Say the Word

“I’m busy in footwear with an athlete.” That’s what I heard the employee at Dick’s Sporting Goods say into a walkie-talkie. Athlete–she meant me. I chuckled at being called an athlete. Yes, I once ran a half marathon in less than two hours. Does that qualify me as an athlete?

“We call everyone an athlete,” she confided, smiling.

Isn’t that special? Somebody at Dick’s Sporting Goods decided it would be a great idea for their employees to refer to what any sensible person would call a “customer” as an “athlete.”

This isn’t unique to Dick’s of course. Any number of businesses refer to their customers as “guests.” Uber calls their drivers “partners.” Partners? Really? Isn’t a partner somebody who has a partial ownership in the company? Don’t they get to help make day-to-day decisions? And most partnerships cannot be unilaterally terminated with no recourse or compensation. They’re independent contractor drivers, not partners.

At Disney theme parks and even in the stores, the employees are called “Cast Members.” That young woman who rings up your Little Mermaid-themed party supplies at the mall is actually a cast member. All the world, apparently, is a Disney stage and all the men and women merely players.

There’s a reason, of course, why all these companies slap ridiculous names on customers and employees. The idea is that by controlling the vocabulary, we control the way we think about and act upon reality. And when we do that, perhaps we begin to control and create reality. Think of yourself as a “cast member,” and you might remember to remain in character more consistently, you might view your hours as show time. Refer to a driver as a “partner” and she might believe that she has a stake in the success of the company. Call me an “athlete” often enough and maybe I’ll start to take my physical prowess more seriously–and consequently buy more and better athlete stuff.

Words, while significant, do not carry the power to create reality. Despite all our talk of a magic word, there are no magic words. Look at what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. –Matthew 7:21

We can refer to Jesus as “Lord” a million times a day. We can declare ourselves “Christian” with every breath. That doesn’t make those things true. The odious Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps declared himself a “Baptist,” but that sign on Westboro Baptist Church didn’t illuminate the dark hatred that flows from the place.

Call me an athlete if you like, but until I get back into the habit of running, I won’t be one. Call me a follower of Christ, but if I’m actually following my own drumbeat, then it’s just words.

Words do not form reality, but the Word did:

All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.–John 1:3