The one about…questions of identity.

‘You’re not my second choice, it was fifty fifty and my mind was everywhere. I was looking at you, I was looking at her with split seconds in between, it was a good date but I woke up this morning and realised I can’t put all my eggs in one basket…’

That was his basic argument, a great way to convince a girl you like her after the girl you really liked decided she preferred someone else! It seems that Lucie prefers Joe to Tommy so now Tommy wants to convince Amber he was never really that into Lucie while Joe is still slightly hurt that Lucie even agreed to the date with Tommy. Atleast that’s what was happening on Wednesday, who knows who’s with who now! I’ve only watched twenty minutes of Love Island but it’s enough…enough to know that there’s a question they’re all asking.

Who are you and why are you here?

It’s a good question and in the context of the show the answer seems obvious: ‘I’m Tommy and I’m here to find love’ but who are you really Tommy and why are you actually here?

There’s a story behind the question, it’s a story with a number of variations, but they all follow the same general pattern and it goes something like this:

Thousands of years ago there was man, a rabbi, a master teacher, a scholar; the kind of person you would go to when you were struggling with the deep mysteries and challenges of life.

One day this rabbi was walking to his home. While he was walking he was in deep thought, which you might expect from a master teacher. Since we was in deep thought he failed to take the path toward his village. Instead, he kept walking in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until he found himself at the gates of a Roman Military fortress that he realised he had missed a turn.

He then heard a soldier yelling at him from the the top of the gates. The solider asked, “Who are you? And, why are you here?” The rabbi needed to buy himself some time so he replied, “what?”

The solider repeated himself asking, “Who are you? And, why are you here?”

The Rabbi replied by asking, “How much do they pay you to ask that question?”

The solider replied, “Five drachmas a week.” The Rabbi responded, “I will pay you double that to stand outside the door of my house and ask me those two questions every single day.’

“Who are you? And, why are you here?”

It’s a question that probes our understanding of identity and purpose. It seems the more the question is asked the more difficult it becomes to answer.

I answered the ‘who are you’ question and it went something like this: I’m a wife, mum, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I’m a runner and a blogger and I’m a little bit crazy.

Of course there’s a problem with my answer, a big problem. What happens if or when my relationships breakdown or end? What happens if I can’t run or write? That just leaves me crazy! (probably a clinically diagnosed crazy!) Do I lose my identity?

Yet all of our relationships, encounters and experiences feed into our understanding of identity, just as being ‘second choice’ shapes who Love Islands’ Ambers thinks she is. Our experiences and encounters all in some way define who we are and influence what we believe we can do. Sadly for some what we believe about who we are isn’t always positive and the two Love Island suicides are a sorry reminder. So how do we hold the stark reality that to be defined just by our relationships and abilities leaves us vulnerable to loss of identity as the seasons of life change, along with the knowledge that living through all those seasons has made us who we are?

Maybe who we are somehow needs to be rooted in something outside of ourselves, something that exists beyond our experiences and encounters, something that holds true even when what we thought was true fails us?

What if the ‘something’ that holds true is the story we find ourselves in, a love story, a metanarrative at work in the world which holds all things. A story bigger than our own that enables us to live our own story, one that enables us to experience each encounter and relationship while placing those experiences and encounters safely within a bigger narrative and validating their importance. In the same way that light ‘isn’t what we see but that which enables us to see’, so the bigger story isn’t our story to tell but the one that enables all stories to be told. It’s in this metanarrative that we find out who we really are because our story is able to continue within it even when relationships come and go, jobs change or people move away. This means that our identity can remain true, uncompromised and authentic no matter what we experience. It means we can have integrity as individuals no matter what encounters we face. We’re not defined by what we can do or who we know but by knowing that our story is held by the bigger story and that everything we experience simply becomes part of the bigger story and belongs.

