The calendar flipped to March today, the beginning of a favorite time of year for me. Along with the warming weather, longer days because we “spring forward” and my birthday near the middle of the month, it is also the opening of baseball spring training and the beginning of March Madness in college basketball.
I don’t know exactly how or when it began but I am a die-hard Duke Blue Devil fan. I suspect it began when I was a teenager or soon after I graduated from High School, but somewhere along the way, I identified as a Blue Devil fan. I don’t remember watching Johnny Dawkins in the early 1980’s but I’m old enough to remember some of the Duke greats like Danny Ferry, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Jason Williams, J.J. Redick and Kyrie Irving. As of this season, there are over 20 former Duke players still performing their craft in the NBA!
So why talk about my identification with the Duke Blue Devils?
I was reminded this week from a concept I gleaned from Seth Godin when I joined his Tribes group. Essentially, it contended that while we typically think of identity as something we forge on our own, most of our sense of ourselves comes from the community we belong to, our family of origin, and the folks with whom we hang out. In this sense, identity is always given, even borrowed, not simply created.
A quick example from my opening. No one wakes up one day and says: “You know who I’m going to be? I’m going to be one of the Cameron Crazies who paint their face and bodies and taunt opposing team members from the lower stands in Cameron Indoor Stadium.” Instead, you hang out with friends, watch lots of games on TV, get invited to go to a game, then more games, and then you brave the elements in a tent city outside the stadium to get one of the coveted student section seats, then you paint your face blue, and then all of a sudden realize you are one of those persons! You are a Cameron Crazy! And you could say the same about bikers or Trekkies or just about any of the other groups we associate with and from which we derive a lot of our identity.
Within the Christian tradition, one such group identifier is our baptism. Baptism marks our entrance into the covenantal family of faith and, even more powerful, told that we are God’s beloved child, imager bearers of God, and therefore have infinite worth. That’s a message we can not hear too often at our Gatherings – that we are children of God, that God is with us and in us and desires to use us to be agents of restoration in this world.
The reality is this: when push comes to shove, all the various temptations we face stem from the primary temptation to forgot whose we are and therefore to forget who we. Because once you don’t remember who you and whose you are, you’ll do all kinds of things to attempt to find that sense of security and acceptance that is essential to being happy.
Isn’t that Adam and Eve’s problem in the Genesis story? When the serpent comes, he doesn’t start out with a temptation but instead sows mistrust in Adam and Eve. The serpent tries to undermine the relationship of trust between God and God’s children. “Did God really say,” the serpent asks, misrepresenting and undermining God’s instructions. “You will not die,” the serpent asserts, suggesting that there are things God knows but isn’t telling. It’s only when this primary relationship has been undermined, when they forget whose they are, that they become susceptible to the temptation to forge an identity independent of identity of their relationship with God.
We are bombarded daily if not hourly, with subtle messages that seek to undermine our identity and invite us to forget whose we are. So many media messages suggest we are inadequate. In the face of all of these you-are-not-enough messages comes the promise of God, sealed in our baptism, that we are totally and completely loved by God.