KENNEWICK, Wash. -- A few weeks ago our family decided we needed to upgrade our internet service.
I spent some time helping the technician find the right routing without drilling too many holes. As we worked, we talked, and I learned that he had an undergraduate degree in linguistics and spoke five languages.
He did a good job with the installation, but it had little to do with his university training or the image I had of him after he shared his passion.
Our institutions spend billions creating a desired image for themselves, something they call "branding."
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They spend still more billions protecting their brands from infringement. From Apple to Obamacare from Golden Arches to gold medals there is a lot of attention given to branding.
"Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked in Matthew's Gospel.
The question of identity is no small thing, of course. Who we say Jesus is says a lot about us.
Before this question, Jesus asked a safer question, "Who do others say that I am?"
To answer required no conviction, commitment or risk from his disciples and followers. At least for the first go around, they didn't have to reveal his brand.
Apparently, there had been a lot of speculation among those who followed and listened to Jesus. There might have been a branding problem of sorts, as much of it was well off the mark.
So too, I think with us: Followers of Jesus cannot be so easily branded.
What people call us and what we answer to are different things. After all, a "linguist" helped my computer run faster. Or was he the "cable guy?"
My brand of "hospice chaplain" came to the fore every time I entered a patient's home for the first time. It meant "holy man" to some, "grim reaper" to others. For some I was the "magician" who could make things right; to others I was the potential "judge" who might place blame. Patients and families hadn't even met me yet, but they thought they knew my brand.
In these times of high unemployment, lots of folks aren't doing what they were trained to do or what they might be passionate about. Even so, knowing the work each of us does allows us to categorizeeach other in ways which are familiar, but are impersonal and often inaccurate. Infringement comes easily. How do we protect our brand?
As scholar N.T. Wright pointed out, "What you say about Jesus affects your entire worldview. If you see Jesus differently, everything changes."
Whether the chaplain or the cable guy, the engineer or the salesman, it is easy to accept the branding of what we do for a living and forget the branding that God gives us.
"Who do you say that I am?" is an invitation to take personally and seriously the possibility that maybe we need to see Jesus (and ourselves) differently. It is an invitation to stop taking refuge in the answers of others and answer for ourselves.
It may even make us "brand" new.
* Kirk Ruehl is a Presbyterian minister and board certified chaplain. He attends Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick.