It’s amazing how much Christian imagery can be found in society today if we look hard enough. Many modern movies and songs indirectly portray the Gospel message by illustrating themes like self-sacrificial love, forgiveness, and finding our identity in something other than societal norms.
I want to focus on that last theme – identity – with a scene from the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance, where the Bagger Vance character is offering some advice to golfer Rannulph Junuh.
“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Somethin’ we was born with. Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone. Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned. Somethin’ that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing, it get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas. Some folk even forget what their swing was like” (The Legend of Bagger Vance, 2000).
As Bagger Vance so eloquently stated in his downhome Southern drawl, the world can rob us of our “authentic swing” and make us forget who we are and what our story really is. We are each wonderfully made with a specific mission and purpose on this earth that only we can fulfill, but we have a tendency to get distracted, to forget where we fit in the story – to forget our swing. The world and the devil may try to tell us who we are and what we are capable of, but God believes something entirely different.
We are all searching for our identity and our place in life. But above all the noise of those trying to tell us who we are God is there waiting for us to recognize our true worth. Maybe he is saying something to us akin to what Pope St. John Paul II told the People of Poland, “You are not who ‘they’ say you are. Let me remind you who you really are.”
You Are More Than They Say You Are
The quote from Pope St. John Paul II is from biographer George Weigel’s summary of JPII’s collection of speeches given in June of 1979, in Karol Wojtyla’s home country of Poland, which, at the time, was under the thumb of communist control. Poland’s cultural and spiritual identity was gradually being ripped away under the crushing weight of tyranny. And John Paul II’s uplifting and inspiring set of speeches to a country desperate for hope after 50 years of oppression turned out to be a turning point in the fight to overcome communism. As George Weigel put it, “During the Nine Days of June 1979, John Paul II gave back to his people their history, their culture, and their identity.” It was an “epic moment on which the history of the 20th century pivoted, and in a more humane direction.”
While contributing to the fall of communism, John Paul’s remarks also speak to a larger point that society today is equally desperate to hear. We are told to be good citizens, to contribute to the well-being of society, and to follow the modern trends. Do your best to fit in, we are told, and go to work every day and be content with pursing personal happiness. While all well and good in a certain sense, these stipulations that society institutes stifle and confuse our humanity, which was uniquely formed to find our identity in a higher purpose.
Modern society wants us to abandon belief in the “make-believe man in the sky” and focus on making money, having fun, and increasing our wealth and happiness on earth. But deep down we all know better.
From the Beginning
We know that God ordained each person, from the beginning of time, to serve a bigger purpose than simply getting by and spending our days toiling under the sun for perishable treasures in our 80-something years on earth. Our identity cannot simply lie in worldly success. The Creator of the universe willed us into existence and desires to be in communion with us until the end of time! This is a much more fulfilling purpose than what society tries to tell us!
Personally, I have always had the tendency to find my identity and self-worth as an athlete. As someone who is relatively gifted at sports, most of my life has been spent honing my skills and finding my fulfillment and satisfaction in that alone. Over time I began to realize how temporary and shallow this attitude really was. Even though I have recently tried to place my purpose in something deeper and more lasting, I still battle the urge to shift my focus to sports. So while I still enjoy sports, I have come to terms with their position in my life and how they can be a sanctifying activity used to build relationships and character.
The Identity of Sin
“I will never give up on you
I see the real you
Even if you don’t, I do
And I’ll show you the road to follow
I’ll keep you safe till tomorrow
I’ll pull you away from sorrow
If you’re the one to run, to run
I’ll be the one, the one you run to”
Three Days Grace- The Real You
As I mentioned before, the seeds of Christianity are planted throughout society, we just have to look for them. Always a favorite of mine, this song by Three Days Grace (not a “Christian” band per-say) hit me in a new way recently when I viewed it through the eyes of Jesus our Savior.
He will never give up on us
Our sin cripples us and creates a chasm between us and our destiny of being eternally united with God. But that does not have to be the final story. No matter what we have done or where we are in life, God is there, pursuing us and reminding us that he will never give up on us. He sees who we really are, who we were before sin took hold of our souls and fractured our relationship with Him. And when we choose to turn from our sin and run, He will be the one we run to, the one who removes our sorrows.
