Name Calling (a personal post)

Posted February 12, 2017 by Lory in personal / 34 Comments

Please note: This is not a post about books. I don’t usually do purely personal posts here, but I feel a need to get something off my chest, and this is one place where I can attempt to express myself. I appreciate your listening, if you choose to do so.

Caspar David Friedrich: Woman in the morning sun

I am a Christian.

It’s a loaded word these days, and I don’t use it very often, because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I don’t want them to think that I require certain behaviors or beliefs or opinions from them, or that I imagine they need saving, or that I’m going to start speaking in tongues and singing Kum-Ba-Yah. So I walk my path in silence, and keep my head down, and don’t speak up.

But now, in this time when so much is being revealed, I feel a need to say what this statement means to me. It means this and only this: there was a time when I was thrown into an abyss, an emptiness, where I had nothing. All outer supports had left me, and I was confronted with myself, my real self, stripped of all illusions. I saw it, naked, ugly, and diseased, and I hated it. And yet, without it, I would have nothing at all. To go on, I would have to bear it.

And there, in this place, I felt a being, a presence. This presence did not swoop in like a Superman dressed in red, white, and blue, and “save” me. He (she? it?) waited until I perceived my naked self and said, of my own free will, “Yes, I will bear this.” Only then did he make himself known, saying (though there were no words in this place, you understand), “I will bear this with you.”

Then I could go on. Then I knew that all along, this being had watched me with surpassing care and yet refused to exert control over me. I knew, too, that this being would never leave or abandon me, as long as I did not abandon myself.

This was not just a gift, but a responsibility. I was responsible to take up the burden that only I could choose, for otherwise a part of creation would remain forever unfulfilled.

I’m not a very good Christian. I would say that along the path of following this being and being worthy of his (her? its?) promise I’ve taken approximately one-half of a step. My response was more or less “Oh, now I feel better, I can go back to my life the way it was.” Certainly I appreciated the support, and was grateful, and said so when it occurred to me and was convenient. But I didn’t quite get that in answer to that all-out, no-holds-barred, overwhelming declaration of love I might want to give something of the same nature in return – not to him, but to my fellow human beings, my fellow sufferers.

Now, that has to change. Personal comfort is not enough any more. I need to reach out, to speak out, to be more and do more. I need to communicate with those who understand me, and those who don’t. I need to find common ground where no ground seems to exist.

Alexei Jawlensky, Large Meditation: Lord! Commit!

Where do we find this ground? Not in the outer trappings of sameness and commonality, I believe. Although I personally feel supported by the rituals and stories of Christianity, and find them a good way to prepare for and comprehend the experience I had, I see no reason why someone who grew up within another tradition, or no tradition at all, would not be able to have the same shattering encounter, though they might speak of it in different words and clothe it in different pictures.

In fact, insofar as I am a Christian, I am Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist and agnostic and not sure what I am and not interested in religion at all.

Insofar as I am a Christian, I am Democrat and Republican and moderate and extremist and fundamentalist and libertarian and socialist and conservative and progressive and indifferent.

I am white and black and brown and yellow and pink and red and blue and purple. I am rich and poor and gay and straight and male and female and everything in between. I am Frederick Douglass and David Duke and Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman and Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. I am Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln and Charles Lindbergh and Christa McAuliffe and Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Walt Disney and Steve Jobs and all the people who live out their lives without leaving a single mark on the world.

I am Hitler and Goering and Himmler, and I am the nameless dead. I am a pacifist and a murderer and an innocent bystander. I am pro-life and pro-choice and in favor of the death penalty and against killing under any circumstances. I am about to open fire on a school full of children, and I am ready to die to protect them.

I am a winner and a loser and this has made me angry and triumphant and sad and hopeful and despairing and confused and bored and inspired and baffled and glad and sorry and gleeful and forlorn.

If I cannot encompass all these contradictions and many more, then how can I claim a share of the love that encompasses all?

I’m not very good at being all these things at the same time, and that’s why I’m not a very good Christian. To get there, I still have to go through the eye of the needle, which is my puny, inadequate self. In spite of what I’ve experienced and what I know waits on the other side, I’m still afraid. I still fear that such an overwhelming experience will wipe me out, will make me into Nothing.

Sometimes I wish we could have a new name for those of us who have had this encounter, with the emptiness and the love, and who want to find a way through the Nothing. I think the old name is getting in the way, is preventing me from finding my people, and I need them. We all need each other, in this time of uncovering. Not to be a mass, or a mob, or a group soul, but to know we are united by our common perception of a being (or a presence or a principle, if you prefer) that has, purely out of love, left us free to choose to be ourselves.

