5 Things Shared Identity is NOT
Sometimes, the easiest way to explain a term is by examining what it does not mean, what it is not. As we sweep away the cobwebs of misconception, we can gain a clear picture of what words or ideas may mean. As we explore the concept of shared identity, here are five key things shared identity is not.
- Shared identity is not uniformity. It is a component of unity.
There is no doubt God appreciates diversity. Look around at creation and you see His creativity, His variety. From the tiniest of details to the variations across planets, we serve a God that has an endless imagination. But that diversity was never intended to be a catalyst for separation. When we consider unity we can often find ourselves sorting and sifting through beliefs, appearance, status, searching through categories til we find what “matches.” And while we are naturally inclined to lean toward certain groups or ideals, for a whole host of reasons, none of that precludes unity.
When scripture speaks of being of “one mind” or “one heart,” that is often misconstrued as talk, sing, think, and worship alike. The New Testament writers encourage us to be united under Christ not under our own banners, but to focus on a likemindedness by having the same love toward Christ, sharing of what we have because of who we serve. There was never a call to uniformity.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses a group of believers as they navigate this new and rapidly growing tradition. They are struggling what what is and isn’t okay, and there is concern that things will not be uniform, that they will not all look and behave alike. Their issues of sabbath observance and food discrepancies probably fly right over our thoughts. They are not the things that divide us today, but in that time, these were not small matters. Early Church leaders had to stay vigilant and guard against division, no differently than pastors today. By focusing on shared identity, on the things of our faith and lives that unite us, we can begin to build trust, and stumbling blocks are removed as we press on toward our common callings.
- Shared identity is not developed. It’s discovered.
I wonder if the phrase, “I have nothing in common with them.” is even plausible. One of my favorite professors often said, “In some ways we are just like everyone else. In some ways we are only like a few, and in some ways we are like no other.” While shared experiences can lead to shared identity over time we don’t have to attend the same church or go on the same mission trip to find our shared identity. I can care for children or build a home with a team of amazing people, and if I am not seeking to see beyond the task I could miss discovering our shared identity.
Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, writer of “I and Thou,” passionately believed that most of what plagued humanity was our unwillingness or inability to see others through ourselves, that our struggle to see ourselves in the lives of others has us not only missing a true ability to see and love, but also a concern that we may miss God all together.
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” – Buber
What would our relationships look like if we set our course to find the treasure that is shared identity, with the belief that buried treasure has value even when it can be a challenge to find. Perhaps adventures await in even the most frustrating of relational dynamics as we allow “X” to equal shared identity and X marks the spot.
- Shared identity is not just common ground. It connects us to our common purpose.
It is one thing to agree, or to agree to disagree, but agreement in heart and purpose has the potential to produce change.
Any movement that results in long-term change has to be rooted in shared identity, beyond the shallow soil of common ground. We can come together for a moment for a fad, or evident crisis, but how we lead our communities toward sustained change requires much more depth.
- Shared identity is not identity.
When I relocated from Nashville to Austin, I thought I was prepared for the change. To an extent I understood I was leaving behind relationships, community, actives, the world we had built. What I did not expect was the depth to which my identity had become tangled within that world. I did not have my work, my family, my friendships, my church. There was no one to help, no Sunday lunches, no “hey can I drop by,” no office to arrive in. Things would happen “back home,” and I would feel like I needed to be there, but I was torn with my responsibilities here. One particular event emerged that was unbearably painful to not run “home” for, and I struggled. I was angry. I lashed out at God asking, “What does any of this matter? Here I know no one, help no one, relate to no one. I don’t matter. At least at home I could make a meal, sit by someone hurting, or do something. I would matter.” God spoke over my heart, “I am trying to teach you that you matter. Just you.”
While shared identity is one of the keys to a flourishing community, a portion of how we are called to live, serve, and love one another, it is not the core of our identity. Shared identity is not a replacement, it is an enhancement. Strip all things away, all your titles, your background, your circumstances, your struggles, and you still have you, just you, held in the hands of the one that holds the world. In seasons, that level of identity will need to be the focus. Attending well to one’s self is actually where the ability to maximize shared identity begins.
- Shared identity is not all you need. It is a start.
Ever noticed how easy it is for some people to tell the same stories over and over, always going back to “those days” or “how things were?” Memories are gifts, and also teachers that guide us toward future wisdom, and while shared experiences or common facets of our stories shape our shared identity, if we are not also cultivating trust and committing our feet to action, shared identity is just a way to swap “war stories,” while disengaging from the battle ahead.
Shared identity unites us as we move beyond talking, beyond words, and into action that promote sustained change. When we speak about recognizing and accessing shared identity we are are talking about not only focusing on common ground, but expediting a pathway to nurture trust, unity and mature our purpose. Perhaps a better way to understand shared identity is as the spark, the beginning of a journey toward impact and care.
Shared identity is one of the pillars supporting our relational bridges. A bridge connects two points or two locations; but bridges also hasten arrivals, shortening travel time as the bridge passes over or around obstacles. I could drive around the lake, or I could use a bridge. I could hike my way into and out of the ravine, or I could use a bridge. Illuminating shared identity is one of the foundational pieces ABBA uses to build bridges among groups and leaders in our city. We believe shared identity is a cornerstone element of unity, trust, and the foundation needed to effect and sustain change in Austin. Will you join us?