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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Uhhh...Which Way to Daytona? (or Gordon's Loose Lugnut)


A month or so ago I found myself with a lengthy lay over in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. As I sat enjoying my Blue Burrito Chimi, I began to take notice of those around me.

The first thing I noticed was longer than average hair. The men’s hair was falling just below the shoulders and women’s hair might as well have been used as toilet paper…in other words, it was too long. Then I began to notice that those with long hair were all wearing black t-shirts with “tennies” or boots. Finally, as I listened into the conversations of my long haired, t-shirt wearing friends I noticed words that usually end in “ing” were just ending with “n”. These clues as well as the large numbers that were printed on jean jackets, suitcases, and even strollers lead me to acknowledge…

NASCAR was in town.

Now, as you can imagine from the description of my fellow travelers, NASCAR fans and I have little in common. However, as I was doing my bi-hourly check of ESPN.com this morning I discovered an interesting article about Jeff Gordon. Jeff Gordon, one of the best drivers of all time, discusses a struggle of his…a struggle not too unlike many of ours. In the article author Marty Smith says,

“For most of his life, Gordon accepted conforming to the expectations of others. He was content being someone and something others wanted him to be, rather than focusing on who he was or what he wanted.”

While I do not have Jeff Gordon’s good looks, rainbow colored car, or three toofed fans I resonate with this statement. I too have spent much of my life asking others to tell me who I am. It’s safer that way. When you are letting others create your image you can assume that what others are asking for will please them.

If unsure of our own identity, we ask for others to give us an identity.

Our current times do not aid us in this battle. The internet is a hub for these (split)personalities. You can write jokes in e-mails that you would never say in front of your peers. You can create a womanizing avatar that is an excellent break dancer. You can confront friends behind the guise of a screen name or networking site. It is easier than ever to be someone you are not. You can expand your identity and self-construct your greatest dreams. It is quite simple to become what your culture, your parents, your peers, and your institutions ask you to (or not to) be. It is easier than ever to not be me.

Yet there is a tension. For Jeff Gordon, he found more of who he was in isolation from others. He spent a year not dating, not going out, and then went into hiding hoping to rediscover or perhaps discover his independence. While this journey to discover oneself is noble, it is by no means a sustainable experience. Why? Because we live life with others. Even more so, if we are followers of Christ, we are called to live lives in intentional community. We cannot avoid others. Thus, independence is often nothing more than a cloud of smoke hiding the traffic around turn 4. This is the tension.

We are unique individuals called to live unique lives…in community.

So what does this community look like? Could The Rainbow Warrior have found his “independence” in a community of people?

I am not sure that I am in one of those communities and by no means am I implying that I have the answer to ending this tension. However, over the last two months I have found one question to be helpful while driving through this tension:

Do others have the freedom to tell me who I am?

Perhaps that sounds to abstract. Let me try to explain why this question must be asked. For me, as someone who loves to people please, hopping from one identity to another, it is imperative that I live lie with those who can tell me who I truly am. It is vital that they can speak to my passions and my fears. It is necessary that they name the beauty of who I am so that I can begin to believe it to be true. It is also imperative that tell me about the darkness that I inevitably try to hide. I must be seen by others, and they must have the freedom to tell me what it is they see in me.

Do others have the freedom to tell me who I am?

This question must be asked because we live in a time where the idea of self is skewed. We are known more by our professions, achievements, networks, and websites than we are our true desires. Our church communities would rather praise us for our talents, strengths, or leadership style than to speak of the light/darkness of our souls. We must ask this question of ourselves, and then of others, so that we may truly be seen. We must ask this question so that others will feel the freedom to tell us who we are. We must ask this question so we do not follow Jeff Gordon into isolation in an unsustainable attempt to discover who we are. The conservative Protestant strategy for solving these issues of self is increased quiet times and personal religious experiences, but I do not believe this to be our reality. God is in the faces of those we share our life with. Therefore…

I must ask this question. If not, I will continue to hide behind the things others ask me to be. If I do not allow others to edit me, to write in the margins of my life and cover me with highlighter, I will continue to participate in stories that are not my own.

I must write my own story. But I need some help editing. You interested?

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