Review: Identity in Action

Identity in Action, Perry L. Glanzer. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2021.

Summary: Addresses the various different identities college students must negotiate and proposes a model of Christian excellence in these various identities.

College students must negotiate a variety of identities in their campus experience. Race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are the object of much public focus. But there are also a number of other identities one engages in everyday life that are no less real–academic work, friends and family, romantic relationships, one’s stewardship of time, talents and resources including one’s own body, and one’s civic identity. With all this, the question comes of how to juggle or prioritize these identities–all are important to who we are as persons.

One of the assertions the author makes is that colleges and universities offer little help in figuring this stuff out. For the author, Christ is central to this matter of identity, and this work assumes people who are Christ followers. He contends that Christ followers are new creations, restored from the sin and brokenness of human rebellion. He beautifully uses Fantine’s words to Cosette about her and her prostitute mother from Les Miserables: “She has the Lord. He is her Father….In his eyes you have never been anything but an innocent and beautiful woman.” But our identity is more than a “me and Jesus” thing. We are part of Christ’s body, and Glanzer considers this our most important human identity, and a place that forms us in loving virtue.

All of this lays the basis for what he advocates as “identity excellence” in our various roles. Subsequent chapters of the book work this out in our various identities with neighbors, our work as students, as friends, with enemies, as men or women, in romantic relationships, in stewarding our bodies and time, in the use of God’s gifts of money and possessions, in our race and ethnicity, and our loyalties to family and country. From work in collegiate ministry, I would agree that these are among the top student concerns.

The chapter on being a good neighbor helps ground other chapters on dealing with friends and enemies and focuses on how one may be excellent, regardless of the behavior of others. I did find it surprising that he would take on the matter of enemies. Yet this seems important because there is an idealism that denies the possibility of having enemies and leaves one ill-prepared when this arises. The counsel on stewardship, beginning with one’s body and his words about alcohol abuse on campuses and its connection with sexual assault is worth heeding.

I was more mixed in reading the chapters about “ladies” and “gentleman” and about romantic relationships. While I would affirm the emphasis on character and Christ-likeness, and challenging campus hook-up culture with chaste behavior toward one another and old-fashioned “dating,” I was concerned about the focus I saw on lingering gender stereotypes, for example “the strength, ambition, and character of men” versus “feminine beauty and the splendor of God’s glory.” This was more evident in the chapter on romance:

A real man on campus must have the courage to be counter-cultural. He must use his strength wisely and pursue a woman with patience, self-control, and agape love. The true woman scandalously withholds her love for the man noble and faithful enough to win it. She must demonstrate confidence in God’s love to sustain her in the midst of the desire to be loved, and she must demonstrate patience and self-control as she develops a romantic friendship” (p. 140).

I’m thankful that the author calls for patience and self-control on the part of both. At the same time the man is described as one who “pursues” who has “strength” and “courage” while the woman “withholds” as she is being pursued, she needs to be sustained by God’s love in her “desire to be loved.” I think many women who have struggled with patriarchy in the church would be fearful that this counsel is setting them up for a patriarchal marriage.

I’m also surprised that these chapters seem to act as if LGBTQ+ students do not exist when approximately 20 percent of Harvard and Yale students identify as LGBTQ+ and 11 percent of students at Christian colleges identify as non-heterosexual. Needless to say, for the Christian student who does not identify as heterosexual or cisgender, the silence of this book speaks loudly. Granted, almost anything that might be said may be contentious, but some word for these students seems necessary in a book on identity.

There are a number of good things in the chapter on race. In particular, the author traces his own growing racial awareness, the way both the country and the church are implicated in race. He cites his own institution of Baylor as an example of systemic racism in its historic discrimination against black students. However in moving so quickly to the avoidance of bitterness, the practice of forgiveness, and holding up the example of a black man who joins and serves in a white church, I suspect many students of color will be put off. Where is there room for godly anger at four hundred years of oppression, where is the unqualified repentance by the white church for the ways we are implicated in that oppression, and where is the counter example of whites submitting to black leadership?

