Posts Tagged ‘friend

26
Apr
21

Your Real Name

As Juliet once famously asked, looking heavenward from her balcony, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

Juliet’s ambivalence on the topic of names is understandable; if her lover Romeo hadn’t been cursed with the surname “Montague,” their affair would have been totally copasetic. 

For the rest of us though, names seem to matter… a LOT!

They connect us to a family history, for one thing. They provide the good folks at Ancestry.com with a healthy revenue stream for another. They give us clues about identities or qualities our parents hoped to instill in us, or perhaps detected in the first hours of our lives. 

Take Hunter, for example. Or Rex (Latin for “king”). Or Linda (Spanish for “beautiful”), or any name with blatant biblical origins such as Ruth, or Deborah, or Paul, or any one of the 12 disciples.

On a personal note, I have been engaged in a lifelong tug-of-war with my feelings about my name. My grandfather’s name was George Clifford Brown. My father’s name was George Clifford Brown, Jr. And for reasons I was never privy to, I got the name George RUSSELL Brown. I guess my dad SORT OF wanted to carry on the family lineage but didn’t want me to be burdened by carrying that oh-so-pretentious “III” through life. 

As a very young guy I decided GEORGE sounded “too adult,” so I went with a shortened version of my middle name. That is why, to all my friends and family thereafter I was RUSTY

That name, however, caused me to become the butt of a Sunday school teacher’s cruel joke. I thought it was a little strange that day when she called on me read a passage from the lesson. The subject of the lesson was the Dead Sea Scrolls and as I read aloud, I read that the author described the scrolls as having, “… a rusty brown color.”

Hardy har har, Mrs. Crompton. At least the rest of the class enjoyed your little stunt.

When my family moved from Ohio to the suburbs of Seattle just before my senior year of high school, I decided it was high time for a rite of passage. That was when I dropped RUSTY and went with RUSSELL.

Then, ten years later, I got my next name surprise. When applying for my first passport, that I discovered I had been misspelling my own name. There, in black and white, on my birth certificate, on the space marked, “Middle Name,” it read: RUSSEL. 

One “L”. Not two. 

Now, thanks to the website, “Behind the Name.com,” (https://www.behindthename.com), I have discovered that the name GEORGE comes from the Greek and means “farmer or earthworker,” while Russell (two “Ls”) is derived from French meaning “little red one.” 

How’s THAT for auspicious? 

Here’s the thing though; at this ripe and maturing age, I am finally at peace with my name. As the jokester once said, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.”

I have also come to learn that there two other names that mean a lot more to me… much more than “Rusty,” or “Russell,” (or “Russel,”) or “George.”

As John the Evangelist tells me in the book of 1 John, I have been given the name CHILD OF GOD; “See what great love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God!”

(1 John 3:1, NRSV). 

And Jesus himself called me the best name of all. He has called me “friend.” He was really talking to his original group of disciples when he said this, but I hear Jesus speaking directly to me in John’s gospel when he says, “… but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15, NRSV).

And you know what? YOU have also received those two awesome names!

How cool is THAT!!

Abundant blessings;

09
Oct
19

One Funeral Too Many

Jesus began to weep. (John 11:35, NRSV)

Hugging menHere lately I have been going to entirely too many funerals.

OK, I suppose you could say this is just par for the course for people in that “certain” age bracket to which I now officially belong.

But it seems that since officially retiring from the ministry on July 1, I have gone to WAAAAY more funerals than in any similar three-month stretch in memory. And only one of these was for an elderly, 90+ year-old man who died of the legendary “natural causes.”

The funeral yesterday was the one that hit me hardest of all. It was a service for the 61-year-old spouse of one of my pastor colleagues who died from a particularly aggressive and fast-moving cancer.

I hadn’t even heard she was ill.

I know I reacted so strongly to Doreen’s service because of the cancer scare we had just a little over a year ago with Joan. As I sat in the sanctuary yesterday listening to the music, watching the slideshow of family photo memories and gazing into the grieving faces of friends and family, I nearly lost it.

It was a great service, as these things go. The pastor (not my friend, her husband) did one of the very best officiating jobs I have ever experienced. And I have seen/officiated at a LOT of funerals. She was tender at the appropriate moments, funny when that was called for, gave comfort and hope to all of us, and was theologically rock solid throughout.

