A chipmunk decided that it wanted to tour the church Sunday morning after our service. A few attempts to coax it out were unsuccessful and so I acquired a live trap from Ace Hardware.
I baited the trap with peanut butter and left it in the sanctuary. It didn’t find the trap until late Sunday night or early Monday morning. I let it go in the back yard of the parsonage and it hurriedly found a hiding place far away from me.
It returned Tuesday morning for a visit while I sat on the back steps with my coffee. It kept a safe distance but was also curious about me. I decided that it was time to give it a name since it seemed to be making a home in the area.
I have named a few critters that frequent the area. I named a buck that has only one antler, “Lop” because he is lopsided. I named a doe that has several noticeable scars on her sides, “Nicki” because she has several nicks. It is unlikely that I will name her twins. Naming these frequent visitors is simply entertainment for me.
Naming in the Bible is a significant act. In Genesis 2:17 Adam names “every animal of the field and every bird of the air.” Rather than ownership or “dominion over” Adam is responsible for their wellbeing. When Joseph names Jesus, albeit with a little help, he is responsible for the wellbeing of Jesus.
The translation of the Hebrew word for “name” can also be translated as “reputation” or “standing.” It is not a terribly foreign concept that a person’s name and reputation are intertwined. The reputation has been earned based on their actions in the world.
In many cases we have changed that in recent years. A person is often first assessed by their political party affiliation, for instance. A label full of generalities is applied to the individual. Perhaps some of the generalities are accurate. Surely some of the generalities are not accurate. What surely happens is that the individual has been separated from their name and their humanity by the label.
As I scrolled through Facebook Sunday evening, I noticed that many friends had posted a certain meme. The meme lamented the divisiveness present in our country. It expressed a desire to return to the unity of Sept. 12, 2001. I also lament the divisiveness. I also desire a return to unity. It must be an honest unity, however, that recognizes the humanity of all individuals and devoid of dehumanizing labels.
How do we do that? A first, good step would be to stop labeling others and start recognizing the image of our Creator in them. Naming them as beloved children of God would call on us to take responsibility for their wellbeing and draw us further into relationship. Not only would this separate us from generalizing labels but them as well. The divide cannot be mended by politicians alone. If we demand it of ourselves then it will be demanded of the politicians.
Cain asked of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, my fellow siblings of God, we are our siblings’ keepers. Learn their names, their needs, their desires, and their dreams. You just might find that they are more like you than not.
Brent Wiescamp is pastor of First Christian Church in Salida.