I visited a school a few years ago where within a few minutes of each other I met Mrs Weaver, Head of Textiles and Mr Steele, who worked in Design & Technology. My imagination rapidly transported me to the world of Postman Pat, Bob the Builder, where the name of the person was defined by the role they played. So perhaps Mr Carpenter was indeed Head of Woodwork, Mr Storey and Ms Reader work in the English department, Miss Place is the Head of Geography, (who also looks after Lost Property in school . . .)
I wonder who I would be? Education and training in times past would position me as Mr Summer the Maths teacher. IT and computers would require a deed poll change every few years, In the 90’s I would be Mr Cody the Computer Science Teacher, and in the 21st Century, Mr Serge Engine. (see what I did there?).
These days, I think I can identify with Alice in Wonderland, when asked her identity by the caterpillar.
“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
That’s so true, it’s not just the impersonal world of computing that changes role as time goes on, we all do – through changing jobs, relationships, experiences. What if you could choose your name at any point in time, would one you chose for yourself a few years ago describe you now? Or last year, last week, ‘when I got up this morning’?.
There are plenty of searches for identity possible. The BBC series “Who do you think you are” invites celebs to look back into ancestry and family history for some clues. Executive producer Tom Mcdonald says “We do always warn everyone that history has a habit of taking surprising twists and turns – and that they might not always like what they find”
It might surprise you, given some people’s use of ‘conversion’, ‘born again’ and scary phases like these, but I’m not totally sure that the job is actually about changing us from the nasty thing who we were to something a bit nicer now. For me, a journey of faith is to look to become who we really are, the bit that transcends the names, titles and roles that we (and others) saddle ourselves with – that’s the most radical kind of conversion I can think of.
In Mark 8:34-35 we hear Jesus speak of losing ourselves and finding ourselves, and it’s obvious that he must be talking about self in two different ways. Writers from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints have come up with terms ‘True Self’ and ‘False Self’.
My experience is that ‘the false self’ is quite insecure, and often gets hurt, whereas occasionally I get glimpses into what I would call the ‘real me’ or ‘True Self’.
As Richard Rohr says
“The True Self is indestructible and cannot be offended. The True Self does not stand around waiting for you to like it before it can like itself. It doesn’t wait for accolades or external successes before it can believe in itself. It quietly knows.”
So, maybe I need to be quiet, remove the labels that I give myself, whether I feel good about them or not, and listen to what I maybe already ‘quietly know’ without always realising.