Sunday, May 16, 2010

What's In a Name?

Naming someone or something is a powerful experience. We go to great trouble to select names for babies, hoping to choose something that a child can feel proud of throughout their life. There are other reasons too, such as a parent’s personal preference. It’s one of the first and last things a parent gets to decide for their kids without any kick-back.

There is a great episode in Seinfeld about naming a baby. It involves George Costanza who wants to name his future baby “7” because Mickey Mantle wore the number 7.

He shares it with some friends who steal the name for their baby who is about to be born.

George is devastated. Even as he drives them to the hospital, he’s still trying to convince them not to use his name. In the middle of a contraction, as they wheel the poor woman along the corridors of the hospital, George harasses the woman begging her not to use the name “7”. Eventually the husband gets fed up and says, “George! She’s in labor!” George shouts back as only George can do, “So am I!”

Whether it’s a baby or a business, an invention or an idea, choosing a name is important. It’s a stamp of recognition. It’s the precursor to letting a new creation loose in the world. It’s like one of those parties from last century when a butler presents each arriving guest as they walk downstairs, with all eyes on them. May I present to you… my new baby, my new idea, my new thought, my new identity.

I remember choosing a name for the first youth group I ran. We discussed it as a group and came up with the name “Nostrils”. I don’t remember why, but that was the name. It was my task to report back to the leadership the theological reason for the name. That was easy. The Hebrew creation story says that God created the first people from dust of the earth and breathed life into them through their nostrils. I always thought that was a great detail to include. Presumably a force powerful enough to create the earth could do it with a simple thought, but instead chose to do it through the one of the oddest looking parts of the human anatomy. So the name “Nostrils” indicates new life and a breath of fresh air.

Next in the story Adam was given the power to name all the animals. This was an important detail. Presumably God could have zapped names straight into human heads, but instead the story says that people had the responsibility of naming other species. There are a couple of reasons why I think this is significant.

1. Names are an important part of the creative act. They aren’t the same as the creative act, but they follow soon after. A name is not the person or thing itself. It’s just the best attempt of humans to portray the unique identity of a person or thing that is ultimately beyond words or description.

2. When you name something, you feel your connection to it. You grow to understand its complexities and character. With this connection, you feel some ownership and responsibility for its health and future.

3. Names don’t last forever. They often change to match an evolving identity. The Bible is full of name changes. I like to think that this is an ancient intuitive understanding of evolution. Everything and everyone is always changing, and our names change to reflect the natural evolution of things.

Names Are Intentional

What has been your experience of naming people or things? Do you feel the privilege and responsibility? Do you feel the connection? How did the names arise for you? Did it happen in sudden moments of clarity or after a long period of discernment?

Some names seem to be plucked out of thin air. Pringles potato chips were named by a marketing team who, in desperation, opened up the telephone book and pointed a finger. Steve Jobs told his small start up staff that if they didn’t come up with a name by 5 pm that day, he would name the company Apple. Apparently, they failed.

Most names emerge with more planning and precision. Whether a name arises out of a long process or a spontaneous moment, there is often a convergence of ideas.

Here at C3, we have been in a naming discernment process for close to a year. The first step was to collect the feedback from a wide variety of sources that said we need a new name. Then we put a team of marketers in place to collect and collate the community’s suggestions. This team worked hard to find the common themes and synergy in the suggestions. The incredible thing about our new name process is that at one point, over the course of a week, close to a dozen people came forward with variations on a theme that ended up being our proposed name. I’m a great believer in convergence. Ideas come together in a context of openness and creativity.

Like Adam in the Hebrew story, we are about to let our new creation loose in the world. It’s as if we are standing at the bottom of a grand spiral staircase, and presenting our community to the world. The excitement and good energy are palpable. But I will make you wait a little longer to reveal the new name.

When Names are Misleading

First, a thought about name changes. Sometimes names have to be changed because they no longer accurately convey the essence of what they are naming. There are some famous examples of names that are lost in translation.

The Electrolux Vacuum was manufactured in Sweden. They created a slogan that didn’t translate so well in America. The slogan was, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” We’ve all heard of truth in advertising, but that’s going too far. Then there’s Pepsi. In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” That’s a bold claim. The baby food, Gerber, translates in French as vomit. They withdrew from France. The German makers of backpacks called them “Body Bags.” This is only slightly less confusing than the use of the American term “Fanny Pack” to an Australian. The telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright … the future’s Orange” was lost in translation in Northern Ireland where the term Orange indicates protestant. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, didn’t sit well with the Catholic Irish population.

Lastly, when Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside, since so many people can’t read. The picture of the chubby baby didn’t look so cute to the African market.

Christ Community Church is a name that served this community well for over 30 years, but in recent years has been lost in translation. This has happened in two almost opposite ways.

1. It has prevented people from finding us who would otherwise LOVE what this community does and stands for. People have reported that it took many years to come through the doors because the name made them think it would be a traditional church.

2. It misled some who did come through the doors. Some thought they would be attending a traditional church and felt deceived by the name.

Either way it has become clear that the name Christ Community Church has become an impediment to this community evolving into what it needs to become. The time has come for a name change.

From Particular to Inclusive

After discerning that a name change was in order, the next question we had to ask was what to call the community.

Most of the community submissions expressed the need to move from a narrow Christian name to something more universal and inclusive.

In recent years, the community has become spiritual home to people of all spiritual paths.

