I wonder if one of the contributing factors in the shattered identity, loss of self, and cataclysmic decline of the Christian Church in the West is the Information Age. Identity is formed through dialogue. The self is shaped through internal dialogue with the self, dialogue with the other and dialogue with the Divine Other. The voices we listen to actually shape our self. Followers of Jesus believe that there is an inside-out self that is formed. This self is formed through dialogue with Christian Scripture and dialogue with the Holy Spirit. This is an internal self, or identity that is shaped and forged through listening to and responding in faith and obedience to the voice of God. Paul the Apostle prays that the internal self of the follower of Jesus would be strengthened by listening to how Jesus loves them and processing how high, deep, wide and long this love is. A strong internal self is crucial to the follower of Jesus, because it is from this inside-out self that the individual can move outward from the self to others in self-donating love. In the Information Age the culture never stops speaking to us. In a globalized world, there is no “end of transmission” signal marking the terminus of a day of communicating. The dialogue with culture is often engaged in a conversation between two. Me, alongside the technology that connects me to culture, we two sit together, and I listen to the voice of the other. The voice of culture shapes an outside-in self. The identity is not formed through a strong internal sense of being loved, accepted and rejoiced in. The identity is formed by voices that critique the self as being insufficient - lacking beauty, strength, youthfulness, intelligence, athletic ability, etc, etc. This outside-in identity offers ways we can earn love and acceptance or often products we can purchase to make us more desirable to the culture. It offers us ways to layer ourselves with "stuff" that will create an identity that is acceptable to the culture. This stuff that we wrap around ourselves so we will feel covered is so thick and crusty that it is like the web that Shelob the great spider encased Frodo Baggins in - a shroud of death.
Many of us, as followers of Jesus, actually prefer the outside-in self that culture forms for us. We like to be the fashionable person who is buying all the right products, referencing all the right social icons, television series, movies or blog spots, eating all the healthiest food, renovating our homes with all the latest gadgets, playing the latest version of all the most highly consumer-rated games, caring for the environment in a hip way, discovering the latest research on staying healthy and working out, listening to the latest TED talks, working for the most progressive employers and listening to all the best cultural gurus –whatever flavor of live or dead philosopher we prefer. We embrace the outside-in self this culture forms for us, because this identity is a "self-help" identity. We form our identity by the things, relationships, and experiences we bring to the self. As followers of Jesus we may prefer this outside-in identity because we are not strengthened in our internal identity. Our inside-out self is too weak to stand in the face of critique, or difficulty, or suffering or rejection. We are like Frodo when he is unwrapped from the web: vulnerable, earthed, wide-eyed, helpless -infantile. Seeing a self that stands apart from the love of Jesus Christ should terrify any thinking person who lives on a rock hurtling through space in a universe of galaxies exploding in and out of being.
Jesus formed us with his hands, and danced for joy when he was done. His word to us was, "very good." The galaxy-forming word of Jesus Christ that called life itself into being and hung stars in the sky is the ultimate creative force. It is this voice that sings peace over his infantile children and whispers grace over the fears of vulnerable, earthed, helpless creatures. Are you listening to the voice that makes fully formed humans out of babes and eternal souls out of breath?