Dictionaries have a difficult time defining “identity.” Some definitions center on the individual: identity is what makes a person unique and different from others. Others focus on community: identity is what marks a person out as a member of a group. While these definitions might seem to contradict each other, both personal and communal identities are necessary and inseparable.
Our generation is as tied to groups as any in history. We form cultural clubs that connect us to our parents’ or grandparents’ languages and traditions. We align ourselves with humanitarian causes, working with people all over the world for a common cause. We play team sports more than any generation before us, and we identify with fellow fans of TV shows. If we define ourselves as iconoclasts by our music or clothing tastes, it’s not much fun unless we have someone to iconoclast with. Even something as seemingly individual-centric as an online personality test can become inherently communal, leading us to bond with people who are similar to us.
At the Harvard Ichthus, we believe that the core of our personal identity is our new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we share this identity with a community that transcends social, temporal, and familial boundaries. Jesus, while being fully God, was also fully a homeless human carpenter from Nazareth. He was a unique individual; his physically incarnate identity composed of as many facets as ours. But in the second paradoxical identity of the divine, Jesus, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, is a part of the Holy Trinity, the one perfect relationship. God is one, and yet also three, and each member has both a distinct and shared identity, of which relational love is a central component. As Christians, we believe that we are made in the image of God and remade by the sacrifice of Jesus. With such a rich design template as the Trinity, it’s no wonder that we gravitate towards groups, and yet delight, even through these groups, in what makes us unique.
With our new life as our core identity, Christians do not have to renounce commitment to volunteering, involvement in sports, or excitement about economics. The God who created the world must be a creative God. The incarnation of Jesus illustrates that we were never meant to be brains on sticks, but rather embodied beings who delight in and delight God both through our individual interests and relationships with others. Christian identity, far from being stuffy and monolithic, spans the range of human interests and communities. In the following pages, you’ll read about the unique expressions of Christianity in different times and places, and the diverse forms of worship and practice even on Harvard’s campus. You’ll see that Christians neither leave their curiosity and love for wordplay at the door to the church nor leave their faith at the entrance to the workplace. Whether you identify as Christian or not, we invite you to explore identity in this issue of the Ichthus.
Siobhan McDonough ’17 is a Social Studies concentrator in Kirkland House.