The third marker of being in the office of person is when those over us feel and express pride in our achievements.
This is an ordinary part of life for most kids. As the child progresses through the initial steps of learning to wave good-bye, say Dada, walk, be potty trained and make their own bed, they are affirmed and their small achievements are remarked upon and celebrated.
As school years begin, there are the regular report cards, sports achievements, and learning how to program the VCR to work with all four remotes, something which mom and dad could never figure out.
Then as life becomes more complex, there is the dinner table discussion of messy interpersonal dynamics at school or work, and the “attaboys” which come when you sort out a doozy of a problem in a reasonably decent fashion.
The sad reality is that some people do not even have those basic memories of approval to look back on. Simple things like the first time you rode your bike without training wheels were either ignored or were slammed with a comment about how overdue you were to get there.
The compensation, of course, is to find affirmation somewhere else. For some, it is to embrace a deeply counter-culture look and position yourself for affirmation from your peers for being bad, since being good was not affirmed.
For those who lack the courage to rebel outwardly, they often engage in a fantasy life of being dynamic in some form or another and being wildly celebrated in their fictitious parallel universe.
Others opt for self-validation through games. I wonder how many gamers are pursuing affirmation from the higher point score today than they got yesterday. Lacking a person to celebrate their skills, they embrace the score board as their (pathetic) alternative affirmer of personhood.
And, of course, there is the nearly ubiquitous pursuit of achievement through work.
But that is where the bite is. Because when we are not in the office of person, we can outperform the norm or the team and not even be noticed. I have watched so many high achievers deliver the goods time and again, in ways equal to or superior to their peers, only to be ignored with benign neglect.
In the end, we were designed to have affirmation. There seems to be no substitute for it. Even Jesus Christ was publicly, verbally affirmed by God from heaven twice during His life here on earth.
So what does it look like in daily life, if we missed that in the first round?
First we need to determine whether it was an across-the-board deficit or a selective deficit and to look at the areas where the praise did not land because it was far from our design.
For me, it was certainly selective. For whatever reason, Dad taught us kids how to drive when we were in our early teens. You could do this in the jungle.
We learned in an old Jeep with three gears on the floor and a clutch that had been damaged with an oil spill sometime or another. Consequently, the Jeep bucked a bit when we shifted gears. I worked hard, driving the clay roads to Agua Boa and back again. In time I was rewarded with a solid affirmation from my dad for my driving skills. Can you tell I still remember that day with emotion?
Looking back, I would say I was broadly, although certainly not effusively, affirmed in my childhood.
It was different with ham radio. Dad was a radio operator during the war and he carried over his love of ham radio to the mission field. Even though he could not operate in a foreign country, we kids were always exposed to the technology of electrical circuits.
I was not a natural at this, but I tried hard to learn the lingo and along the way had some meager successes and some overt praise from Dad, but since it was out of my area of design, it somehow did not stick particularly well.
When you affirm something that is not part of our core design, it doesn’t do much to putting us in the office of personhood. For all my whining about being a Neanderthal and liking it, the reality is that I do a halfway decent job of being a geek. Not stellar, but I get a few things done in this department.
But it is not core design for me — rather something forced on me by evil twist of fate that landed me in this technological age. You can praise me all you want for my meager achievements and it won’t do much at all to make me solid at the core.
Going back to my childhood, there was one area of excellence that stood above the rest: the issue of ministry and specifically “rightly dividing the Word of truth.” This was Dad’s forte. For him to praise me for skill in Bible study would have been high praise indeed.
AND it most certainly is an area of my design. I began teaching at around 12 years old and preaching at 16. Dad coached and corrected me with patience and impatience until I left home and then occasionally thereafter.
I longed for approval in that area since I highly respect his prowess in that department but I strayed from orthodoxy long before that honor came.
To summarize, in my life there was a general, low-grade affirmation of my achievements, somewhat offset by the solid reality that I was the family black sheep by the time I was two. However, the single most important area in which I craved validation was a big blank spot.
THEN, I started Plumbline and was widely roasted as a heretic — someone who wrongly divided the Word of truth to the detriment of others. I got hammered in the one place where I was already the most vulnerable.
This subject is so new to me we have more questions than answers. I wonder, for example, if being in an office is a one time thing or not? I would say I was in the office of personhood when I left home. I see no particular markers for not being there.
But after the firestorm where I was reviled and rejected for my theology, much of my behavior over the next five years smacks of non-personhood, and in retrospect, I can see I spent most of my time with non-persons. So does that mean I got knocked out of the office by that systematic delegitimazation?
