Our culture labels and names everything. We’re desperate for a referent, for a common vernacular, and so we categorize everyone and every belief and every class of ideas so that we can identify them easily. Ironically, as we create more and more, it becomes more and more confusing. I remember writing an op-ed piece while in college about how I rejected being known as Generation X, about how I defied the label, if for no other reason than on purpose.
More recently, it became dangerously apparent to me how this effects our faith. Early in my Seminary studies, I discovered that everyone classified themselves according to a specific theological stance, and they wanted me to do the same so that they knew how to think of me. Was I Calvinist or Armenian? Was I a dichotomist or trichotomist? Even among the greater circles of Christianity, we engage in the same horrid practice. More than wanting to know if someone is a Believer, we want to know how they classify themselves. Are they Baptist? Methodist? Presbyterian? Emergent? Catholic? Anglican? The list of denominations astounds me as much as it makes me ill with the unBiblical nature at its core.
The practice carries over to every other aspect of my life. Counselors identify themselves by what school of therapy they practice. Actors identify themselves by the method they utilize. The list carries over, I imagine, to every realm of life.
Why do we have this need to limit those we know? Are we that afraid of them? Are we that limited in our mental capacities? Are we that overloaded with information? I think, even worse than all of these, is the truth that we are stripped of our individuality daily in our industrialized and conformist culture: forced to have a certain appearance for a good salary, forced to speak a certain way in certain situations in the name of politeness. We’re expected to fit a mold of tradition, and it robs us of who we are at our truest.
Frederick Buechner theorized that to name something is to know it less. His example is how he knew trees as a child, without knowing what they were supposed to be. When he learned to name the tree, he knew less of it, because he knew it by a certain referent.
As Karen and I contemplate names for future children, this weighs heavily on our minds. Names carry a huge importance throughout Scripture. When God changed someones identity, He gave them new names: Abraham and Paul are but two primary examples. It occurs to me that Karen and I both fulfill the etymology of our names, and I think that, for some reason, God created things to operate this way for a reason. That makes the responsibility of naming our future children a huge one, because we will be, to some extent, pre-determining their lives for them.
Perhaps we are doing that with each other as well as we classify each other into different realms. We force our expectations for the other person onto that person, and they begin to fulfill the twisted prophecy we’ve unwittingly applied to them. What of our world do we color with our naming? What do we undo?
If we removed all of the needless labels and titles, and functioned with each other as human beings and with God as God, what would it look like? How would our daily existence change?
I imagine it would be fundamentally for the better.