For years I have had a ‘signature’, which automatically was added at the end of my emails. When I was the senior minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, it featured the church logo – three adults holding hands with a child follow by my job title and church address. On retiring from Central Baptist, a friend created for me a new logo featuring my chairmanship of both Ministry Today UK and the College of Baptist Ministers, with my contact details set in-between. Since my taking on the presidency of my Rotary club, my signature has expended to include a Rotary wheel together with my club’s strapline, as also noting that I am this year’s club president. Truth to tell, my ‘signature’ now occupies far too much space – the time has come for a pithier redesign.
But what should my revised signature feature? At the moment my signature is very much about what I do, rather than about who I am. Maybe my signature should reflect something of my personal identity? For ultimately I am not a human ‘doing’, but a human ‘being’. But who am I?
It is no easy task summing up personal identity. According to Thomas Merton our identity revolves around our life-goals:
“You think you can identify a man by giving his date of birth, and his address, his height, his eyes’ colour, even his fingerprints… But if you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between those two answers you can determine the identity of any person.”
On reflection, there is nothing static about identity. From a Christian perspective at least, we are not just human ‘beings’, but human ‘becomings’. We cannot stand still. According to the Apostle Paul, as we spend our lives focussing on Jesus, we find ourselves being transformed into his image, “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18). The Christian life is very much about ‘becoming’.
Since retiring I have sought to give an answer to who I have become by writing for my grandchildren my autobiography, entitled This Is My Story. But how do I boil all this down into a signature? Perhaps I should take the advice of Bruce & Katherine Epperly in their book Four Seasons of Ministry and create a brief epitaph for my future tombstone!
In my funeral instructions I have suggested that the minister of the day preaches on the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor 4. 7; “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come to us”. The fact is that whoever we are, we all have feet of clay; and ultimately anything others may feel we have achieved, are actually God’s achievements.
This reminds me of how the present Archbishop of Canterbury, responded last April to the surprising discovery that his biological father was not Gavin Welby, but rather Sir Anthony Montague Brown. For many people their sense of identity is bound up with their roots. However, Justin Welby issued a statement in which he said: “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes”. He went on to speak of “the grace and power of Christ to liberate and redeem us, grace and power which is offered to every human being” and ended with an account of his inauguration service three years ago, when Evangeline Kanagasooriam, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: “We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?” Justin Welby replied: “I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.”
So how does this help my quest for a new signature? I am not sure. Perhaps the safest course of action will be to limit my signature to my name and address!