what’s in a name?


(Credit: Enokson, Flickr Creative Commons)

Name and language matter.

I think we all understand that. It matters deeply to us. Just continue to call someone by their wrong name you’ll see it.

You’re also kind of a jerk if you do, so maybe just trust me?

The point is that names matter. Titles matter.

I can remember when I started hear language that put people before labels and thought it was dumb. It wasn’t poor people, it was people experiencing poverty. It wasn’t an autistic kid, it was a child with autism.

The idea being that they are first and foremost a person. They are and will always be a person no matter what identifier or label we are applying to them. I complete agree with the shift I was being encourage to make now but it did take some time.

Part of why I think the shift was initially difficult was that I wasn’t a person experiencing poverty. I wasn’t the person being first and foremost defined by my perceived societal deficiency.

Identifiers do matter.

Especially when they relate to us.

I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past few weeks about labels, identities, titles, etc.

What does it mean to be a man or woman with the realities of the transgendered community becoming more prevalent in our lives?

What does it mean to be a mom or a dad as more and more kids don’t have a mom, dad, or perhaps either?

What does it mean to those of us who have always fit perfectly into the labels and categories of the system?

What does it mean now that for the first time labels that apply to me are being discussed? I’m not labelling or discussing an abstract person.

I’d say the vast majority of these conversation are spurred on when the title in question is one that the person I’m talking to holds. The idea of gender matters deeply too many, because they identify as a particular binary, static, gender for a reason and that carries meaning. It’s a part of who they are.

The title attached to a person, be it mother, father, husband, wife, etc. matters deeply because it’s a part of the formed identity of the person.

What I’ve found interesting is how unwilling many of us are to see the depth and value our neighbours have in their titles. For something so intrinsically important to us, we do a really poor job of understanding why someone else might care as much as they do about how they are identified.

As a Christian, I struggle a lot with it.

I struggle when Christians fight to maintain the status quo. I struggle when Christians want their way maintained. I struggle a LOT when Christians support and defend efforts to continue to marginalize and dehumanize people. I cannot stand when Christians argue for their rights at the expense of others. And make no mistake when we argue for our rights, the overwhelming majority of the time it is at the expense of someone else. Ensuring they don’t get something, ensuing we keep something from them, ensuring we keep what is ours. The inability for our community to see how we keep pushing people away and to the sides is infuriating. Our defiant stance on what we deserve continues to show our lack of care and other centred loved that should be the core of all Christians.

But we keep doing it.

When someone chooses not to identify their gender in a binary way or how society has traditionally wanted them to, it doesn’t force me to change. I’m still a man. I can still be a man. I’m still a husband. I’m still a father.

When someone identifies as gay or lesbian, that has no bearing on my identity. I’m still straight. A gay or lesbian couple being married does nothing to diminish my marriage.

Giving space for their identity to matter as much as mine does nothing to diminish my identity, my titles and experience.

We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. I don’t recall a call to defend ourselves and our way or to ensure our neighbour doesn’t get what we have.

We should be a part of the change so that our neighbour has what we have, even if it’s by us giving it up. If it takes relinquishing that which is important and deeply formative to us so be it. If doing so brings life and wholeness and humanity to another, how do we say no?

Because we think we have rights?

Because we’d have to change?

Because we’d lose out?

We aren’t defending some type of moral imperative. We are defending our norm. Defending our power. Defending our oppression of another.

And we aren’t being oppressed here or discriminated against at all. Nor is it some sort of overzealous politically correctness, run amuck.

Here’s a thought experiment next time we get frustrated with the notion of political correctness. Just change the words “politically correct” to “treating people with respect.”

“Treating people with respect is ruining the church.”

“I cannot believe the amount of people worrying about treating people with respect.”

“I will speak my mind. I will never treat people with respect.”

The hardest part for me is when we fight against equality. What we fight against togetherness. When we fight against bringing others to the table. When we see the other as the enemy. When our pride, our history, our fear keep us from extending the love and grace so central to Jesus. When we refuse to admit we may be the problem, we may have always been the problem.

Too often our fear of the implications of admitting we are wrong and we are the problem keep us from change. We have too much history, too much invested, to many sins to repent from. We’d rather lie to ourselves than face the horror of our truth.

This one should be easy.

We haven’t lost who we are or what we were. We’re being asked to be part of others having that same chance to have an identity that matters, to be called what resonates, to be who they are we have always been afforded.

All it costs us is our ability to oppress, discriminate, and dehumanize.

Do we really want to fight for that?


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