I am often appalled by those people who I know are self-described Christians who make awful, hateful comments about, well, about everything. Whether it’s Facebook posts or tweets or just off the cuff hurtful “jokes” about people and events in the news, I find it painful every single time, though I have long stopped being surprised by it. Sadly, Christians certainly have the capacity to be just as cruel as anyone and in some ways I feel like it is exponentially more cruel just because we are supposed to be better than that and will even try to pass ourselves off – in our criticism – as better. Irony? Maybe. I’m willing to give a lot of people the benefit of the doubt.
So when it comes to someone’s life, his decisions, his public statement of such deeply felt emotional despair and struggle throughout his life, those Christians who bash and shame and ridicule only serve to prove one thing. They need the Gospel just as much if not more than any Bruce Jenner of the world today.
At a fundamental level, Bruce Jenner’s struggle is the epitome of all of our struggles which can be summed up in one word: identity. It is the crux of all of our existence from all of human history and will plague us until the end of the world as we know it. Identity – who we are, what we are here for, how we see ourselves and how we move through the world – is the very heart of humanity. We have struggled since time was time to understand ourselves, to get at the basics, the foundation of what it means to BE. It is as old as the sun and as real as its heat. We cannot escape the questions of identity and being, nor can we ever try to trivialize and make light of it. It does not go away.
And as such, the struggle for achieving peace with ourselves is perhaps the most important struggle for all Christians to engage in when it comes to our modern society. We have to grapple with the fact of the matter – that is, that we no longer have “concrete” identifiers, that truth is up for grabs, that we cannot attempt to relate to people on our terms any more. We can’t. You can argue with me on this. And the fact that I have an argument back proves my point. You have to start where others start. You don’t have to end there. But if you don’t have a way to bring them along with you, it really won’t matter, will it?
My heart hurts for Bruce Jenner. I don’t see someone to make up cruel jokes about and post insipid memes for others’ amusement. I see a struggling, despairing soul who has had to walk through life under such pressure from society to conform and to cover up. Hiding on any level is exhausting and crushes the soul. I don’t wish it on anyone. When I see him or someone mentions him, my heart breaks for the pain he has felt in trying to make sense of what he believes his life was, how he struggled to understand what he thought was life’s cruel joke or some mixup in genetics or ultimately an error by God Himself, forcing Bruce to live a lie for so long. I can only imagine the freedom he must feel now, a huge weight of shame and secrets loosened and released from his shoulders. It is a glorious feeling and I’m sure the complete acceptance and support he is getting is a beautiful thing, a huge relief to a weary wanderer.
Still, my heart hurts. He is on a journey and this isn’t the end. I cannot help but continue to see that the struggles of identity are not going to be solved through questions of gender, not through sexual orientation, not through achievements or status or wealth. These are all just pieces to a very large, complex puzzle of our search for identity. All the things we humans label ourselves with – wife, mother, daughter, sister, employer, employee, neighbor, friend, and on and on – these are indicators of our roles in life and how we move through culture and community. These roles are all defined and sometimes squeezed by our culture’s prejudices, centuries of oppression and abusive principles, largely agreed upon by those in power or with the loudest voices. They stifle any gradations and leave no room for error, or at least what they define as error. The labels carry with them extreme, prolonged agony and deeply rooted wounds which work their way through our interactions in all our roles, causing cycles of more pain, more distrust, more oppression and more shame.
While I haven’t had the particular struggle Bruce Jenner has, I have had my share of identity wars. I have worked these issues out in both destructive and healthy ways. I’ve sought after ways to settle my heart and soul and mind. I’ve looked to others for acceptance and relief. I’ve looked to substances, sex, lifestyles, social ladders. I’ve searched for meaning to life, my life specifically, trying different professions, different ways of finding purpose and usefulness. I’ve done horrible things. I’ve spent my time living in dark shadows, trying to make what is sordid and dishonorable into a noble pursuit of self-expression and strength, all the while clawing at the shame and disgust building its walls in my soul. I thought I could control those feelings. I thought that they were just society’s oppression and my “bible-thumping” background haunting me, something I needed to get rid of and be free to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Somewhere along the line, or maybe, more accurately, everywhere along the line, Grace was walking with me. He didn’t walk away. His journey with me was not yet over and still isn’t. Slowly, surely, painfully, Grace pried away my fingers from the remote control of my life, and worked on those identifiers I clung to so desperately for my sense of self worth and self reliance. I began to see my circular thinking, like working on a puzzle, I thought I was just missing pieces to fit in, when really I was working on the wrong picture. I had the wrong image in front of me. There were errors in my foundation of self and identity, a foundation that could never hold up and never did. All the things I thought I was and the ways I chose to move within society gave me varying degrees of importance and even satisfaction. For a time. But they didn’t last. They weren’t built to. And like a pair of $1 flip flops for the summer, we just keep purchasing the same goods over and over, just getting by for a season.
The season always ends. Our days are numbered. NO one can argue that. And when the times comes, who will you be? What are you clinging to? What identity have you invested your entire estate in? What foundation have you built on? When the storm comes, and it will, will your foundation hold? When everything comes crashing down, all your titles, your roles get destroyed, your accounts wiped out, the career, your business, all your net worth, gone… who will you be?
This is the message of the Gospel: Jesus’ identity for you. We are given a name, a life, a new being. The Spirit of God Himself poured into our very souls, working in us, creating new life and new meaning, giving purpose to all that we have done before and all we will do and experience. He breaks down the walls of shame and leaves us nowhere to hide. We don’t need to any more. It is glorious and freeing – true freedom, the only kind worth having.
The Gospel is a foundation for all who believe. It will hold. It beckons to the struggling, the weak and wounded, the abused and scorned, the agonizing darkened souls yearning for relief. It openly calls to them, come home and be free. Can we not call out in His Name too? Will you not be the beautiful messenger of this Grace with me? If you call yourself a believer, a Christian brother or sister of mine, your identity demands this of you. It demands your graciousness. It demands your graciousness to others. It demands your all. And, glory be to God, it replaces your all with His all.