Identity - 5 Years (Section 6)

This is part six of a series reflecting on the past five years we have spent in Honduras. Scroll down or click here to reach the first section of this series.

One remarkable thing about this experience has been that, for all of the immense effort and time we have spent in learning this language and culture, a great deal of it is very specific to a small locale. Much of that cultural minutia is lost driving just two-hours down the road. In one place, the local slang for kid refers to food in another, with an infinite number of variations on an infinite number of words and concepts. Cultures are inexorably linked to their geography, in much the same way they are to their language. A quick conversation with a Panamanian, Mexican, Brit, Australian or Argentine in the airport is proof of this simple fact. Those interactions alone are enough to keep one humble. No matter how proficient you may become in one or two cultures, thousands more exist - often times several within a single state or city. We are a remarkably diverse species – in appearance, in language, in thought and culture, but we are also beautifully unified by an underlying common identity.

For the Christian, this identity is a two-part paradigm, one that is initially-imparted to our nature and finally completed in our faith. We believe that all humankind exists as a menagerie of image-bearers, created to bear the likeness of a Creator God. All humankind bears this basic identity – along with its accompanying brokenness and separation from our Creator through sin. This understanding of ourselves is also expressly manifested in our original work as stewards and caretakers of all created things.

All of humanity inherits this common mantle – a common blessing, a common curse, a common vocation. We were designed from the start to be creator stewards, caring for one another and our world in perfect harmony, and at the Fall dramatically separated from perfect unity by our own cleverness when we created the first lie. This identity remains inherent in all of us. We share a core identity - a common starting place and so share in a common dignity.

However, our journey in knowing ourselves does not simply end where it has begun. Who we are when we begin, and who we are when we end may be quite different. Our core dignity and created identity are never lost. Along life’s journey however, every traveler comes to a unique conclusion. We begin to make decisions based on our understanding of the world around us and as a result, each and every human develops Faith. Let us not be mistaken; not only the deeply-religious are devout. The secularist, the humanist, the scientist, the atheist, the agnostic – we all believe in something. Faith is a common element of humankind – we all stand firmly upon a rock of one sort or the other, and every one trembles before the tectonic force of doubt. This Faith, be it in God, Science, Me, Us, Country, Fate, or Chance is what ultimately informs, complements, and completes our understanding of each person’s identity.

We who find our faith in the Christian God believe that our identity has not been fundamentally-shifted away from its natural state, but rather redeemed and restored to its original condition. It is a process of return to commonality, not one of distancing from other. We find that only by knowing God and his truth do we know ourselves and recognize those around us as brothers and sisters seeking a return to our intended form. Although as a people, we Christians have often poorly-demonstrated our recognition of common identity with all of mankind, our entire faith rests upon love that stretches beyond time and national lines. Our identity is completed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we are made whole when we embrace a life of sacrifice on our road of redemption. We believe that the God of Love is the only one who can redeem and complete our common identity.

For this reason, human dignity and unity are such important elements of our work. We believe that we were originally created to exist in unity, and we are called by Christ and taught by the apostles to return to that world. We also believe that each of us are created with equal value – each an image-bearer of Creator God and steward of creation. Where we are so often separated from one another is on life’s road with its many turnoffs and detours.

Personal, generational, and cultural poverties separate us from one another, and the differences begin to look larger than the similarities. Personal gain, security, wealth, and respect begin to direct our steps more than the welfare of all brothers and sisters. Selfish social practices and the hunger for recognition supersede willingness to sacrifice. Our success is our shame, their despair our scarlet letter. So convinced are we of our own competence and worth that we manage to justify even the most extravagant of excesses. Not content with simply existing in ignorant opulence, we begin to vocally and sadly identify those who have fallen behind and seemingly beneath us as “those poor things,” while inwardly having the gall to thank God that we are not like them.

It is at that moment of separation, us from them, that we have forgotten our common beginning, our common redemption, and our common end. Through no merit of our own, we came into this world, and despite our greatest efforts, we will all be unceremoniously dispatched from it. Between our entrance and our exit, we will all seek salvation from pain and death, and through no worthiness of our own, some of us will find it. Those of us that are rescued cling as drowning flea to a serendipitous dog. We have not earned our salvation. We do not deserve our salvation. Each of us bear the scars of sin and poverty – some of us on our hearts and minds, other on our skin and in our stomachs. We are eternally and fundamentally bound to our less fortunate brothers and sisters by our common brokenness and redemption.

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