Chris McDonnell, UK

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February 7, 2018


The I that is me

How is it that each of us is known? What is the 'I' that is recognised by others and is it the same 'i' that we recognise in ourselves? It was as 'I am who I am' that God declared himself in the Torah

The interesting thing about growing old is that although the external scaffolding may change, the 'me' that each of us lives with is there from day to day and year to year. Yet we all know that with the passing of years, our knowledge and experience does change us, adds to the sum total of who we are. To live a life without change would be dull and fruitless. In an essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine written in 1845, Newman wrote 'To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often'. But what is the nature of that change and what are its consequences?

We are defined in our early years by our family circumstances, our home neighbourhood, our schools and to an increasing extent by our friends. These external factors shape and influence our formative years and have long term consequences for our future. An essential part of growing-up is finding out who we are and to appreciate how others perceive us. We might in consequence modify our personal image, our tastes in dress, music and speech, trying to become more acceptable in the day to day patterns of life. Or of course we might take an alternative view and accentuate aspects that others don't appreciate just to be awkward.

There are occasions where declaring who 'I am' is a matter of some courage. Writing these few lines on the birthday of Martin Luther King, it is worth remembering that no one more than he declared fearlessly who he was and ultimately paid the price for it.

It was the question that Mark tells us that Jesus put to his friends. 'And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"' In fact, throughout his public ministry, it was a recurrent theme, right up to his appearance before Pilate when he was asked if he were King of the Jews.

The identity of the speaker adds credibility to his or her words and we listen more attentively.

Saying one thing and acting in a different manner is soon found out and the person involved becomes discredited. The way we act is ultimately more important than what we say. The phrases 'actions speak louder than words' and 'put your money where your mouth is' succinctly sum up that position.

The respect we gain is determined by the respect we give. In fact this concern for the well being of others is a central tenet of our Christian faith - service, care and generosity over and above personal gain. Yet the secular society in which we live is centred so much on the 'I' of being. The 'me' society asks first and foremost, 'what do I get from this, what's in it for me?' The simple instance of highly-inflated salaries for a few at the expense of subsistence wages for others is all too evident across the world.

Yet people change with age, the 'I' that is can seem remote from the 'I' that was, the learning curve rough and the journey long but made none the less. To be able to ask the question 'who am I?' and get a working answer we have to ask a supplementary one 'and what have I done?' Sometimes it is those with few possessions that leave the greatest footsteps.

January 30th marked the 70th anniversary of the assassination in 1948 of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi. He was a man without possessions other than the principles by which he lived and urged others to live. His famous remark that 'I like your Christ but not your Christians' emphasises that we are recognised, not by fine words and eloquent phrases, but by the way we react with and relate to others.

It is a salutary lesson for those who carry the name of Christ as an essential part of their identity to realise that we have something offered to us that we must 'be', day in and day out, ever-willing as Newman suggested to change to make it better.

Reflecting the other day on the 'I' that was and the 'I' that is, I wrote these few lines.

Being I

The I of who I am

is often casually lost

in the garbage and noise

of each day's passing.

Don't tell each other

about your life belief's

rather attend to being

who you are in their company.