I’ve written a lot about the topic of identity, and it’s even the topic of my first book, Mirror. If I had to guess at the main reason I’m here, I’d say it was to excavate our history in order to uncover the truth about our identities. Jesus’ teachings walked a fine line between selflessness and identity in Him. To gain our lives, we must lose them. To lose our life is to gain it. His disciples reeled at this seemingly contradictory philosophy, and I would argue we have only a few examples of a life which exemplifies this principle.
I believe our identities are a sort of lost key to the locked door of community’s progress. I believe God made us each for a specific purpose, and that purpose is written in our identities. But speaking broadly—as the Community of Christendom, do we know who we are?
Sure we do—we’re the bride of Christ, children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, beloved, cherished, treasured. Hang on a second—when someone asks me what do you do, I don’t reply with I’m a full-service design agency, specialising in user experiences on a digital platform because to say that would be to describe my company, not myself. I think that what we call ‘identity’ nowadays largely is a description of our company—our community. It’s what we do and who we are as a whole— rather than as individuals. When I’m asked that question I reply I design experiences, and when I’m asked who are you? I reply I’m Chris because I have a name, a purpose, a father and a community around me, wherein my functions and purpose are exercised. My point is that I am not my community— I am an individual who makes up a key part of my community, but there are two identities here, not one.
I’m not talking about individualism or even humanism, I’m talking about the fact that we’re made in His likeness, and that our commission is a worldly commission with an eternal outcome, rather than an eternal commission with a worldly outcome. We are here to bring glory to Him (if we’re painting with a broad brush), and to be with Him eternally, but not yet. But it doesn’t end there. If we were only created to be the same; to do the same thing, there would be no point in making us in such a diverse measure—in creating us each so differently. If we were just glory-engines, we’d be far more productive as robot-clones, rather than unique humans. Our identities and purpose are missing from this equation.
The concept of identity, however, in our day, is changed. It’s easy today to start thinking about our identity by looking for ways we desire recognition from others. “I’m a successful designer, a responsible father and a selfless husband.” Our public culture has built up a pressure to be successful. To appear successful. In fact, our society is largely built around this. Makeup, for example, is one of the largest direct-to-consumer micro-economies in the West. Cosmetic surgery is on a steady increase over the last 20 years. We have become masters of fabricating the impressions others have of us, and the market has made this possible. We’ve bought it hook line and sinker. Funny thing is, people are naturally intuitive. We all see through each-other’s fabricated personas. We know we’re lying to each-other and ourselves, and no culture understands this concept more deeply (and perhaps dangerously) as in Britain—where the cultural peace and stage-play is maintained at a high cost. But across the West, we’ve bought into the lie that our personas can be fabricated—that we can be whomever we want on a day-to-day basis.
The problem with these fabricated personas is that they’re clearly disingenuous. This is obvious. The deeper problem is that they’re distracting us from exploring who we really are. Instead of living up to our genuine purposes, we’re dolling ourselves up in the mirror and remembering to hold our shoulders back as we walk. It doesn’t leave much time and effort for exploring our inner-selves, our identities.
Kate Moss’ new Lipstick: Step 1
Identity lives up to Jesus’ teaching about gaining and losing our lives; it functions the same, and like so many things, follows the ‘death-cycle’. Our fabricated personas must be left to die, abandoned, in order for our true identities to be able to break through the hard-candy shell of decades of rotting makeup. We must stop faking it in order to be positioned for deep excavation. Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: Step 2
I’m not advocating the “I am a rock, I am an island” mentality. We need eachother to be free. We were created as social, inter-reliant beings. We don’t function well on our own. We were built to stand on one-another’s shoulders and peek at our destiny. Discovering your identity is not in opposition to community, the opposite is true: individual identity is the channel for power in our communities, so it’s no wonder that many communities today feel powerless. To become deeply powerful communities, we must each know our identities. Take a journey together in your community to kill the fabricated personas and, together, excavate your own identity.
Not Just ‘Collateral Damage’: Step 3
I would suggest this is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Without identity, our communities are powerless because it is made up of faceless individuals. Contrariwise, our individuals and communities are powerful because the knowledge of personal identity is the gateway to your calling. If you don’t know who you are, how will you know what you’re supposed to do or who you should become? To not invest time into cultivating and excavating our personal identities is to lose the battle before it has begun. It’s going into a war with untrained boys, rather than expertly-trained soldiers. It’s not just collateral damage, it’s throwing in the gauntlet.
By the Power of Grayskull: Step 4
Know the power that lies within your identity. Think of it like a geode: it’s hard to find, and when you find it you’ll need to not just dust it off, but to cut it open to find the treasure inside. It is hidden somewhere inside you, and you’ll need to dust off the surface of fabricated persona and crack the mysterious shell of true identity. Inside you’ll find a unique treasure. The beautiful thing is that we have capable communities around us to facilitate this journey of discovery.
I would love to hear your stories of self-discovery, how you discovered power by learning your identity.