In the old days of Hollywood, film actors could get work only if they contractually bound themselves to one of the few big studios. Part of the deal frequently involved a name change.
Roy Scherer, Jr., became Rock Hudson. You may know him as Cary Grant, but his mama christened him Archibald Leach. Before becoming a movie star, Marilyn Monroe signed her checks Norma Jeane Mortenson (or sometimes Norma Jean Baker).
Changing names was all about marketing. A masculine, sophisticated, or glamorous name helped project an image that viewers would identify with, admire, or lust after. The strategy was to increase ticket sales for the studios by marketing attractive celebrity profiles.
If Hollywood had merely asked these actors to go by a different name, it probably would not have been a big deal for them. But career success in the acting profession hinged on publicly embodying with their lives the name—and hence the identity—that others had given them.
Accepting their Hollywood names came with a sad and even tragic cost for Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and Marilyn Monroe. Hudson hid his sexuality. Both Grant and Monroe secretly wrestled with depression. Some speculate that Marilyn Monroe died by suicide.
You might think that I’m about to say that you have to be true to yourself. And that being true to yourself means not letting anyone else tell you who you are.
Well as it turns out, that’s not what I’m going to say. Being true to yourself means living up to the name you’ve been given. Another way to put that is this: being ourselves requires answering a call.
Each and every one of us is called. You and I and everyone on this planet has a deep calling that shapes who we are. The pursuit of that calling is what makes our life worth living.
A call is issued to us from beyond ourselves. We don’t just make it up. Something—or someone—is giving us a name. Calling each of us toward who we are meant to be. Toward our true selves.
The challenge for all of us is that lots of voices are trying to tell us who we ought to be. Discerning which voice deserves a genuine hearing is one of our chief challenges.
Many voices tell us how to make ourselves lovable. Be smarter, more successful, thinner, or compliant. These voices eventually diminish us. They tell that we will be lovable “if.” They will lead us to chase applause that inevitably fades and approval that is always conditional.
The voice worthy of a careful listening says, “You are my beloved.” Period. This voice conveys our calling. That’s because only love can call us to love. And love is the vocation of every human being.
We were created in the image of God. God is love. So our calling is to grow into someone who loves what God loves how God loves it.
In the Hebrew Bible, God calls Abram and Sarai to a life guided and motivated by love for future generations of people. People they will not meet, but people that they see as their very own flesh and blood. God renames them Abraham and Sarah.
Jesus called his followers to take up their cross and follow him. Richard Rohr explains what Jesus meant this way:
“Christians are meant to be the visible compassion of God on earth more than ‘those who are going to heaven.’ They are the leaven who agree to share the fate of God for the life of the world now, and thus keep the whole batch of dough from falling back on itself. A Christian is invited, not required to accept and live the cruciform shape of all reality. It is not a duty or even a requirement as much as a free vocation.” (The Universal Christ, 148)
In other words, following Jesus means to lean into this messy world with the power of love. This is our calling. And we pursue this calling because we are being true to the name that God has given us. The beloved.
Trying to hide who we really are has long been a problem for LGBT+ people. Sadly, the Church has sometimes been a force that has encouraged this obfuscation. As Christians, our identification is ‘en Christo’, who has chosen to live through our identification with him – in all our brokenness. Lent is a good time to reflect on this reality, and to help other people to become more fully themselves in the Image and Likeness of the God who has created them.
Beautifully stated, Jake!
Wonderful to reflect at such a time.. Thank you.😇
When I visited Poland for the first time, I felt recognized and known–I looked Polish and so people assumed I was Polish (my grandparents all came from Poland). Instead of calling me Madeline, I was called Magdalena, the Polish way to say my name, and sometimes the nickname, Magda. It was such a wonderful home-coming that I wanted to be called Magda. Reading about Abram and Sarai this Sunday reminded me of how powerful our names can be, how they can help identify who we are and what we are called to be and do.
I love hearing this story, Madeline. It unpacks the Abrah/Sarai story powerfully. And the names “Magdalena” and “Magda” are beautiful.
Thank you Jake. God’s peace.