Friday, September 16, 2005

Not "What am I?" but "Whose"...

Click here to take the M*A*S*H quiz!

I'm an Aston Martin DB5 - Which James Bond Vehicle Are You?

To quote my friend Poor Mad Peter, "ohforgodssake."

In the Harry Potter world, I'd be in Gryffindor house. In Emeril's world, I'd be southern-style garlic mashed potatoes. In the James Bond world, I'm a wore-out Aston Martin. In the M*A*S*H world, I'm Father Mulcahy.

Maybe it was the tag that did me know, the one that says, "I took the LAME M*A*S*H quiz, and I'm..."

Maybe that's the real fear. I took the LAME M*A*S*H quiz, and according to it, I'm...lame.

The first couple times I took these on-line quizzes, it was kinda cute. A couple were even theologically challenging, just to see if I could really either support or reject the reasons why I got labelled as "post-modern/Emergent," or whatever.

But the thrill is gone, it seems.

Or maybe I just see this as an extension of the world's effort to rubber-stamp and pigeon-hole me. "You're a liberal." "You're a Democrat." "You're a Christian." "You're one of those pro-life nuts." "You're one of those pro-choice nuts." So many people are more than willing, based on some sound-bite or some comment or some affiliation I've had, to label every part of my life as pertaining to some stereotypical image they hold dear.

I'm all of those things. And a lot more.

My friend Tom loves to razz me about being Lutheran; there are times when it feels like he really believes I buy into the whole Lake Wobegone BS. Yet there are a number of Lutherans who feel I am anything but one of them. There's more than a few people who call themselves Christians who look at my attitude toward gays and lesbians, or any number of categories of so-called "sinners" in general, and conclude that I'm not really a Christian. There are an equally large group of folks outside of the church community who hope that I'm the way most Christians ought to be.

They're probably all at least partly right, depending on the day. But there's one thing I know I am.

I am a child of God. A child of a loving Power and Life that says to me every moment of my life, "You're my kid. I love you, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

I am a lot of other things - based on my employment, my credit score, my age, my physique, my sexual orientation, and my personal history, to name a few. But in the end, none of them matter. Millionaire or struggling ex-student, 48 or 28, with a physique that is stacked or one that is just piled - none of it matters. Because what I am doesn't mean nearly as much as Whose I am.

Some of my deepest spiritual struggles and weaknesses have been around the phrase, "Gee, I wish I was..." And the sickness begins. And then I start filling in the blank, and the sickness grows. "I wish I was" younger, thinner, richer, smarter, more entertaining, better endowed...the list goes on ad infiniteum. None of these things draw me closer to God, but only to the world and its hollow expectations.

The God of my misunderstanding, of course, doesn't care anything about any of that. God just says, "You're Mine." Not "Get yourself right with Me, and then I'll admit to holding your soul."

So, unless I see one of these little blog-side tests that is really hysterical, you won't find me spending my time on 'em. Because, in the end, there's only One opinon that matters. God, help me focus on that opinion, and not anyone else's, just for today.


Peter said...

THese quizes are getting on my nerves, too, and not just the lame MASH quiz--they all suck.

You're not lame in the second-rate sense at all, Steve. You're lame because you're wounded and scarred, and still getting up each single day and trying your best. And if you limp now and again, and wince, or even cry out, hey, it goes with the territory.

I was thinking about what you said about yourself in regards the CoD comments and how you (supposedly) don't have much experience or many insights to offer (OK, I'm paraphrasing). Crap! You have a whole shitload of experience that you're slowly turning into gold one day at a time--with God's help and encouragement. And the insights that could emerge out of that are nothing to sneeze at.

So pitch the quizzes and look in the mirror and give the big guy a pat on the back. Made it through another day, stayed clean and sober, and maybe saw just a glimmer of gold out there, somewhere.

You're awesome, man!

Anonymous said...

I am a child of God. A child of a loving Power and Life that says to me every moment of my life, "You're my kid. I love you, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

That a wrap!

Tom Scharbach said...

I remember years ago giving a "witness talk" at mass about how my faith played out in my life ... eight minutes.

During the preparation process, my pastor, Jack Farry, told me that what I said in the first five sentences was the first thing most people would know about me, and the only thing many of them would ever know about me. So ask, he said, "Is that the first thing I want people to know about me?"

I blogged this morning on PurpleScarf about Anderson Cooper, who gave yet another interview coyly evading questions about whether or not he is gay. Speculation has been around for years, of course, and Anderson always answers that his personal life is private. Anderson has good reason to keep quiet, of course, because he risks being known as the "gay anchor" if he is gay and comes out.

I've had reason to think about Anderson's dilemma recently. I'm moving to Wisconsin next year. I will be in my new house, on the farm on which I grew up, by summer. A few people in the community have known me since I was a child, but many of the people I knew have died or moved away, and a lot of new people have moved in. Almost everyone in that small community needs to get to know me or get to know me again.

I'm planning to spend most of August, September and October canvassing for Action Wisconsin, working to defeat a "no marriage, no civil unions, no nothing" amendment that the Republicans plan to foist on Wisconsin in the November 2006 election. I imagine that I'm going to call on about 2,000 households over those months -- just about everyone within five miles. And because my visit will be the first interaction I have in the community with most people, the first thing that most people that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with will learn about me is that I'm gay.

