Written near the end of his life while in prison, Bonhoeffer ends one of his last poems with this stanza:
… Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.
Like Bonhoeffer, these questions mock me if I remain alone. The answer, Bonhoeffer discovered, is found in belonging to God. The discovery of who I am is being deciphered by unbraiding the strands of culture and personal history, and by finding who I belong to.
Though the Apostle Paul never lost his Jewish identity and was able to “contextualize what it means to be ‘in Christ’ with each differing culture,” (James Houston) I have struggled with what it means to be “in Christ” with the burden of my German-Canadian cultural baggage. Nevertheless, it is in Christ where the confusions of my identity, my gender, ethnicity, faith tradition, occupation, etc, has been confronted with something more solid. My confounding faith journey – born to German Lutherans (excommunicated as my mother’s family was from the Catholic Church) with a nominal faith, raised Anglican in Canada (since there was no Lutheran Church in my small town at that time), brought to faith in Christ as a teenager by my Pentecostal friend, grew in faith through a para-church group at University, baptized in a Brethren Assembly at that time, and serving in a Baptist Church over the last 40 years – all reveal a mosaic of what it means to be “in Christ.”
Along the way I made friends in the body of Christ who were from other cultures and traditions who challenged the practice of my faith; friends who insisted in drawing me out of myself and into community. I married into an East Indian family, and among my best friends are a Trinidadian with whom I trained in Track so many years ago, and a Peruvian who has been a missionary in Colombia for over 30 years. Neither my wife nor my other friends share my ethnic background, and they have challenged the self-encasement and the arrogance of my cultural perspectives.
Though I have been walking with Jesus now some 50 years, it has only been in this last decade that I have come to believe, feel, be convinced (what is the right verb?) that – who I am – is best answered by finding whose I am: I belong to the One who made us for Himself. I would love to say all this better, but the best reflection of this has come from my wife, adult children, and closest friends who have noticed changes in me. I put it this way: “as I have [finally] been able to receive grace, I also have been able to be gracious (give grace); as I have finally understood that I belong to Abba, Father, I have been able to reveal how others belong to Him as well.”
Or as Augustine put it:
This self discovery has been the result of deepening in what it means to belong to God — best summed up in the Abba Prayer: “Abba, I belong to you.” Brennan Manning prayed this regularly, and wrote about this in what he called “the Abba Experience”:
Define yourself radically as one beloved of God.
This one prayer and this one sentence would summarize the noticeable healing of my identity over the last decade. Of course there’s more to it than this, and the process has been a lot longer, with many contributors; but it is this radical self identification as Abba’s beloved that reveals to me what it means to be a person in Christ. It has been the “re-personalization” by belonging to God the Father in the person of Christ by His Holy Spirit.
Among the many contributors to this revelation have been the mentors, authors, disciplers, friends, and family members of the Church. So many people over the course of so many years have instilled what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that “though we are many, we form one body; in Christ each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). Who I am is best defined by whose I am, and the process of discovering this has been found in the mystery of the body of Christ to help reveal it.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1959), 20.
- Augustine – Quia amaste me fecisti me amabilem.
- Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1994), 49.