What if this means that, as we look back through history we see billions of people who, through their own story, have shaped the meta narrative; people who have moved the whole story of humanity forward towards unity? What if every individual who has ever existed has, in some way, contributed to the unfolding story of humanity? It seems that some stories have been more prominent, for good and for bad, and that they, in their own way, have influenced what we know to be true. Yet the majority of stories go unseen; individuals living out their lives seeking ways to bring unity and peace, to love others and the planet and see something good occur in the world. Billions of people who have raised children, taught children, cared for relatives, cared for the sick, grown a business or worked tirelessly in offices, factories and fields to contribute something towards the good of humanity. Billions of people who have smiled at a stranger, held the door open, offered help, welcomed, included, shared, given, simply been there, all living out their story, doing their “thing” while encouraging others. What if that is what this thing we call life is actually all about? Some people, in doing their ‘thing’ have made money, or acquired fame and power; this has sometimes been used for good, but sometimes has been used to exploit others or make them feel inferior. It seems that even those who have acquired the most wealth, power or influence still don’t get out of here alive which demands the bigger question: ‘why are you here?’ Reality TV might have us all believe we’re here to acquire wealth, status, power or fame but what if our real purpose has more to do with seeking out peace, finding ways of increasing  understanding, hope and joy? What if experiencing love, a true love that’s more about others and our planet than about competition or comparison, is what were here to discover? Maybe that’s more interesting, maybe that’s something we can all take part in, maybe that’s something that moves the whole of the story forwards towards ultimate peace and goodness. Maybe that’s something worth living, and even dying for.

You can find my interview asking ‘Who are a you and why are you here?’ on the Prodigal Collective web page www.prodigalcollective.co.uk or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theprodigalcollective

 

 

The one about…beginning to ask?

Across the globe, tribes and cultures tell stories of the origins of their species. Oral narratives exist wherever people are found, a way of understanding and explaining the beginnings of time.
One of the most dominant stories told has been passed through generations and recorded in the ancient Hebrew writings of The Torah.
This story tells of a divine force or energy that brought the world into being. For some this creation story is a literal explanation, a seven day description of the origins of the world. Yet the account is more easily read as a piece of poetic prose offering an insight into humanities’ connection with something or someone beyond itself; a consciousness which exists outside of space or time and ultimately holds all that we know to be true. Some call this a divine spirit, others recognise an ‘ultimate reality’ and others might use the name God.
This spirit, force or being talks of our humanity as good. This poem recognises the core of who we are, the very essence of our being, as worthy.
It is from this place that the story unfolds. A story that can be traced back thousands of years. The ever evolving story of humanity. This is the story we find ourselves in.
Every story that’s ever been told finds it origin in this story. Every fairy-tale, every moral fable, every myth, every movie ever made speaks of this story, of what it is to be human and every story ever told is an attempt by humanity to give a voice to the passion, love, loss, pain and purpose we all experience.

We too have a story. Our story is often told to us by our parents or our immediate family. Our story has been told for generations before us; it is reinforced by our tribe, our community; the people we grew up around. The story defines who we think we are, it holds what we believe we can be and it is replayed just enough to remind us who we have been.
The story, more often than not, isn’t a bad story, it usually begins as a love story, the coming together of two people who desire to see something good birthed in the world. As with many love stories, reality plays its part and love can be hard to give and receive when those involved are slightly damaged by their own realities. So often we find ourselves entwined in a story, obliged to continue it, as though it’s a generational mantel that we must carry forward.

Our story is a story that has held us, one that has enabled us to carve out a path in the world yet it might also be a story that has hindered us, a story that has held us back and stopped us being all that we can be. It might have been a story told with the best of intentions but what if the way we explain it or the way we replay it isn’t actually how it really is? What if there’s another way to understand our story? What if we’ve always focussed on one way of telling it at the expense of another interpretation? What if we were to take a step back from our story and review what it is we believe about ourselves?

What if we were to start to ask the question “who am I and why am I here?” What if we were to answer that question for ourselves rather than with the answers our family, our community or our culture insist are the answers? What if, in starting to think about that question we start to ask some bigger questions about what it means to be alive; about our real identity and our true purpose? What if it’s OK for that question to be a tricky one to answer and we find that there are multiple layers of answers to identity and purpose and that those answers change depending on the season of life we’re in? What if there is no wrong answer but instead the question actually needs multiple answers from everyone in order for us to catch a glimpse of what it really means to be human and share life on planet earth? What if one person isn’t ever going to have the definitive to answer? What if it’s only together that we can make more sense of life? What if it takes a collective humanity to give meaning to our experiences? What if we need unity and unity really is the direction we’re headed in?

(You can how follow the “Who are you and why are you here? project on the Prodigal Collective website http://www.prodigalcollective.co.uk by clicking on ‘vlog’)

The one about…comparison.

“Don’t worry about what he’s doing, just enjoy what you’re doing and let him do his thing!”

I listened to the advice I was giving to my squabbling children and laughed to myself at my own inability to follow it!

