Who am I? I have asked myself that very question many times over my life. Each time I ask, I usually come up with the same basic answer. What I find amazing is that many people ask me that very question, in many different ways. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a denominational leader who asked, “So, John let me ask you a question; Who is John?” I looked rather puzzled and he qualified his request with, “Let me say it this way; How does John define being John?” How does John define being John? You have to be kidding me. I find questions like that a cheap way of getting to know someone. Think about that, the investment of time is limited on the end of the person asking, and sometimes (OK, most of the time) you get the feeling that they really do not care – it is an empty question. What they say to me about the asker is, ‘I do not have the time to invest in your life, so give me a quick low-down on who you are.’ The funny thing is, as I was thinking on how to respond to the question, his cell beeped and he started to read his email. He said, “It’s OK, I am listening. I just have to catch this email.” I thought, ‘He don’t care about who John is, it’s just a way of filling in time.’ With that in my mind I replied with, “So, who are you? Tell me about Mike.” He just smiled and cut the meeting short.
What I find interesting is that we ask questions that we really don’t want to know an answer too. Normally the question has less to do with finding out who I am and more with who others want me to be. Some will ask, “So, tell me about you?” This question always seemed like a silly question to ask anyone, because how we see ourselves is seldom the way others see us, so the answer will always be one sided and give people room to disagree with your answer; you might be surprised at the number of people who would disagree with you when you tell them who you are, to you. I have often found that people who ask this question already have a predetermined answer and they are waiting to see if you “got it right.” Still others will ask the loaded question, “So, what do you believe?” A question that is more concerned with them wondering if I am more like them, and less like me. It matters little what anyone truly believes, the answer to the question serves only to alienate one from another. The question is the one asked by those who desire to exclude me, for whatever reason, and label me a misfit. On their face, those questions seem to be asking about me, but in reality all those questions are designed to see if I measure up to a preset image others have of me, or what they desire me to be. Because you see, for them, who we are is defined by what we believe. Or, I should say, that what we believe causes others to define who we are.
I am big on developing relationships. Getting to know people over time and sharing our lives as we move along a path, so asking questions are fine. But if they are asked, or designed, to be the first and last time you interact with someone they are useless. Truly getting to know someone can take a life time, and it is an adventure worth traveling. But I find many in the industrial church strive to develop “quick” relationships with very little connections. Over the past few years I have heard many industrial leaders use the buzzwords, catch-phrases and verbiage to talk about relationships, but they are struggling with what that means. You see, for many with an industrial, institutional, mindset the idea is to get a quick and easy understanding of a person – it helps them put labels on others and it helps them place the person they are trying to label into any box they desire.
To build a relationship means you are with the person enough to see them in action. But this does not mean you limit their involvement in your life. It means you are willing to open your life to theirs, and accept their life in yours.