The work concludes with the question of how we deal with conflicting priorities between our identities. I appreciate that the author didn’t offer a formula but urged the pursuit of faithfulness to Christ, attention to his words, and being yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit, in community with other Christians. While we would like a GPS or a formula, what Glanzer describes rings true with experience. There is much wisdom like this throughout this work, my critique of several chapters notwithstanding. It may save the student who wants to follow Christ much grief and position that student for great growth and delight in the person he or she is discovering themselves to be through the critical years of college.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Mixed Blessing

Mixed Blessing, Chandra Crane, Foreward by Jemar Tisby. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: The author describes her own challenges and blessings of being a person of mixed ethnic and cultural identity, and how the Christian can affirm and include the growing number of mixed identity persons.

“So what are you?” can be one of the most difficult questions for a person born of parents of different ethnicities or raised in a home with those of different ethnicities. The author has experienced this dilemma as a child of a Thai father and European-American mother raised in a home with an adoptive Black father.

Answering the question can be hard for oneself and much depends on how one has grown up. It may also depend on one’s physical appearance and the degree to which a person might pass for a particular ethnicity or represent a blend of ethnicities.

Equally difficult is how one identifies oneself to others. Some contexts do not even have a category for mixed persons. She describes a time when the ministry she works for (the same one in which I work) offered breakouts by ethnicity. She did not know where to go because there was no group for her. Eventually, an organizer who was also a mixed ethnicity person recognized her dilemma and invite her to the Asian American staff group she was a part of. And she reports how ten years later in a similar setting, there was a group for her and others like her.

One of the strengths of this work is that Crane doesn’t make her experience normative for all, nor suggest that one must stick to a particular way of framing one’s identity. She recognizes the opportunities to identify with monoethnic groups that are part of one’s ethno-cultural heritage while avoiding cultural appropriation. She suggests four different postures, any of which may be appropriate:

  1. Solidarity identity. Particularly if we may look like a person of that identity, although this carries with it responsibilities to deal with privilege if one is identifying with the dominant culture.
  2. Shifting identity. This especially makes sense if one has been raised bi-lingually or bi-culturally (or multiple cultures or languages). The big question is whether each identity is genuinely who one is. Such people may be real bridgebuilders.
  3. Substitute identity. Sometimes the healthy choice may be in finding identity in something other than ethnicity, for example as a musician.
  4. Singular identity. Some live with a both/and identity in which these blend fully. This might only be fully realized in eternity.

Crane proposes a discipleship process incorporating these postures in a three step process of prayer about ethnic formation, of exploring our ethnic identity, and of applying truths learned to one’s the Christian life.

The work centers on Christ, and observes that our incarnate Lord was of mixed descent. His family line includes Rahab the Canaanite, Bathsheba the Hittite, and Ruth the Moabite. To be in Christ as one of mixed heritage is to recognize that this indeed a blessing, that one is uniquely made and gifted by God. She deals with the critique that we should just find our identity in Christ by contending that Jesus does not submerge mixed identities but brings out their full beauty.

The book strikes a good balance of description, instruction, advocacy, and pastoral care. It reflects to me a wise person who has been on this journey for some time offering counsel and grace, especially for all who like her, are “mixed blessings” or are the parents of “mixed blessing” children. It’s an important book for me as a European American on a journey to understand and affirm and celebrate the multi-ethnic tapestry that is God’s intent for the church. Crane helps me better understand what it is like when multiple threads of that tapestry run though the life of one person. And she offers me a better question than “so what are you?” From now on I can ask “tell me about your family and how you grew up.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Identity Theft

No, I’m not talking about getting your credit card or personal information hijacked or your email hacked. That is a pain, and sometimes a costly one.

Rather, I’m thinking about identity as something more fundamental having to do with who at our core we understand ourselves to be. It seems to me that one of the challenges of our wired world and the multiple situations we find ourselves in is the loss of a sense of self in the myriad of identities we maintain and it may even be that we come to believe that our identity is this ever shifting, situational “something” that lacks any conscious rootedness.

