Spirit Alive: What's in a Name?

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and beyond.
April 25, 2017

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

What's in a Name?

"No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations."
Genesis 17: 5
A person's name is something very important. It is personal and ultimately helps define one's identity. We see this from the very beginning of our religious heritage. Abram becomes Abraham, Saul becomes Paul, and we learn from the letter to the Philippians that God exalted Jesus and gave "him the name, which is above every name." 
The fact is that names matter. They are personal and particular to who we are. And when we do ministry well, we should arrive at a place where we know the names of those whom we work with and serve, because ministry, deep down is fundamentally about relationships. And relationships mean that we come to know one another by name.
This foundational premise for ministry reminds me of the classic exchange that takes place in the novel The Brothers Karamazov, when one of Dostoevsky's characters, says: "The more I love humanity in general the less I love man (sic) in particular." Sometimes we struggle to get along with each other and to love one another "in particular." It is so easy to judge others, gossip behind people's backs, label and draw distinctions based on categories or classes, and build walls among us. Sometimes we aren't even able to call each other by name. In short, it is much easier to love humanity in general, but it is much harder to love my neighbor in particular.

But the entire Christian experience is based on particularity, relationship, and incarnational life. We believe in a personal God, who relates to creation in a personal way. In other words, God doesn't love humanity in general. God loves the creation...all of it...in particular...and even calls it good. The testimony of Jesus embodies the fact that God cares about us in a very particular way.

Yes, names matter, we matter, and relationships matter. And it is important that we care enough about each other to know one anothers names.

Over the years, our family has received a significant number of misspellings related to the name Greathouse, which has often brought a smile to my face. Here are a few examples of some of my favorite misspellings:
  • Lowell Grapehouse
  • Lavell Great House
  • Lowell Greathorn
  • Lowell Guest Home
  • Lowell Greathorse
  • Lowell Greetneuse
You would think it wouldn't be that difficult to get one's name right, but evidently it is. I realize that my name is a bit unusual and as a result, often find myself talking with people about names. Did you know there is actually a website designed to let you know how many others share your first and last name? It's pretty interesting. When I looked at this website the last time, I learned that there is only one Lowell Greathouse in the United States! Yep, our names do matter...each and every single one of them, because we are each a unique, blessing made in God's image!

I remember years ago, when I worked at Catholic Charities in San Francisco, riding up to our offices in an old elevator, which had an attendant operating it. The operator was an older man, who everyone called Randy. During the time I was there, I noticed that whenever he introduced himself to others, he always said "Randle" rather than "Randy." So one day I asked him: "What do you prefer to be called?" To which he replied: "Randle." It made me think: what would it be like to come to work everyone day and have people call you by a name that you didn't prefer? On one level it may not seem like a big deal, but after talking with Randle that day, I understood that it actually made a big difference to him. After all, it was about his name...and how he wanted to be referred to by others. No one was trying to be mean or uncaring toward Randle, but it was a matter of taking the time needed to connect on this most basic level.

We often think that ministry is about big things, and it is. But deep down it is also about very simple things
as well...things such as names.... One of Mother Teresa's favorite sayings was: "Do small things with great love." I think this begins by attending to people at a very basic level...by getting people's names right, seeing them as human beings just like us, and extending simple kindness in loving ways.

What's in a name? A whole lot is...because through our names we come to know one another and develop our "particular" relationships from the very beginning.
Let us walk in the light of God's love,

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.




Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org