While reading about my family roots a few years back, I found out that Daugherty is thought to roughly translate as, “troublemaker”. I rolled my eyes and smiled. This was, for a few teachers back in school, a favorite monicker for me. I wasn’t a terrible kid or anything, but “troublemaker” was leveled at me enough to stick. Reading the meaning of name made me realize that when teachers were drawing out a punitive “Mr. Daaaugherrrrtyyyy” through clenched teeth, with their arms folded and their brow creased, they were calling me the name in a second language.
Our names have interesting, and sometimes hilarious meaning tucked within them. In Africa a couple months ago, I was given a tribal name. From now on, in a remote village in Western Kenya, I am known as Pastor Stephen Daugherty Odyambo. That is, Pastor Crowned Troublemaker Born-at-night. The local pastors shared the etymology of their own names with me. Some of them meant “born during a drought.” A couple of them had last names that connoted “Mom had me during the weeding season”. One man, laughing at himself so contagiously that he had us all wiping our eyes, told us that his last name meant, “born the year the hippos attacked”.
Our surnames tell a story. Smiths, Bakers, Wrights, Taylors, Fiddlers; they’re all vocations. Then there are names like Goodman, Wise, Armstrong, Smart. These and hundreds of others describe traits of the person. There are even names like Hill, Woods, Atwood, Fields and Bush that say something about the geography of the family at one point in history.
Our names are really an endearing glimpse into where we come from and what our family has been part of. Even the story of the first human, Adam (which comes from the Hebrew word for soil) is about a man with recent history in his name.
It's interesting that after the curse described in Genesis 3, Adam is stuck working the soil and producing crops via hard labor. He is now condemned to attach his life to what he produces. His name went from an interesting blurb about his humble origins to announcing that what he does is what he is.
This was, ostensibly, the beginning of people forgetting Imago Dei and believing Imago do.
It’s hard, to this day, for us to disbelieve that we are not merely what we’ve done, produce or come from. Really hard. I admit it I struggle with this a ton. And I struggle helping others with it as well. For every effort for myself or others that I employ to believe we are more than what society cares to measure, there are a million superficial reinforcements to the contrary. Even coming subtly from faith. The very structure (or perceived structure) of churches can accidentally (or, very much on purpose) reinforces that some work, some people, some backgrounds, some pedigrees, some results are of more worth than others. I recently had an oceanographer say to me, upon finding out I was a pastor, "Oh, now that's some real work...". Everything seems to fed the delusion that Imago do holds more life than Imago Dei.
In a meritocracy, our utility is our value. In this scenario, men lose their job, and themselves. Simultaneously. They fall not just into unemployment, but into depression. Women find out their offering to society is somehow less than another's, and as a consequence believe they are less than the other offerer. They no longer find joy in their work, their rest, or themselves. Children grow up anxiously assured that they will most likely be failures, no matter how much money and letters they can attach to their name. It's never going to be enough. For all of us, a failure to understand Imago Dei renders all our work and all our actions subject to anxious scrutiny, and the verdict will always be "not enough."
Some observations on a failure to embrace the peaceable, anxiety-free reality of Imago Dei:
- Our presentation, within the meritocracy of Imago do, MUST be better than others'. This means loving people will be impossible, because we can't give ourselves to people when we're trying to conquer them.
- We can't rest or sabbath, because to stop is to die. Must. Keep. Going.
- We can't enjoy our work, because our soul is desperately feeding off our work's quality. It's not pleasurable to live in a life-or-death scenario.
- We can't celebrate the work of others, because their work threatens us.
- We measure our success by the failure of others, which is so childish we can barely admit the practice to ourselves. But, others fall, and something in us celebrates this new chance to "win".
- We have second conversations running in our heads as we speak to people, waiting to get to drop impressive names, amounts, experiences, degrees, etc. Which means we're not loving because we're not listening.
- We believe...and then expect...and then demand that certain people serve us, based on the presumed worth of their industry, education or role in society. Classes and castes. It's a tired game we keep playing outside of Eden. Just watch how some people act toward their pizza delivery guy versus how they act during a chance encounter with a celebrity.
- We believe God doesn't love us as much as he will at a later point, assuming we can keep up our personal production. And we reinforce to others a belief in God as the King of a Meritocracy; he loves those who prove themselves lovable, tolerates those who show promise, and hates those who he deems as worth-less. The pull on us of course is toward less worth, so we can never simply rest in Love. It must be tended to every day like a dying plant, sustained only by our diligence. In other words, within Imago do, we are god.
Here's hoping that what I have written here is better than most anything else written on the subject.