In the first post of this series, I related the human effort to bolster a shaky sense of self to the task of pinning down a circus tent. Several elements seem to make this a good (if not comical) parallel—a colorful tent represents the splashy self we hope to have, the crowd that flocks to a circus represents the acceptance we hope to gain, and the task of buttoning down the flaps represents the security we long for.
Achieving security of self is not easy. Even for those who follow Jesus Christ, it often takes time and refining to find rest in the truth of who God says we are. Without His definition threading through the heart, something else must be threaded through instead for some hope of stability.
The marketplace offers its silvery strings to us in the form of products and brands. They attempt to give us a sense of self by offering the ropes and pins that will hold our tent secure. Fashion, accessories, home décor, vehicles, gadgets—all these can be collected to put a certain, media-defined face to the world. These items become familiar and cozy, giving a fleeting sense of certainty to our internal unrest. Sometimes the camaraderie found in shared brand experiences adds to our identity; sometimes we long to stand alone in our product choices so that we feel unique.
In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’s character, Joe, explains that the mere event of ordering a coffee gives us a sense of self that is unique, for the combinations and permutations are endless when it comes to pricey caffeine drinks. These rather insignificant purchases become part of our identity, and purchasing them becomes a way for us to build and reinforce character.
Maybe for you it isn’t a specialty coffee that gives you a defining sense of self. But what is it? What items do you feel especially attached to? Are there brands that you have cozied-up to, that you have an affinity for? Why is that?
As I stagger after Jesus in my spiritual walk, I know when I am leaning too heavily into perishable things for a sense of security or wholeness or amusement. The difficulty in pulling back is that outside of the Christian community, it is easier to chat about favorite brands and foods and drinks than it is to discuss how a certain Bible verse is changing my thinking or healing some broken places inside. Brands and consumption have become a common ground in our society, sort of like discussing the weather. It’s the safe zone.
Trouble is, I’m not sure I want to play it safe anymore. I want to discuss real issues of heart and soul and weight and eternity . . . don’t you?
This is the second in a series of posts on how we attempt to define and shape ourselves.