A little polar bear walked up to his mum and asked, “Mum, am I really a polar bear?”
His mother (who was perfectly fine with the idea that she and her son could talk … in English!) replied, “Of course you’re a polar bear!”
The little bear seemed unconvinced, “Are you really sure? How do you know I’m really a polar bear?”
Mum blushed – but this was hidden by her fabulous snowy white fur – and said, “Well, I’m a polar bear, and your Dad is a polar bear, and we did the secret handshake thing, and that means you must be a polar bear. Now off you go”
So the little polar bear wandered off; in the distance he saw his father, so he hurried over to him and asked, “Dad, am I a polar bear?”
Dad grunted and replied, “Of course you are! What else could you be?”
“I know, I know … it’s just I was wondering if there was a mistake or something …”
“What!!” growled Dad, “Look at you! You’re white aren’t you?”
“Yes … I’m white … but”
“But nothing! You’ve got the big paws and the sharp teeth and claws and all that haven’t you?”
“Well, yes … I’ve got the paws and the teeth and the claws … but”
“But nothing! You’re white, you’ve got the paws, the teeth, the claws, what more do you want? You are perfectly adapted to life out here on the ice! Case closed, you’re a polar bear!
“I know, I know, but I just want to make sure I’m really a polar bear!”
“Oh for goodness sake,” grumbled Dad, “What is the problem? Why on earth do keep asking if you’re a polar bear!?”
The little polar fixed his father with a baleful stare and said,
“Because, I’m freezing!!!!!”
A lot of the time, I feel a little like that polar bear!
Not, necessarily that I’m freezing all the time, more that I often feel as though I’m not actually who I’m being told that I am; there’s a gap between who I think I am and my experience of things and what everything else seems to be saying. There are so many voices that compete to tell me/us who we are. It’s no wonder that I/we get confused sometimes …
Culture tells us lots of things. It can question and shape our identities as people, whether that’s through gender stereotypes, sexual preferences, ‘class,’ income and employment or whatever sub-culture we are presumed to belong to.
To me, it seems the dominant culture tries to tell us that we’re consumers – whether it’s of holidays, cars, fast-food, fashion, music, entertainment, services, lifestyle choices, or whatever. Allegedly we’re exposed to something like 600 advertisements a day – telling us all that we’re supposed to buy now, pay later, consolidate your loans into one easily managed sum, or that our latest gadget is suddenly out of date, or that if we only buy the thing that’s being advertised we will instantly be more fulfilled, more popular, and more sexy than ever we could have been without it.
It drives me mad.
Families tell us lots of things; depending on experiences and histories we could have been told we were precious or a mistake; we could have been valued or discarded; we could have been encouraged or resented; we could have been lifted up or beaten down. Our families could bring out the best in us, inspiring us to be the best son/daughter/husband/wife/partner/parent/sibling that we can be; or, they could be places of our deepest regrets and greatest worries and failures.
It’s a minefield.
Churches and Religion can tell us lots of different things too – that we’re children of God heading to paradise, or misbegotten and damned sinners destined for eternal damnation. We can feel as though we’re only there to serve the needs of others – like an unpaid social worker/care worker/psychotherapist/general dogsbody, or we can feel as though we’re the focus of just about every ‘ministry’ going – ministry to families, the elderly, the poor, the abused, the single, the youth, the ‘shut-ins’, the addicts, the affluent, the middle-class, the ‘alpha course,’ the minister’s favourite thing or their next good idea. Churches and Religion can convince us that ‘Sunday Best’ is all that matters – that the other six days are merely the gaps between the next service or meeting and where we are right now.
It’s all a bit confusing.
And suddenly we find ourselves like a little polar bear thinking – ‘Hang on! Is it really supposed to be like this?’
You see, I like this little bear and his inability to just accept the ‘party line’ that he’s being told (whether or not it’s accurate). I like the fact that he feels – and is concerned about – the cold.
I can sit quite happily in church and listen to prayers, worship songs and inspired preaching and never once ask myself if I’m actually feeling the metaphorical ‘cold’ of a real experience. I can sit and go through the form of a Sunday service and never question if it means something to me that day or if I’m just sitting there essentially killing a bit of time before Sunday lunch!
I remember when I returned to church after my dissolute art student phase and how stunned I was by it all; the very notion that somehow I was able to meet with people who had a vital personal faith rather than a culturally received one, with people who sang as though they meant it and people who listened to the speaker (good grief, they even took notes!) as though it was important.
It gave me chills.
I think I’d like to feel like that most Sundays, instead of just the odd one. Perhaps, I should be less concerned about whether my metaphorical fur is white enough, or my metaphorical paws large enough to bear my weight. Perhaps I should put those things aside and allow myself to honestly feel the temperature again.
Anyone want to play snowballs?