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What’s in a Name?

“Do you hear me? Lexus, you get back here right now!” shouted a disconcerted voice over the din of the shoppers at the local mall. Confused, my thoughts began to race: Was this woman calling her car? Had Lexus engineered a real-life KITT, an automobile that would not only parallel park itself but would return when beckoned? My meandering into a future where my car would not only play my Daydream Nation disc but also discuss with me Sonic Youth’s influence on scores of art-noise bands was interrupted when I realized that this voice was, in fact, a mother calling her child.

In the process of naming a child, parents must strike a delicate balance. On one hand, we want our children’s names to be as unique as they are. We do not want them to get lost in the sea of Madisons and Aidens in their kindergarten classes. Filmmaker Grace Lee created The Grace Lee Project out of this homonymic experience. She enjoyed exclusive use of her name growing up in Missouri, but upon leaving the Midwest she discovered, as it says on her film’s website, “everyone she met seemed to know ‘another Grace Lee.’”

On the other hand, we should probably resist the temptation to be too novel or overly clever when considering names. Imagine the years of playground bullying the poor child named ESPN will be forced to endure. (“Who’s yer brother? CNN?”) One pastor’s son was spared the milk-money shakedown when his uncle intervened and persuaded his father not to name his son Augustine Athanasius (after two of our early church fathers).

In His perfect, mysterious way, when God calls us to Himself, He names us both as completely unique individuals and as a distinctive community. It is not too much to imagine God’s careful planning and His great delight in naming, and renaming, each one of His children. Think back to when Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah, when God transformed the barren and hopeless into the source of blessing for all people. Remember Jacob, who was lifted from a lifetime of deceit into God’s blessing after wrestling with God through the night, his limp a permanent reminder of this divine encounter. Consider proud, learned Saul resized in Jesus’ presence as the apostle Paul, becoming small in order to accomplish the great work of God.

Even if we have not been literally rechristened, in our hearts we are each given a new name in Christ. Suddenly, we are no longer lost in a crowd, silently straining for recognition, secretly hoping for someone to notice. We emerge from the background, noticed and named. We have been uniquely identified by the One whose breath fills our lungs. As the fog of anonymity is lifted, the expanse of our hopes and dreams bursts forth from the dim grey into the glorious sunrise over the horizon. The droning static that interferes with our ability to hear the voice of God is cancelled, replaced by the still, small voice calling us by our true name: beloved.

Hosea put it well: I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, "You’re nobody! They’re calling you ‘God’s living children’" (Romans 9:25-26, The Message).

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The old names—loser, failure, forgettable—are erased by the tide of God’s great love as if they were written in the sand by the shore. Our identity and worth are found not in the sum of our successes and failures but, rather, in the transforming love of God.

This awakening not only reorders our understanding of who we are in Christ individually, but it reidentifies our communities as well. There no longer exists such a thing as a faceless, nameless crowd. If I am named and known by God, then so must others around me also be. Our churches can become named communities—and not just because the sign over the door reads First Presbyterian, Westside Baptist or Journey Church. We can move from anonymity into alliance, a coalition of the rescued. My fellowship with those around me can grow deeper than a quick turn-and-greet or small talk over doughnuts and coffee. Because each of us has been so treasured by God, it enables us to hold one another in high regard as well, no matter how strange or inscrutable our condition.

As we hear the dulcet voice of our Father calling out to us above the turbulence and noise, may we add our voices in the calling out of His children by name.

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