Letter from the Editor: Is Identity Crafted or Bestowed?

Do you know who you are? As a start, you could share your name, your profession, your skills, your hobbies, your accomplishments, your Enneagram number, and more. If ever a society could know themselves, it certainly would be this one. Here in the 21st century, we seem near obsessed with personality quizzes and character profiles and relational wiring. We want to know which Hogwarts house we’d be sorted into or Royal family member we are most similar to. (I got Ravenclaw and Kate Middleton, respectively.) These characteristics certainly give us a patchwork image of our personhood, but it doesn’t capture everything.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and support articles explore our yearning to know ourselves. Although some people of faith shy away from such pursuits, the desire remains in Christians and non-Christians alike. There is something within the human heart that desires to understand what makes us tick.

First is Dennis Oh’s feature, “Sneaky Pete: Incarnation Incognito.” Oh looks at the way Amazon’s crime series Sneaky Pete tangles with identity. The lead character Marius has stolen the identity of a man named Pete, not realizing that Pete would become a permanent part of his own identity:

Marius is a pro, but he must never get sloppy; he must never drop the con. His small gains of trust must be protected against attempts at counter intelligence, as when his suspicious young cousin, Carly (Liber Barer), exposes a memory that never happened, which leads Marius on a fact-checking visit to his former prison. Self-interested deceit and opportunism is at the root of identity at this initial, superficial stage. This “Pete” is not an evil man, though. He relates with “his” family as real people, and the moments of tender authenticity and emotional vulnerability in his relationships with the family members are no less real.


The lesson for us as Christians is that we likewise toe the precarious line of having our identities shaped by both a heavenly and earthly community. It is simultaneously fixed and fluid, flourishing and fallen, but always on an upward trend in a world where the good guys get the loot.

Our identities are shaped by this world and all that’s in it. Which is why societal trends affect us, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. In “B.Y.O.B. (Be Your Own Boss) Culture and the Cult of Self,” Mel Stubbins explores these dueling outcomes from the trend toward side hustles and the gig economy:

The [New Yorker] writer connects this example to a larger societal trend and holds that our aggressive allegiance to on-demand work is fueled by America’s obsession with self-reliance. Her ultimate conclusion, though, is that situations like the pregnant Lyft driver’s occur because we live in an unbalanced, predatory economy where worker rights are trampled and large companies run unchecked. The writer is correct in many of her assertions, but her point related to self-reliance deserves more attention. What she misses is that the human drive to control our own lives and circumstances is centered on something much deeper.

Economic necessity aside, humans have always carried a penchant for self-reliance.

Jeffrey Porter’s feature tackles this from another social trend: craft beer. In “Hazy Beer in an Age of Authenticity,” Porter explains why the shift toward individualism may actually prevent us from establishing the very identity we seek:

Throughout the 20th century, and especially after WWII, the consumer has become the chief arbiter when it comes to what is considered good. This shift should not be overlooked. Craftsmen are no longer the experts in any industry. This is not merely a case of the next generation failing to understand or respect their roots. What [Charles] Taylor describes is a philosophical and religiously intentional rejection of tradition. In industries like beer, what matters now is what sells, and as individualist consumers we are more concerned with our own feelings and the ability to choose for ourselves, than with adherence to tradition or craft standards. Because a craft is only recognizable according to traditional standards, when consumerism dictates what is considered “good,” tradition and standards are reduced to marketing and the notion of craft itself is hollowed out. For craftspeople, this undercuts the whole point of their trade.

If the human heart is bent on self-rule and self-actualization, often apart from community and always apart from God, our notion of self is shaky at best. Which may be why we seek security in what may be the most natural of identities: parenting. But even here, if we lean toward self-reliance, eventually, we topple over. In “Growing into Motherhood by Watching The West Wing,” Olivia Ard speaks to the life-changing way parenting breaks you down and alters your identity forever:

Now, with the benefit of hindsight and several months’ worth of adequate sleep, I see clearly that my initial model of parenthood was unsustainable. I’d thought that because I’d only become a mother through both divine and scientific intervention, I was required to devote every ounce of my being to this new role. But my husband couldn’t trail behind me forever, reminding me to sleep and eat and take pain medicine while I shouldered a load designed to be shared. And I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had needs and desires apart from the squirming six-pound life I’d brought into the world.

Whatever identities we embrace in this life—real or imagined or concocted—none is more powerful than the one given to us by our Creator. He speaks lovingly into the dark places inside our hearts and souls, where shadows cover truth and reality. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us still. I like to think He is the one prodding us along on our quest for identity, leading us to a place of rest and understanding. I’m guessing that’s the rest He will welcome us into when we finally see Him face to face.

Wherever you may be in your quest for identity, may this issue give you some company and insight as you make your way closer to the one who formed you, identity and all.

To read this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine in full today, become a member for as little as $5 per month. Members also get full access to all back issues, free stuff each month, and entrance to our exclusive members-only group on Facebook—and you’ll help us keep the lights on. Join now.

In This Issue

Sneaky Pete: Incarnation Incognito

The lesson for us as Christians is that we likewise toe the precarious line of having our identities shaped by both a heavenly and earthly community.

by Dennis Oh

Hazy Beer in an Age of Authenticity

When consumerism dictates what is considered “good,” tradition and standards are reduced to marketing and the notion of craft itself is hollowed out.

by Jeffery Porter

B.Y.O.B. (Be Your Own Boss) Culture and the Cult of Self

If we embrace the hustle without a critical eye, we can feed ideas about ourselves that are untrue. Namely that we are the ultimate authority: the true “captain of our souls.”

by Mel Stubbins

Growing into Motherhood by Watching The West Wing

Motherhood is demanding, but does it require us to devote every ounce of our being to this new role?

by Olivia Ard

Personality Tests: Knowing God Through Knowing Ourselves

Our personalities are complex and varied, of course, and no one test can truly capture how fearfully and wonderfully made each of us is.

by Nate Claiborne

‘Jane the Virgin’, the Book of Ruth, and Latina Identity

Depictions of Latinas on TV don’t often get it right, if they even show up on the screen at all. What is a Latina Christian to do?

by Karen Gonzalez

What The Sound of Music Reveals about Our Flawed Character(s)

Engaging stories as a Christian means I don’t just cheer for the hero, but I consider what the flawed characters—and even the villains—reveal about myself.

by Abby Hummel

Cultural Crucibles and Stories That Help Us See

Crucibles like the hurricanes, mass shootings, and white supremacist rallies rocking our soil tend to define the cultural identity of a people.

by K. B. Hoyle

Black Panther or King T’Challa: The Search for Identity in Marvel’s Groundbreaking New Film

Black Panther offers a powerful lesson for us today: our fully realized identities are not found in responsibilities that can be relinquished, but in the sacrifices made when most seemingly unnecessary.

by Timothy Thomas