What is in a name?

My name is rather common and plain. It is not one you would mispronounce unless you are seeking do so with purpose. In my travels, work life, and friendship circles, I have met and married and associated and navigated relationships with many folk. Some with hard to pronounce names and others with exceedingly easy for my tongue to recall. 
The thing that has irked me the most are people I meet from far away shores who live near me here in America who have absolutely lovely names. Names that their parents almost certainly thought long and hard about. Perhaps discussed long into the night. Prayed over. Had ceremonies to imbue the name. But as soon as an American mispronounced the name, they would alter its pronunciation simply to ease tensions, calm prejudices, or worse ‘Americanize’ the name. Whatever that means. I met a young man who enjoys Chinese heritage. He was introduced to me as Lee. Upon further discussion I learned it’s spelled Le. So I asked him, “Is your name Lee or Le?” He replied Le, but everyone pronounces it Lee. I asked why that was so when that was not his given name? He supposed that “… It was easier for Americans to call him that.” I was saddened that a man would lose his identity and nationality. Le is Chinese. Lee is typically Japanese. I had never yet called him Lee and do not intend to start. 

Then my mind wandered, as it often does, to the bible. I began to wonder why is the name of the persons in the sixty six books so important? Their lineage. Their surnames. Their heralding comes from their name. Someone is always named something son of someone or somebody daughter of something. More than that, the name is rarely Americanized. Beersheba.  Malachi. Uzziah. Gershom. Abram. All are uniquely biblical but are not so complex that they defy repetition. But others are complex and clearly without much amusement from its original pronunciation. Aminadab. Naasson. Obed. (Matthew 1:4,5) Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai (Numbers 1:6) 
But then the is Mary and Joseph. Mary? Joseph? I’m pretty sure these names are not common in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. So what we’re their names? I looked. 

Mary was Maria Mariam pronunced mar-ee’-ah mar-ee-am’ or mirjam. 

Joseph was Iōsēph pronounced ee-oh-safe’

Honestly I like their original names better. They speak more to their namesake and heritage and direction in life. The appropriation of their names for the palatability of the masses is of little interest to me. I hope that in time I will slowly replace their common speak names with the names spoken by Γαβριήλ, or as we pronounce it, Gabriel an angel of the LORD. 

It is my prayer that we seek to know one another better. To seek relationship with one another as human to human. Heart to heart. And it starts with a name. Our real name. 

I beg your pardon

When i was a child, I recall very clearly the large poster on my wall that paid homage to the virtues taught me in kindergarten. Robert F. had many words of wisdom for me to learn and live. Hold hands when you cross the street. Be kind. Treat others as you’d have them treat you. And more. It seemed that if all I needed to know in life could be taught in kindergarten I was good to go when I was handed my pushpin to hang the poster as reference. After all, I’d finished kindergarten hadn’t I? And hadn’t all my friends as well? What more did we need to know?

As it turns out, it’s not what we needed to learn, but what we needed to not forget.

You see, I was of the impression that basic courtesy and decency was expected from all. That being kind and polite to others was universal and common sense. But then I heard someone say if that’s such common sense, then why is it not so common? I had no answer then but I’ll try and understand it now.

I don’t really know when it was considered passé to be considerate and kind to others. When inquiring into the health and well being of another was thought antiquated. Looked on as old fashioned and good for another generation, but not this one. Maybe it faded around the same time we started to feel vanity or envy. When we looked for differences more than commonalities.

They say that when culture is stripped away, the first thing to go is language. The connection to our roots and heritage are intermingled, intertwined, and steeped in our languages. Griot in Africa. Fables in the Mediterranean. Faerie tales in Western Europe. And in those tales we learn about ourselves and the community. By losing these connections, we start to drop important things. Like, politeness and consideration.

I don’t really know when these things changed. Perhaps it was when my generation started watching shows like The Simpsons or Married With Children. Or perhaps it was when the author of the writers guide to style Strunk and White insisted upon “..BREVITY..” I don’t know. But it happened.

It’s not so much that we’ve stopped saying complete phrases but that even trying to say them now causes us to falter and stumble through a once simple sentence. It even makes one feel awkward to utter a proper sentence without feeling as if one has just walked out of a medieval movie set. “.. My Lord, if it pleases thee, prithee find it within your heart of hearts to forgivest me..” I’m not advocating a full on reversal to the medieval ages to restore honest requests for forgiveness. I’m only saying that when fault is made, there should be a real effort to seek forgiveness for it. And it begins with a request, not a demand, for that forgiveness.