Karl Isakson, The Raising of Lazarus

I’ve always had trouble with those Gospel passages about names. “Hallowed be thy name.” “Believe in my name.” What does this mean? A holy puff of air? Believe in an assemblage of syllables?

Of course, it’s what’s behind the earthly name that is meant, not the sounds that change from tongue to tongue and that can become corrupted by misunderstanding. But what and who is in that place behind the words? What name can I call, when I want to identify the one I follow?

“Jesus” (healer) and “Christ” (the anointed one) are the Greek translations of the names given to him by the people who had waited many long years to be healed and led by him. They are good names, as long as we use them in that sense. But they also lend themselves to limitation, to imagining that only a certain privileged group is worthy of being touched by and belonging to him.

He spoke of himself, sometimes, as “the Son of Man,” a name that has no such limits. He came to show us our future, what the human being can become — any and every human being, not just one group or nation or race or creed or religion. His name is hidden in our name, in the many who may become, mysteriously, one.

In the name of the being whose only aim is for us to become free, if you have even the faintest inkling of or interest in what I’m saying, if you didn’t stop reading this post after the fourth word, talk to me. How do you keep going when the sea rises up to overwhelm you and the powers of the heavens are shaken? Where do you find the strength that enables you to endure, to live, to learn?

What is your name?

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34 responses to “Name Calling (a personal post)

  1. This is so beautiful. You’ve put into words much of what I feel and believe. There is a lot here to think about. Thank you for sharing and starting this discussion, which is so needed, especially right now. What you are talking about, I refer to the spiritual that is in my life, that ideally should suffuse my life but mostly does’t because I forget and get distracted and caught up in myself and compartmentalize spirituality. I call it Christianity, with influences of Buddhism, but really those are just names and categories and approximations, and I don’t know how to explain it to people, I suppose I’ve given up on trying to explain it. I try to think about what it means in my particular life to act on what I believe, how to give it away in a way that helps others.

    • I am honored to hear my words resonated with you. As you say, there are so many outer pressures in life that distract us and cause us to forget the things that really matter. This is not the first time a shock has woken me up, and yet I always tend to fall asleep again. It’s an ongoing part of the journey, and I just try to learn a little bit more each time.

  2. Thanks for this beautiful post. Despite any negative connotations, I will forever and always call myself a Christian. My belief that Christ is my savior is unshakable, even when I doubt everything else. But I struggle to live the life Christ would want me to live, and I hope and pray for forgiveness when my thoughts and behavior is not worthy of Him. Having gone through severe bouts of depression and anxiety, one thing keeps me going when the sea rises up to overwhelm me: The belief that many things happen in life that I can’t handle, but God helps me handle what I’ve been given. Without him all would be lost.

    • Thank you for sharing your powerful trust in God’s help. So often today we think we are failures if we can’t handle life on our own, if we need to ask for help. I feel that any time we can see and accept our brokenness and ask for help, whether human or divine, it is a sacred moment.

  3. This must have been a difficult post to write, and I salute that you have made the effort to reach out and share your doubts and certainties.

    While I’m not religious myself in any orthodox or liberal sense I subscribe in part to the Golden Rule, the part where it tells us to love our neighbour as much as ourselves. When many self-proclaimed religious adherents of different creeds declare they’re following a deity’s commandments, the evidence suggests that they’re ignoring the second injunction. Without a sense of who their neighbour really is there’s little hope that they understand the requirements of the first injunction.

    So, how do I keep going when things seem bleak, whether on a global or a local level? I take heart that I have a network of family, friends and acquaintances, both face to face and online, who share many of the same humanitarian values that I do. And I strive to set a good example in thought, word and deed so that those who don’t share all those values may change their opinions for the better without me ever needing to browbeat them.

    Like you, I may not be perfect but it’s the best I can do and I do try my best. And that’s the least I can do.

    • “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is truly central to what I’m trying to grasp right now. One could ponder only that for a lifetime.

      Christ answered the question “Who is my neighbor?” with the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan. It’s illuminating to consider that the Samaritan who helped the wounded Jew was a member of a group that the Jews regarded as tainted outcasts. Who are our neighbors today? From what despised and hated group will the help for our woundedness come?

