The 4th of July and Other Identity Markers
So, the 4th of July came and went. This year we were in Scotland. In the past 10 years, I think I have celebrated the 4th outside of the US more than I have celebrated in the US. It was funny this year. I forgot that the 4th was coming up until the day before. Living in a foreign country can have this effect. There are certain identity markers of being an American (or whatever country you find yourself to be from) that slowly fall into the background. It can be a little disconcerting at times.
Who exactly am I? Where am I from? What do you think about this or that thing happening in your home country? These questions are all hard questions to answer. I am an American. I am from America. Political questions? I would rather not answer. Yet, as my American story becomes mixed more with other cultures (not just Scotland, but also Colombia, where I spent 3 years, and Australia, Taryn's country of origin), it becomes trickier to know how to think about my identity.
I am sure I am not alone on this. Many people these days don't live where they are 'from'. Ask a person in Nashville where he is from and he may tell you that he lives in Nashville, but he is originally from New Jersey. At one point in the past identity could be tied closely to the country you come from or even further back to the city of which you are a citizen. However, now the question of identity is becoming more and more nebulous.
One of the solutions that has been offered is to let people build their own identities. You can determine who you are, what you are, where you hail from. I construct my own narrative. I am the ultimate determiner of my life. There is no narrative bigger or better than the narrative I construct for myself. In some senses, this isn't a new way to think about identity at all. This is what Adam does in the Garden. The Lord tells him who he is. He puts him in a place. The Lord gives Adam a task. And he gives him a command. The Lord sets up Adam's narrative for him. He told him who he was and what his purpose in life was to be. Adam however, decided to construct his own narrative. His own identity. So, he rebelled against the Lord and decided to become 'self-determined'. The result of this is that Adam and all those who follow after him lose their sense of identity. What happens is a long line of trying to find their identity again. Deep down we all want to build our own identities. Even if that identity is tied to particular nation-state, we want to be the artibutours of how that plays into our identity.
What do I do when I feel like I am losing my identity? What do I do when I realize that the 4th of July has come and gone and I hadn't even thought about it? Well, in these moments I am reminded of what Paul writes to the Philippians in the introduction to the book, 'To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi'. In these odd moments when I realize I am losing something of who I am, this comforts me. Paul locates the saints to whom he is writing first in Christ Jesus and only secondarily in a particular location. He reminds them, and us, where true identity is found primarily. We find ourselves located in Christ Jesus, and we happened to live in a particular location. This is even more striking when you realize that to be from Philippi meant that you were a Roman citizen. Being a Philippian was an important identity marker, but Paul makes the point of saying that the most important identity marker is in whom they are located. This is where our identity is wrapped up. Christ Jesus' story becomes our story. He defines who I am.
Realizing the 4th of July has come and gone and I have haven't though about it, is still disconcerting. Yet, there are still many things that mark me off as American... I will never get rid of those. However, as I have these moments where I feel disconnected from my home culture, I am comforted that my identity is not defined by where I am from. My identity is defined by in whom I am found.