I can not count the number of times I’ve seen sports figures and politicians fall all over themselves trying to express sorrow without being sorrowful. “.. If I offended anyone, it was not my intension..” 0_o that’s just tragically sad. And pathetic. A real apology and request for forgiveness need not be wordy and highbrow. But it should never be a demand for forgiveness. Rather, it should be a request.

These asks are all very common phrases. But I believe the intent behind them have been muddled and conflated over time. Worse it seems like they’ve been used interchangeably.

I have seen a precipitous drop in the politeness barometer on a daily basis. I beg your pardon. Pardon me. The former is asking for a pardon while the latter demands it.

Excuse me. Please, excuse me. The former demands that you forgive them for some infraction while the latter asks for the other to offer relief from the burden of the fault. You see forgiveness is an act that release both from the yoke of guilt, shame, and a hard heart. Forgiveness allows both the offender and the offended to move forward without lingering malice or ill will. I merely suggest that since the act is so important, why not ask it in the spirit of contrition and not false superiority.

He who has not sinned…..

Biblically, John 8 brings this into even better clarity. The woman was accused of a crime and in the end, those who accused her were forced to reckon with their own faults. They left her without malice because they too had a lesson in forgiveness to be reminded of. They hadn’t yet sought forgiveness for their own faults and so they had not yet been made free to move forward in life. Held captive to their unforgiving pasts.

I am certain there is someone who has read this that has been offended. For that fault, I beg your forgiveness. It was never my intention to offend or hurt you. But if you can find it within you to forgive me, I would be grateful. Thank you.

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Oh, Ye of Little Religion

Sunday morning at 11 o’clock, it has been said, is the most segregated time in America. It is a time when the people of Christendom gather with other like minded folk of Christendom and enter into common union. A time when folk look to hear a Word, break bread, and drink of the cup. Gather to accept a new life. Perhaps cast off an old life and accept the new.

By and large, it’s also a time when they focus less on faith and more fully on religion. Therein lays the sadness.

First the Word.

Matthew 8:26, 16:8, 6:30, 14:31…. All of these passages describe a moment in people’s lives when they require dependence on something or someone greater than they. There is a time in all our lives where we look to people or things for assistance and there is nothing wrong with it. You sometimes need a car when the distance is long. A library when you need an answer. A friend when the day is hard. A hammer when facing a reticent nail. No one does it all by themselves. Even the most strident individualist must use assistance of some kind at some point.

That’s the world.

Spiritually the help becomes less tangible and perhaps a bit more grey area. And that is just where the disciples were in these passages. Y’know I do believe many of us are there today too. We too need help, aid or assistance and look to something that is greater than we to solve it.

So what did Jesus do? He said go to the temple and petition the rabbis. Right? No.

He said hire a catering company if you need food. Right? No.

He reminded them in five words that man can fail but faith never does. He said not to focus effort on the solutions of the world but of the eternal. He said, in essence, let go of your expectations of the world. He said not to run to the comfort of religion but instead grasp onto the strong hand of faith. How do I arrive at this?

Because He did not say “…oh, ye of little religion…”.

The world was then and is now already full of various religions. In my opinion religion is the great divider, not uniter. We find more ways to divide, separate and segregate from one another in the name of religion than one might think possible. We have each and every one of us formed our own idea of what is the “correct” way to supplicate and request and praise and honor God. My way. Your way. His way. Her way. Their way. And there is always something wrong with someone else’s way. Divide.

No, there was quite enough religion, thank you.

But faith. That was sadly lacking. That IS sadly lacking.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It is the inspiration for pressing on when “common sense” says to stop. To climb that last hill. Ride that last mile. Apply for that last job. Ask that woman or man to marry you. Believe that it’s gonna be alright when you are done. That is faith. Faith is what encourages. Strengthens. Bolsters. And fuels the spirit for one last go.

Let me ask those of you: When you drive a car to work, you check road conditions on tv? Okay. So do I. But then do you walk the route? Call the sky-cam team and double confirm the report? Check social media for its input? Consult the polls for the latest results in infrastructure funding to be sure that monies went to the pothole you saw yesterday and aren’t sure was fixed last night? Then do you call the department of transportation to verify that all traffic signals and painted lines are in place and as they should be? No? Why not? Because you have a form of faith called trust that the road conditions, other drivers, and your own skills at driving will allow you safe passage to work.

