We all change, but have you ever gone through an identity crisis? An identity crisis is defined as–“a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.” It’s a long, painful, and confusing process in which person changes so much he can hardly recognize his old self anymore. It’s like becoming the opposite of what you were before.
I have a couple of old friends that I am still in touch with. One I’ve known since Jr. High. He’s a very special friend. When I ran away from home, he would sneak me in his room so I could have a warm place to sleep. He eventually talked his parents into taking me in for a while. I have a couple others who I knew when we were in the Marine Corps together. They knew the old Ken. I’m not so sure they know the new Ken. It’s like we are in two different worlds incapable of understanding each other yet we insist on remaining friends at least to some degree.
Then there’s my wife. We’ve been together almost 30 years at this point. I’m sure she knows me better than anyone else on earth, but she doesn’t know that old me. My wife has never seen me drink or smoke a cigarette. The same is true of my children who are now grown. I haven’t been a perfect father, but I’ve always been a sober one.
I’ve going through more than one identity crisis. I suppose I’m still in the process of one right now. I don’t think anyone chooses an identity crisis. It’s forced upon us. Something takes place in our lives that draws our old views into question and there isn’t much turning back from that point. The wilderness of confusion begins.
The first change in identity seems more of a matter of growing up than anything else, but it was much more than that. As a young child, I was exposed to alcohol and drugs regularly. I started smoking cigarettes in third grade about the time I started sneaking beers out of the fridge. I don’t remember when I first started smoking pot, but I know it was in elementary school as well because I was arrested with a friend for possession of pot and a firearm after I ran away from home the summer before I started Jr. High. By the time I was in High School I was shooting up drugs and trying whatever I could get my hands on.
I will spare the reader all the details, but suffice it to say when you start using at such an early age it becomes all you know. It forms your identity, your friendships, and your lifestyle. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are and what you live for.
I was an addict at a very early age, but I also turned my back on that lifestyle early too. Two DUI’s and the threat of being kicked out of the Marine Corps, along with all the years of consequences while growing up served as a wake up call. I QUIT!!!
But now what? For me, I found religion. Since I’m a compulsive person by nature, I threw myself into religion with the same zeal I had for alcohol and drugs. I went to college. I studied very hard and eventually even became a preacher: a very passionate and dogmatic preacher. During the 70’s I used to listen to Cheech and Chong as my friends and I sat around getting high. I remember one line vividly in their comedy routine when some guy says, “Ya know, I used to be all messed up on drugs. But since I found the Lord, now I’m all messed up on the Lord.” I recalled these words many times over the years because I knew that is what my old friends would think. I didn’t know that I would consider myself messed up on the Lord, but I was. I also didn’t know my my new identity would have a crisis of its own.
My undergraduate degree was more of an indoctrination than an education. I knew what conclusions I was supposed to reach before doing my research; therefore, my research was one sided. The Church of Christ that I belonged to was not just a church; it was THE CHURCH. The one the only. You either belonged to it or you were lost. Truth was absolute and simple to understand. Anybody who disagreed with our understanding of truth was either ignorant, stupid, or immoral. It was all pretty cut and dried, or so I thought. Sure I had several hints along the way that it wasn’t as simple as all that, but for the time being I could just ignore such voices of descent. They warned us about the people who would gather around the teachers who would say what their itching ears wanted to hear. It’s ironic that that particular passage always refers to people other than ourselves.
Graduate school was a whole new world. It was there that I was taught how to research It didn’t take me long to figure out nothing was cut and dried. Religion is much more complicated than anyone really wants to acknowledge. In graduate school, research was not complete if it didn’t consider opposing views. There was still the underlining concept that your conclusions would be in line with that of the university, but the real emphasis was on research. They were much more open-minded.
This started me down a different path. Instead of just accepting what I was taught, I would also seek out the opposing opinions. I can’t say that this has served me all that well. I haven’t always been able to come up with the correct conclusion. I’m not even convinced that a correct conclusion can be known in many cases with any degree of certainty. The more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew. I became certain that I was uncertain. Not only so, I also saw the shortcomings of certainty. Those who think they already know something cut themselves off from learning and start down the path of arrogance, selfishness, and exclusivism.
Things are not as easily defined as I wish they were. I’m not as convinced of things as I once was, and this bothers people. I’m less inclined to argue, but I’m not comfortable keeping my mouth shut either. Few people ever change their views in an argument. In fact, they just get angry, dig in their heals, and stop listening. Change takes a while.
My wife has been reluctant to follow through the changes. There’s been several of them where she notices my changing views and there is conflict between us. I remember when I was still in school and I started talking about higher criticism and how the books of the Bible developed into canon or (Scripture). She stopped me and said, “I DON’T WANT TO KNOW!” I have to appreciate her honesty. I’m not so sure I wanted to know either. But once your learn something, you can’t just take it back and unlearn it.
A couple years ago, I was fired from my position as a Church of Christ preacher. I don’t blame them for firing me. They were paying me to do a job and I wasn’t doing it. They were paying me to tell them what they wanted to hear. I’m sure I could have held onto to my job indefinitely if I did that. But doing so violated my conscience and I felt compelled to educate them. I wasn’t trying to convince them, change them, or convert them. I simply wanted them to understand what other people thought and why. But they really didn’t want to know. What they wanted was confirmation not proclamation.
An identity crisis is confusing, painful, and uncomfortable, but it also necessary. Knowing you don’t know something is better than thinking you know something when you don’t. Just like recognizing you’re wrong is better than thinking you’re right when you’re not. Is that confusing? Good! So is life. Maybe we weren’t meant to think we knew all the answers. Maybe God leaves questions unanswered to keeps us humble and to keep us searching. It’s usually when we think we know the answers that we get all screwed up. We start thinking we’re better than those around us. We stop evaluating and we falsely assume that we have arrived very closely to perfection.
Churches of Christ, just like me have gone through several crisis’s of identity. As much as some try to resist change; it’s inevitable and it’s healthy. I hear people complain, “We’re losing our identity.” My response, “Good, we need to.” Congregations that fail to adjust end up dying off. Everything God creates changes. Can you think of single exception? I can’t.
I still attend a Church of Christ whenever I get a chance for all sorts of reasons. I’ve attended other denominations, but I always come back. They are my spiritual family. I’ve been hurt, and I’ve hurt others, but I can always find forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s kind of like marriage. My wife and I are not the same people we were when we said our vows. We’ve struggled, fought, forgave, and learned. We grow apart, and then back together again. She’s just as much a part of me as my right arm. At times it seems like we couldn’t be more different. In reality we are still one.
I guess I’ve written all this to say with change comes pain, but it’s not a bad thing. Change leads to growth and growth is good.