Identity: Why That Voice in Your Head Is an Idiot

I am a fidgeter.

Well, let’s use a verb, not a noun: I fidget.
(When I die, I don’t think they’ll write “Here lies Erin, a Fidgeter” on my tombstone, so let’s stick with verbs, not identifiers.)

I like to be doing something with my hands at all times. I think this is why I like knitting. It’s mindless, if you want it to be, so you can do it while talking on the phone, while watching TV. Once I actually knitted in a movie theater. Yeah, I’m that cool. Don’t be intimidated.

When I had long hair, I twirled it. Now that I have short hair, I still twirl it, and end up with little unicorn horns sticking out all over the place. It’s attractive. In the sense of not being attractive at all.

I also like to doodle. This is the most socially acceptable form of fidgeting, I suppose, although sometimes people think you’re being rude. I once had a professor who put, “No doodling during lectures,” on the syllabus right behind, “No surfing the internet” and “No gum-chewing.” This, I thought, was a bit extreme. And I doodled a lot during her lectures in protest.

 

I always tell myself, and the people who give me dirty or inquisitive looks, that I fidget during lectures and concerts and things so that my brain can concentrate better.
If I can’t fidget, my mind will wander. If I allow myself to fidget, though, all my brain’s wandering power is concentrated on the doodle, or the knitting, so the rest of it can enjoy the concert or lecture or whatever.

I don’t know if this is true, but it seems to be.  Or at least it makes a nice excuse.

 

Why am I telling you this?

Oh, right.

 

Once I brought some knitting to a hymn-sing at the church where I’m working. I pulled it out of my purse casually… and then I panicked: Oh dear. Is this appropriate? YOU’RE BEING SO INAPPROPRIATE. How can I put this away now without being awkward? Are people staring? Do I look pretentious, like, “Ohhhh look at me! I’m knitting! Everyone pay attention to me!” Oh no oh no oh no.

It was a dramatic moment inside my head.

My fellow pastor Barbara sat down next to me to enjoy the concert.  I leaned over and whispered, somewhat frantically, “Does it make me a bad pastor that I’m knitting during this?”

Barbara’s response was BEAUTIFUL.

She looked at me– in the kindest way possible– like I was an idiot and said matter-of-factly, “No, it just makes you a pastor who’s knitting during this.”

 

….RIGHT?!

 

“Does this make me a bad pastor?”

I am constantly asking myself that question.

Does it make me a bad pastor that sometimes I don’t feel like I’m worshiping when I’m leading worship?
Does it make me a bad pastor that sometimes I don’t prepare totally for Disciple and then have to scramble on the day-of?
Does it make me a bad pastor that sometimes I’d rather go play with the kiddos on the preschool playground than answer my emails?

No.

None of this has any bearing on whether or not I’m a good pastor, or a good person. It makes me a pastor… who sometimes doesn’t feel like she’s worshiping, and who gets behind on Disciple, and who like kids better than a computer screen. JUST LIKE MOST EVERYONE ELSE.

This is one of the hardest lessons of life, and if I learn it by the time I die, I’ll have achieved Nirvana. Or the Christian version of Nirvana. Which is probably the ability to make the perfect sweet potato casserole. (You do know I’m joking, right? Okay, good.)

What you do affects you. But it doesn’t define you. Just because I accidentally stepped on my dog’s foot at the park yesterday doesn’t make me an abusive dog owner. It makes me someone who makes mistakes. Just because I deliver one stinker of a sermon doesn’t make me a bad preacher, it makes me someone who had an off day.
They will not write on my tombstone: “Here Lies Erin, a Dog-Foot-Stepper-Onner,” or, “Here Lies Erin, the Worst Preacher in North Carolina.”
It’s a hate crime against yourself when you let your mistakes become your identity. It’s an act of violence. It’s identity theft (you knew I had to make that joke, there, it’s over with).

 

Friends, hear the Good News of the Gospel:
That mistake you made yesterday, it doesn’t define you.

 

Just because you sin, it doesn’t make you damned, or evil, or forever “a sinner.” It just makes you someone who made a mistake. It doesn’t negate your identity as Christ’s beloved.

