14 September 2009

The Politics of a Name


One of my favorite things about worship at seminary is weekly communion. We go up to receive the elements and because it’s such a small place most of us classmates are addressed by name. “The body of Christ, given for you Jessica…The blood of Christ shed for you, Luke” and so it goes down the line, each of us called by name by another servant of Christ. It makes my communion experience that much richer, that much more of a reminder that I am part of a true community of believers. In so many different ways names are important. When we name things we give them agency, we give them power. I think a lot about names when I’m doing work in Eco-theology. It’s a lot harder to tear down a forest of redwoods than it is a bunch of trees. And how much more interesting is it to point out a field of peonies instead of a field of red things. In Eco-theology we use the name to build a connection with an object, but that certainly isn’t the only way names are used. When someone calls you by name it means more than if they just call after you with a “hey, you there!”. My name is an integral part of my identity. My first name, like the first names of all of my siblings, is biblical. A daily reminder of where we as Christians find our foundation. My middle name is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. This connection to her and her family is extremely important to me. My last name is my connection to my father's family, with ties all the way back with Lewis & Clark. These names are part of my personality, they’re how I introduce myself, how I identify myself to others. And none of them will be used in this blog entry. It’s hard for me to write this entry and not put my name on it. I’m proud of who I am, of what I’ve accomplished thus far in my life. I’m proud of the connections that my name brings up for me. And yet I can’t sign my name to this piece of writing.

I went on the Presbyterian Welcome retreat this past summer and met lots of wonderful people. We called each other by name, we played together, we cried together, we talked about our faith together, laughed together, made s’mores together. I made friends on that retreat, and tell stories about the retreat, but I will never tell a story that includes the names of the people I was with. In the Pixar movie “The Incredibles” we see a family of superheroes navigating life with dual identities. In one scene the mom is talking to her kids about the importance of identity--handing her kids masks she tells them “Put these on. Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.” Many queer Christians, myself included, go through life with varied masks on, protecting ourselves from different people or situations we know will be unpleasant. How we choose to identify ourselves has a great impact on how we are received and encouraged in the church. It’s been hard for me to go back into the closet as I move forward with seminary and becoming an Inquirer. I feel that the church is a place where all should be welcome, where all should be free to serve out the call we hear from God. Organizations like Presbyterian Welcome, More Light Presbyterians, Covenant Network, and That All May Freely Serve are working to support queer Presbyterians in their attempt to live out their calling. The PC(USA) has come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.

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