At birth I was named Christine. My name means, "Follower of Christ." I doubt my parents fully knew the significance my name would carry for me at the time. As the years have passed my name has become true. Not neat or orderly or all that well at times, but I have become a follower of Christ. I've pursued him in response to his call in my life, in my relationships, in my vocation, in my education. My name gave me a path to follow. It was a hope fulfilled, and it is in process of being fulfilled. Given by earliest caretakers, it's a call, a banner, a vision for my life ... all in nine little letters.
But I've also been called other, less lovely names: needy, stubborn, entitled.
Unlike the name "Christine," which makes me smile and feel known by the one calling me, these other names cause hurt, pain, and shame.
When people name us, whether it's a given name or an attribute they see in us, they are asserting power and authority over us -- for better or worse. And when we respond to those names, we agree with them. I don't know how many of you may have seen or read the Game of Thrones series, but in the current season on TV there's a character who's been renamed.
Theon Greyjoy is the heir of a lord in the series, and holds a prominent position in another land. Although he arrived to this other land a captive he made it his own -- not unlike Joseph in the Bible. However, during a siege he's taken captive again after some pretty gnarly behavior of his own, and after psychological and physical torture his captor renames him: Reek.
"You don't look like a Theon Greyjoy anymore. That's a name for a lord, but you're not a lord, are you? You're just... meat; stinking meat. You reek! Reek! That's a good name for you." ―Ramsay Snow to Theon Greyjoy
At another particularly cruel part of Theon's story, Ramsay asks Reek (who's by now psychologically submitted to his captor) if he loves him, and if so, to do him a favor: to pretend to be someone he's not -- Theon Greyjoy.
Sometimes, like Theon, I've done things I wish I hadn't. I've been stubborn, jealous, lied. However, a name is more than at attribute or description of our actions. Our names give us our identity. So when I respond to someone calling me a name, nice or not, when I respond in my actions or my heart I'm submitting to a new identity, when the truth is: at the core my identity is still beloved of Jesus, even if I'm not acting like it. That's what grace is. And that's why naming and renaming is such a large part of the Gospel narrative.
Even before Peter denied knowing Jesus, when Jesus knew he would, Jesus gave Peter a new name and a vocation. And when Peter eventually denied Christ? A short-time later Jesus finds him, calls and commissions him again, saying, "Do you love me?" To which Peter replies, "Yes, Lord." Jesus says, "Then feed my sheep." Jesus didn't take back Peter's new name because he acted un-"Peter"-like. Jesus was reassuring Peter and reaffirming who he was, even after he failed so fundamentally. Nothing had changed, not even Peter's name.
When we're young we don't get to choose who has this naming authority in our lives. But as that changes we get to choose who we spend time with: people who know us and name us, or people who only see the outside of us, our mistakes, and limitations. People in my life now have named even named things in me I haven't seen in myself, like: beloved of Jesus, courage, visionary, avant-garde, artist. Some of these are fundamental to my identity, others support and affirm it or display its special blend of Jesus' grace in and through my life. For these people, I am supremely grateful.
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