Interestingly, so many of the name changes in the Bible reflect the same movement from particular to universal. Abram, which means ‘father’, was changed to Abraham, which means ‘father of multitudes.’ Jacob was changed to Israel to signify the change from a man with twelve sons (and a daughter) to a nation consisting of twelve tribes. The twelve tribes eventually came to signify all the earth in the New Testament.

The distinctively Jewish name Saul was changed to Paul to indicate the shift in focus to include gentiles. The phrase Jew and Gentile indicates all people. So many names in the Bible were changed to indicate this movement from one person, one tribe, one religion, to all humanity.

So let me break the tension and tell you the new name. After collecting the community’s responses and taking the advice of the marketing committee, the board of trustees selected a name that both honors the history of the community and points us forward to a more inclusive future. The new name celebrates diversity and the open exchange of ideas that arises from a diverse group of people. The new name honors the grounding in the Christian tradition but says that this community is part of a universal movement that is so much larger than Christianity.

Is the community still a Christian church? The community includes Christianity but is now intentionally an inclusive spiritual community. The community welcomes people of all backgrounds and spiritual perspective.

Here it is – drum roll please… The new name is C3 Exchange, an inclusive spiritual community.

What do the 3 “C”s stand for? Here is what we want to ask you to do. The 3 Cs don’t stand for anything official and unchanging. They are a connection to the past, and also an opportunity to create many resonant words. So the board would like to receive your submissions for C words that resonate with your experience of this community, and they will all be used in various contexts. We will collect all the C3 responses and use them in many different ways.

Beyond Names

There is an old saying that a person has three names: the name he inherits, the name his parents give him, and the name he makes for himself. C3 Exchange, An Inclusive Spiritual Community is our new name. C3 is the name we inherit. C3 Exchange is the name the current parents of the community give it. However, it’s what we do as a community that will create the lasting name.

As we join with others in building a global community marked by one love, we will make a name for ourselves that we can be proud of. As we do our part to create a global consciousness that we are all related and that the way we treat each other matters more than what we believe, we will make a name for ourselves. As we live in harmony with the earth, we will make a name for ourselves. As we pursue wellness that is not the absence of disease but the presence of all that makes life whole, we will make a name for ourselves. As we cultivate a spirit of mindfulness and unity, we will make a name for ourselves.

Where Are You Going on Sunday?

1181506_19612778Let me reference one last name change. Istanbul has a long history of name changes. When the Greeks settled there, it was named Byzantium after the Greek King of the time. When Constantine took Byzantium on behalf of the Romans in the third century, it became Constantinople. In 1930 it was changed to Istanbul which means “in the city”. Istanbul is truly a cosmopolitan city, a centre for people of all religions to mix and exchange ideas.

The story of Istanbul and her name changes is inspirational for us. As we move beyond the type of religious approach that divides and conquers, we branch out as a cosmopolitan community where people of all spiritual paths mix and exchange ideas.

The Indie Rock band, They Might Be Giants revived the classic song Istanbul-

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

You’ve got a date here on Sunday mornings. If you want a date with like-minded and diverse people, they’ll be waiting here at C3 Exchange, YOUR inclusive spiritual community.

As a fellow spiritual seeker on the journey of life, I welcome and honor you. I celebrate your unique spiritual path, and the open exchange of ideas and spirit, the coming of unity in diversity. Namaste.


Sue said...

I want to come to THAT church Ian! OR, God willing, want to be part of creating a community like that in Canada. THAT is why I do what I do every day... a passion for the Divine by whatever name, a joy in the experience of living by spiritual principles, and an ABSOLUTE conviction that people's lives are made better when they live by their spiritual truths! Thanks for your blog. My sermon today was on Unity.

Ian said...

Do it Sue- Canada will thank you. I read your blog, like your message. Unity is a circle that can stretch to include more, without losing its shape

Brian said...

I think it's great but... this type of Christianity is very different from the kind I was raised in, so it's all very new and strange to me. The Christianity I grew up in was very exlusive, not inclusive, and would have seen a venture like this as some sort of New Age mumbo jumbo. It's weird for me to see Christians mingling with people of other faiths, because it's so not what I'm used to.
But I like it.
I have a question though, how do you define a Christian? I was raised to believe, which I no longer believe, that a Christian is someone who necessarily believes in the resurrection and that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that if you accept that, you are born again, if not, then on your way to hell. This upbringing has caused me much emotional and psychological turmoil in my adult years. Someone like me would definitely have been confused by your old name of Christ Community Church.
Thanks Ian.

Ian said...

hi Brian- thanks for your comment and honesty. I dont think the progressive versions of Christianity have successfully distinguished themselves from the type of Christianity you describe. Until they do, your definition of Christianity as salvation from sins will remain the predominant one.
For me Christianity is a system added later to the teachings and life of Jesus. Im interested and inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus. I could take or leave Christianity which is more like churchianity than anything else

Chiropractic Grand Junction said...

Nice message, Ian. It's a great message for everyone - Christian or not. I super love your articles! :)

Holly Ribbens said...

Jesus says himself that he is the way and only by passing through him will you enter the gate. I do not understand how you can separate Jesus teachings with Christianity or salvation? Are you saying the Jesus death, his sacrifice was for nothing?

Jen Z said...

Ian says:
"The new name honors the grounding in the Christian tradition but says that this community is part of a universal movement that is so much larger than Christianity"

The Bible says: "His train fills the temple & The whole earth is filled with HIS Glory".

God is bigger than the universalist movement and will continue to be bigger than every movement that comes along and attempts to water down His message. The church has been steamrolling over heretics (within and outside of the church) for a very long time and will continue to do so.

Good luck in your new endeavor Ian.