Friday, August 25, 2006

You've Got a Reputation

Moving to a new part of the country as a total outsider has given me a whole new appreciation for the power of reputations. I am totally unconnected to persons, families, events, histories and legacies on the West Coast. So I basically view everyone with a blank slate. I assume people are who they present themselves to be, in and outside the church. I assume that people who come to and belong to the church are already self-admitted sinners forgiven by Jesus....and that's that.
But some people have warned me about a person' serious indiscretion years ago that has left a stain on the community. Long ago they did something pretty bad, and their actions hurt someone pretty deeply, and a portion of the community remembers that and cannot get beyond it. Some folks come from various communities that carry about stigmas and connotations of rigidity, wealth, poverty, tribalism, liberalism, and a whole lot of other things.
Some folks who are active in the church community in our town, are also active in various other enterprises, and their behavior in those two areas is not congruent. Even our close relationship with Westmont College has generated a wide range of responses within the commmunity, both strongly negative and positive, all based on reputation.
I recall the senior skit in seminary, which was a roast on our class. I'll never forget the way I was roasted. I changed my name from Don Johnson to D. Norbert Johnson and coasted along a career path on my father's reputation. That was when the class knew that my first call to a church was the same church (Lafayette, Indiana) that my father served. My peers assigned me a reputation as being a privileged insider, pre-annointed to leadership. No matter what I sadi, I could not shake that reputation as being nothing more than a clone.
I see reputations clouding our eyes with regards to race and ethnicity, gender and age, region of the country (Minnesota jokes vs California jokes) and past behavior (alcoholic, divorced, felon) and even achievements (CEO, bankrupt, PhD, published author, award-winner). The aggressive business person develops and creates a reputation. How does their personal faith affect their reputation? How much of a person's stained and spotted past shoud we keep in front of them as a reminder that we cannot trust them? How far does forgiveness and grace really go? How deep does the transforming power of Jesus actually work? How much change will we allow God to make in a person?


At 6:12 AM , Anonymous kent said...

Often God has an easier time with our transformation to new creations than those around us, including ourselves. It is hard to separate who are from what we have done or said.

Also, some reputations have been useful as shields and barriers to rebuff others. What also is interesting is how evangelistic some people are about their preceptions of others.

Interesting issue.

At 7:32 AM , Blogger Gary Means said...

I wonder too, how much my view of myself is shaped by my reputation? Does it keep me from risking new things, of leaving certain old beliefs and behaviors behind? What discrepancies do I see between my reputation and my internal picture of myself? If there are discrepancies, where does the truth rest? Is the opinion I hold of myself based on different standards than the reputation I have earned with others (for good or bad)? Also, I have to ask myself how much value do I place on my reputation, on "what other people think"? Sorry that this response turned out to be more about me than responding specifically to your points. But, thanks for giving me something to think about this morning.


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