Long-time patrons of The Diner are well-aware of my firm belief that your identity affects your behavior. It shows up in all sorts of places in all sorts of ways. You know, a new student of guitar begins to carry around a guitar pick in his/her pocket because they now see themselves as a guitarist. I have an acquaintance who happens to be a vice-president of a successful company who won’t go into a Wal-Mart because he feels it would damage the opinion others have of his business (which caters to higher-end clients). I could go on with examples of varying degrees.
My identity for nearly a quarter-century has been as a pastor. The over-arching umbrella of that was I’m a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Exactly the masterpiece that He created me to be to do things He designed a long time ago.
At times, my identity was embraced by others. The long hair was understood not to be a rebellious symbol but a chance to donate to an organization that provided wigs for cancer patients. The tattoos came from periods of deep emotion, including the death of my mom and spiritual fall of a friend…and the results of my spiritual transformation. The constant challenge to status quo wherever it’s found was seen as part and parcel of the youth ministry profession.
At times, my identity wasn’t embraced at all. I’ve been told that as a pastor I needed to cut my hair and dress more “business-like.” I’ve been quoted Bible verses about long hair and tattoos (as if I was sick at seminary the days we covered those or that there might possibly be a valid alternative interpretation). My politics have been vilified. I often felt I was viewed by the majority of folks the same way Ferris Bueller was by Mr. Rooney: “He gives good kids bad ideas.” Such is life when you live/teach grace in sanctification.
Like all identities, there were upsides and downsides to mine.
But it was mine.
Now people talk about me in the past tense (“He WAS a great youth pastor.”).
And people seem to be concerned about my future (“What ARE you going to do now?”). They give me books to read that will help me figure it out, too…which is pretty nifty.
And people think it’s pretty nifty that I have some time to try to figure out what my next steps are. (“Man, you can be whatever you want. I wish I could have a mid-life do-over.”)
And people are great and encouraging to me all along the way. (“You know, Tolkein said that all who wander are not lost.”) I’ve heard that a great deal and even changed my description of my blog to that phrase because it is a nice reminder.
But I have to say that all of this seems terribly surreal. It isn’t all bad, but it is peculiar. It isn’t all exciting, but it is unique.
The identity of a wanderer is unique to me and I’m trying to get used to the fit of these new clothes. So, if you see me in a coffee-house as a flannel-wearing slackster in my own haze (if you get THAT movie reference, we can hang out a lot)…
…just know that it’s me adjusting to my new identity. It’s a slow business.