While serving as an Air Force Chaplain prior to 9/11 I would sometimes make trips to the airport.Dressed in a uniform similar to airline personnel, I would occasionally answer questions from people who wanted me to be someone else.
“Is this going to be a meal flight?” a weary traveler would ask.
“Is this flight going to be on time?” Or, “Hey buddy, I need some help with these bags.”
Usually I would point to the cross on my uniform and give them some smart lip about my travel expertise being limited to a much more heavenly destination.I would watch their faces as their embarrassment turned to disappointment because I could not be the person they needed me to be.
Even in the hospital, there is always someone wanting me to be someone other than me. The mistake often happens because my pastor father passed on to me a love for a good business class suit.
In the hospital, a man in a suit is assumed to be only one of two things – a doctor or a salesman. The patients usually hope I’m a doctor with answers and the staff usually hopes that I am a salesman with chocolate.
Being mistaken for someone I am not feels like a frequent occurrence. As a child I was confronted by a group of angry boys who mistook me for a bicycle thief.
My older sister doubled her fists explaining that they were mistaken. Fortunately for them, they did not mistake her as someone who was joking, but quickly identified her as a viable health threat.
Last week, I was again mistaken for someone else. I attended a Farmer’s market in the downtown plaza when the aroma of sidewalk Chinese food distracted me from my intention of eating at a park cafe.
Assuming the many tables surrounding the adjoining café belonged to the public park, I seated myself with my Chinese food and a café napkin. Suddenly the manager appeared and began lecturing me on the price of her napkins.
She mistook me to be someone who did not care about her or her business and asked me to leave. When I offered a generous tip for the use of the table she snatched it from my hand and mistook my repentant soul for a flippant soul.
Jesus knew the perils of being mistaken for someone he was not. He was once asked, “Who do men say that I am?” The answer was that some men thought that he was John the Baptist, some men thought he was a prophet and others thought him to be crazy.
“But who do you say that I am?” he pressed.
Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ.
Jesus promised him that he would be blessed because he had made this conclusion not on mistaken assumptions of others, but on the revelation that God had given him about Jesus.
Then Jesus concluded with his most puzzling request. He commanded his disciples that they should not yet tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Somehow Jesus didn’t have to tell people who he was. His walk, his breath, his talk, exuded one who was truly different. Jesus knew his purpose and he knew that only he and his father need be content with that purpose.
Even when Judas wanted Jesus to become a military leader, Jesus asserted that his purpose came from the calling paced deep inside himself by his heavenly Father. Disappointed, Judas planned the arrest of Jesus haplessly hoping it would force Jesus into being who Judas needed him to be – a powerful, earthbound, messiah.
Following the calling I too believed God placed inside of me, I sought ordination in my late 20’s.While most questions from the ordination council would be spontaneous, I was given a scripted answer to a traditional question -“What will you do if this council does not choose to ordain you?”
In a rehearsed, but meaningful way, I told the counsel that even if they mistook me for someone who was not “called,” I would still continue to pursue the meaning of the call God placed on my life.I told them that I respected their ecclesiastical authority even if they could not affirm my call, but I would have to answer to a higher authority and continue to minister and proclaim God’s love to others. They took this answer to be sincere and ordained me.
There are always people who will not be willing to affirm who you are and will mistake you for someone they want you to be. Maybe you aren’t suppose to tell people who you are, maybe the trick is to simply be who you are. Maybe we spend too much time trying to tell people who we are and not enough time just being who we are.
Nevertheless, I continue to be mistaken for someone I am not. Last week when my sister-in-law was visiting, she saw me wearing my house shoes while still in my dress socks and she mistook me for a fashion less boob. Just goes to show you, I guess, you it will take perseverance to press on being who you are.