Stephen Owens met Stephen Owens
After the New Year had begun, we went away for a short break in January. We did not travel far, two nights at Stratford on Avon, and then two nights near Cheltenham. On our first morning away we went down for breakfast at the hotel. 'Your name sir? Room number?' said the waiter who then took us to our table. He came back quickly, 'Are any other members of your family staying here with you?' I looked nonplussed and said 'No'. 'Only I have another room number for you as well.' I just shrugged and he went away. He was soon back with someone else. 'Mr Stephen Owens meet Mr Stephen Owens!' I looked at the younger man holding out his hand and thought how this had never happened to me before. Of course there are plenty of other Stephen Owenses about, but I had never met one in the same place before!
Identity theft and identity fraud are real problems in our present society. I've just been looking up about it on the internet. Identity theft is when someone accesses enough of your personal information to commit identity fraud which is doing things like accessing your accounts, opening credit card accounts in your name and ordering goods in your name. I saw some very interesting information on how to protect ourselves against this. But the encounter with Stephen Owens at Stratford has made me think of other aspects of identity.
To know ourselves as unique people and to be happy with whom we are, with our personal and deep identity is so important. Things happen, things are said during our lives which may make us question who we really are - what is our personality and identity deep down. Sometimes our role in life becomes so crucial that we don't know who we are without it. As you know, this can happen to vicars and church ministers. We can be so used to being the vicar, that if that role is taken away we feel lost and unsure. Sometimes actors have a different difficulty. They are so gifted at pretending to be their 'character' in a play or drama, that deep down they can be unsure about who they really are in themselves.
Can faith help in this? I believe it can, but I know why some people might wonder whether the Christian faith can help or hinder. The outsider might think that any religious commitment tells you not to do this, and rather to do that. Maybe that is the loss of freedom and true identity? I think that people can get lost in the rules, regulations and trappings of a religion, but for me faith in Christ is something different.
What I see at the heart of the Christian faith is a belief that we can have a life-giving friendship with God in Christ. A friendship that leads us to the place where we might receive forgiveness, know life in all its fullness, a life that continues beyond the grave. In this love of God it is possible for me to discover my true and deep identity.
Of course I personally am on a journey here, I'm still discovering who I am and more about God as I continue my pilgrimage in life. But I do believe that there is deep truth in these words of Jesus from St John's Gospel. 'So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed'. John 8.36
It is often said that it is with our truest and closest friends that we can really be ourselves. I read somewhere that even though people might have a huge number of 'friends' on the social media, most people have just a few like three or up to eight close friends. In their love and acceptance we can be ourselves. I believe that this is also true in the love of God.
I hope that your identity is safe from theft or fraud. I hope too that you know a place of love and acceptance where you can celebrate being yourself, and that love encourages all that is good in you to flourish.