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Faith and Values: For deeper spiritual maturity, find a common identity

Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for the Spokesman-Review. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for the Spokesman-Review. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Paul Graves For The Spokesman-Review

“I am a child of God, Nothing can shake my confidence. I am a child of God, No one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, Strengthened by God’s own hand,

I am a child, I am a child, a child of God.”

Tom Walker’s very poignant, powerful 1988 musical affirmation that every person is a child of God still echoes in my heart after 31 years. His song speaks of Manuel, a dirt-poor Latino farmer; Jerome, a gay man rejected by his parents; and Elaine, a 7-yr-old inner-city girl living in her fantasies because reality is so painful.

Yet in spite of their circumstances, Manuel, Jerome and Elaine declare “I am a child of God, no one can take my inheritance…” Tom wrote his prophetic song long before identity politics became an emotionally-loaded term. But his song is an antidote to identity politics. Identity politics’ emotional baggage can imply that person A’s political identity automatically pits that person against person B in some irreconcilable way. The self-justifications A and B use may be racial, political, economic, sexual, religious, ideological or any number of excuses for fence-building.

Whatever the excuse, it results in two persons separated from each other – and likely from their own “better selves.”

On the one hand, we need to indulge in identity politics to the extent we need to recognize we are different from others. On the other hand, to recognize only that “you aren’t like me” sets me up to believe I’m the only one who matters.

We all fall into the quicksand of either-or (binary) thinking. That thinking has obvious benefits – if all you want to do is suspect or disrespect others.

But if you are serious about discovering your deeper spiritual maturity, either-or thinking won’t take you beyond the surface of a fear-based life. On that surface, everyone and everything that disagrees with your view of life is some kind of threat to your well-being.

Jesus pushed his followers to “love your enemies.” He pushed them to live below the surface of their normal lives so they could discover an alternative, an other, view of ‘other.’

Jesus knew that before I can love my enemy, I must be able to love myself. But before that can happen, I must let go of my fear enough to allow me to experience God’s unconditional love of me. That’s often so difficult for “me” to do!

Jesus knew “Love God and love your neighbor” is always connected to love of yourself. God/neighbor/self is how love’s mysterious power works. That mystery became discombobulated when we insisted God take our side against whoever the ‘other’ is.

We may claim our inheritance as a child of God, as Manuel, Jerome and Elaine did in the song. But when our identity is based on God being only on our side, we poison that very inheritance.

When identity politics drives us to exclude ourselves from others, we’ve missed Jesus’ whole point about loving our enemies. At times, we are our own worst enemy.

Additionally, each of us is someone else’s ‘other.’ Does that mean each of us is someone else’s enemy? Perhaps. So consider again Jesus’ call to love your enemy, to love the ‘other.’ Right now, I mean.

Consider the other way to see ‘the other’ moves us not to exclude the other, but to welcome the other – to join the “other others,” so to speak. Transformed identity politics includes others. Ultimately, our otherness as children of God finds its common strength not so much in us, but in a God who creates and loves us all.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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