I’ve been thinking a lot about changes, lately. Well, really about changes and peoples’ self-definitions and how they change.
At this time in upstate New York, the physical/seasonal changes are pretty obvious, really. The leaves changing colors are the most obvious, but there are also changes in light — not just the angle of the lighting, but the quality of it as well. There’s a softness that moves in over the summer’s clarity that is rather like a gentle mist, to me.
And then of course there are the schedule changes as both children/families and retail outlets prepare for back-to-school, Halloween and even some Thanksgiving displays are popping up.
But there are changes in our nation and in the world. Certainly, Hurricane Ian has brought about more devastation and change than most of us could ever have imagined. And those changes will be long-lasting. (Hopefully there will be some positive changes that result from the death and devastation, but I don’t know that many people can focus on those possibilities yet.) There are changes coming in our electorate and in the mobilization of people to stand up for their concerns; changes in people’s awareness of climate change and global warming; changes in perceptions of safety in light of war and nuclear threats.
And all of this comes home to roost, in a way, when we look at how our own self-concepts and self-definitions have changed.
Whether we’re talking about us personally — like when we become a grandparent for the first time so that changes how we self-define, or we begin dating someone new, or our child enters kindergarten, or we buy our first house — or we’re talking about us as a community, a nation or our global realizations … we are constantly changing.
I was thinking the other day about a young friend of mine whom I’ve known for most of her life. She has been changing her self-definition in a way (as I will speak about in one of my Prayerful Pause meditations the first week in October). She is bi-racial and is choosing to emphasize one side of her heritage over the other now. Not everyone will SEE that change. Not everyone will AGREE with that emphasis.
It makes me think of our LGBTQ+ youth who finally adopt an understanding of themselves that others either can’t or won’t acknowledge.
I hold fast to the belief that we all get to define ourselves in life. No one else has the right to tell us who we are or who we aren’t … what we will be like … how we will feel or react in any given situation. And if that’s the case, then what do we do with people who define themselves radically different than the rest of the world sees them? (Think Florence Foster Jenkins who fancied herself a magnificent singer but who couldn’t carry a tune, yet because of her money, status and connections, was encouraged to continue thinking of herself that way.) Is that wrong?
And how does God see us?
I suspect that we are called to honor the vision that everyone has of her/him/themself even if we don’t appreciate the ways that self-definition manifests in our world. What do I do with the person who self-identifies as a white supremacist, a position I clearly abhor and disagree with? How do I rectify those two things? A child of God who, in my opinion, is not acting as a child of God?
Is there a difference between who I am and how I act?
If one is abhorrent to me, is the other or can I love the person but not how they move through life?
There is clearly a difference between accepting someone and respecting them. Right?
So how does that play out if there is no perceived integrity between someone’s self-definition and the actions/values they espouse?
How do we relate to someone whose definition of being a Christ-follower is so totally foreign to us that we cannot recognize the “Christ” they are purportedly following?
Ultimately, I guess, it doesn’t really matter to me how anyone else defines him/her/themselves. That’s between them and God. Right? I mean, that Reformed tenet that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” really speaks to me. But still I would like to support them as their (our) self-definition changes because we all do change our self-definitions in life.
One thing that struck me about the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II (and don’t get me started on the role of Empire and Imperialism), was that by her neutrality, everyone felt supported by her. There was a sort of graciousness present in her non-partisan acceptance of all.
And maybe that’s what we are supposed to be like as Christians. Jesus never demanded that people be like him or that they change in order to receive his blessings. He accepted them as they were and it was the reality of that love that changed them from the inside out.
It kind of makes me wonder how people might be changed now in our own time if we could love and accept them as they are even when we disagree with them … even when they don’t love and accept us. I mean … we ALL change. Right? So if I can bring myself to love them (despite themselves and despite my own biases), then maybe they would feel the freedom to explore other ways to define themselves like my young bi-racial friend. After all … the fact that people are different from me really doesn’t affect me at all, does it? They have the freedom and the right to be whomever they wish — and so do I. And we can love each other through the differences.
After all — through all the changes in the seasons of our lives, God is still God … Jesus is still Jesus … and the Spirit is still the Spirit.
It’s all good.
It’s all God.
And we are all the Beloved Children of the Creator.