Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Name Tags

I read a thought-provoking piece about name tags the other day.

In this article, the author recalls a young boy "...who walked into class every day wearing one of those name stickers that read "HELLO, My Name is ..." taped in the middle of his chest. And every day the sticker said the same thing in bold black marker, "HELLO, My Name is I HAVE A NUT ALLERGY." The parents were understandably concerned about what might happen when their son moved from his present school, which has a "No-Nut" policy, to a new one where any food is allowed on the premises without a hall pass. "

This made the author wonder what it would be like if adults walked into new or familiar communities with just one thing about us written boldly across our chests -- a word or phrase to help others learn something important about us.

As provoked by this author, I, too, am wondering what my nametag would say. As a hospital chaplain, I am very aware that many times the nametag says, "HELLO, My Name is.... Angel of Death." We chaplains are called to every death. And, I'll have you know, not every visit we make is triggered by death.

Sometimes it reads, "HELLO, My Name is...THIS IS ONLY AN INITIAL VISIT. DO NOT BE ALARMED," which is how my disclaimer-oriented introduction proceeds. Sometimes it reads, "HELLO, My Name is...TELL ME YOUR STORY, YOUR ACHES, YOUR PAINS, YOUR HOPES, YOUR DREAMS." Sometimes it says, "HELLO, My Name is...FATIGUED."

I reflect on the power of naming. Here at the hospital, my official nametag has my formal, 8-letter name. I don't recall anyone ever calling me that on purpose, except my evil 2nd grade teacher. My usual introduction is simply my 5-letter nickname. I'm sure it's confusing to most people since the two names are very different. It would be like reading "JEAN-PIERRE" on a nametag and having the person introduce themselves as "Dixie." That's why most of the time, my introduction is simply, "HELLO, I am The Chaplain." I think that they won't remember my name, and if they do call me by my full-length name, that's okay. It's not what I'm known by but that's not important.

Still, I reflect that the act of naming can be powerful and formative. I sense that my acceptance of namelessness at this point in my residency means that I am somewhere in the twilight zone. Or, as my supervisor wants to say, "liminal space" or "The Threshold." You know what that feels like? It's windy and uncertain. Kind of here. Kind of there. Careful that the door doesn't slam on me or hit my backside and push me one way or the other.

If naming is an act of godly ethics, then naming is also a gift of divine power that God has chosen to share with us. In the beginning God invited Adam to name God's creatures, to choose how certain life forms would be identified (Gen. 2:19). This gift of divine power and the responsibility to use it care-fully are still in our hands.

Today, my name tag reads, "HELLO My Name Is...WORK IN PROGRESS."

What is your name tag, showing up in this moment?
The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. - Genesis 32:27-29

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