I am not sure but it looks that way.
I do know that in my own life, there were three separate encounters with God that helped put me solidly back in the office.
The first, ironically, came out of the firestorm itself. I ended up pondering the passage where God and the devil were placing bets on Job. I was deeply moved by the fact that God so believed in Job He was not only willing to bet on him, but God twitted the devil about Job’s stellar qualities and the devil rose like a trout.
The thought crossed my mind, “I wonder if this mess I am in is a test like Job’s? I wonder if God is betting on me?”
I did not know and often chided myself for such non-Calvinistic flirtations with the heinous crime of pride. But the thoughts never really went away, and I decided rather privately, that since I was already toast in the eyes of men, there was no point trying to gain their favor by recanting in part or in whole (even if I would). So just in case God was betting on my holding my own against the Keepers of the Ancient Way, I would go the distance.
Today I feel highly validated, and I still don’t know whether God and the devil ever had a personal conversation about me, but I feel quite confident that God believed His design of me would trump all the outward obstacles.
The second milestone for me came when I realized that God had “saved” some of the more complicated deliverance problems of the day just for me. It was not some fluke of nature that some real strange flukes of nature showed up on my doorstep! He was deliberately giving me things I did not know how to handle.
It dawned on me one day with incredible force that God believed in my ability to reason from Scripture and to come up with a principle-based solution to a new problem! He believed in my ability to “rightly divide the Word of truth!” He spoke to other people in verbal revelation about what to do, but He was silent when He gave me a new riddle because He got such a kick out of watching me solve it — and He believed I could and would.
That was solid. I knew it was in a stronger class than my wondering if He had bet on me with the devil. Whether hell was involved in this or not, He was betting on me with all of heaven watching and was very proud of the principles I dug out of Scripture and the freedom that followed.
Years passed with my walking fairly solidly on the inside edge of the office of personhood. Then one day, I led a profound moment of ministry. I knew at the end of that day that the world would be a different place because of me and what I did that day.
And I so overwhelmingly felt that my Father was profoundly proud of me that day. I “knew” theologically that He was proud of me before that, but on that day, He gave me a revelation into my spirit of how proud He was of me.
I am a theologian. I can reason out the root of a problem. I do bring out new truth that sets people free. Furthermore, I was made to do that. It is who I am. I have unpacked a sizable chunk of my identity, and Father was flat out proud of me.
And I doubt anyone or anything could possibly knock me out of the office of personhood again. That one will stick.
Now there is a footnote to this story, when I thought my personhood was a settled issue.
People from time to time ask me what I do. I have a wide range of true (and incomplete) answers, depending on whether I want to get rid of them, intimidate them, inform them or engage them.
One line I occasionally use is, “I run a think tank.”
If they press me about what we think about, I might say, “We develop leadership strategies for social entrepreneur that are case appropriate to the specific social DNA of each target group. Most current social entrepreneurs are using a leadership model borrowed from the corporate world, government or religion and none of those three models is effective in producing sustainable values substitution at the core of disparate cultures which are in seminal transition.”
That is generally more effective than pepper spray or mace at thinning the crowd. And if anyone is left standing after that barrage, I do have a second barrel to my shotgun loaded with more of the same and it isn’t birdshot.
I wear a lot of hats and enjoy doing so (most of the time). But at my core, I know that some fine day, like Bartholomew Cubbins, my 500th hat will come off. When it does, I will joyously retire to my lab to be the quintessential mad scientist, working in blissful solitude.
I know it is who I am. I am secure in that. It doesn’t matter if anyone believes in me or not in that area. I am who I am. I was made for this. It will be. It is ordained. I simply don’t need affirmation.
Or so I thought.
I was with some pretty erudite friends recently, including a research scientist. We were discussing some of Sapphire’s wild and wacky dreams, and I postulated some methodologies for solving a series of problems. Discussion around the room was robust for a while, probing my ideas and building on them.
At the end of the day, the research scientist said to me in front of everyone, “Wow, Arthur. You are a scientist!”
I was totally unprepared for the deep surge of excitement inside me at being validated from outside.
Who knew that it mattered to me that someone was proud of that particular subset of who I am?
I thought I was rock solid there, totally sure of myself, but the depth and force with which a six word validation landed says differently.
Perhaps even after we are permanently settled in our office of personhood, there is room for more rootedness as other portions of our design are affirmed.
Copyright October 2011 by Arthur Burk
From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim