The blessings and curses of name calling

 

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What shall we call her? How does she want to be known?

“To all God’s beloved, who are called to be saints.” Romans 1:7

In the wake of the London stabbings a Yemeni Muslim, Tam, living in London posted on her blog:

I moved to England in 2000 and I had a few months of peace and a promise of a new life in a civilised country where people were nice then boom, 9/11 happened.  We became the most hated people alive real quick that year. And by we, I mean muslims. Sure, nothing major happened to me, but the comments were there, the minor physical attacks were there. I was always on edge. Always looking behind my back. I westernised myself as much as possible not even to fit in, but to become invisible. I did not want to become anyone’s target. I refused to wear the hijab for the longest time for this very reason. From America to Paris and everywhere in between, the world fell apart in terms of these horrific attacks in the name of Islam. We became that neighbour everyone bitched about and ganged up on.

Having just finished watching a video of Police instructing people in a bar to get down for their own safety, my ever so alert ears picked up the dulcet tones of a not so gentle man saying, “fucking muslim cunts.” And honestly my heart bled.

She said her heart bleeds when she hears such things because that is what she hears herself being called.

What we are called matters. And what we call others matters.

The names we are given show us our parents’ pride and joy. Why did they give us the names they gave us? What was the meaning they wanted to convey to us? Why did we choose certain names for our children, or our pets? What was the meaning we wanted to convey? What were the terms of endearment? How did we want our children to think of themselves when we so named them?

I’ve been called many things. Apparently the midwife who delivered me referred to me as “the philosopher” – based on my first reactions to seeing the light of day. She may have been right, or that recollection by my mother may have shaped me. That first call, that first ID may be the cause of this post. Who knows? We will be inclined to live up to any good name we are given. But we are likely to be brought down or live down to any bad call.

I was delighted to read some praise in my recent work review/appraisal. I was called indefatigable. (Why use two syllables when six would do?) It was actually “indefatigably good humoured”. I don’t expect the person who wrote that remembers using that word, nor do I expect that person to realise the effect that has had on me in my ordinary everyday existence. In those words is loaded appreciation and encouragement. I am grateful for the thought which went into the feedback to my review, for the moments my reviewer has given to thinking “what shall I call him?”.

I also know that it is not strictly true. I know myself. I do get tired, I do get pissed off. And God knows me better than my reviewers. He knows it’s not true. But I do find encouragement in the half-truth and the potential. And I do find a meaningful calling. So if I am called “indefatigably good humoured” that becomes a calling. It is who I must try to be if I am going to live up to my name and calling. I now think, “Fancy being called that. That is something to live up to.” My name might actually improve my humour and that may become a blessing to others.

The names we call one another can be positive strokes. Being called David, being called “indefatigably ….” are positive strokes. We all need those. But some of the names people are called, the names that they are known by, are cruelly demeaning and damaging.

It does matter what we call one another. The names we give to one another, the ways we refer to one another carries meaning. It is important. Not just annually, in such things as reviews, but in the daily, everyday ordinariness of our transactions. We remember the names we are called. They don’t just ring in our ears but in our heart of hearts.

 

We shouldn’t be shy in our name calling. If someone has been good or helpful, we should tell them. If they haven’t been we should try to discern, with the help of those three, Faith, Hope and Love, what they could be. If we are not sure what to call someone we should simply ask them: “What do you want to be called? What do you want to be known as?” We might be in a position to help them become more widely known as just that – and that is about helping people respond to their vocation.

In our prayer we listen for God’s call, to what he wants to make of us. Henri Nouwen spoke about the blessing we can expect to hear in prayer. This is how he heard God’s call: “You are my beloved, on you my favour rests”. He wrote in Life of the Beloved:

 

We are beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us….

Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say, “I have called you by name, from the very beginning.  You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.”

We also listen to what others call us in our day to day dealings with others. We invest a lot in our reputation. We want to hear a blessing in the names people are making for us.

What are the blessings and curses of our name calling?

What shall we call one another?

Teaching and hospitality – pause for thought from Henri Nouwen

“When we look at teaching in terms of hospitality, we can say that the teacher is called upon to create for students a free and fearless space where mental and emotional development can take place…. The hospitable teacher has to reveal to the students that they have something to offer. Many students have been for so many years on the receiving side and have become so deeply impregnated with the idea that there is still a lot more to learn, that they have lost confidence in themselves and can hardly imagine that they themselves have something to give, not only to the ones who are less educated but to their fellow students and teachers as well…..”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out

