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Identity – Who Am I?

First in a series.

Who Am I?

Who Am I?

by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

What remarkable words are written from jail cells…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was one of the few to stand against the Nazi regime.  He had the opportunity to live in the US during the war but returned, stating:

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…”

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Eine Biographie, p736

He was eventually arrested and imprisoned, writing the great poem above, among many other letters that were able to make it beyond the bars to his friends.  Can you picture it?  Being in a cell and carrying yourself with such a remarkable spirit…as if you owned the place…speaking with confidence to the men who could end your life at a whim.  Yet all the while knowing that you were longing desperately for beauty and friendship, love and freedom.

I first read this poem as I was wrestling with my sexuality and my faith.  Two parts of it stuck with me and had a formative impact.  First, the mocking lonely questions…

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

And then, the conclusion:

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

How I could identify with those questions…am I just a weak hypocrite, a fake before everyone around me?  Trying to pass as an ever-straight in a heterosexually-dominant world, within a Christian sub-culture.  The desire to be real, to be open and honest – to be known is such a strong one.  I’ve mentioned this in one of the first posts on this blog*- it is a good thing to live in a new atmosphere where people can and do feel the freedom to be upfront about their sexual orientation.  I didn’t like living under that pressure, and I would very much have enjoyed using the energy I put into hiding into a variety of other and much better uses.

The two lines of that one stanza struck me, and echoed in my mind:

Or is something within me still like a beaten army

Fleeing is disorder from victory already achieved?

What does that mean?  What “beaten army” runs away chaotically from a victory that has already been won?  I turned this mystery over again and again in my mind…victory already achieved…

Jesus.  Hanging on the cross…all but dead – and so quickly…He says a few words…

“It is finished.”

His followers are scattered.  Hundreds – thousands – had been following Him, cheering Him just days before as He entered the city, hailed as a hero.  Now, just a few women, and one disciple, are left at His feet as He dies.

A beaten army, fleeing in disorder….from victory.

Who am I in Christ?

For perspective’s sake, those were followers of a new faith in a risen Savior under the rule of the Roman Empire, and Bonhoeffer wrote that poem from a prison cell in Nazi Germany…and here I was tossing around questions about my identity and sexuality in the comparatively grand comfort and freedom of America.  Even when I was growing up, when homosexuality was for the most part culturally taboo, hiding was quite possible, and my life overall was rather cushy.  I was wrestling with deep questions, for sure, but in relative luxury, comparatively speaking with those mentioned above.

I guess I can say that those words took me to those times and places, but I knew that I was living in the here-and-now.

I’ve seen a growing movement (a propensity?) in my lifetime, and now even within Christian circles, to view one’s sexual orientation as a permanent part of one’s identity.  And I can understand how it can feel that way.  My earliest memories of SSA run back to kindergarten.  I, too, felt “different” and left out of the mainstream of what those around me were living out.

Yet things can change – even deep desires that seem to envelop the way one experiences the world.

For me, that closing line of Bonhoeffer’s poem makes all the difference –

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Whoever I am – woman, physical therapist, athlete, photographer, book-loving nerd, restless, longing, struggling, yearning, thirsting, tossing, and trembling…all of these things fall second to belonging to God.

When we confess our sins before a Holy God, and we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we take on a new identity that supersedes all others.  When I put my faith in Jesus, I gave myself to a new King, and I’m now part of a new Kingdom.  I no longer view things from a secular standpoint, but rather from a spiritual one.

This leads to a good deal of miscommunication between the those who have a temporal world view and those who include the sacred in how they see the world.  I’ll attempt to continue to take a look at this in the next post.

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

~ C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/gay-marriage-a-reflection-a-three-part-series/

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2 thoughts on “Identity – Who Am I?

  1. I just thought I should thank you for putting yourself out there and writing this blog. I’m a straight young Christian, but I’ve struggled with the question of homosexuality as sin for a while because i think there is much that is wrong with how the church handles it. Your blog has been eye-opening and a real blessing, thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Lou, for taking the time to write such kind words. Yes, the church has tended to fumble on this one more than not, but that’s not the whole story, is it? I’m thankful you’ve been getting good things from the blog.

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