Definitions...

"If I, even for a moment, accept my culture's definition of me, I am rendered harmless."
When Peterson makes this statement in "The Contemplative Pastor" he is specifically referring to pastors... but is it not true of everyone?
In response to my post last week offering an operating manual for ministers, one friend (and wife of a Methodist minister) suggested that it was not just ministers who needed such an operating manual, but teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professions who are frequently faced with unrealistic expectations... My response was that not only was that true, but applied to those outside of the traditional professions too. I'm actually very wary of special pleading on the part of ministers especially when it comes to their long working hours and busy schedules (more on that with my next post based on this book), given that we live in a world where so many people are subject to tremendous pressure and unrealistic expectations. We as ministers should, in fact, be modelling a very different mindset and modus operandi...
And part of that is about not allowing ourselves to be boxed in by other people's definitions of who we are, what we should (or should not) do or say and, indeed, what we should or should not think...
My identity is a complex thing... I'm with John Hewitt who famously defined himself as Ulster, Irish, British, and European, but I refuse to be restricted to and by such self-definitions. My sporting loyalties shape me as much as my cultural and national loyalties do; my interests and life experiences likewise... I am a Methodist minister, but I am a Methodist minister with a background in drama, and a primary degree in biology with a specialism in behavioural and evolutionary genetics... All of those factors have played a part in making me me...
Denominational definitions mean little to me... I am as much by conviction as upbringing Methodist (indeed I was baptised a Presbyterian) but am very happy in my role as hospital chaplain where I work with Methodists and "Others" - people of all faiths and none, without any desire to sell Methodism... I am also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with other "theological" definitions be they evangelical/ ecumenical/ liberal/ progressive/ conservative/ catholic/ orthodox or whatever, because so often they are about defining who is out rather than who is in... and if you are in then you become subject to the soundness police in case you say or do anything that brings your membership of the group into question, as per the response of the "evangelical community" to Steve Chalke, first with his attitude to penal substitutionary atonement and more recently gay marriage... 
My self description of choice is usually Christian - although, the behaviour of some who wave that name like a battleflag, such as the Christian Institute, would often make me feel embarrassed... But then I remember that when the terms Christian was used in Antioch (Acts 11: 26) it was probably an insult meaning "little Christ" or "mini-Messiah." 
I have no desire to be a Messiah in my own right (again more of that later in these reflections on "The Contemplative Pastor"), but I do hope that when people look at me, they see in me something of Christ, who ultimately brings meaning to my life...
That's what is most important to me... not my job, my passport, my family pedigree, my church, my favourite football team... Nothing is more important to me than Christ and his Kingdom...


Selah

ps. I had no sooner posted this than I came across this piece in sojourners on the rise of those who self-define as having no religion, often because someone else has questioned their right to define themselves as Christian due to lifestyle issues or questions etc.

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