What is Your Name?

When you strike up a conversation with a person you have never met before, what is one of the first important questions to be asked? What is your name? And then, my name is (blank). The name becomes very important to begin assimilating additional information about the person. That person’s identity and characteristics and experiences will center on their name. The name is like a touchstone--a fundamental or quintessential part or feature. You realize the importance of the name when two people are discussing a third person and one is trying to describe the third to the other: “you know their tall, glasses, dark-featured, etc.” And the other looks bewildered until, one of the two says the name: “you know, George (or Georgia).” And then one or both persons go, “Oh, now I know who you you’re talking about.”

   This is why in today’s Gospel reading, from the Sixth Sunday of Luke (8:26-39), Jesus asks the Gadarene man possessed by demons, “What is your name?” (v.30). A person’s name is the touchstone of their identity. And the man’s answer, “Legion,” showed that his identity had changed because “many demons had entered him” (v.30). This change in identity, from his given name, was evidenced by his behavior. “He wore not clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs” (v.26).

   This question, “What is your name?” is so important. When we ask others for their name, we are communicating that we care enough to take that touchstone into our heart and hold it in our mind. We are saying, “You are a unique person to me, not just another body in the sea of humanity.” And this works the other direction, our name signifies to us who we are. And the name as the touchstone is such an important concept in modern society.

   In the past, many of our ancestors had their names changed by immigration officials, from complicated Greek to a simpler Anglo form. Some actors and actresses, some musical performers have changed their own name to something simple and catchy. But nothing matches what is going on today with the so-called transgender movement in which people are changing their names to the opposite sex. They are dressing up and acting like the opposite sex. They are taking hormone treatments to change their physical characteristics. And some are undergoing surgeries to remove or add certain distinctive body parts.

   These developments are not new but they are rapidly growing in popularity and they are being mainstreamed by cultural progressives who use legal measures to force others to accept these changes. We are all familiar with the bathroom controversies over the past two years. The worst part of this trend is the manipulation of young people to become tools of this movement. So, the whim of a child is indulged by some parents to change their name, dress-up like the opposite sex and begin hormone treatments to effect the change. Doctors take money to assist the parents and child. School districts, local municipalities, state governments and corporations enact rules or laws that force everyone else to accommodate these childish whims and misguided notions. A lawsuit was brought by parents of a transgender child against Nova Classical Academy here in Saint Paul. It gained national attention and Nova settled the case with concessions to the parents and child.

   All these are done in the name of acceptance and non-discrimination. Name changes have extended into a new set of pronouns to describe people who are transitioning from male to female or female to male. So, he or she becomes “zie”, him or her becomes “zir”, himself or herself becomes “zieself.” In certain places mentioned above, a person could be penalized by not using a transgendered person’s preferred name or pronoun, even if they are a little child.

   It should be no surprise that we as a society have come to this point. The transgender phenomenon is just another step in the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. It first started with the battle to mainstream fornication, then abortion, then homosexuality, then gay marriage, and now transgenderism. Where will we go next? Who knows but the movement is rooted in identity politics, which uses language as one of its main tools. Perhaps a better name would be ‘anthropological revisionism,’ which teaches that passions and desire determine identity. A phrase that embodies this distorted vision of humankind is “I feel, therefore I am.” And this is an adaptation of the 17th century philosopher, Rene Descartes’ Latin phrase “Cogito ergo sum,” which is translated “I think therefore I am.” But the internalization of these identity categories creates deep confusion within the human person.

   However, our feelings cannot be the foundation of our identity because emotions come and go, are somewhat unpredictable and are highly influenced by the passions. In Orthodox Christianity, passions refer to healthy human desires that have been tainted by sin. For example, the desire for food becomes gluttonous, the desire for sex and affection becomes lustful, the desire for justice becomes anger and embitterment, and so on. We do not have to look too far to see people whose lives have become overwhelmed by sinful passions and desires.

   Anthropological revisionism, or the redefining of what it means to be human takes these sinful passions and desires and makes them touchstones of identity. To bring about this monumental shift in culture, names are changed and linguistic terms are redefined. Concepts of tolerance and non-discrimination are also used to gain widespread acceptance. So, the next time you meet someone and they say, “I’m lesbian, I’m gay, I’m bisexual, I’m transgender, I’m queer”, or whatever, do what Jesus did and ask that person, “What is your name?” And try to find out their given name at birth or baptism, and they use that name to say, “No, you (George, Georgia, etc.) are a child of God. That is who you are!”

   The first step to be healed of captivity to sinful passions and desires is to understand our true identity. In that we let our God-given and God-created identity determine what we feel, what we think and what how we behave, not the other way around. False constructs, muddled conceptions, impede the work of the Spirit within man and thus restrict the healing and salvation that Christ offers. The next step is to begin practicing askesis, trying as best we can to bring our behavior, words, thoughts and emotions under spiritual self-discipline. For a few, transformation is quick but for most it is a gradual process of retraining the body, mind, heart and soul, working in that order, from the outside inwards.

   As we conclude, we see that Jesus begins the healing process for the Gadarene demoniac by asking, “What is your name?” bringing him back to his true identity. He continues the healing by exorcising the demons and sending them into a heard of swine (vv.32-33). The man regains his identity and the people find him, “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (v.35). How did the people react to this miraculous healing? It says, “they were afraid” (v.35) and they “asked Him (Jesus) to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear” (v.37). Therefore, if you take the approach of asking a person who is misidentifying themselves, “What is your real/true/baptismal name?” do not expect a necessarily friendly reception. Nevertheless, remain steadfast, strong, loving and caring. Many people who are trapped in sinful lifestyles know that it is wrong and are deeply unhappy. Your question, your love, care and acceptance of them as a child of God, not a child of identity politics, will become a touchstone of Christ reaching into their heart and soul and reclaiming their true identity, and this will set them on the road to true healing, wholeness and salvation. If they are afraid and ask you to leave, then get in your boat and return to where you came from (v.37).

   Finally, if you are a person who has been healed by Christ, returning from a false identity to your true one in God, then think about Jesus’ command to the former demoniac at the end of today’s Gospel, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you” (v.39). It says that the young man, “went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him” (v.39). What is your name? Amen!