Hey Gene, are you —
My name’s not Gene.
Oh. Well do you mind if I call you Gene?
I’d prefer that you didn’t.
Because it’s not my name.
Is that the only reason?
I suppose not, but it’s the main one.
(above image courtesy of south biscayne church)
Well, for what other reasons do you not want to be called Gene?
I guess I feel like it’s an old man’s name.
You don’t like old man names?
No, I have nothing against old man names. I just don’t think of myself as an old man.
Just how old are you, Gene?
Don’t call me that. I’m 34.
Okay, I won’t call you Gene until you’re an old man. What, shall we say age 60?
You know I’m not sure exactly what age constitutes oldness. But I doubt it’s 60.
Because retirement age is usually said to be 65. Even early retirement is at 62, isn’t it?
Hey, I’m asking the questions here.
Sorry. Anyway, I’m pretty sure my year of birth doesn’t get me full retirement until 67.
Yeah, but more important than retirement is when you get the senior citizen discount on coffee at McDonald’s.
I agree with you on the senior citizens’ coffee discount but not on McDonald’s.
What do you mean? Don’t you like McDonald’s?
I do. But when I’m an old man, I’ll drink my coffee at Hardee’s. It’s the old men’s hangout.
Kind of like Sonic and high school kids?
Yeah, but without all the confusion about tips. “Do these waitresses get paid minimum wage or not?”
Plus you don’t have to sit in your car at Hardee’s.
Yep, I can have my pellet ice in the comfort of a slightly anatomically-curved booth seat.
I thought you said you’d be drinking coffee.
You’re right. I take back the pellet ice thing.
So… getting on with this interview — what did you say I should call you?
So what should I call you?
Now or when I’m retired and drinking coffee at Hardee’s?
I told you I’m asking the questions. You want to be called a different name now than when you’re old?
So what do I call you now?
And when you’re 67 and talking about the weather in your anatomically-curved booth seat?
Yeah, those are my initials and I think J.B. makes a better old man’s name than Brett.
I concur. J.B. is better than Brett.
Not better in general. Just for an old man.
Maybe, but I think Gene is a better old man’s name than J.B.
Who’s getting interviewed here? Stop giving your opinions and ask the questions.
Sure thing, Brett. But I think our time is up.
[Uhm… I guess I apologize for that. I honestly was going somewhere in the beginning and then kind of found myself typing nonsense — or nearly nonsense, at least. I do that a lot, though I rarely leave it on the page and then publish it. This time I am, though. Welcome to my brain. And now back to the serious matter and content of this post (believe it or not, this post has serious matter and content).]
Names and identities.
Names are really important. But we very rarely give names to ourselves. Nope, our monikers are bestowed on us by our parents. Even nicknames we come by later in life are generally given to us rather than chosen. Yet these names serve as the principal markers of our identities for our entire lives.
In baptism we are given a new identity, a new name of sorts. While I’m not a big proponent of new “Christian” names being given at baptism, I can’t at all argue with the symbolism of such. A new creation, a new birth, a new life, a new identity — surely these warrant a new name. It’s worth noting, I think, that when an individual is baptized, he is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28).
I’m reminded of this song, which is one of my favorites:
I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, Outcast, Lonely, or Afraid
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One
Faithfulness, Friend of God
One who seeks my Face
What’s baptism got to do with identity in Christ?
When I accept Christ and the conditions for living in his kingdom, I’m given by God a new name and a new identity. And baptism is the commencement of this new identity in Christ. It is in the waters of baptism that I participate with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism is my second birth, and should be every bit as significant as my first (even more so) in determining who I am.
But baptism also acts as the marker for this new identity — a signpost in my past. It was at this time and in this place that I became a new creation and agreed to live my life in a different way. I died to sin and was made alive to Christ. Paul makes this clear in Romans 6:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
— Romans 6:1-7
Also clear from Paul’s words is that baptism is more than just a marker of a new identity, or even the point at which I was given this identity. As a reminder of who I once was and who I’ve now become, my baptism serves as motivation for me to live into this new identity which I’ve both accepted and proclaimed to others. Baptism prompts and inspires me to live as a follower of Christ should.
You’re saying in this post that baptism does three things?
Baptism, then, gives one a new identity while at the same time serving as his new identification card. Baptism ushers in a new person and also inspires that individual to live into the reality of his new life.
In other words my identity is in Christ, and baptism is…
- the process by which I receive my new identity,
- a sign of me having received this new identity,
- and a motivation for living into my new identity in Christ.
What about my other identities?
But all other identities do not cease to exist at baptism. When I exit the baptismal waters, I don’t cease to be a U.S. citizen, a mother, a soccer coach, a comic book collector, or a dinosaur in a disguise of human skin and people clothes. Rather, my identity in Christ forms and shapes every other identity which I possess. Christ is my ultimate identity. Christ is my new name. [I assume this is why early disciples of Christ accepted the word Christian even though it was first intended by others as a derogatory term.]
A wise campus minister (Jim Brinkerhoff), whom I was blessed to know in college, insisted the students involved in our ministry at Auburn University understood this: We are not students who are Christians, but we are Christians who are students. The difference in wording is subtle, no doubt. But when it comes to practical application and implementation, this distinction is crucial.
Your own thoughts on new names and new identities? And may I call you Gene?