OK. The title is a bit misleading. I am not going to discuss the merits of driver’s licenses, passports, and library cards. Those things are important, and I will probably bring my line of thinking back around to something like ID cards when I circle around to my summary (in Part Two). But I actually want to talk about identity, not identification; although, of course, there is an undeniable relationship between these terms. Ya feel me? [Translation: Do you identify with (understand) what I am saying?]
Who are you? There are many factors that contribute to your identity. Your family heritage, which includes cultural norms and expectations; and also genetic inheritance such as physical appearance, temperament, health conditions, etc. Your community, which includes the neighborhood where you live, your school, workplace, church, hobbies – basically any individuals or groups of individuals with whom you interact regularly. Your chosen inputs, like reading material, television, movies, and other entertainment decisions. Your name, your face, your skills and abilities, your education, your experiences, your fashion choices; all of these and more define who you are, at least in a physical, temporal sense.
Perception is also an element of your identity, from at least four different angles. First, how do you perceive yourself? Do you see yourself as strong, calm, intelligent? Or do you see yourself as funny, talented, spontaneous? Or perhaps your view of yourself is that you are reserved, cautious, shy? Your perception of yourself may change over time, and you may take conscious steps to alter how you see yourself, based on the idea that others will accept you more readily if you are someone different. This internal checklist remains, for the most part, a private matter. You may not even fully recognize it when you are doing this.
Second, how do you think others perceive you? What you think others are thinking can be very different from how you see yourself, but it also usually affects your view of you and the actions you take, or don’t take, to try to alter what you think others think. Ultimately, you cannot completely prevent yourself from having a personal opinion of what you believe to be others’ opinions of you. But you CAN remind yourself that this will most likely remain speculation. You cannot, in fact, know what others are thinking. Odds are high that you will be incorrect about what you think others think about you.
Third, how do others say or demonstrate how they perceive you? Outside of specifically organized instances when this opinion is solicited or required (e.g., for performance appraisals), few of us are going to have people openly sharing with us their opinion of us. Often, when people share this type of thing with us, they are intentionally trying to be encouraging or flattering. This is not to say they are lying, but probably we are seldom going to receive from anyone, directly and voluntarily, what their true and full opinion is of our character, traits, personality, and behavior. Whether they are trying to pump you up or tear you down, they will not be giving you the full picture of their perceptions.
Fourth, how do others actually perceive you? As indicated in the previous paragraph, this seems unlikely to be wholly revealed to you by any means. However, whether you ever truly discover this information is irrelevant to the exploratory exercise in which we are presently engaged. That is because, at the end of the day, how you are perceived by others is outside of your ability to apply any measurable degree of control. Of course, you can change your clothes, practice unaccustomed behaviors, use different vocabulary, speak enthusiastically about all of the “right” things – but at that point you are devoting time and energy to an effort that has about as much chance of accomplishing what you hope it will accomplish as a flea has a chance of being adopted by a family of rhinoceroses.
So much for the elements of perception. Point being: who you are is tangled up in a mostly contradictory and confusing web of perceptions; and perception has a nasty habit of applying tangible impact on the real world. We need to understand the potential of these perceptions to cause us to forget who we really are. And the only opinion of who we are that matters is YHVH’s opinion. This is true whether you believe in YHVH or not. The fact that some people claim not to believe in him does not cause him to cease to exist. Since he created you and has had his eye on you throughout your existence, he knows you better than you even know yourself.
What YHVH thinks of you is what matters, especially from an eternal perspective. It is what we should keep foremost in our consciousness; over and above the contents of our mental and emotional rolodex* that keeps track of all those factors we mentioned above. Your identity is in him.
By now, if you are in fact still reading this screed, you are wondering, “What on EARTH does all of this have to do with the author’s Hebrew journey? I mean, this is all very interesting (or not), but I am not making the connection to the processes of exploring the Hebrew roots of our faith.” The connection is this: I am convinced that a solid recognition of who we are – our identity – is fundamental to our ability to embark on or continue this journey with unshakeable confidence that we are seriously seeking truth and not just on some kind of distracting frontage road.
So, first of all, know that your identity is in YHVH, and that this pursuit includes him. In fact, it is about drawing nearer to him.
Next entry: Fuller explanation of the connection between identity and the exploration of Hebrew roots.
· * Rolodex ~ an archaic, hard-copy, static method of organizing contact information; i.e., names, phone numbers, addresses, fax numbers, pager numbers, etc…