Spiritual directors

Nouwen in Reaching Out is talking about the lack of spiritual directors. I think I would want to include other consultative roles as well which enable our supervision.
“At least part of the reason for this lack .. is that we ourselves do not appeal to our fellow human beings in such a way as to invite them to become our spiritual leaders. If there were no students constantly asking for good teachers, there would be no good teachers. The same is true for spiritual guides. There are many men and women with great spiritual sensitivity whose talents remain dormant because we do not make an appeal to them. Many would, in fact, become wise and holy for our sake if we would invite them to assist us in our search for the prayer of our heart.
“A spiritual director does not need to be more intelligent or more experienced than we are. If is important that he or she accepts our invitation to lead us closer to God and enters with us into the scriptures and into the silence where God speaks to both of us. Often we will discover that those who we ask for help will indeed receive the gift to help us and grow with us toward prayer.” (98)

>’andicapp-ed

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I was intrigued by a throwaway line at a recent training session when Gail Robinson (our Lay Chaplain for Deaf and Disabled People) explained the origin of the word “handicap”. It dates back to the time before welfare when they would have to beg cap-in-hand. The plight of the “handicapped” has been politically corrected over the years as we have responded to the demands of people with disabilities to be recognised as people with particular challenges which need not be totally disabling.

Andy Capp statue
Photo of Andy by Stan Laundon


Andy Capp is a famous cartoon character whose name is a deliberate pun on the word “handicap” (please imagine a North-East Hartlepool accent). The creation of Reg Smythe, Andy Capp was always the (very politically incorrect) cartoon I turned to in the Mirror when growing up. Andy never had a job and his life seems hopeless and hapless. Rather than rejecting the caricature of people surviving on benefits and those who have to go cap in hand to anyone who might buy them a pint, the people of Hartlepool have taken Andy to heart by celebrating him as a hero for those who can’t (or won’t) work – or aren’t and don’t fit. His place in society is cemented by the statue in Hartlepool – pictured above. There’s more information from Stan Laundon here.


Political correction still has a way to go. Access issues remain. But many people are becoming more aware of their own situation of having a place on the different spectra – for example, autism, asperges, obsessive compulsive disorder and dyslexia. We are now able to diagnose different learning problems (and, as often as not, their compensating abilities), appreciate different personality types and celebrate different intelligences. But in a training room focusing on diversity and disability it is still the tendency to look outside the room towards disabled people, instead of recognising the different (dis)abilities within the group as various people showed themselves differently gifted at sign language, and not so cap-able when it came to coping with IT.


It was distressing to hear the apparent exclusion of people with learning difficulties from our churches and how stones often seem to matter more than people when churches are trying to improve access. But it was good to hear about the Causeway Prospects and other initiatives to include people who find it difficult to express themselves.


Henri Nouwen reflecting on his experience of ministry (back in ’89 when the word “handicapped” was still being politically corrected) within L’Arche writes in The Road to Daybreak

‘Handicapped people are not only poor, they reveal to us our own poverty. Their primal cry is an anguished cry: ”Do you love me?” And “Why have you forsaken me?” We hear this cry everywhere in our world: Jews, blacks, Palestinians, refugees and many others all cry out, “Why is there no place for us, why are we pushed away, why are we rejected?”.

On death and mission

All that our society has to say suggests that death is the great enemy who will finally get the better of us against our will and desire. But thus perceived, life is little more than a losing battle, a hopeless struggle, a journey of despair. ……. Even though I often give in to the many fears and warnings of my world, I still believe deeply that our few years on this earth are part of a much larger event that stretches out far beyond the boundaries of our birth and death. I think of it as a mission into time, a mission that is very exhilirating and even exciting, mostly because the One who sent me on the mission is waiting for me to come home and tell the story of what I have learned.

Am I afraid to die? I am every time I let myself ber seduced by the noisy voices of my world telling me that ‘my little life’is all I have and advising me to cling to it with all my might. But when I let these voices move to the background of my life and listen to that still small voice calling me the beloved, I know that there is nothing to fear and that dying is the greatest act of love, the act that leads me into the eternal embrace of my God whose love is everlasting.

Henri Nouwen – Life of the Beloved

The world is evil only when you become its slave.

Think of yourself as having been sent into the world.

As long as you live in the world, yielding to its enormous pressures to prove to yourslelf and to others that you are somebody and knowing from the beginning that you will lose in the end, your life can be scarecely more than along struggle for survival.

Henri Nouwen – Life of the Beloved

Imagine

One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die..

How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it … and then – even then – there will be leftovers!

Imagine yourself convinced … that your kindness to your friends, and your generosity to the poor are little mustard seeds that will become strong trees in which many birds can build their nests! Imagine that, in the centre of your heart, you trust that your smiles and handshakes, your embraces and your kisses are only the signs of a worldwide community of love and peace!…Could you ever be depressed, angry resentful or vengeful? Could you ever hate, destroy or kill? Could you ever despair of the meaning of your short earthly existence?

Henri Nouwen – Life of the Beloved