Though I’ve finished the mini-series on neo-Christian myths, perhaps I’ll just add this postscript to the last entry on celebrity status. Consider it a trailing lament, I guess, a sadness that we feel so inadequate in our own hiddenness. We want to be seen, and known to be beautiful and wise and clever and sexy and gifted and powerful.
I think this longing is behind the cutesy Facebook quizzes: Which [blank] are you? You’ve seen them? Tried them, perhaps? They’re amusing and mindless and bizarre and somehow gratifying. I mean, I loved finding out that I’m an Elf.
There are the fantasy quizzes, which trigger our inner heroes: Which mythical creature are you? Which Harry Potter character are you? Which Marvel Superhero are you? Which Game of Thrones character are you? (I’ve just linked to one, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can check it out. Google others.)
There are the social ones, which tap into some weird longing to run away and find a new identity: Which city should you live in? Which career should you have?
There are the erudite ones, which play with our desire to be known as really quite brilliant: How many of these books have you read?
There are even the Christian ones, which perhaps are trying to make sense of our place in the Story: Which disciple are you? Which biblical heroine are you?
The questions these quizzes ask to discern our “identities” are strange. They ask apparently irrelevant questions—pick a Simpsons character, pick a movie, pick a song, pick an emoji (I had to look that word up…), pick a color—and then there’s some behind-the-scenes calculation, and … voila! There you are! You are Hermione! You are St. Peter! You should live in Portland, Oregon! “Your personality closely compares to that of the Loch Ness Monster! Although you have recluse tendencies, that doesn’t mean you’re a social outcast. You prefer to keep to yourself with certain issues, but are known to reach out when you need assistance. There are times when situations can overwhelm you and cause you to react adversely, but that’s something you’re working on. Never be afraid to come out of your shell, though!”
What on earth.
After my last post, my friend Tom wrote this: “…surely it is self-evident that all narratives (even ones about ourselves) are constructs. Instead of writing our history, we are, essentially, making myths about ourselves. … So Miller is recommending that people overcome meaninglessness in their lives by creating their own storyline. This is basically repackaging of proven psychological techniques. But like most pop-psychology, it minimizes the expectation of the labor required to do so—not the least of which is the cultivation of an attitude of honesty in the face of bleak questions and their even more uncomfortable answers.”
(I think Tom should write my blog for me, frankly.)
But this business of making myths about ourselves is itself a kind of repackaging. Insofar as it faces the truths about ourselves and our place in the world, it can become an authentic narrative, meaning it corresponds to reality. But, as Tom points out, this is hard work: hard because we have to engage fully with our all too painful limitations and weaknesses, and hard because it very rarely results in becoming an Elf.
Many of the more legitimate personality tests—Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Strength Finders, etc.—can become the same kind of weird, pseudo-horoscope-ish guide to projecting ourselves. Instead of helping us understand, they can be misused as tools of justification, defense, explanation. They become false narratives, false selves, that help us hide our nothingness and project our somethingness.
We don’t want to be forgotten, lost, overlooked, or minimized. We want to be red-carpet special.
And so we are, yet our true identity is hidden, veiled, beauty obscured. We live bound by time and space, encompassed by cultures and languages, enclosed in quiet places and small jobs and narrow rhythms. And that’s okay. As Mother Teresa once said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
This is what makes us great: not how many books we’ve read; not the number of YouTube clips of our best sermons; not the ranking of our blog (!); not the size of the church we lead; not our bank account or our sense of fashion or our model home or our famous friends; but the willingness to do the hidden things, to finish the daily work, to be the gentle presence, because of love.
“Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then we also will be revealed with him in glory.” I’m not sure what or who I am right now, for my life is hidden, but when it is revealed, it will be something better than an Elf.