When I was young (1960's) there was a show on TV entitled "Secret Agent," ("Danger Man" in the UK) starring Patrick McGoohan as secret agent, John Drake. (Incidentally, he died 13 January of this year. He was 80.) Johnny Rivers sang the theme song, "Secret Agent Man," in which are these repeated words, ". . . giving you a number and taking away your name." Well, replacing names with numbers is, no doubt, the business of the clandestine world of espionage. They have to maintain some deniable distance in the event things go wrong. But,
Not so in the everyday world of humanity. Giving names and NOT numbers is vital to our role as those created in the image of God. Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses, writes:
At our birth we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognized as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.
Peterson reminds us that people don't necessarily remain the same throughout their lives. "Some people as they grow up become less. As children, they have glorious ideas of who they are and of what life has for them. Thirty years later we find that they have settled for something grubby and inane."
He then quotes Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy:
The name is the state of speech in which we do not speak of people, things, and values. . . . The name is the right address of a person under which he or she will respond. The original meaning of language was this very fact that it could be used to make people respond.
But we live in a society that relishes statistics and facts . . . the abstract. Here is where Peterson draws the significance of living according to our names:
Any time that we move from personal names to abstract labels or graphs or statistics, we are less in touch with reality and diminished in our capacity to deal with what is best and at the center of life. Yet we are encouraged on every side to do just that. In many areas of life the accurate transmission of our social-security number is more important than the integrity with which we live. In many sectors of the economy the title that we hold is more important than our ability to do certain work. In many situations the public image that people have of us is more important than the personal relations that we develop with them. Every time that we go along with this movement from the personal to the impersonal, from the immediate to the remote, from the concrete to the abstract, we are diminished, we are less. Resistance is required if we will retain our humanity.
It's Not What We DO, But Who We ARE
OK, maybe you've heard that. It is nonetheless quite true. We are not to be evaluated by our usefulness, or by how much others want us or don't want us. We are not defined by labels. The Lord said to Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time" (1 Kings 9:3). Notice he did not say, "I have opened the doors of the temple so that you can attend church, and show up only to return home again. No, he put his NAME there, meaning that this is personal, whole-hearted worship about which he's speaking. Like the Israelites, "One of the supreme tasks of the faith community is to announce to us early and clearly the kind of life into which we can grow, to help us set our sights on what it means to be a human being complete. Not one of us, at this moment, is complete."
We Are Always Becoming . . .
John said it, "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). We're not there yet. But one thing is for sure, we are not simply a set of electronic circuitry, but a "poem" in the making, made by God (Eph. 2:10). We have been given a name--HIS name, and not a set or rules and by-laws (as good as they may be in their place). Don't let this world squeeze you into its mold (Romans 12:1).