I met a guy recently, and after a few minutes of chit chat about the weather and what ham rig he was running, I asked, like many Westerners might, “What do you do?” He replied, “I am a farmer.” I immediately thought to myself, quite judgmentally, “No, you are not! I asked you what you do, not what you erroneously think your identity is.” But what came out of my mouth was, “Wow. That’s cool. I’m a city boy.”
In my vocation as a priest, I have always resisted the theologically deduced notion that my nature was somehow changed at ordination, that somehow, miraculously, I became a priest, separate and distinct from other humans. Now, I do believe that being a priest or a farmer or whatever we do is a part of our identities and that we have many other unique aspects to our selves. But isn’t there a real danger that these distinct parts of our understood identity have the tendency to alienate us from our truer selves and also others? That is, haven’t we moved so far beyond our commonly understood interconnected humanity and allowed ourselves to be individually commodified primarily through the hierarchical, patriarchal, racist, and homophobic economic, political, and technological systems which we ourselves have constructed? So, we late-stage capitalist humans have become things and roles and titles and fans and extreme otherness.
Thus, I am a father and husband, a Nuyorican, a Windows/Android guy (who really doesn’t get all those Apple people), a combat Veteran who is an anti-war activist, a ham radio enthusiast, a homeowner (really?), a Mets/Jets/Islanders fan, and though I am straight I have sometimes felt zigzagged, and oh yeah, I am a doctor, a doctor of ministry, no I am a Chaplain, no, I am a priest who is a Chaplain, no, I am the, Grand Poobah, the Chief of Chaplain Services of a large healthcare system. I could go on and never really answer the question:
Who am I?
This is the question I asked of all the intern/resident Chaplains when I was teaching chaplain classes at the hospital. I would have them write a “Who Am I” one-page paper, and then I would critique what they wrote, saying it was all just pedestrian inanities; where’s the emotion, where’s the humanity, where’s the spirituality? And of course, I could say that I was a confused follower of Jesus, a mostly sad and angry, but grateful, joyful and peaceful broken soul in search of God, and still not get it. The escape hatch might read: “Go Thru Here: I am complex and evolving.” Still pulling levers and making smoke behind the curtain.
So, who does God want you or me to be or say that we are? It is the same question Moses asked of God: Who should I say has sent me? God wants you and I to be who God is: simply, I am. When someone asks you who you are, tell them, “I am.”
Not so easy, huh? Ridiculous even? I know, no one is ever gonna say that. How bourgeois of me to even think about such things? While most of the world is sunk in an intense struggle of either life and death or merely surviving, I would have us asking elitist questions of ultimate existence.
Yet, God does want us to not only recognize, but also to appropriate and to live out that we are, in fact, divine beings and interconnected to all that is. That, at our best, We are. When we can actually become who we were created to be, then the fullest expression of who we are will be the fullest expression of who God is: Love.
Now, I know that I am not Love, but that I am meant to be Love. Nevertheless, the Evil One, who is in the world, is a liar and trickster that tempts us away from who we truly are. Our whole world system is militating against us from becoming who we are, commodifying us through the death cult of so-called “free-market” capitalism. Knowing and becoming the gods that we truly are will destroy the evil world system.
This is the ongoing struggle we are called to.
That’s why when Jesus only intimated that he was God and that others were too, the opponents of Jesus tried to stone him (John 10:31-35). And when the empire and their co-opted religious puppets convinced themselves that even though Jesus wouldn’t come out and say that he was God, because for others to grasp such a thing is, oh so, difficult, they crucified him anyway. It is a real threat against power for ordinary people to begin to think that they are gods, much less empower them to become who they truly are.
Sorry, Jesus. We can’t be havin’ that.
But wait. Up from the grave, Jesus rose from the dead, because “I am” can never die. The struggle must continue.
And so God says to you and me, “I, the Lord God, say that all of you are gods; now go on and tell all the peoples of the world to become who they are—to immerse themselves in their godness” (Ps 82:6a; Matt 28:19). Sigue!
© Paul Dordal, 2019