Something Worth Boasting About

By Ross Engel

As it exists in my memory, the 1980s were a decade of excess. When I think back to the popular movies of the time, those excesses were paraded before my young eyes. The Griswolds and their National Lampoon’s various Vacations, The Back to the Future trilogy, Goonies, Scarface, Top Gun, the Indiana Jones movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Risky Business, and all those John Hughes’ movies (just to name a few) lauded lifestyles that enjoyed the latest and greatest that culture had to offer.

Nikes, Porches, Lamborghinis, buried treasures, drugs, giant car phones, Starter jackets, and gratuitous sex… all for full retail price.

As I recall all those movies and growing up in the 80s, I am reminded of the simple fact that it was a badge of honor to brag about how much money was spent on something. In school, the kids bragged about how much their new Jordan’s or Starters jacket cost. Labels (the right labels especially) were a big deal and often defined one’s social circle. I had relatives that bragged about the cost of their Guess jeans or Z Cavaricci pants. My Avia shoes and Bugle Boy slacks placed me in a specific social group, and not a very high one. If I wanted to move up, my parents were going to have to buy better labels for me to wear. Adults weren’t immune to this either and many often bragged about paying “full retail” price on jewelry, clothing, homes and cars. I remember seeing people driving their new cars for the first week with the price sticker still on the window.

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Our culture has shifted a bit in recent years. Instead of bragging how much we spend, the more exciting thing is to brag about how much we saved. Shop at Kohl’s and you might save $400 on a $150 shopping trip. The grocery store prints at the bottom of the receipt how much money was saved during that visit. Couponing has become a popular thing to do. (Truth be told, I always feel awkward when my wife sends me shopping with coupons; my 80s brain tells me that coupons = living in poverty. But she’s trying hard to reprogram me.) Thanks to websites like Pinterest and dozens of other DIY sites and TV channels, people are able to create “nice” looking things for mere pennies, several trips to the store, and a few hours of time.

Recently my wife and I watched the movie, 21 Jump Street. We found ourselves laughing quite a bit throughout the movie at the often inappropriate and certainly non-kid friendly humor.  The movie illustrated this shift in cultures really well. When I was in high school, not only were labels and money spent a big deal, but being a jock was THE thing to be. People that thought about the environment or championed social causes or did well in school were usually viewed with at least a little condescension. But the high school in the world of 21 Jump Street flips that all around. While jocks were still jocks, extravagant spending was less of a big deal, the environmental champions and the kids that used to be known as nerds or dweebs were something other than the social outcasts that they were in previous years.

This got us thinking about how we might survive if we had to navigate the social world of high school or even college today. Making an identity for oneself isn’t easy. It’s even harder to do if you don’t understand the intricacies of what is “in” and what is “out”. I’m sure I’d end up as confused as the Channing Tatum character in the movie who pulls up in a sweet `73 Camaro only to be shamed for driving a car that isn’t environmentally friendly.

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Each of us has an identity. We have our various vocations. We see ourselves a certain way and so do other people. Part of the challenge that most people face as they grow up is learning who they are and how they identify themselves. For me, this was one of the greatest challenges to my pre-teen and teen years.

Many of the ways that we boast or identify ourselves fall short of reality. The things of the past may make great stories, but identifying myself the same way I did in the 80s or the 90s would be a sad commentary on who I am decades later. Those things that “defined” me, no longer do.

Thankfully there is one identity that never changes. Since 1980 when I received that identity, until now, and even until I die, I can proudly wear the identity, “I am baptized into Christ.”

In baptism, all the other ways that we might chose to identify ourselves take a back seat to the new identity received in baptism. Child of God. Redeemed sinner. Saint. Child of Paradise.

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Though the culture changes all around us, though boast worthy identities seem to change from decade to decade, and though the grave may be wide-eyed and staring in our direction, the identity received in baptism does not waiver or change. It isn’t an identity based on any set of given rules or regulations. It isn’t an identity that is chosen, so we can’t take credit for making it ours on our own. It is an identity given to us by God’s grace that bestows life, forgiveness, salvation and everlasting life.

The baptismal prayer of the church captures the reality of this new identity granted in baptism so very beautifully. “The Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting.”

In baptism you are given, new birth – new life, in Christ, from the day those waters were splashed on your head, until the day our Lord calls you to rest, even until the Resurrection of all flesh. The price has been paid by Jesus and the blessings have been given to you.

Now that is an identity worthy of gladly sharing with others!

I am baptized into Christ! I’m a child of paradise!

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