Who Are You? What Are You?

Meeting someone you didn’t know used to be simple. At its worst, it was a matter of extending your hand to a stranger and saying, “I don’t think I know you. I’m so-and-so. And you are…?” One of the smoother variations of asking, “Who are you?”

Only in the rarest of circumstances would a question like that result in an irritable or negative response. Uh, okay, maybe more often when teen boys who were anything but “hot” finally got up the nerve to try to meet the new girl and hope she hadn’t already met the real “hotties.”

I’m not really thinking of teens, however, but of full-fledged adults.

Especially if the meet-er and meet-ee were both men–and often if the meet-er was a woman–the “what are you?” question was a frequent follow up. “What do you do for a living?” or “I see you’re driving a Porsche. It would take me a lifetime to save for the insurance alone. You must work really hard. You, uh, …?”

Perhaps that second variation wasn’t the most subtle one, but it still served the purpose of acknowledging interest in the other person’s occupation. Along with showing a little friendly jealousy. At least the well-practiced man would attempt to make it sound friendly.

It’s not surprising that men often asked one another a question like that. Then, as now, they not only took pride in their jobs–or at least in their ability to provide for their families–they were apt to think of themselves as being what they do. I must admit I still prefer thinking of myself as a published novelist rather than a bald-headed sixty-nine-year-old man. And I especially prefer saying, “I’m a novelist” to “I’m retired.”

I started this post by implying that these introductory practices might belong to the past. The “Who are you?” is probably still safe, but the “What are you?” might result in unexpected answers. Especially t if asked that bluntly.

Let me explain.

Years ago while working in a state job service office, I noticed someone sitting in the waiting area. This person wore jeans, a very loose-fitting flannel shirt, and a short haircut. The overall appearance was that of someone who had lived a hard life and probably needed a job badly.

How I prayed that I wouldn’t have to be the one to process this person. Before learning that she was a woman–at least in theory–I could’ve flipped a coin just as successfully as try to determine her gender from her features.  She didn’t have the first distinguishing gender characteristic. Not any sign of a woman’s figure or a woman’s face. Or a woman’s mannerisms.

And yet she didn’t look like a man, either. Her appearance was utterly neutral. I thanked God that day that I didn’t have to ask her what she was.

Sure, that was an isolated incident, and it took place many years ago.

But let me share something a little more relevant. I was the editor of the store newsletter where I was working, and a particular young lady had written an article she wanted me to publish. The best I can recall, it was on tolerance in the workplace. I thought it worthy enough and well written, but she shocked me when she expressed doubt that it would be well received by her co-workers. I didn’t ask why, and apparently she thought I understood.

Not until months later did someone tell me this young lady was a lesbian. Although I was shocked, part of my reaction–I only thought this–was something like “what a shame for some nice man not to have any chance of romance with a nice, attractive gal like her.”

I’d never had a reason to ask what she was, nor would I have done so.

But now that so many people have come out of a very crowded closet and have gained wide acceptance except among conservative Christians like me, I’m doubly thankful I’m a happily married man. I’d hate to think I’d have to ask a woman what she was before daring to ask her out. And whether she’d always been what she was now.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

~*~

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Best regards,
Roger

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12 thoughts on “Who Are You? What Are You?

  1. I think people are weird. Unknowable. Some people do not even know or understand themselves. It’s borderline insanity that rules most peoples lives. A thin, robins’-eggshell thickness between completely looney and normal. I think some folks actually phase in and out between coherent and gibberish. SO I don’t look into their eyes and try to decipher their persona. Nope. I gather a name and listen to superlatives and amusing self appraisals and hope that interviewee is not a hatchet man. My true friends, true-blue-I’ll-put-my-life-in-your-hand friends are limited to just 3 people, and one’s my brother. We meet gazillions of folks and say ”hi” and watch them drive off in their spiffy new four-seater. They may be on their way to Satans’ circus for all I know. So many people come into the restaurant and want to be my friend. I give a shake, a smile, a nod, a wink and let them regale me with demented pertubations of their supossed reality. There’s more distance between me and ”the strangers” than me and the center of our galaxy. Maybe I’m the weirdo. That’s OK. Perhaps it is less trouble to swagger about with this tiny retinue of friends and know I’m safe than to constantly look over my shoulder and wonder what fearful thing is coming my way.

