What is your identity/

This interesting article in Baptist News Global relates a survey among American Christians asking how we order the many identities which we all carry — family, faith, country, job, etc.

In our confined, enclosed sanctuaries inside of which we share our lives and encourage each other in the faith, we easily say we put faith atop our list — that our first identity is as a Christian. In the open ended, outside-the-church survey done by Barna, there is a disturbing — to me — trend for American Christians to identify themselves first as Americans.

As we approach Easter — the most important, time searing, earth shuddering event in human history — I’m reminded of Peter, who chose to shed his identity as a follower of “that Galilean” in favor of anonymity. Any identity we claim for ourselves ahead of the brand burned into our soul as followers of Christ diminishes our proclamation that Jesus is first in our lives.

Are we Americans? Yes, and likely proudly so. Are we parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, soul mates, best buddies? Yes and happily so. Are we carpenters, lawyers, salesmen, nurses, teachers, brick layers? Yes, and gratefully so. Do we belong to a political party, Kiwanis, Rotary, Boy Scouts? Sure.

But, who and what are we first? Putting something first means you will measure the value of everything that falls later on your list against that which is at the top. If your professional identity is first, then there really is no conflict when you miss an anniversary or your kids’ events in favor of more time at the office.

If your first identity is as an American, then there is no conflict to support a national policy that may conflict with the words of Jesus to “love your enemies” or that ignores care for widows and orphans or that persecutes strangers in your midst, even though you once were a stranger.

If your first identity is as a family person, there is no conflict to leave work early to attend a child’s event, or to arrange a surprise for your husband. There is no conflict to withhold contributions to the church in favor of a family vacation.

You see where all of this leads. What is your first identity? If someone asks, “Who are you?” or says upon meeting, “Tell me about yourself,” with what identity do you start?

Peter in the courtyard started with what he was not: “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71)

May we top our own list of identifying factors with the proud proclamation that “I am a follower of Jesus the Christ.” When that conviction becomes the organizing principle of your life other identities and priorities will fall into a clarifying order.

Catch and release friendships

In the wonderful, compelling, memoir “Same kind of different as me” a rich art dealer is nudged by his simple, sincere, servant wife to begin serving the evening meal once a week at the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth, Texas.

His wife Deborah has had vision about a poor man rising to lead the city. When a homeless man named Denver shuffles eyes down through the meal line, she realizes with a start, “That’s him!” She encourages Ron, her reluctant husband, to befriend Denver.

It takes months because the distance between their universes is light years.

Denver was born and raised a sharecropper in Louisiana, a modern slave. He could not read or write, never attended school a day in his life. He never even knew there was such a thing as a school that he was missing.

One day when he was 23 he just left the plantation, still in debt to “the man” for the clothes on his back and for rent on his two-room, windowless shack that had no plumbing or electricity. He caught a slow freight train to California.

With the help of hobos and homeless, he learned to survive by panhandling, or feigning a “hamburger drop” in which he would scrounge through a garbage can for a hamburger he’d put there earlier. When a likely “donor” approached, he would pull the burger out and start eating, a revolting sight that compelled the approaching mark to say, “Don’t eat that! Here is some money, get a real meal.”

He eventually migrated back to Fort Worth where Ron, over time, reached out him. They went to eat, shared coffee, even toured some art museums and hung out. Street wise and guarded, Denver finally asked Ron, “What do you want from me?”

Ron said he simply wanted Denver to be his friend. Denver asked for a couple days to think about it.

When next they sat over coffee, Denver said he’d learned of a curious white man’s practice of fishing. While a poor black man is proud of everything he catches, takes it home and makes it a meal, he’s learned that white men sometimes throw their catch back into the water. They call it “catch and release.”

If Ron was interested in a “catch and release” friendship in which he reaches out to secure Denver’s friendship, and releases Denver once he’s gained it, then Denver was not interested in being a friend.

If, however, Ron was interested in a forever friend – a mutual, supportive friendship through thick and thin – then he would like to be Ron’s friend.

It is a moving scene in a riveting, true story.

Denver recognized that some who strive to “do good” might be crossing social barriers to notch a credit, or gain a good feeling, only to realize the energy and commitment required to maintain a friendship across boundaries is too great. And they release it.

Are we willing to cross social barriers to “catch” a soul for Christ, but then “release” the person after we’ve witnessed to him or her because the burden of actually being a friend is more than we intended?