It was Richard’s flyaway reference at church to ‘some singles’ which set me thinking. Church is the only context I know where ‘single’ is used as a noun to refer to a person. For the non-Church folk among you, you can probably guess that it refers to a specimen of person who isn’t in a relationship. I don’t mind the adjective because, like it or not, I am single. But it’s the noun – ‘a single’ – that riles me. Grrr.
Sitting in a stickily hot church, doodling away in between snatched glances at the blue sky outside, I decide to not just get stroppy but to work out what my issue is. I realise, upon brief reflection, that I’m simply not really a noun kind of girl. Then my mind unpacks it some more.
I think it’s partly because my ‘portfolio career’ [bitty life] takes away the possibility of a straightforward ‘I am a’ definition, such as ‘I am a teacher’, ‘I am a doctor’, ‘I am a social worker’, ‘I am a pastor’. When explaining myself, I say ‘I do youth work’, ‘I work with asylum seekers’, ‘I fundraise for a charity’, ‘I take photos’, changing the emphasis according to the context. Verbs are good. But I never say ‘I am a youth worker,’ or ‘I am a fundraiser’, or ‘I am a photographer’.
In one sense, that’s just a practical reality. When you do more than one thing, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all identity. But I have a feeling that beyond the challenges of not having a regular job, there’s probably something else going on which makes me rebel against the definitions.
Is it a fear of being put in a specific box and being perceived in a particular way as a result? (For example, I don’t say that I’m a youth worker, even though that’s one of my official job titles, for fear of conjuring up misperceptions of trendy hoody-wearing yoof work which is so far removed from both me and my job.)
Is it me not wanting to be trapped by a definition with which I don’ t want to unquestioningly and fully align myself? (For example, I’ve voted Lib Dem on past occasions but I don’t categorise myself as a Lib Dem, especially now.)
Is it an overly-developed consciousness of the weight and influence of the labels with which we tag ourselves and others? (For example, on a daily basis I see the impact of imposed labels – such as ‘asylum seeker’, ‘refugee’, ‘British citizen’ – on the entitlements, treatment and perception of individuals who are/should be so much more than their immigration status.)
Is it because I am wanting to be all things to all people and need the flexibility to fit into the wide-ranging contexts in which I find myself?
While these questions are running through my head on Sunday morning, I’m also listening to Dan’s sermon (I promise, I can do both!), and suddenly all the aspects converge. He’s talking about developing character at a deep level, beyond the external actions that are seen by those around us. It’s not just about what we do, but who we are. And it’s about where our fundamental identity is and how that identity impacts our lives throughout the week.
I suddenly realise that my fundamental identity – the noun I don’t shirk – is my identity as a Christian. It dawns on me – not for the first time, but in a new kind of way – that this is the unifying factor that holds my life strands together. It’s the noun to which I hook the selection of descriptions and adjectives and verbs which nuance me in my current time and place. I’m a Christian who works with asylum seekers. I’m a Christian who does some fundraising. I’m an Oxford-based Christian. I’m a Christian who enjoys taking photos. I’m a single Christian 😉
Yep, I am a Christian.
I am also – I realise as I am about to quote her for the second time in a week – a bit of a Miriam Jones fan. Here’s her I am one song which adds to the list of nouns I sign up to, and which articulates the various facets of this identity with all its triumphs, battles, failures and hopes…
I am one: Miriam Jones (http://miriamjones.com/wordpress/)
I am one of his disciples
I am one who bears his name
I am one of Satan’s rivals
I am one and I am unashamed
I am orphan made a daughter
I am a harlot made a wife
I’m a poor man called to dinner
I am a stranger recognized
Oh I am the image of a hidden glory
Yes I am danced over died for willingly
Oh I am the keeper of a coming kingdom
and hallelujah I am home to coming King
I am one of his defiers
I am one of his runaways
I have fought him to the wire
And I have cursed him to his face
But I am one who he has pardoned
I am one who knows his grace
Though the world my heart would harden
His love avows to keep it safe
And, if you’re still reading, I realised that I am also unashamedly a Londoner. A discovery which surprised me a little, but which is one that I can live with.