It is not unusual to hear someone define humanity by what we are made up of – our stuff. In this sense, what we are is fundamental. We are things that have souls, spirits and bodies. We have wills, understanding, and emotion, etc. In other words, we functionalize human personhood. What we are, we could say, trumps who we are. Imagine going on a first date and have the person start by saying, “I just really want to know you,” only to follow that up with questions about your composition. How much do you weigh? You are finite and material right? How long have you lived? They would leave having a general schematic of your being but not of your person.
I’ve been reading a book on disability and theology called Vulnerable Communion. There, the author suggests that at the heart of the stereotyping and oppression of people with disability is the idea that human persons can be defined functionally. This is true both in what I have described above as well as how we “thrive” in the world. It is no wonder that our first question for people in America is “What do you do?” I have been told that this is something completely original to American culture. We place people’s value in light of their ability to function in society. In the church, this is no different. It is one of the reasons why the evangelical church tends not to care about the elderly or the disabled.
Rather, the author of Vulnerable Communion suggests, what we are is vulnerable. The reality of the human condition is that we all know vulnerability. Rather than coming up with neurotic ways to hide our vulnerability from others, the quest to become whole persons, and therefore true disciples, is to enter into our vulnerability with one another. In this sense, as followers of Christ, we are the ones who proclaim that we have found our true selves, not within us, but without us. We are witnesses of the fact that our live is “hid with Christ in God,” as Paul tells us. To paraphrase one author, we can say that no amount of soul searching, career development, or savvy life planning would have caused Simon to find himself. To find himself, Simon had to hear Jesus call him Peter. Simon could not have found Peter through self-examination or self-development. Peter was his identity by grace, a call from God to enter into his vulnerability by grasping onto Jesus.
That call is our call.