In this fourth episode of my third season, I talk about the importance of being true to ourselves, living authentically, and embracing who God made us to be.
This episode’s title is “I Am Who I Am,” a phrase attributed to God and Popeye. (Actually, Popeye said, “I am what I am.”
Hard to believe that my generation got important theology from a cartoon. But we did. And we learned an important, albeit subconscious, lesson: You can't be anyone else than who you are. So make the most of what you were given. If someone else doesn't like it, well, that's none of your business.
In Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 and 27, the most usual translations from Hebrew and Greek into English say that God created humankind in his Image. I’ve always thought that men saying this was a little on the indulgent side of the human ego.
And there are plenty of Biblical citations that suggest that if this were the case, humans would not be able to look at our own reflections without spontaneously combusting. Moses couldn’t even look at God’s backside without his hair turning white and taking on a mad countenance.
So, I’ve come to think of humankind being created as a reflection of God. This may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but the use of reflection in contemporary society much better plays out the meaning of humankind in God’s plans.
Translations go on to say, “…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” This part is also misleading. It’s more apparent as history of humanity and the earth evolves that the better translation would be, “...and let them have stewardship over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
If we are a reflection of God, then we are not a sighting of God in God’s wholeness but only a vision of a part of God. This allows me to consider myself and everyone else an element of a Truth of God’s. In this way, we can see something of God in everyone we come to know. In this way, I can be completely different from you, just as you are uniquely different from others. And, that difference is good, even if I don’t like it. And no person can claim the inalienable right to judge that difference.
One of the Truths of God is proclaimed in Exodus chapter 3, verse13-14, when Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God is who God is. We may have trouble with God as God reveals Godself, but that doesn’t change God. And God really doesn’t care whether we like God or not. We’ll just have to get over it and learn to deal with it. Just so, I am who I am.
In my generation, Saturday morning cartoons were a mainstay of entertainment for our early years. Popeye the Sailor Man was one of them. He has been regarded as an existential philosopher sailor as he came to the transformational realization that the only way through the life he led was to eat his vegetables and be himself.
Having confronted his nemesis, Bluto the Bully, and won the day, Popeye would make his claim, “I yam what I yam.” It was a claim to his authenticity. He was a model for children who would search for their authentic selves growing up amid a harsh time of expectations for conformity while the growing population was ever more desirous to express their uniqueness. The clarion call was to us children who would need the reminder that an authentic life would be the best way to overcome our adversity.
[See: http://extraordinaryconversations.com/thought-leadership/2018/1/3/i-am-what-i-am ]
There’s this saying in Matthew 7.3, “Why do you see the splinter in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.”
Walter Wink, in his book, Engaging the Powers, says that violence is a byproduct of humans hating something about themselves – their log. When they perceive even a hint of that particular hated trait in another – that person’s splinter – that person is then hated or assigned the negative classification of “other.” As the other that person can be violated because he or she is no longer of equal value.
Understanding this human failing is important. It becomes vital that we teach our children and friends and learn for ourselves, to accept ourselves for who God made us to be. Even if people around us do not accept our differences or uniqueness. It is critical that we should not want to destroy parts of ourselves lest we harm an essential part of who we are meant to be and take it out on others, as well.
In Matthew 25 is told the story of the 10 bridesmaids. Five bridesmaids go off to get oil to keep their lamps alight. While they are gone, the bridegroom arrives and the five that had enough oil go into the party with him. Later the absent five arrive and attempt to go into the house and join the party. Unfortunately, the bridegroom doesn’t recognize them and won’t let them in. It’s very sad. And while this isn’t the point of the story it is implied that it is possible for Jesus, and by extension God, to not recognize some people who were meant to join the party (party being an analogy for Heaven) or otherwise received into God’s presence.
How could such a thing happen?
I refer you back to Genesis 1.6 where God created you as a reflection of a Truth of God. What if that was the part you hated so much you destroyed that part of you, or hid it so deep so that it died or festered and became an illness? If you no longer are who God made you with all the pieces intact, then how will God recognize you? You have become something that God did not create, but someone that you and all those who taught you to hate that part of you created. Do you see where I’m going with this? Hold onto your integrity, the real you. My opinion of you is of far less consequence to you than whether or not God can recognize you as the unique reflection of God’s Truth.
Regarding the second point about humankind’s purpose to have stewardship not dominion over God’s creation: Time, Climate Change, deforestation, the annihilation of thousands upon thousands of species of animals, mammals, fish, birds and insects, including the common bee, the capture and ingestion of animals that should be left alone, toxification of our air and waterways, all authenticate the real meaning of God’s intended role for us as stewards. Because we are lousy at dominion!
What I’m saying is that God wants you to be true to yourself and that unique person God wants you to be. Remember: There’s a fine line between unique and freaking weird though. And God wants you to expand your worldview by trusting that while someone might represent your antithesis, he or she is still justified and just might present a way for you to grow into who God hopes you will become, still uniquely God’s creation, just more so.
It’s particularly troubling at how easily a government can condemn millions of minks because they are vulnerable to a strain of COVID-19 and can threaten humans if not segregated. I understand that all of our leaders are hard pressed to care for their human population and this new complication makes their jobs harder. Still, sometimes the hard choices we have to make are part of the evolutionary process. We learn how to successfully face today’s challenges so we can better deal with tomorrow’s. Human beings might just need to learn that we are not the most important species on Earth. We are the ones who have the ability to create. We need to accept our mandate by God to be stewards of the world we inhabit. As creatures with a creative mind and opposing digits we were made to learn how to live harmoniously with God’s creation and not as abusers of them.
Finally, I have this to say to my colleagues who are appalled at the liberties I’ve taken with re-translating Hebrew and Greek text.
First, I have come to accept that the Bible should not stand in strict adherence to standards that we corrupted in the first place.
Second, I accept the philosophical teachings of Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, the "Father of Modern Liberal Theology" and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, considered one of the fundamental figures of modern Western philosophy, who both have offered their theories that God reveals more through history.
Last, if God is alive then God is not stagnant and our understanding of God’s purposes and plans for us evolve. So, the same understanding of God’s relationship with us does not apply without progressing for thousands of years, as more becomes clear through history, experience, tradition, reason, and scripture.
Religion has shown its biases for exclusion, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, abuse of the most vulnerable, fear mongering and the making of god into that which benefits the religion or preacher. That said, there is a place for encouraging, life-affirming, inclusive, nurturing, and hospitable communities of faith where people can grow in faith, well-being, mindfulness, grace and acceptance of one another through their evolving relationship with God through learned and caring leadership.
Let us forego the expensive buildings of a foregone era for open arenas where people can commune and interact with one another and God and apply their tithes to God in ways that glorify God through care for God’s creation.
Peace be with you all.