 

Never let someone’s words– not your friends’, not your boss’s, not your parents’, and especially not the ones coming from your own mind– convince you that you are anything other than the beloved of God. A beautiful being. One who was created for such a time as this. One who makes God laugh and smile and weep and die to save you from yourself.

You are nothing else. Thanks be to God!

How I Spent My (Preaching) (Horrifying) (Weeping) Weekend

This weekend, I sat in horrified silence in front of the news for probably around 16 hours.

I sat in a hairstylist’s chair and wondered if coloring my hair meant adorning myself, which the Bible sort of frowns on. I decided that God had bigger things on God’s mind right now– communal ethics and violence against the innocent always seem a bigger deal to God than a little self-adornment here and there (see Isaiah, Jeremiah, all the prophets).

I contemplated adopting a dog, because I have love to give and lbs I need to walk off. I decided that my problems were so, so trivial.

 

I dressed up as the angel Gabriel in a Christmas pageant and told a fifth grade Mary good news: You will have a child!

 

I asked God what to preach about, and God said, “Murdered children.”

I told God that didn’t sound great, and God added, “… and the God who loves them deeply.”

 

….It was a rough weekend. But God was so, so good throughout all of it.  Did we doubt it? Maybe only a little.

 

Here’s the transcript from my sermon.

We have gathered in this safe, warm place to celebrate lessons and carols, a time of singing praise and joy to our God.  Praise and joy for the wonder that is the Christ-child. God in human flesh, the most tender and vulnerable human flesh possible—a baby.  Every year we celebrate this mystery, this miracle, this birth, just as we celebrate the birthdays of our own children.  Except that every year He is truly born again.  Because every year, every day, God chooses to come into the world, into your world, into this broken and bleeding world, to restore, and to heal, and to bring peace.

I wonder what it means today, on this day, this year, to say that God comes into our world. I wonder, in this moment of national and international bewilderment, fear, and inexpressible grief, what it means to say that God comes to us as a little child.  A vulnerable child, a child—who is not armed, who does not know war, who wants only the warm embrace of his father and the deep, abiding love of his mother.  A child who bids all people to come to Him, the shepherds and the wise men, and later the Jews, the Gentiles, the rich, the poor, the children…

This little child bids all to come to Him.  He has no security measures in place, He is not armed, He does not have a security team.  Our God is not the kind of God who lives behind glass where we can’t get at Him.  God came in the form of an innocent, vulnerable child; exposed, subject to the death-dealing sins of humanity.  And as we who know the end of the story, we know that in time He is murdered, not as a child but as a man, as the God-man.  He did not have to put on human flesh for our sake.  He did not have to make Himself vulnerable to all the terrible, messy things common to human life—birth, puberty, grief, betrayal, and death.

So why did He come?  And why like that?  And why does He come again every year?  We are tempted to despair.  We are tempted to turn on the news, especially this weekend, and say, “It didn’t do any good.”

But it did.  And it does.  God comes to us as a little child to say that God cares deeply for little children.  God comes to us as a vulnerable being to say that God’s eye is always on the vulnerable ones.  God comes to us as a peaceful being in the midst of violence and terror—for if you remember, Jesus was born into a world where a king could and did order the death of countless baby boys—to show that there is another way, that peace is possible and indeed will win in the end.  For as we who know the end of the story know, after death there is resurrection.

So as we hear this story again today, as we sing the familiar songs and celebrate with joy and anticipation the coming birth of Christ into our world, let us remember that He did not come into Eden, some paradise far off in the distance where babies don’t cry and animals sing them lullabies.  That view of Christmas is a fantasy.  Our God was born into a world of violence, of abused power, of murdered children, of sinful people.  A messy, smelly, broken, vile world.  The same world we lament today.  Jesus who saves us from death was sent into this world.  But let us also remember that He came to change this world, person by person, one repentant heart at a time.  And He’s here with us today, looking you and me in the eye– the One who was sent to the poor, and the vulnerable, and the broken, and the dying, is asking, Whom shall I send?

Will you go, friends?