I’m good at comparison, which sucks because it doesn’t actually do me any good. It destroys any healthy perspective I have of my own life and skews the view the lives of those around me. It seems I’m often unable to see the awesome truths about my own world because I’m so busy looking at everyone else’s. It’s almost as if the more I compare the more I need to compare until I find a comparison that makes me feel better about myself!

I’d love to live from a place of security, knowing that I was good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, successful enough, rich enough; that who I was and all I had was enough. Regardless of how that measured up to Facebook, Instagram, my neighbours or even my husband; whatever scale I’m currently choosing to compare my life to! Imagine if I was able to live life content with who I am and what I have.

I often wonder why I have a problem with comparison. Maybe it’s a simple lack of self esteem or maybe it’s born out of dissatisfaction with where my life is at. I had a friend share a quote she’d heard which basically said “dissatisfaction is key to our evolution” and I guess maybe there’s something about a state of discontent that does drive us forward into new things. I guess it’s OK to be discontent with how things are and allow that to inspire change, that must be different from a comparison to how others are which makes you want to change?

It seems that so often I live life from a place of lack or scarcity rather than abundance and generosity. The religion I grew up with started from a point of lack, loss, failure and separation; as though humanity was birthed into scarcity. Stories of generosity and extravagance had been retold focussing on what was lost or what was missing. The role of religion was generally to remind you that you weren’t enough, that you lacked something; that ultimately you had fallen short of perfection and weren’t good enough for God! What I’m learning is that actually true religion starts from a place of extravagance, prodigality, abundance and generosity. I’m slowly realising that there’s a force, an energy, a Divine Spirit at work in the universe which cries out “I am always with you and all I have is yours”, that phrase echoes through creation, it’s evident in every season, which means that I don’t need to worry about having enough or being enough because there is always enough. It’s not just material wealth like money and possessions that I become fearful or possessive about but also love and joy and fun and laughter. What if I’m reluctant to celebrate the success and happiness of others because deep within I believe that there’s a limit to the amount of joy there is to go around? What if I’m jealous of the success of others because in some strange way I think that their success restricts the success that might come my way! Sounds a little crazy?! Maybe, but why else would I feel a little envious that they got to buy that house together, or that he got that job, or that she gets to go to that party? What is it that stops me being simply happy for others in their moments of excitement and happiness? If I genuinely begin to believe in a benevolent universe, a Divine being that is totally for humanity, then my need to compare or measure myself against others will diminish because I’ll know that I have access to all I need and that I am enough!

That’s my bag! But as a wise person said earlier this week:

The particular is always universal, it’s like you’re hearing this person talk about the situation they’re in and you realise ‘oh lots of people know what this is about’, it’s like if you go far enough into yourself you find everybody!*

So while this is where I’m at, maybe it’s not just me!

*Rob Bell on The Robcast Episode 231: An Anatomy of Restlesness!

The one about…it meaning something!

“I can’t do this anymore”. I lay down, closed my eyes and stared intensely at the back of my own eyelids hoping for inspiration; a picture, an image, an idea…nothing, just darkness. I sighed and rolled over. It was going to be a long night.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt trapped like this, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful place to be trapped, we’re ok, we’re living life. We can’t stay where we are though and we still can’t see a way forward. It feels a little like I’m in one of those horror movies where there’s no way out and the space is slowly filling with water; something has to make sense soon or I am going to drown.

There are occasional glimmers of hope, possibilities that might come to something but nothing ever seems to be straightforward. Yet in the midst of all the job applications, interviews and conversations about our future, the ‘everyday’ takes place; the real demands, joys and sorrows of raising children, seeing friends and sharing life with each other happens; life happens.

It’s easy just to sit and write about love and hope and adventure; to be passionate about the divine, soul and mystery; it’s at this point though that it has to mean something. It has to mean something when life is hard, when there isn’t a plan, when you can see those around you hurting and you can’t fix it. That’s when all the whimsical theological theorising actually has to be true.

This is where I have to believe that this story, the one I find myself living in, makes sense in a bigger story.

This is where I have to decide to love; to be kind and patient with those around me even though other feelings overwhelm me. This is where I also have to choose to love and forgive myself when I don’t love others as I would like to.

This is where, when fear taunts me, I acknowledge it’s existence but I don’t let it take the steering wheel. It’s where, when grief engulfs me, I allow it to do it’s work but I also take a deep breath and dare to keep hoping.

This is where I have to acknowledge that I can’t meet all the expectations placed on me by myself and others, where I admit I don’t even want to meet some of those expectations. This I where I accept that I don’t always cope and that it’s OK not to.