Some of the challenge may be the pace of life. We may so frantically move from this online conversation to that phone call, to this family crisis, to that work project, to this entertainment experience, that we rarely attend to our inner world. Sometimes this frantic pace can be an effective strategy of muting that voice. And we often mistakenly seek to find a sense of self, a sense of identity in these things–work, family and all–and then are at a loss when these are taken away.

In a way, this leads to a possible definition of identity–what is it that cannot be taken away or be defined by situational factors, and are these generated by oneself or external to ourselves. And where can we go to find an identity that cannot be stolen?

This topic of identity came up at breakfast today at the conference I am attending as we discussed the pressures on students and faculty we work with on university campuses and the challenge of living an integrated life that has a sense of wholeness rather than the fragmented lives we often live.

As people of faith, we talked about our relationship with God as the reference point for our identity that makes sense of our inner worlds, our relationships, our work, and our life in the physical world. But I would be interested in how others who follow this blog think about this. Is it ultimate wisdom or a cop out to look to God for a sense of identity that cannot be stolen? How do you answer that challenging question of “who are you?”

The Question of Identity in Academic Life

Identity can be a challenging and confusing thing for anyone to sort out, and certainly this is the case in the academic setting. And part of the challenge is that we may be identified and self-identify in various ways. There is our race or ethnicity, our socio-economic class, our country and even city of origin, our gender and sexual orientation, our political persuasion, our academic status in terms of both appointments and achievements. And for the follower of Christ, there is one’s identification with Christ.

Yesterday was the last day of our Midwest Faculty Conference (I had many wrap up duties yesterday and travel today and so am just getting around to posting). As on other days, it seemed that our morning Bible studies captured an important thread of the day’s discussion. We looked at Genesis 50:15-26. Jacob, the father of the patriarchs have died and the brothers wonder if the reconciliation between them and Joseph will survive their father’s death. Will Joseph use his power as an Egyptian leader to retaliate for the fact that they sold him into slavery? So they concoct a message from Jacob on his deathbed pleading for understanding and they offer themselves as slaves.

Joseph weeps and says he would never do such a thing as they fear and that he will use his power to look out for them. But why does he weep? I think it is because the brothers act seems to reflect that they see Joseph as an Egyptian first, rather than as their brother and a fellow son of Jacob — an Israelite. Subsequently Joseph makes the matter clear. While he lives out his life in Egypt in service to Pharoah, his burial instructions specify that his body be returned to the land promised to Abraham when his people returned to that land. For Joseph, his Israelite identity was paramount and it defined his loyalty to his family and even his burial place. Yet he negotiated another identity, as an Egyptian leader, married by Pharoah to the daughter of a priest of an Egyptian god.

And this is the challenge of the multiple ways in which we identify ourselves, or others identify us. All of them are important. All of them have shaped who we are, how we see the world and relate to it, what we value. We can no more shed these things than our own skin. And sometimes, these multiple identities clash, and what do we do then? We heard of instances during the conference of conflicts where a university leader might need to implement decisions contrary to their faith commitments. Sometimes it’s possible to negotiate and find a better way. And sometimes not, and what does one do then?

At least part of the answer comes from clarity about which identity is paramount and “arbitrates” among the others. Perhaps it is not always obvious, but it seems that for Christians, there can be no other “paramount” identity than one’s allegiance to Christ, and secondarily to his global people who are constituted of the whole mosaic of identities existing in human society.  Yet this does not mean our responses to conflicting identity commitments are simple and clearcut, or will be the same. How our commitment to Christ arbitrates with our other identity commitments might look different for different ones of us. The nuances of how a Christian faculty member might deal with academic dishonesty might differ depending on whether s/he (and the student for that matter) comes from a shame or a guilt oriented culture, for example. Yet the exercise of justice, truth, and grace in the context of university policy will be a common thread in each of these situations, one would hope.

What do you think of this idea of paramount identity as key to negotiating our multiple identities and the conflicts these sometimes place us in? How have you experienced these challenges and how have you responded?


