Names are interesting things. You have no say in it. Somebody decided on it and gave it to you at birth. There are many ways to choose a name. It could be someone loved by the family or due to expertise the clan possesses. Some names indicate the place where the person was born, while others denote royalty.
I am Chinese, but not only that; I am a third-generation Singaporean Chinese, and my dad is a Pastor who studied Chinese Philosophy. So my name is a little more complicated than others. I have two names, and the one that I usually use has three parts. First, James, that’s my Christian name, the name my dad chose for me (he almost named me Jacob, I am so not a Jacob, but who knows). It encompasses my dad’s hope and desire for my Christian walk with God. The second part is my middle name – 雋煜 (jun yu), and it means to be exceptionally bright (as in glaring light in your face). I asked my dad about it, and he says he hopes that I will be a light for those in darkness searching for God. Finally, my surname – 谭 (Tham). It links me up to my clan, all the way to the ancestral village in China where many of my distant (and not so distant but I have lost touched) relatives still live.
Why am I talking about names? I think it has everything to do with discipleship. Traditionally, discipleship has been about knowledge transference and skills acquiring – to know the Bible more and act like a disciple according to the predetermined curriculum and culture of the church. All of that is good and praiseworthy, but something is missing, something I believe fundamentally undergirds the entire thing – relationship.
In Isaiah 43:1, we are reminded that,
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.”
To truly embrace our journey as disciples of Christ, we must start on the right foot. We must know that we are embarking on this journey not as a slave trying to appease his master but as the child of God, the one that He has redeemed. Furthermore, this journey is not an individual journey taken alone. As the verse points back to the patriarch’s story of redemption, it points forward to address Israel not as a person but now as a nation, a community.
Just like my name has both the individual aspect but also encompasses my dad’s wish and my clan’s pride, so are we as Christians to embrace our personal discipleship journey but never are we to neglect our heavenly Father’s love and desire for our lives and the community we are called to live in bearing the name CHRIST-ians.