This is also where the tension between science and soul exists, where the logical reasoned approach to life meets the mysterious whisper of what could be and leaves me torn, not really knowing which route to take. This is where I’m left clinging to the belief that it will all make sense despite the fact that sometimes all I really want to do is hide under the duvet and stare at the inside of my eyelids!

So, this is where I choose to believe in the Divine; in a force that holds all things and where I admit that I believe that same force will renew, restore, refresh and resurrect all things, even my story.

This is where what I write means something. Right here, right now!

The one about…the story we’re telling ourselves!

“You’re already telling yourself a story so tell yourself a better one!” The words jumped out at me and everything else seemed muffled or irrelevant. What if he’s right? What if it’s that simple? The thought stayed with me.

Psychologists talk about the “tapes” we play.* Sometimes it’s called self- talk, it can be positive or negative but at its very essence it’s the story we tell ourselves about our lives and it’s influenced by every encounter and experience we’ve had, good or bad.

We all have accounts we can relay of moments that have stayed with us, words spoken over us, experiences that have impacted us or memorable occasions that have changed us. There are millions of other encounters and conversations that we don’t remember but are stored somewhere deep within us. We all have parents, teachers, siblings, colleagues, peers, who have influenced us subtly and sometimes not so subtly. They’ve created a frame for how we see ourselves and what or how we believe our lives should be. We’re also influenced immensely by the dominant culture that surrounds us, music, news, film, literature; all shape what we believe to be true about ourselves.

Some people have had mostly positive messages spoken over them, others are better at filtering the negatives like Jack in the film Titanic who, when he’s asked if he enjoys his “rootless existence” replies:

Well yes ma’am I do…I mean I got everything I need right here with me. I’ve got the air in my lungs and a few blank sheets of paper. I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s going to happen or who I’m going to meet…Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now, here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people.”

Oh to interpret a story with such positivity!

Yet for others, the message they’ve received has damaged them and their ability to really know who they are and the tapes they play aren’t positive or necessarily even true.

What if it’s possible to start telling yourself a different story?

Whatever your opinion or understanding of the bible what the book does is continually take the story being told to a nation, tribe or individual and tell a better one. So slaves are told they are a people, the childless are told they will grow a nation, prisoners are told they will be free, women are told they have value, prostitutes are told they are loved, the outcasts are told they are welcome, the illiterate and uneducated are told they’ll change the world! Stories are re-told. Even the ones we read as primitive and barbaric are often actually a step forward for those people, in that time, in the way they interact with the world!** The work of the divine has always been to tell a better story.

Which takes us back to the question what if our stories can be retold? Maybe you don’t need it retelling, maybe you’re able to hold a positive, authentic, humble opinion of yourself with integrity constantly. What if though, there are times that challenge us, that daunt us, that leave us feeling less than capable? What if at times we feel anxious, insecure, bitter or frustrated and the story we tell ourselves just feeds deeper into those emotions? What if we’re able to take a step back, to review the story, to ask why we believe that about ourselves? What if we to dare to believe there’s a better story, another view, an alternative path, which that particular story can follow?

What if we choose to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t, who we are instead of who we aren’t? What if we change the negative talk about that person and start seeing them as the more fragile human we know ourselves to be? What if we choose to believe we can do good in this world and as a result, in every interaction, we seek to record a positive message onto someone else’s tape? What if there’s a true story at work in the world that we can be part of? What if we’re all telling ourselves a story and it really is possible to tell ourselves a better one!

* tapes, a throwback to how life was but also a recognised psychological term!!! Maybe now we’d just have it all stored in our “cloud”??

** you’ll see what I mean!!! In “What is the Bible?” Rob Bell writes:

Does it surprise you when someone in the bible wins a battle and then gives their gods the credit? That’s what people did at that time.

Does it surprise you when after, winning, they wiped out the women and children and then said their gods told them to do it? That’s what people did at that time.

Does it surprise you when they won and then let no one escape but put everyone to the sword, and then said they did it with their gods power? That’s what people did at that time….

You find these stories violent and repulsive and barbaric because they are.

If you didn’t find them shocking and awful and confusing, something is wrong with you.

The violence isn’t that surprising; what’s surprising is that among all that violence there are new ideas about serving and blessing and nonviolence….What you find in the bible are stories accurately reflecting the dominant consciousness of the day, and yet right in among and sometimes even within those very same violent stories, you find radically new ideas about freedom, equality, justice, compassion and love.