February 2022: Thoughts From My COVID Wilderness 2.0

I would like to share something that has been on my mind lately as we continue to travel this wilderness journey: The power of names. Especially cruel, spiteful name-calling. Recently I was reading in the Gospel of Luke which sent me down this rabbit hole. Jesus is speaking to the crowd in chapter seven saying, “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” By this point, Jesus has been called a lawbreaker, so we are adding glutton, drunk, and friend to low-lives and thieves to the tally of names intended to wound Jesus’ reputation and undermine his ministry. Both Jesus and John are harassed because they are speaking truths that people—specifically those in power—do not want to hear.

Have you ever been bullied? Been called names that cut to the bone? I sure have. Even as an adult, people have hurled names at me that were unkind and hurtful. I have (full disclosure) done the same to others. One does not leave that behind with youth, and it seems to be a weapon of choice more and more in our society. Politicians throw around insulting names against their colleagues to discredit them. People on social media launch name grenades at people they do not even know, slaying their targets with the accuracy of a guided missile. Friends become former friends over hurtful name calling. Husbands try to hurt wives and wives their husbands. To say that it is a problem is an understatement.

We are particularly dangerous when we are angry or feel threatened because somewhere, deep in our souls, we know the power of “name.” We know instinctually that if we use just the right name, lay it on just the right person, that name will burrow down into their mind and do lasting injury. We also know that if we use just the right name about the person who is the object of our ire to just the right person, that name will burrow down into their mind and will permanently shift their perception of the intended target of our anger. Names are an effective weapon because names are inextricably linked to our sense of identity. When we intend to hurt someone with a name, we are trying to injure who they are at their core. No wonder God prohibits name-calling.

Here are just a few verses that should strike fear and regret into the hearts of all Christians regarding hurtful name-calling. I know they strike at my conscience:

Jesus says in Matthew 5:22, “But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”  Yikes!!

Colossians 3:7-8, “You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.”

Ephesians 4:31, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”

Now Jesus did call out bad behavior in righteous anger, not unrighteous human anger. He did call leadership evil and a brood of vipers, hypocrites, and liars, but his intention was to inspire repentance and to reveal peoples’ true motivation.  He was not trying to injure a person’s identity or reputation and let us not forget that Jesus is…well…God. So, there is really no comparison to the human behavior I am referring to.

So, with all this in mind, brothers and sisters, let us do our level best to avoid this conduct. Let us recognize human name-calling for the weapon it is and refuse its power in our lives. Let us not fall prey to those who use name-calling to manipulate our opinion of ourselves, another person or group of people.

Let us encourage each other and lift those around us in love, protecting identity and affirming each person as the image of God as they were created to be. Amen?!