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Who? Where? Why? (Part 1)

11 Jan 2013

The nineties were interesting times musically. Hip hop and R+B had really hit their stride in the pop market; Acid House and Dub had moved from the underground club scene to the radio waves; and a little remembered band by the name of Jesus Jones had a couple of hits before fading into the dusty archives of faded pop dreams.

One of those hits was a song called Who, Where, Why? The chorus of which went “Who am I? Where am I? Why do I feel this way? ( The video is worth a look, and a laugh. I wasn’t too keen on these guys when they came out, but everything looks good washed in the rose tinted light of nostalgia (well, almost everything).

The central question of the song is one I think that we all ask ourselves in the course of our lives; who am I? What is it that defines me? What gives me my identity? What makes me me?

A few years ago a well-known beer brand launched an ad campaign featuring American actor Harvey Keitel. In the ad Keitel was sitting in a carnival setting, and began the ad by stating that what we say no to defines us. When the world said Everest couldn’t be climbed, Kiwis said no and climbed it anyway. When the world was embracing atomic energy, Kiwis said no and became nuclear free. Now kiwis are saying no to putting additives in their beer.

Isn’t it good to know that what makes Kiwis who they are is that they don’t put additives in their beer?

More recently, another beer brand ran a campaign stating that what makes Kiwis Kiwis is their ability to know what’s right, and of course, amongst the plethora of beer choices, this particular beer is the right one to choose.

It would seem to me that Kiwis are a people who are assigned their identity by beer commercials. And we wonder why there is such an entrenched drinking culture in this country.

How do you define yourself? What gives you your identity?

Now, strictly speaking, I’m not a Kiwi. I was born in Scotland and moved here to New Zealand with my family when I was in primary school.

As a kid I had a classic Scottish accent, instantly recognisable and something that immediately signals that you are different from everyone else. As a result, there were times when I had some issues with fitting in at school because of that obvious difference.

When you don’t feel like you belong in the place where you live it tends to cause you to cling even more tightly to the country that you have left, and I have always adamantly (sometimes defiantly) identified myself as Scottish.

However, as I grew older my accent began to fade until I was rarely recognised as having an accent at all. This made me realise that I had a problem. If I was to return to Scotland, I would be seen as an outsider because I no longer sounded like a Scott.

So here’s the rub. I didn’t feel at home in the place where I lived, but would be seen as an outsider in the place that I called home. So who am I? Am I a Kiwi or a Scott? Where is my home, my turangawaewae, the place where my feet belong, my stomping ground?

I became a Christian at about the age of 25 and carried some of these questions of identity into my new found faith.

I remember having some conversations around that time with a friend who attended the same church that I was going to. He was a Maori man, a man who carries a quiet mana about him. He is the sort of guy that speaks very quietly and rarely, but when he does speak everyone listens.

After one such conversation he gave me a piece of paper. Written on it were these words.

Ko Wai Au

Ko Nga Karaitiana te Iwi
Ko te Rongopai te Waka
Ko maunga Kawari te Maunga
Ko Horona te Awa
Ko te tinorangatiratanga te whenua
Ko Ihu Karaiti te tangata
Ko te Wairua Tapu te Kaitiaki

The family of God is my tribe
The Gospel is my canoe
Calvary is my mountain
Jordan is my river
The Kingdom of God is where I’m bound for
Jesus is the man
The Holy Spirit is my keeper

He told me that this is who I am.

His point was that, as a Christian, I am no longer primarily defined by which country I was born in, or by the country in which I live. No, I am now and forever radically redefined in the context of my relationship to Jesus.

When you look at the options given to us in the world of religion or philosophy they can all essentially be broken into three categories, thinking, felling, or doing. In other words we are either defined by what we think, what we feel, or what we do. But as a Christian I am not defined by any of these things.

Christian faith is not about what we think, what we feel, or what we do. It’s not even defined as a combination of any of these things (which is not to say that these things are not important). Christian faith isn’t about thinking, feeling, or doing, but about being.

In the Gospel of John chapter 3 verses 3-7 Jesus tells a teacher of religion that we must be born again by the power of the Spirit. That which is born of the flesh belongs to the flesh but that which is born of the Spirit belongs to the Spirit. Then in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verses 17-18 Paul writes that all who are in Christ are a new creation, the old is gone and the new is come.

The Christian faith teaches that when we come into a relationship with Jesus we are radically transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are made new and have a chance to start over.

All the wrong that we have done in the past is washed away and we are freed from all the wrong that has been done to us as well. And all this is from God.

This new beginning is a free offer that God is making available to us. It is something that he has done on our behalf that we could not earn for ourselves.

This is the kicker folks. No amount of right thinking can buy us favour with God. No amount of right feeling can bring you into His kingdom, and no amount of right behaviour can earn His eternal love for us.

This is what sets Christian faith apart from everything else. Religion is all about what we do to please God and earn His favour. But the Bible teaches that we are not saved by doing good works for God but by putting our faith in the work that God has done for us in the person of Jesus. Christianity is not a religion it is the only true faith.

The call of Christ is not to think better thoughts, feel ‘spiritual’ feelings, or do more good works but to be reconciled to God through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is to come into a loving relationship with the creator of all things, the one who has given His all that we can know Him for who He is now and into eternity.

My plea here is twofold. For those who don’t yet know Christ my plea is to seek Him out. There is freedom to be found when you are found by Him.

Secondly I appeal to my Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s not make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

If we try and define ourselves by what we think we run the risk of becoming cold, hard, judgemental legalists; not very appealing and far less than what Christ is offering us.

If we define ourselves solely by our feelings we run the risk of divorcing ourselves from the rich and powerful intellectual heritage that is offered to us through the one who claims to be the Truth made flesh. When that happens we open the door to all kinds of aberrations and distortions and run the risk of denying the very one in whom we trust.

If we define ourselves by what we do we inevitably put a yoke around our necks that most will find too hard to bear as we fill our lives with more and more items on the to-do list.

My appeal is that of Paul, be reconciled to God. Allow that relationship to radically redefine us. Let your core identity in Christ transform the way you think, feel, and behave. Let your new identity work its way from the inside out rather than simply trying to change your behaviour.

I have experienced the power this redefinition brings. I can say now that I am not primarily Scottish or Kiwi but Christian. I have tasted the freedom that this new life in Christ brings, and live in the continuing joy and hope that, I believe, can only be found in Him.

The place where I belong is wherever He is, and with Him I have an eternal turangawaewae that will forever be my home

How about you?

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#2Sarah Templeton

This is really great!

#1Bryan Pereboom

Awesome post Kris. As Western culture continues to lose its ability to ask, let alone answer, the question of "Who am I" those with a confident answer will shine increasingly brightly.

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