  4. This is very articulate and obviously comes from your heart. I think you put into words what many people are feeling. While I was reading this a few verses from Isaiah kept running through my head. They are in the 40th chapter verses 29-31. They say, “He gives power to the tired one and full might to those lacking strength. Boys will tire out and grow weary, and young men will stumble and fall, but those hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not tire out.” I find this very comforting when times are difficult. The idea that we have constant help and are not on our own is vital. I also find knowledge helpful. I always cope better if I understand things. The Bible talks a lot about the time period we live in and what we can expect. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 we have a description of what the world is like now. It is fascinating to read. The Bible also tells us in detail of a hope for the future.

    I agree with the other comment that talked about loving our neighbor. We may not always agree with them but that does not give us an excuse to be hateful. Sadly, all to often this happens.

    None of us are doing things perfectly but the more we know the better we can be and the better we can cope. My religion and my beliefs are a central point in my life. Without it I think I would be submerged by the worries of the world.

    Thanks for writing a blog post that has made many of us think!

    • Thank you, Jennifer. I also find comfort in knowing I am not alone. We can support each other, even if far away and only in our thoughts.

  5. Lory, I really appreciate the beautiful way you have been able to articulate what is in your heart, right now. I am certain many people will be touched by it.

    I have never had the kind of experience you are describing, where I called out or reached out and felt saved from the abyss. During those times, in fact, I have always felt silence. I think that is because I see God not as a savior, but as the generative, creative, Source of Life that is constant, orderly, Good and forward-moving that I try to tap into during times of estrangement or confusion or desolation. I find that connection mostly in Nature or silence.

    It is such a cliché to say I find God in nature, but so be it….I do! And what I mean by that is when I just sit and look, I see that bit of life as a metaphor for all life the beauty, the birth and life, the injured, the dying and the dead mirroring humanity: that some vines overpower a small tree, yet another tree has pushed through the choking vines; that one bird is dead, but another one with a limp has figured out how to get around just fine; that old long dead log is now full of the life of bugs and birds. Some of the animals are caught in traps or fish stuck in nets and plastic bags or a baby deer has just been rejected by her mother and sometimes I can help them and sometimes they are out of my reach.

    This helps me to see that life is an ebb and flow. I have a little part in it with the challenges and victories of everyday life. Tapping into that Source gives me a clue of what I’m to do, even if the outcome is not what I’d hoped.

    This is the way forward for me knowing that everything just wants to live, even the ones who see that differently, because we do have this in common: in order to live we can’t be alone either as a human in our neighborhood or as some bug in a log. We all need help and we all need to help.

    • The ability to find peace in silence is a very valuable path. How many of our troubles today come from having to fill up the world with meaningless or harmful words and actions? We are so afraid of the emptiness that would ensue if we were quiet and tried to simply listen.

      I love how you express that you do not find that silence empty, but a source of regeneration and creative power. To have reverence for the life in nature is also so important. Thank you for your descriptions, they have given me much food for thought as well.

  6. I love this post, Lory. And I actually loved your reply to a comment just as much. This statement: “Who are our neighbors today? From what despised and hated group will the help for our woundedness come?” is profound, and I feel like it will give me food for thought for a very long time. (Seriously, it’s bringing tears to my eyes thinking about it.) As a Christian myself, I have struggled with all these thoughts and more. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone in this.

    • Thank you, Nicole. I am struggling to understand many things, and I also find reassurance in the fact that I am not alone in my questioning.

  7. I am a Christian 🙂 While I can’t claim to be perfect and it can be very hard in an increasing secular society, it is my faith in God, the love of Jesus and the energy of the Holy Spirit which keeps me going.

    • To know one is not perfect, and yet trust in a higher ideal that brings us forward, is an important part of the human experience. I’m endlessly fascinated by the way this can manifest in our lives.

  8. This is a beautiful post, Lory, and I so appreciate your honesty! I think that your post truly brings together many of us who are spiritual and on a similar journey of connecting with Christ and living out life with Him. We have questions that don’t always have neat answers, but I am confident that God continues to pull me towards Himself and towards others. And I appreciate your comments about the Good Samaritan, and how that story is such a powerful example to us…. I think also we aren’t quiet enough, as you mentioned, and we need to slow down and “listen”….

    • Thank you, Katie. It truly is sustaining to me to know there are many people on this path, however it manifests in their individual lives — and even though we don’t hear much about it in the noise and clamor that surrounds us. Learning to listen is an important task for me right now.

  9. Hi Lory–I loved your post when I read it a few days ago, but life got in the way of writing an answer. Things have been exciting around here! I too am a Christian, and I do find great comfort in my faith. I’ve spend much of the last several years being afraid a lot of the time; I’m really bad at not being afraid. I don’t remember now what I was going to say, but I loved what you said.