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  2. Wow, Tom! That’s a lot to think about and digest. I agree that people are largely unknowable–at least to us human beings. But I believe God knows and loves each one, anyhow. How He can keep track of billions of people is beyond my ability to comprehend. It’s simply one of God’s many mysteries. But I’m still with you. We can’t know anyone but so well, and the older I get, the less sure I am about how well I know myself. *G*

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  3. Yea, I was flailing in the dark trying to point out the slippery knowledge we really have of each other and ourselves. Me? I think I know who I am on Tuesdays and Saturdays. All the other days I pummel my brain to understand why I did this or said that. There’s a baseline ”me” that always wants to eat pizza while watching football or put use a pretzel log to dip out my vanilla milkshake. Then there’s this other guy who dresses up in my skin and and moves my fingers and hands and feet and has me do all sorts of giddy, unusual things I hadn’t planned on doing. It’s really kind of fun. As for God’s ability to know things, well, it’s pretty easy to understand. If you created something you obviously won’t forget it, especially something as intimate and personal as your own image. We actually have the ability to know the majority of people alive if we had the discipline and desire to do it. I know guys who can remember every word of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and if you ask them what is the fifth word on page 287 of volume 6 they will look it up in their mental archive. It’s amazing! We everyday kind of people have other things on our mind. But since it is His vocation, well, He’s interested in knowing.

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  4. Tom, in God’s case remembering us all because He created us makes perfect sense. But I create songs and novels and other writings and I can’t even remember the names of some of them. Oh, I guess it’s because I’m not God.

    Yes, agree we could know more people much better if we just tried. But never the way God does.

    More power to those who have the Encyclopedia Brittanica memorized. I had to look at your spelling to get “encyclopedia” right. *LOL*

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  5. I can’t list the number of times I developed in my mind long skeins of dialog that would have made excellent material. Too bad I was walking or driving and had no access to writing instruments. WIth the distractions of the journey and of the arrival these thing slipped into the mist somewhere.
    I think it’s a lie that everyone has a book in them. It’s just not true. If you don’t read books you certainly can’t write them. At least not something readable (unless, of course, you’re Homer and blind and you write the Illiad and the Odyssey.)
    I, too, find myself reading something for the first time and taste a bit of familiarity in it only to recognize that I did indeed pen it some time before. Life is weird like that.
    God is in no way limited by our imagination nor is he confined by our beliefs. I think we are all in for a very big and wonderful surprise. Our understanding of forever, infinity, God, happiness and love appears to me appallingly bleached out. But we do what we can. This is more important than self-righteous decrees that we are God’s chosen and everybody else is in trouble. I like the kindness in your thinking and I feel this has a long way to go in making God happy.
    Keep up the good work and the good blog!

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  6. Fascinating comments as always, Tom. I believe the Bible portrays God as vividly as mankind is able to understand, but He’s a whole lot, uh, more of everything good than we can possibly conceive of. Thank you for saying that my thinking has kindness, but I must say I believe God wants everyone to be His chosen and those who reject Him are automatically in trouble. I’m still struggling with what God does about those people who’ve never heard of Jesus, much less had the opportunity to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Fortunately, He’s still God and I am not, so I’ll have to leave that to Him to deal with. But that doesn’t free me from sharing my faith within my small circle of influence.

