Identity and the Table

We rarely get worked up when we talk about theology. When it’s just our vague thoughts about God or our intellectual ideas about who he is, we are willing to settle on some disagreement. But when something hits close to home, our ire gets worked up.

It’s not our ideas we’re sensitive about; it’s our identity.

This really hit home this week as I observed a thread in a pastors-only, private Facebook group. Someone posted a general observation that many preachers are overweight or obese and wondered about gluttony.

The flood of comments was immediate. People fired back about how insensitive the comment was. Others talked about dealing with thyroid issues and lactose intolerance. Many talked about their family history, their level of stress or the inactive nature of their career. A few took it as a joke, but most were offended. And although some admitted struggling with eating right and exercising enough, there was one general thought running through the thread:

“You don’t understand my life. You don’t know what I’ve been through, my history or my struggles. Don’t paint me with a broad brush. Until you know me, you can’t speak into my life like this, even if you’re trying to help.”

As someone who has dealt with food issues myself, I understood where they were coming from. And yet the irony of the situation was fascinating.

These are men who tell people weekly (daily!) how to live. It’s the nature of their job. They feel compelled to speak into all kinds of life situations and give advice or correction. (As a minister myself, I understand this well). But when the tables were turned, the discomfort was almost comical.

No one likes to have the nature of their being questioned. When things that seem outside of our control are being confronted, we fight back. It feels like people are challenging more than our attitudes or actions. It feels like they are challenging our very identity.

Even when they may have a point.

Is it any wonder why so many who identify as gay have such a strong negative reaction to the Christian community? Couldn’t they echo the words of those preachers right back to us? “You don’t understand me. Until you know me, you can’t speak into my life.”

“Even if you may have a point.”

This doesn’t mean that ministers should never speak into the lives of others. As Christians, we all feel like we have the truth, so every one of us should be able to speak to and help people in all kinds of life situations.

But just because we have the Truth does not mean that we always understand.

And most situations, whether it be our weight or our sexuality or our family situation, are so much more complicated than they appear on the surface. We must be careful about black & white pronouncements that paint people with broad brushes.

One comment on this Facebook thread stuck out to me:

I think if we call people names based on what their bodies look like or how much they eat or the state of their health we will only create shame and anger, driving them away and putting ourselves in danger of falling into sin. Since we don’t know each person’s heart and medical condition, I’d suggest we stop using the negative words ‘sin’ and ‘sinners’ toward others in this context and approach it from a more positive perspective. We are all so broken we need to hear positive, encouraging words and not feel that we are being labeled, judged, or misjudged.

“We are all so broken.” That’s really the only label that fits us all. Skinny, Fat, Gay, Straight, Married, Divorced — every other label falls short. We are all broken. And our issues run deep into the heart of our identity.

So we must treat each other with the care that we desire for ourselves. And Christians must admit that we have not always been the best at this. We have been too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We have spoken into people’s lives that we do not really understand. We have attempted to heal and instead evoked shame and anger.

And in the process people have been hurt and the truth has been lost. Because truth is not the truth when it’s not spoken in love.

rustic-vintage-camping-themed-wedding-outdoor-dining-table-settingLast week I wrote about how the essence of who we are as Christians is invitation. About how we gather together to eat bread and wine and celebrate Jesus together. And one reason is because when we do this, we’re forced to see each other. Not the labels or the personas or the actions. The person. We are so much more than our weight or our sexuality.

We all have pieces of ourselves that need healing. We are all broken. We can help each other think and speak and act in better ways – more godly ways. But that will never be accomplished until we know stop talking at each other, stop insulting each other’s identities and really love one another.

Until we sit down at a table, share some wine and bread and truly get to know each person. Only then will the truth be spoken and heard.

Maybe then we can truly be healed.

2 thoughts on “Identity and the Table

  1. Wow! Wow! Wow! Brother, you have written words that strike deep at my heart. As I began reading I chuckled due to the ironic process playing out amongst the FB ministers. As I read, you began to dig deeper into the heart of what causes us pain. I have had people in my office recently asking very difficult questions, and I felt paralyzed because what they needed to understand I could not tell them. I could not tell them in this time due to the newness of our relationship. I could not tell them in this space because it was clinical, like a difficult diagnosis in a DR’s office. I could not tell them because they do not know if I love them or not.

    Thank you my friend for your heart, insight, and way with words. I love you.

  2. Thanks, brother! So great to hear from you.

    This is a tough thing. And it speaks to our long-term investment in people. So much of me want to fix things — to hear what’s going on in people’s lives and offer them solutions to help. But so much of our work is slow, deep and long. It takes finding the right time and the right setting. And many times what I wanted to tell someone changes once I get to know the real person and where their pain truly resides.

    Blessings in your work, man. I love your heart and know you’re doing good things. I pray for wisdom & endurance in your task.

    Love you!

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