Your World: A Clear and Present Identity

Be not bewildered by the cultural chatter telling you who you are.

I'm trying to remember a man I once knew. What was his name again? It was one of those Swiss names. If you draw a blank at the concept of "one of those Swiss names," you're typical. Some nationalities bring to mind richly detailed associations, and Swiss is not one of them. Rummaging in the corners of memory, we might come up with a dated impression of chocolate, cuckoo clocks, neutrality, and Heidi. Wait a minute, forget Heidi—she was Austrian.We live in an age that encourages a high degree of self-consciousness about identity, and some identities are more fully costumed than others. Head south into Italy and you immediately find a complete and colorful package, so generally appealing that Italian-Americans sport bumper stickers that read "Kiss Me, I'm Italian" ("Kiss Me, I'm Norwegian" is not as popular). Every Italian, as we well know, is exuberant, warm-hearted, and a great cook. Even Mafia associations become, in pop entertainment, colorful and harmless. If people could sign up for the ethnic stereotype they most wanted to portray, the list of voluntary Italians would be long.

Go not much farther south and encounter Arabs, who are assigned Italians' volatile temperament but not their sweetening charm. In the public imagination, they are "dirty Arabs," unreasonable and fanatical, and potentially violent. When Back to the Future wanted bad guys to covet the professor's plutonium, it gave Arabs the role. Among North Americans, the line to sign up to portray Arabs would not be long. The question of identity is significant for Christians because we are each on a lifelong journey to find out who we really are. We are like miners trapped at the bottom of a caved-in shaft trying to tunnel through debris to the light. Jesus calls ...

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Christianity Today
Your World: A Clear and Present Identity
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September 4, 2000

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