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  7. Well, I certainly can opine a bit about this. No need to struggle about those people who have never heard of Jesus. If you believe He is just then it is as plain as the moles on your hand that nothing untoward will become of those folks. And if He is not just then I want nothing to do with Him. How could I say to my kid, ”I wrote a family document that expains how I want you to act and even though I didn’t show it to you I will hold you responsible for the things written therein and will punish you accordingly. Preposterous! If we mere mortals don’t act absurdly injust it is so much more ridiculas to think God would. Best to trust in kindness, love and justice. As I told my mom once when I was about 7 years old: I was asking her why we called an uncle ”uncle Tanksy”. She replied he was in world war 2 and fought in Italy and was wounded in his behind by an enemy bullet while scrambling into a tank to take cover. I knew we were catholics and came from Italy so I asked her: ”Why is it that God allowed Catholic Italians from the US go to Italy to kill Italian Catholics? If God is that way then I want to go with the devil! Of course, at that age I wasn’t implying I wanted to go to hell but that I thought it illogical and absurd that God would be behind the activity of the combatants on either side. It’s simple common sense logic. And this same logic can be used to understand a myriad of things about God that aren’t written. Because we are made in his image we should be able to perceive things as he does. The problem is our religious afiliations and social structure inhibit most people from being able to think clearly. Mostly because they are force-fed dogma and ungodly baloney. I, without a doubt or worry in the world, know that justice will be served and it will shock the self righteous christians, who, because of their ignorance, will also be spared. Forgive me if I sound preachy. It just chaps me that the use of logic does not rule our thoughts.

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  8. Very interesting comments, Tom. And, as I would expect from you, very logical. However, I’m not sure we look at God’s justice the same way.

    Because God is perfect–and perfectly righteous–He cannot tolerate the sins of mankind. We are all sinners–not necessarily what anyone would look at as “bad people,” but imperfect compared to God. So perfect justice would require Him to reject everyone.

    But He is also merciful and loving, and that’s why He planned from the beginning of time to make HImself (through the person of Jesus) the only sacrifice adequate to atone for the sins of the world. (I wish you could be in our Sunday a.m. Bible study; our teacher has been doing a fascinating study of the various covenants God made with His people throughout the Bible, with all of them pointing to the final covenant through faith in Jesus.)

    And that brings us back to the issue of people who don’t know about him vs. people who know and still reject him. I’m glad you feel so confident about their eternal well being. But since Jesus commanded his followers to go throughout the world and make disciples of others, I would have to question the necessity of that if it didn’t matter.

    This is far too complicated a topic for me to adequately answer everything you’ve said, but at least we’re free to discuss and to disagree (if necessary). Oh, and I do take exception to the idea of force-fed dogma and ungodly baloney. You came from a religious background where (I believe) that was apt to happen. Baptists are taught to think for themselves, although I would agree that many conservative Baptists aren’t thinking very clearly or very open mindedly. *sigh*

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  9. By no means were my comments directed at you. I have a general distaste for the vast majority of people who claim christianity but are really just knots in the wood. (especially catholics) And it is complicated, I assure you. Or you assured me. I simply think that just as god made a provision for preachers to go forth into the world, he had to recognize that they would not cover the entire Earth in the first century, nor the second,thrird, forth… etc. Maybe as of the 19th century there were bible preachers in most territories of the Earth. But had they actually spoken with every single person alive ( in their native tongue) to give them an opportunity to know about Jesus. I doubt it. So what of these people? Too bad for them that God was not able to inform them of their rights and duties? nah. Mercy is over all his ways. SO I think there is hope. Sure, for those contacted and given a proper witness as well as correct teaching, their decision to follow or not the good news they fall under the discussion above. But those poor souls who were not given a chance…. nah, I have to give God the benifit of the doubt. As for me, I choose not to bind myself to a particular group. If you look at bible history there were people apart from Gods people who were given divine favor and acceptance because of the condition of their heart. Good thing I’m no judge! (Think of Jethro and Ruth or Jesus healing of the samaritan womans’ son!!) Either way, it is way too complicated for me. But keep the posts coming because they seem to elicit in me an unbounded curiosity…

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  10. I can’t help but smile at your “way too complicated for me [you].” Isn’t that true for all of us.

    God’s intention has always been that the people of the whole earth should be reached with the Gospel and that the outreach should begin with–but not be limited to–the Jews. One of the big emphases in modern mission work is researching and trying to reach out to all of the previously “unreached people groups” of the world; the number is growing smaller. The book of Revelation refers to Heaven containing people from every tribe and tongue, which seems to go along with that.

    But it’s still way too complicated for me. God cannot do anything that goes against His very nature. But that still allows Him a lot of what we puny humans might be tempted to call latitude. *G*

    If I can keep eliciting your curiosity, Tom, that makes me feel I’m accomplishing something worthwhile.

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