Some thoughts on identity

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Growing up in the United States during the Cold War had its good points and its bad points.

The bad points included a palpable sense of fear that a nuclear war could break out at any moment, ending all life on earth. The good points, however, included a near total lack of ambiguity in many areas that today seem to be overwhelmed by ambiguity.

One of those areas which had little ambiguity back in the 1980s was identity.

We Americans and our allies (including Israel) were the good guys and the Soviet Union and their allies (including Iran and most of Israel’s other enemies) were the bad guys.

We believed back then that our way of life was so much better than what the USSR was offering its people (and the whole world) that it deserved to be protected and defended. We also believed (Dwight Eisenhower said so in speeches he gave even before becoming President in 1952) that the “enslaved peoples” of the USSR and its empire in eastern Europe deserved to be liberated so that they could have the same way of life.

In other words, we knew who we were, we knew it was the best thing to be, and we thought everyone else, deep down inside, wanted to be just like us and that they deserved a chance to be.

That era produced its share of iconic moments, and one such moment was portrayed brilliantly in the 2004 movie entitled “Miracle” which tells the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team which defeated the Soviet team and won the gold medal. 

In the movie, head coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russel) brings his team to an initial practice and asks everyone to introduce themselves, so they give their names and the college teams they play for. The story continues and later on the team travels to Oslo for an exhibition match against team Norway, which ends in a 3-3 tie. A visibly irritated Brooks orders the players back out onto the ice after the game, telling them that they still have some work to do.

He then orders them to skate from one end of the rink to the other several times and in between runs, berating them for failing to give their best effort during the game and telling them they will continue the drills until they figure out who they are. Finally, the team captain realizes what’s going on and calls out his name. When Brooks asks him “who do you play for” he replies “The United States of America” which leads to Brooks to dismissing the team and allowing them to conclude their exhausting post-game exercises.

I think this scene from a movie (which depicts a historical event) is instructive for us as Believers today.

Almost everywhere you look in the world today, the Church of Jesus Christ is under attack, and in some places, we appear to be losing.

How is that even possible?

In Matthew 16:17-19, it is written that Jesus told His disciple who had just confessed that He was the Messiah (Christ) “And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Bombarded as we are by bad and/or scary news, it can be easy to forget that Jesus said these words about us, but He did. We need to remember that, and that means we also need to stop thinking of ourselves as, for instance, “American Christians” or whatever other identity we might have, and focus on being subjects of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Because as I’ve said many times in these blogs, the kingdoms of this world, very much including the United States of America, are falling apart. There is no future for those earthly kingdoms. Their fate is sealed, and there’s nothing that can be done to save them. But the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is expanding rapidly, going from strength to strength, victory to victory.

Like the guys on that hockey team in the historical movie “Miracle” you and I have to decide which team we’re on. There’s no question about which team is going to win and which teams have already lost, the only question is which team are you and I going to decide to identify with. Parenthetically, the sooner we all decide which team we’re on and stop trying to keep one foot on both teams, the better it’ll go for everyone.

May God give us all the wisdom and clarity to make good choices as we face the challenges ahead of us.