A rose, by any other name…

English: This is an image of the sign in front...
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I’d like to begin with a couple of principles:

1.  We can tell what is in our hearts based on what comes out of our mouths. 

2.   We can tell what we believe in based on how we save and spend our resources.

  Personally, I find both of these ideas to be fairly profound.  Somebody else might not agree with whether or not they are true.  And that is fine.  One of the awesome things about the world is that we don’t all have to agree.

An issue I would say that has less room for argument is the question of whether Jesus believed these things.   It seems quite clear to me that Jesus did.  I hardly paraphrased at all.  These ideas are pretty much straight out of his mouth.

There is a third principle I’d like to mention.   This idea is the idea that names have power.

Jesus did not explicitly ever say this.  But he implies it in many of his interactions, particularly when casting demons out.  The demon that identifies itself as “Legion”, for example, at first seems to think that Jesus will have no power of it, because it does not give Jesus an actual name.  Conversely, numerous demons seem to think that they will have power over Jesus, simply because they know his name.

Jesus himself renames “Saul” as “Paul” as a way to draw a distinction between his pre-Jesus and post-Jesus life.  God renamed the person who would come to be known as “Isreal.”   Adam’s first task is to give names to the animals.  Clearly, names are important things.  This does not imply some sort-of magical belief.  One could say that the power in names is rooted in the fact that we believe names have power.  We could suggest that it’s something of a self-fufilling prophecy.

This is why groups from street gangs to summer camps give members special names.  This is why some people get so persnickety about whether they expect to be called the short version of their name (e.g. “Rich”) or the long version of their name (e.g. Richard.)  This is why many tribal societies have given members multiple names, often a public one and a second, more secret one.

I believe the evidence a couple paragraphs makes a pretty strong case for the idea that Jesus recognizes the strength of names and titles.  But I realize it’s a little more open to interpretation than the first couple principles mentioned.

This absurdly egg-headed introduction gets me to the point I was considerng today:

 Taken together, I’m submit that those 3 principles mean that titles and names are powerful things, and they, much like the words that come out of our mouths, provide a picture of what is going on in hearts.

This has been a long-winded and egg-headed introduction.  The real point I want to make is that the way we name our churches in America says something about us.  And what it says isn’t very nice.

Consider a church with a name like “1st Lutheran Chuch  of Doofustown.”

A claim to the primacy and age of the church is the very first part of this title.  Jesus tells us that the 1st shall be last.  It would be a pretty cool act of guerilla art (or maybe vandalism; you say tomato, I say tomatoh) to run around to all the church signs that start with “1st” and write “Last.”  This of course is a biblical statement.  If the first shall be last, then all these churches bragging about their first status are indeed last.

That biblical idea aside, it is still telling that some church names start with that sort of claim.  The fact that we put it first suggest that the fact that we are first is more important than anything else. 

After we thump our chests, gorilla like, by asserting that we are first, we move on to a denominational title.  Placing this second suggests that it is the second-most important thing.  Placing it before the word church suggests that the things that divide us are more important than the things that unite us.  It suggests that whether one is a Lutheran or a Baptist (or whatever) is a more important question than whether or not one follows Christ.

And finally, that little word: church.  Much has recently been made about the fact that church is not a building.  While I agree with this, as long as we continue to write it on the side of the buildings, there will be a disconnect.

As long as we wax eloquently about the “big c church” or the “global church” but continue to call the individual buildings by this name, we will lose some credibility, and deservedly so.

There are other ways to title a church.  Some great names are simply not lived up to.  A friend told me about a local Baptish congegation.  They rent space from another Baptist congregation.  This second congregation owns the land and buildings and what not.

The punchline here is that the renting congregation calls itself “The United Baptist Church of …”   While it’s good that they are not bragging about being first or whatever, this leads to the question: what precisely are they united with, if they can’t join with their landlord and worship together?  (The picture above is not from this church; it’s a snap shot I found in the public domain.)

I know that there are traditions and rules around these things.  I know that probably lots of people haven’t given a whole lot of thought.  Jesus calls us out, though, to buck tradition when it doesn’t work, we’re told to ponder and meditate and think over things, so that we can most efficiently do his work.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

6 thoughts on “A rose, by any other name…”

  1. There’s a church in the Denver area called “Scum of the Earth.”

    Jeff, I wish we’d have a chance to sit down and discuss sometime. Part of me agrees with what you’re saying. Part of me is making editorial comments in my head about Saul’s renaming and the history of “first” and “second” churches. (The history isn’t necessarily laudable either, but it’s not EXACTLY the primacy-of-place thing that you seem to be implying.) Part of me is politically correct, and part of me thinks that some of the power that names have is, as you sort of say, the power we attribute to them, and that if we weren’t so word-overanalytical (one of my own strongest characteristics, as you know), not to mention hypersensitive, there would be fewer roadblocks and the names of institutions would matter less.

    All this posted by someone who goes around insisting that her nickname be spelled correctly. 🙂

    Jenn. With 2 n’s.

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  2. @ David: While you ask a legitimate question, I’m not sure I have a good answer. It seems like they ought to be simple, and promote unity, not division. I’m a bit ambivalent; on the one hand, it seems like they ought to be able to advertise what they believe characterizes them. On the other hand, maybe even this is a bit too much. Does the fact that my church calls itself “Fellowship Church” leave the implication that we believe other churches don’t have authentic fellowship? And yet to deny even descriptors like fellowship, it seems like we’d be left with bland, unexciting church names. I guess I could play the biblical card and point out that in the NT testament, the churches are merely identified by where they are located. Perhaps this is the way to go: The church in the ___ section of Atlanta, the church in the town of Holden, Massachusetts.

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    1. Maybe what we need are simple names like North Point Church, etc.
      I’ve become irritated by names that cause people to distance themselves simply based on the name of a church.
      If you’re going to alienate part of a community just because of a name – is the name really that important?

      Also, I think you’re right that it can be over analyzed.

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      1. Yeah, the North-point style name is not one I can find fault with. It seems in keeping with the biblical tradition of simply naming itself after geography.

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  3. @ Jenn… I’d love to hear what you know about the whole 1st church of thing… As I think about it, I have absolutely no idea why I thought that designated the order they were founded in. I tend toward the belief that the right-wing did a hatchet job on the whole idea of polticial correctness. I don’t know of anybody who actually believed in the extremes they were attacking. I also don’t know anybody who claims to agree with “political correctness” anymore.
    Ironically, though they speak so loudly against political correctness, the right wing manipulates the power of words masterfully. It was a Republican Strategist who masterminded the campaign to stop talking about global warming and talk about climate change instead; it was the Republicans who managed to turn “liberal” into a swear word in the 80’s, and we’ve still hardly recovered from it. The right wing has called the left wing the revisionists, when it is they who are generally pedalling the alternate-reality version of what has been accepted for centuries by the academics….
    Whooo! Look at me run around like a wound up, rhetorical monkey. Guess I better cool off. 😉

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