Monday, November 15, 2010

Our people

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 85

Read: Hebrews; James 1:1-3:12

Verse that stood out:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us - Hebrews 12:1

I read somewhere recently about the increasing irrelevance of last names. Once upon a time, one's surname connected a person to his or her family. The mention of someone's surname carried with it not simply that person's identity, but that of their parents, grand-parents, great-great grandparents, as well. This was especially true if your family had lived in the same place for a long time. For good or for ill, your last name meant something.

In today's transient world, last names are still family names, but families are no longer connected. It may be important to me that my name connects me with my parents, but since I know longer live near them, my surname doesn't carry with it any of my parents' reputation. It doesn't give anyone in my current community a "heads up" about where or from whom I've come.

This new world is neither good nor bad (some people are glad to escape their family's reputation!) bad, except for the reality that people are communal people. We want to belong. We want to have people that are our people. It doesn't so much matter if they're related by blood as much as it matters that there is some genuine connection. In a world that's more and more disconnected from familial ties, what identifier will take the place of a surname?

Before the use of surnames, genealogies played the role of identifying us with our people. That's why genealogies show up so often in the Bible. For Israel, who was often in exile, remembering who their people were, was of utmost importance. But who could the church look to as their people? They were a hodge-podge of ethnicity's and people, most without any kind of pedigree. Who could be their people? The book of Hebrews gives them a list, all those who in the past have lived by faith. These were and continue to be the church's people. This rag-tag group of believers were now forever connected to a great cloud of witness. So now, no matter where this life takes them, they are a people of faith.

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