our lives today. But as I finish this post, I want to leave you with a great quote from Thomas Merton and the issue of identity:
“It is a spiritual disaster for a man to rest content with his exterior identity, with this passport picture of himself. Is his life merely his fingerprints? Does he really exist because his name has been inscribed in Who’s Who? Is his picture in the Sunday paper any safe indication that he is not a zombie? If that is who he thinks he is, then he is already done for, because he is no longer alive, even though he may seem to exist. Actually, he is only pushing the responsibility for his existence on to society. Instead of facing the question of who he is, he assumes he is a person because there appear to be other persons who recognize him when he walks down the street. Since we are made in the image of and likeness of God, there is no other way for us to find out who we are than by finding, in ourselves the divine image.” (The New Man, pp. 70, 1961)