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Diaspora

We went out to breakfast this morning at a local diner. We often do this on Saturdays before grocery shopping. We were served by a woman, who along with her mother who also works at the restaurant, are Youngstown natives. The woman mentioned her other job, on the wait staff at a nearby Italian restaurant, and so our typical Youngstown question was, “do they have good red sauce?” Somewhere in the conversation she also mentioned that her manager grew up in Struthers, and then called him over. A relative of his was the kitchen manager at the Elmton, a restaurant in Struthers and we talked about the old ladies who made pierogies at the Catholic church and other great places to eat.

This happens frequently to us. I know there are a lot of Youngstown people in Columbus. A local newscaster, a county commissioner, and judge have Youngstown connections. Via Facebook, I’ve discovered several high school classmates live here. And through previous posts in this series, I learned of others as well–along with the fact that there is a Wedgewood Pizza in the area, along with other Youngstown connected places like Handels, Belleria and Quaker Steak n Lube [Update: since this post was first written Wedgewood and Belleria have closed their shops leaving many Youngstowners in Columbus in search of good pizza one more].

The idea of “diaspora” is that of dispersion or scattering. It has been used most in history in reference to the Jewish diaspora. Often diasporas are forced, as was the exile of the Jews in 587 BC, and their dispersion after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some dispersions are for trade and economic reasons. This is a significant reason for the diaspora of urban industrial cities like Youngstown. Generation after generation thought they could grow up, get jobs in the community, and raise a family and stay close to parents and grandparents. And then it all changed.

Actually, a mini-diaspora began in the 1950s and 1960s as people started moving to the suburban communities around Youngstown for more spacious homes and better schools. Cars allowed us to commute into the city but the ethnic and economic mix of the city of Youngstown began to change. The fabric of neighborhoods started shredding. Downtown began to die as retail followed the area population.

Then 1978 came and with it the shutting down of the steel industry that had been Youngstown’s lifeblood and led to the collapse of many other businesses. And while there have been entrepreneurial people and other survivors who stayed, many of us either because of jobs we had or economic necessity moved elsewhere. Through this blog, I’ve come in contact with the “Youngstown Diaspora” extending from Columbus all the way to New Zealand.

One of the responses to my last Youngstown post, from someone in Oklahoma included this thought-provoking question: “I live in a beautiful city, clean and progressive much like Columbus. . . . So why are these memories so etched deep in my heart[?].” This haunting question seems to be part of the diaspora experience. Even though we may live in other places, we continue to feel a deep connection to our homes–the foods, the places, the personalities, the politics, the culture of this place we grew up. It is so odd, we’ve met people that we’ve felt a special connection with, only to find out that they are also from Youngstown, and off we go in talking about all these things. Through this series, I’ve discovered several Facebook groups of Youngstown natives and it is incredible the number of people and posts sharing both memories and current concerns! Youngstown is indeed etched deeply in our lives.

I think much of this is about identity. So much of who we are is formed in our early years, before we are 20. It seems true of me that you can take me out of Youngstown but you can’t take Youngstown out of me. I also think it is because we knew we had something very special in those years that had to do with home and a way of living, that we want to recapture. And some of it seems to be place, somewhere we had roots. It is a collage of visual memories of a good place that consisted of the glow of blast furnaces, the Home Savings tower, Christmas displays at Strouss’ and McKelveys, cookie tables at weddings, Handel’s, Lanterman Falls, Idora Park, and more.

I’ve discovered we Youngstowners are not alone in this sense of “diaspora”. I caught this TED talk on the Detroit Diaspora. I found a good deal I connected with. One thing that I’m wondering about because I haven’t heard this said by many from Youngstown is the idea of return. The longing for return is a big part of many diasporas. Jews will say “next year in Jerusalem.” And I wonder, and would love to hear from those in the “Youngstown Diaspora”, do you ever think about returning? And what would those of you who stayed think if at least part of this “diaspora” returned and brought the resources and experience gathered in other places back to Youngstown? Or is your form of return connecting with others in the Youngstown Diaspora, to return in memory to all that was good about that place we grew up?