Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

DesignerIllustrators, cartoonists, graphic novelists, fashion designers, painters, songwriters — creative types — the good ones fascinate me. Their attention to detail is as exacting as any engineer. Their primary tool is their imagination. They invite us into an unreal world of their making and let us explore it with them. Of course, we all know where the canvas ends. It may be reflective of reality, but we know the difference.

Suppose an artist were to try to convince you to literally enter his work – a painting perhaps – and live there. Beyond creative contemplation the idea is absurd. We know the difference between what’s real and what is not. Or do we? On our national stage there has been a theater of the absurd offering similar departures from reality. We are told to play along — to accept these alternate realities — to live in the assumptions of its absurd universe as though we did not know the truth.

One former athlete decides he is actually a woman and has a medical procedure to change his body to look like that of a woman. He asks us to enter into that madness as though it were completely normal. There was even a recent post that proposed that “she” was an amazing woman as she was able to compete in men’s athletics and win. Seriously?

Another woman of northern European descent was masquerading as a black woman. She worked quite a bit of deception to create her alternate identity, but was finally exposed. Though she did step down from her job, she had no public humility. Rather, she came out swinging, claiming that she identifies as a black woman and that we should all accept that she is indeed a black woman. She is, as she suggests, trans-racial.

Now we know that the athlete is a man who has had radical surgery to alter his outward appearance. And we know the woman is white, not black. No matter how much she identifies with African-American people, she does not share the unique experience of being black in America. We cannot simply step to the canvas as designers and alter both who and what we are. Our identity is not isolated in our individualism. It includes shared experiences and a relational fabric that has us weaved into the lives of others — parents, siblings, friends. Both of these people may be sincerely struggling with their identity, but it does not mean that the rest of us have to play along. Isaiah warned the people of his day,

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Radically altering your physique because of gender confusion is not good. Deceiving people about your racial identity is wrong. Yet our culture keeps expanding the limits of normalcy until even these extremes are celebrated by the media. We would be foolish to miss that these are spiritual matters. They speak to the desire we have to be autonomous – to be God. These identity makeovers are the ultimate expression of our self-centeredness. We get to decide what is good and right regardless of reality. No one is allowed to suggest that the emperor has no clothes.

Our culture has so enthroned rugged individualism that we have come to believe that we can do anything – even if it means something as radical as changing gender. We may not regard our own version of false identities as radical as the examples above, but are we as Christians also guilty?  What are we trying to project about ourselves? What have we designed for public consumption? Whose approval do we seek? And how much of it is rooted in our pride? Would we let God reveal that brokenness is us?

It is not in our autonomy that we meet Jesus Christ, but in our humility. When we are poor in spirit and recognize our desperate spiritual state apart from Him, He will respond with a loving invitation and the promise of His presence. And He will give us a new identity. He is, after all, the Master Designer.

About marknicklas

Mark Nicklas is a husband, father, son and follower of Jesus Christ. He is a pastor at Beaverton Foursquare Church and an adjunct professor at Multnomah University, where he earned his doctorate in Cultural Engagement. Like Jacob wrestled with God at Jabbok, this site is a place for talking about the identity of the church with respect to the cultures we live in. You are invited to share the journey.
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2 Responses to Designer

  1. Scott says:

    I agree with you that all these changes are done for the here and now. Their own idols that they worship. I am not sure the changes themselves are wrong. Jenner says that she /he is a Christian. I am not going to be the judge there. We have so many changes coming at us, now and in the future. The main thing in our culture is the false idols we place in our lives instead of God.

    • marknicklas says:

      Thanks, Scott. In the post I acknowledged the identity confusion both are dealing with, but it wasn’t really my point. I was pointing out the absurdity of asking us all to go along with it. History does not disappear because you want to design a new identity. We are as much defined by our broader place in a community as our individual expression therein. In one case, the man underwent radical surgery to become something else. In the other, the woman went to great lengths to distance herself from the actual culture from which she came. I wonder how different the outcome might have been if they could have been relationally affirmed in their actual identity. And finally, it served my broader point of asking us if we don’t do the same – design an alternate identity to the person we are.

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