Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recent Identity Crisis

While I was traveling in Mexico earlier this month, I lost my wallet. For the first few hours, I was devastated and angry with myself for not putting my wallet in my front pants pocket. My wallet contained about 700 pesos (around $55 US), credit cards, drivers license, ATM card, and health insurance cards. Luckily I had just put my passport and 1000 pesos in my money belt and I was traveling with a friend who spotted me money during the rest of the trip.

For a moment, I felt like I lost everything that said who I was, except for my passport. But after a short time, I developed a clearer thinking pattern and was able to cancel my credit cards and my ATM card. It seems amazing that the smallest object I was carrying on the trip, was the most head-aching thing to replace. During this time, I realized that my wallet doesn't define who I am. I do know who I am. I am Greg Woods, a son, a brother, a friend, a Quaker, a Follower of Jesus, an American, a resident of the District of Columbia, Coordinator of Washington Quaker Workcamps, Co-Coordinator of Project Lakota, a writer, a joke-teller and a traveler. These are the ways I connect with people across the world and how people know me. No wallet can or will ever be able to entirely hold all the aspects of my identity (Yes, I have cards that say I am an American and a DC resident, but these cards will never hold my experiences as an American and a DC resident.), because you cannot really ever quantify these parts. Actually none of my possessions define my identity. If I were to lose every material possession I own, I am still the same Greg Woods albeit a materially poorer Greg Woods. Surely some of the aspects of my identity will change over time, if I move or change jobs and also I hope to add some more aspects like husband and father, in the future.

The next weekend, I was talking with two non Quaker friends in La Casa de Los Amigos in Mexico City about what Quakers believe. I cited the peace testimony, the belief that God can speak directly to us without the need for an intermediary, having silence mediation in some form in many of the Friends meetings, among other things. While I was talking, I thought to myself this religion can sound very weird out loud, but I still want to be a Quaker and follow in the path of George Fox,Elizabeth Fry, and other early Quakers. This radical religion is still very much needed in a troubled, violent world. Even though my friends seem satisfied with my answers, I wasn't. The conversation opened up the question: What keeps me in Quakerism, beside the legacy? This question reminded me of the panic I felt a week earlier when I lost my wallet. Like am I tired of Quakers? Does Quakerism still inspire me?

The next day, during the meeting of worship with Mexico City Meeting, I continued praying about my connection with Quakers. Near the end of meeting, the clerk read queries about environmental stewardship from the Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice in connection with the ongoing climate change discussions in Copenhagen. While sitting with the queries about being conscious about individuals' impact on the environment, I realized again why I am Quaker.

Having growing up in the Friends tradition, I have become a conscientious person about how my actions affect the community around me, whether it is thinking about where I shop or whether I am being faithful to my leadings. For me, Quakerism isn't just a religion that is just practiced on First Day mornings, but a religion to be practiced in every part of my life everyday and this is expected of me by my fellow Friends.

For this reason, I am a Quaker.


maurine said...

I appreciated this reflection on your identity. Too often we determine identity by what we carry, not who we are. Your deeper reflection on the inner quality of identity spoke to my condition.


Kelli said...

This was a good one. : ) Well done.