Three Days Grace may not have had this in mind when they wrote the song, but I bet that the concept of needing a savior who knows who they truly are and what they are capable of was a strong influence, since it is written in each of our souls.
The devil will do everything in his power to keep us from recognizing our true identities as beloved children of the living God. And a favorite tactic of his is to convince us that God’s mercy has boundaries. You may have come across the manifestation of this attitude before – “The church would collapse if I walked in” or “There is no way God could forgive what I have done” or “I don’t even love myself, how could God love me?” These thoughts have some legitimacy from the perspective of humility before an all-knowing God, but serve no purpose whatsoever when used as an excuse to deny our true identity as unconditionally loved and redeemed by God Himself, if we are willing to accept it.
He Crossed Galaxies to Claim Us
I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are
Yes, even Disney is not immune to occasionally illustrating God’s love for us, although inadvertently I’m sure. And as a father of two young children, I am quite familiar with the lyrical stylings of Moana and Co., and since I am usually relegated to watching children’s movies instead of films that have more spiritual significance, I find myself recognizing Christian themes where I normally wouldn’t.
Sin is not our identity
So indulge me, if you would, by envisioning these lyrics coming from the mouth of Jesus. He descended from heaven, became a human, and died to save the lowly creatures who denied him. God literally crossed galaxies and horizons to save us and to claim us as his prize. He knows that sin has “stolen our hearts” and has changed who we think we are and what defines us. But God knows that our sin is not our identity.
“Thus says the Lord, he who created you…who formed you…: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine'” (Isaiah 43:1). Even Disney cannot help infusing its characters with a deeper purpose that beckons them to a life of adventure and freedom. So why would we settle for anything less when the God of Creation is constantly pursuing us and trying to convince us of our true identity?
As Bishop Barron reminds us, “God looks for us, comes running after us, never lets go, never relents, never gives up. The more we run, the more he runs after; the more we hide, the more he looks; the more we resist, the more he persists. God loves sinners and associates with them.” God longs for us to find our place in the “theo-drama” that He is directing, all we have to do is accept his pursuits and allow HIM to be our identity instead of the sin or shame that the devil tries to place on our shoulders.
Freedom in Christ
“We can be who we are
Now we are alive
We can fight they cannot contain us
It’s who we are
We are undying
We are forever”
Red- Who We Are
You may be getting an idea of what kind of music I like to listen to at this point. But to be completely honest, I am attracted to any song that is honest, real, raw, and promotes deep thought, because I think art is one of the best places to find and express our inner longings for an everlasting truth. We all innately desire that which brings us life, and I am beginning to realize that finding our identities as children of God instead of what the world tells us is the key to unlocking the free, purposeful life that God ordained for us.
God didn’t create us to be enslaved, he “came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). If we are able to find our sense of purpose and identity in Christ, our lives will naturally become more free, adventurous, and passionate and we will be more alive than ever before.
Where Do We Find Our Identity?
“There is a cacophony of voices calling out to you; there are a thousand influences pulling you this way and that. What’s the one necessary thing? It is to listen to the voice of Jesus as he tells you of his love and as he tells you who you are.” – Bishop Robert Barron
We all try to find our identity in something – work, sports, being physically fit, our money, our sense of humor, or our abilities. Society tries to tell us that our identity is tied to such meager things. But is that all we are?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
Through His death and resurrection Jesus claimed us as His own so that we may find our identity in His holiness as children of God. When the world tells us we can be reduced to how much money we make or how many abs we have, Jesus reminds us that we are His, wholly and unconditionally.
Our true identity
When the devil tries to place the weight of sin and shame on our shoulders and tell us that we are ugly, worthless, useless sinners, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Wherever we turn, God is there waiting for us.
It can be so easy to get wrapped up in whether we are good enough, or in what it takes to be loved by God. We wonder if He loves us at all, and what our purpose is in this life, and in any other issues that separate us and cloud our vision of who we are. But the bottom line is that we are immensely loved by the Creator and He longs for us to find our true identity in that alone.