A few years ago I set out to find myself.
But I wasn't there. (Groan.)
Who am I, really? The question's important, in a practical sense, because it defines how we live our lives. It shapes what we say, and to whom we say it.
It points us toward the career we'll have - or the series of jobs. Who we'll marry, or who we'll leave.
But it seems to be getting hard for most people to answer. So they address it with externals.
Like dress. People who haven't been near a locker room for years wear jerseys with their favorite athlete's name, and a cap with the team logo.
Churchgoers wear military camouflage, uniforms they haven't earned, save for the money they spent to buy it.
And message t-shirts. "No Fear" was popular awhile back. But it's a meaningless moto slogan, for there are truly terrifying things out there.
Tattoos. Once the province of sailors, tattoos have become middle-class. I guess it's because they're safer. Did you know that in the early 20th century a seaman in the US Navy who became ill from a tattoo had to pay for his own treatment...and could be discharged?
But what drives people to disfigure the bodies that God gave them? And yes, I meant disfigure. Do you think Paul's guidelines for dress in church, and for Christians in general, would include tats?
If I wore a bone through my nose, some people would say it was an improvement...no, sorry, I mean most would say I looked like an idiot, and it was inappropriate to have something big stuck through my schnozz.
And having a few hundred ink-bearing punctures of your skin is ok?
I think it's a search for identity. We live in a world we can't comprehend, not really. I have a PhD in engineering, and wrote some pretty sophisticated structural analysis software. But I don't know how the Internet really works, or how this word processing program in Blogger works.
I can't fix our car. If I try, I'll just screw up the computer.
Everything that defines me as an individual seems to be available online, or stored in government or business memory banks.
And there's no control. Unless I hide cash in a mattress, it's only available to me at a bank's pleasure. If the electronics don't work, the money can be gone, or stripped from my account by someone on a foreign shore.
Or by my own government.
A world we don't understand owns us, and that feels bad. So we fight back the only way we know how, by synthesizing an identity. We wear certain clothes, tattoo ourselves, use jargon that makes us 'hip' in a constant effort do define who we are. "Yo, dawg," sounds fine in Compton. It sounds moronic in Olathe, Kansas.
Takes a lot of effort. A lot of unnecessary effort, really.
Because the only definition we need is that we were created, individually, by a God who loves us just as we are. We're not fooling Him with our posturing, and we're not impressing Him, save for our more outlandish antics which might make Him roll His eyes.
Why isn't that enough?
Because, I think, we secretly wonder if He's there at all. We're hedging our bets, to make ourselves little stand-in gods.
So much for faith.