I guess I responded the way I did because right there, in the middle of the whole thing, the utter fragility of life became a little too real for me. My mortality, Joan’s mortality, the mortality of everyone I care about suddenly stood up and slapped me in the face.

HARD!

And as it did, the absurdity of the service came into focus as well. I mean, what are we trying to do here, I asked myself? In a way I felt like a caveman, gathering with other cavepeople around a roaring fire, believing we were safe from evil as long as we stayed within the fire’s friendly yellow ring of light.

When asked to officiate at a funeral, I carry with me the belief that a thoughtful, compassionately conducted funeral service can go a long way toward kick-starting the healing process for a family. My goal has always been to leave folks with some kind of “spiritual lifeline” to grab hold of in the ensuing weeks after the rush of arrangement-making, hosting family and friends from out of town, and all of the administrative aftermath of a death dies down and the quiet finally sets in.

But regardless of how well any officiant does our job, we can’t carry your grief for you. Nothing we say can anesthetize or paper over the hole that has suddenly appeared in the middle of your life.

Funerals, even at their best, are always too brief, too superficial, and too impersonal to permanently stave off the darkness.

But maybe that is not even the outcome we should be shooting for.

Maybe we should ask something higher, better, and more realistic from these ceremonial post-mortem gatherings of ours.

Maybe we could come to see funerals as times to turn toward one another knowingly, and tenderly, and say, “My God this is precious. Forgive me, sister, for ever drawing one breath without exhaling gratitude. Pardon me, brother, for taking for granted any moment, any conversation, any laugh we have shared. Let’s use the holy moment of this dear one’s passing to renew our vow to wrap our arms tightly around each other and around our Creator and to DANCE through the rest of whatever limited time here we have.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

27
Jun
17

The Ear

An earWho do you talk to?

Where do you go?

How do you get it ALL worked out?

It goes without saying: every now and again we each need a listening ear; A non-judging, open, understanding, wise, loving, accepting, no-nonsense ear.

We need an ear (with – ideally – a full person attached to it) that will receive our deepest, most incoherent, most pain-laden, non-linear ramblings… not promising a neat solution or a cure or even complete comprehension of what in the world we are talking about.

An ear that offers only presence… and the encouragement to forge ahead and keep exploring… even when we aren’t sure we know where we are going.

In the best households that ear is what you got from mom and/or dad. And most of the time they were more than willing – delighted, even – to serve in that capacity.

But what if you’re an adult… separated by time and distance from mom and dad?

Well, sometimes you get really lucky – like I did – and you get to fall in love with and even marry that ear. And if that describes you, you know one of the ground rules here is the rule of mutuality… meaning that sometimes the table has to be turned; you have to BE the ear.

Sometimes it turns out that you have to pay by the hour for that ear. And you find out it can be one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

But what if none of that applies?

What if mom and dad are both gone? What if no one has signed on to be your ear… or what if you can’t afford/find a professional ear?

Where do you go? Who do you talk to? What do you do to keep from just cramming all that business deep inside… stuffed deeper and deeper and left to fester and turn toxic?

We see folks trying to enlist social media to play the role of the ear. It allows us to rant and rave and exhort and have the sense that someone, somewhere is paying attention.

Sometimes it helps… often it doesn’t.

You might not be surprised to hear me suggest that there is an ear that is ALWAYS available… that will ALWAYS receive what you have to offer – coherent or not. That will encourage you to go as deep as possible, venturing unafraid into the darkest corners of your heart without fearing what you might find there.

It is the very “ear” who once famously said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV).

He is there… always. He is ready to listen.

He never gets tired. He never rolls his eyes when he hears the same thing for the umpteenth time. He never suggests you should come back later when he is in a better mood.

You will never find a better ear… or a fiercer advocate.

Here’s a caveat: you will also never find anyone less hesitant about challenging you on the faulty assumptions about the world you’re carrying, or the excuses you might be hiding behind, or the useless resentments you’re still hanging on to.

So there’s that…

But LISTENING is the job Jesus signed on to do for you… before you even knew it!

So go to him. He’s waiting to listen.

And it’s all because he loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

 

Abundant blessings;




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