Names and Labels

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If you were to see a person wearing a lapel pin that said “Americans for Reform” what would you assume that person valued, believed, and perhaps, voted for?

I was in Washington D.C. this past week lobbying for immigration reform and in the process was given an identity tag and a lapel pin both with “Americans For Reform” boldly printed on them. I found myself feeling uncomfortable walking around with a label, even one of a thing I chose to be part of. It struck me that I resist all forms of labels, even ones that fit me pretty well. I thought, ‘Why is that? Am I just contrary?’ So I gave it some thought as I sat on the top of a BIG BUS getting the $35. tour of Washington Memorials.

Heres the conclusion I came to. A label loads the bearer up with all kinds of additional meanings. Just for fun, let’s think of the label “feminist.” (The downloading of meaning has already begun in your mind, I bet!) Now, while some people have taken this label on and love it, for me it seems potentially loaded with all kinds of unwarranted hazards. Does it mean a person who is against men? Does it mean a person who is against morality? Or does it mean a person who believes that a woman who works as hard as a man at the same job deserves the same pay? Or that women world-wide have unique issues and struggles that must be addressed?

A label is a truck load of assumptions large enough to crush a life.

A name, however, is a completely different sort of thing. While a label downloads onto life, a name saves a space that can be filled with meaning only by living into it, moment by moment. Think of the infant, dearly named, hardly days old. This baby is Simeon. Or is it simply a ‘spinal bifida baby’ or a ‘premee.’ The label imposes definitions, suppositions, and categories onto the life, but a name is an invitation to discover fullness and value, whatever comes.

God knows us by name, not by category or label. Sometimes when our old name becomes crushed beyond recognition, God even gives us a new name.

Think about the difference. I am Marilyn. Or, I am an American for Reform. (You do know, maybe, that I am not even an American. I am an immigrant. The other side of the coin on this issue.)

One is a bag of assumptions and conjecture. The other a living potential. I am very glad to be known by my name. I don’t even much like a title, because it is Marilyn I am spending my life becoming. As imperfect and common as a name might be, it is a container that always has room for love. Let that be enough.

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Vice President for Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary and has been a church leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination since 1979. She has wide pastoral experience in partnership with her husband Steve. Together, they have lead three churches over 31 years, provided missionary member-care and pastoral retreats in Chile, Argentina and Venezuela since l985, and formation teaching during Field Conferences in Eastern Europe and Indonesia.

1 COMMENT

  1. One of the things I most love about God is that He knows me by name and He loves me without category or label or classification. There are some really great labels one could attach to me, but there are some pretty ugly ones, too. Brennan Manning said he loves us with “relentless tenderness” and “ferocious longing”. Tenderly whispering a name is winsome and compelling and that’s my God.

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