I’m not saying that no chair will ever fail you, but it is highly unlikely that you take no seat without first checking the engineering reports by its designer and subject it to a load test to assure it will support your weight. No. You don’t. I’m sure of that. What you do is take it on faith that the chair will be fine with you on it or under someone else.

I would submit that if you have more religion than faith, you are not necessarily living as Christ hoped for his followers. I say that He led with the hope that Christians who would profess to love Him would be less dogmatic in religion and more comforted by faith.

I believe that those who cast off the shackles of religion as the source of faith and instead embrace the freedom of faith as the inspiration of our religion are the happiest and most complete people of God you’ll meet.

Choices

In America today, there are a great number of people who are unaware of their birthday. It’s fairly common in the Cambodian immigrant community who may have multiple siblings. Very old black Americans too were likely to have a date fed to them because records of black folk were not the top priority of their birthing midwives, doctors or mothers out there in a field. My own grandfather knew the city of his birth, but not the affirmed and government attested date.

But if you were in that same situation. Knew little to nothing about what day you were born, what date would you choose?

Would it be a date steeped in history? A date that currently is someone else’s to emulate them? Perhaps in a way to honor them because of some way they touched your life? Or would you choose a date that has negative associations in an effort to flip the script? To make a positive spin on the day. To change the conversation, if you will?

I wonder if that is the same question asked by Christian leaders in the early church.

It’s well known that Jesus The Christ was a real person. Certainly a prophet and influential leader. I will not entertain arguments of his divinity. But for this blogs point, let’s simply accept that he was and is a powerful influence to millions throughout human history, if nothing else. Since we know that at least that much is true, I think its safe to assume the early Christians knew that his birth and death occurred. But they may likely have been at least ambivalent on the exact date of either. What date could they assume? Assume as in the definition of take on as your own. In my sanctified imagination, they had a serious problem. The people of God wanted to celebrate and honor his death and his birth.

So, again, the early Christian leaders came upon a problem. The scrolls and letters that were being congealed into today’s bible didn’t explicitly answer the question of His birth. Nor of his death. A least not beyond the day of the week. Were these early authors really all that different from the Cambodians and Black Americans I mentioned before?

Consider this possibility, if you will. We are alive, but realistically we are unsure of the actual date. In fact, to be real about it, the only reason we can observe our own birth on an annual basis is because we believed whomever it was that presented us a slip of paper with a seal on it that listed our name and a date saying this is the certificate of our birth.

Do you actually recall the date of your birth and have you tracked that date from then to now chronologically with calendar in hand? I think not. You accept certain truths (as you are able to accept them) all the time with no real evidence beyond what someone you never met wrote down. Does that make you gullible? I don’t believe so. What it really means is that we accept certain things on faith.

Just as Christians do.

I know. If your are not a person of faith, this truth may upset you. But it is still the truth.

I imagine that the choice early Christians had was not an enviable one. They needed to commemorate the birth and death of Jesus. But what days? I’m not excusing the day early Christian zealots choice to place His birthday and sacrifice day on, but to ignore the days altogether is disrespectful. Yes, they placed His death on a preexisting holiday and the title sounded rather similar. And His birth was placed over a pagan holiday as a means to replace the local pagan religions with the new one. I’ll accept that truth.

So what was the point? What was their true intent? What would be mine? Or yours? What point can be made to even bother celebrating a birthday of the divine? The point, to me, is not to curry favor with God.

It is to show love.

Celebration of another human, or God, is not, to me, a thing to add currency in a spiritual bank account for the hear after. It is simply a celebration of the love I have for the other who has manifest some part of themselves in me. We are broken vessels, eager to be rebuilt and made whole. In that endeavor, we tend to seek approval and do things that we only hope will restore us. But that act alone does NOT make us heathens by commemorating the assassination of Jesus the Christ.

If my mother died, I would commemorate her passing on the anniversary. Not because I refuse to move forward. But because knowing and retelling my past allows me to remember and hopefully learn from it. Its the same reason we tell the old stories of uncle so and so when he got drunk or sister such and such when she got into college. Because we love them, and we do not wish to forget. So just because Jesus didn’t tell us to recall his passing doesn’t make it wrong to do so. Just be sure its celebrated for the correct reasons.