I've asked Jack's question, "Is that the first thing I want people to know about me?"

It is not an unreasonable question. Many people's first impression -- first knowledge -- of me will be that I'm gay. And that is the only thing that many of them will ever know about me.

That fact will shape the way I'm received into the community, the way in which the community and I will intersect for the rest of my life. When I go to a fundraising social, when I go to church, when I go to watch a basketball game at the local high school, when I pass the time of day for a minute or two with someone, many of those interactions will be shaped, in whole or in part, by the fact that I'm gay.

I'll live my life with the gay label. A few people will get to know me well, many will get to know more about me, but most won't. For most of the people in the community, I'll be "the gay guy" and that's about it. I'll be the living embodiment of the t-shirt I sometimes wear, which has a bar code spelling out "HOMOSEXUAL". I'll live labeled.

But I do that already.

Labels are a part of life, I think. Some people resent being labeled, and others don't care. I'm in the latter category.

I've been labeled this or that my whole life. The labels are often inconsisent and contradictory. And the labels don't seem to stick all that well over time -- as a neighbor's young adult son, who has known me since he was ten or so, told his mother a few months ago, "With Tom, there is always a new layer ..."

I've come to the conclusion that the labels applied to me -- inconsistent, contradictory -- are not inaccurate. Instead, the labels reflect a mysterious interplay between my complicated -- inconsistent, contradictory -- personality and the personality of the person doing the labeling.

If you hold a diamond up to the light, and turn it this way and that, it reflects light in many different ways. Like most people, I'm something like a diamond, with many facets reflecting the light in different ways and in different directions. I think that the labels applied to me are just reflections of the light playing against the facets of my life.

The interesting thing about the labels applied to me is that they all reflect who I am in one way or another. Each label, in a sense, reflects a facet. The people who know me well apply lots of labels, and the people who don't know me well apply just a few, often just one or two.

It doesn't bother me that most people see only one or two facets of my personality. I don't expect people to get it all, even people who've known me most of my life, because I have a unique relationship with each person in my life, and what they see in me is often a reflection of what they need from me as much as it is a reflection of what I am giving them.

I don't resent the labels. The labels shape other people's expectations, and give me room to be myself. The labels are social lubricant for me, giving my interactions with other people a shape and ease that wouldn't exist without the labels. The labels make my life easier because I don't have to worry about how I'm received -- I'm received how I'm received, to misquote Woody Allen in the burning bush.

I don't understand why people resent being labeled, I guess. It is one of those things that is so foreign to me that I don't even see the problem. I'm tone deaf about it.

Oh, and Steve, you are so Lutheran ... deal with it.

Steve F. said...

Thank you, everyone (especially Peter and Tom), for some beautiful and powerful thoughts.

Actually, it was Peter's post on the MASH quiz that made me think of this whole topic, because his reaction was exactly like mine. And I appreciate the affirmation, brother. Though miles apart, we walk much the same road.

Tom, I guess I'm not bothered by the labels - because you're right: they are each a facet of who and what I am. Maybe it's the word before the label - "you're just a..." As we've talked about before, you're not just gay, or just a lawyer, or anything else. Like the British dessert trifle, you're lots of pieces of all different things, all tossed together to make a delightful whole. (I'm not even going to speculate on the "delicious" part of that analogy...)

The people who know more of me than I'm just a Lutheran, or ex-seminarian, or white, or male, or whatever see more of the whole. The folks who dismiss me as "just a [fill-in your favorite]" miss out on such a rich experience (in my humble opinion...).

As usual, you've given me much to think about... which is one of the reasons I do this. So many people here both kick my ass and open my mind. It's good to get a breath of fresh air in there, from time to time...

Tom Scharbach said...

Tom, I guess I'm not bothered by the labels - because you're right: they are each a facet of who and what I am. Maybe it's the word before the label - "you're just a..."

So don't pay any attention to the word "just" - it that's what they know about you, that's what they know about you. Who cares? Nobody has the time to get to know more than a few of us in any depth. Stop worrying about it.

I don't think that it is my job to try to educate people about who I am or worry about whether they have a clue about who I am. My job is to live my life.

The important thing is that I have a sense of who we are ... When I know that, what other people think just isn't important.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's the labels themselves, but how we let them get in the way.

Thanks again, Steve. :)

Cobb said...

I have been following following you for the last several months. Ted pointed me your way. You have are on an interesting journey and an inspiration in the way you express your progress. Always the story teller and always passionate about your story. We all struggle with what we are but forget "Whose we are".

A friend of Jacques.

Jim C

Anonymous said...

I am a lurker who is always touched by your insights. I'm writing because you wrote something that puzzles me. How do we know God's opinion of us? I live in fear that my God's opinion of me is just my opinion of God's opinion of me. Can we really know God's opinion of us? Keep the insights going, my Christian brother, and I'll keep learning at your feet.

Keith Brenton said...

Every time I read or hear someone use the term "label" now, I automatically think of Max Lucado's (You Are Special - don't be put off by the title of this children's book) little Wimmicks ... and the Wimmicks to whom the stars and grey stickers would not stick ....