    • It’s wonderful to hear from you at any time, Jean. I am so tired of being afraid, and many of my efforts and questions right now are going toward finding a way through that. I wonder how we who find strength in our Christian faith can connect more with others who may not label themselves that way, but who also want to combat fear and work toward a more human future. Something to work on!

  10. The kind of mystical experience you describe can certainly take a lifetime to process, especially when it takes one unawares. A writer you might find congenial is Caryll Houslander. She was a laywomand and surely mystic, but most relevant, she is a graceful and subtle writer, both sophisticated and very truthful about the challenges of grappling with spiritual life. Others I might suggest (you may know them) are Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, who had the kind of expansive mystical experience of belonging to all humanity at an intersection in Louisville, KY. His autobiography is the Seven Storey Mountain. You might also read William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, probably on the Classics Club list too! Thanks for sharing, writing and starting the conversation. All best wishes!

    • Thank you for these suggestions. I have read Merton and Nouwen, but have not heard of Caryll Houslander, and she looks like a writer I would find very congenial. I have thought from time to time of tackling William James, but have not yet felt quite up to it…putting it on my Classics Club list as a challenge is a good idea. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting.

  11. What a beautiful post Lory! Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience. I’m not religious, but as long as people don’t try to make me adopt their beliefs or hold beliefs that lead to intolerance of others, I’m certainly happy to respect them and I really enjoyed hearing where you’re coming from.

    • We all have so much to learn from one another. To me that is the essence of a religious point of view, even if one does not call it that.

  12. Hi Lory,
    Sorry this comment is so late, but I did want to express my admiration at your heartfelt appeal for common understanding. It should not be so that difficult for humans to show compassion and empathy for others, whatever their differences I don’t have any answers as I struggle with feeling overwhelmed myself. But I appreciate the fact that I am not alone.

    • Fear is THE barrier to compassion and empathy, I think — a barrier that all too easily comes up instinctively these days when we are feeling stressed and threatened from every side. I so admire the people who can keep an open heart toward the world in spite of all that. For me, connecting to other people who can help me feel I am not alone, and in whom I can have some measure of trust, is essential.

  13. Yes, yes, yes, YES. Beautifully written, and you express much of what I feel and can rarely convey about what it means (what I believe it should mean) to be a Christian. It’s not (or it shouldn’t be) about exclusion, about fear, about hatred, about being judgmental. I, too, am a Christian, and I too had a mystical experience earlier in my life. The love that surrounded me in that moment did not judge me nor call me to judge others. It was unconditional, and unending. I know that I’m called to accept and love others in that way — not to love everything they do, but to truly love the person. I fail at this far more often than I succeed. But sometimes, when I forget to keep trying, I come across something that reminds me of that moment, and of all that I believe and know in my heart. Today, your beautiful post was that something. For that I am deeply grateful.

    • Thank you, Lark. It means so much to me that my words touched something in you. The possibility of connecting to other people across all the barriers that divide us is what keeps me going these days.

  14. I am a lapsed Episcopalian—lapsed because it was feeling more and more like we all just see our own ideals reflected back in the face of God, which made me feel like my God, who functioned much like the being/source/God you write of, is as much a figment of my own hopes and dreams as any judgmental , jealous, or prescriptive God worshipped by another. Yet I still refer to myself as a lapsed Episcopalian rather than agnostic or atheist, because I have been so shaped by the traditions and values of that church.

    Quoting from memory, “Thee shall love thy Lord God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law, and the prophets.” Followed immediately by that tale of the Samaritan, outcast and enemy, yet neighbor all the same.

    The hardest part for me is remembering that this doesn’t just mean the homophobes and bigots need to remember who their neighbors are–it also means I need to look at those I see as my enemy and see them as my neighbor. SO HARD.

    You are so eloquent in this post–thank you for sharing your heart and mind with us.

    • Hey, I’m also a former Episcopalian, also very strongly shaped by that culture (especially the music — I was in choirs for 13 years). I can relate to your experience too — the question of what is real and what is just a reflection of our desires, what is universally human and what makes us rightfully individual is never finished for me.

  15. I’m sorry I missed your post when you first wrote it. I am a Christian as well, although I too struggle to always live up to what this means to me. I think that’s part of being religious. 🙂 Contrary to what people have said to me, I don’t believe being a Christian means being closed-minded. It means trying to live my life following the Ten Commandments. Many of those principles can be found in other religions as well, so I actually find them rather unifying. It makes me sad that so many people seem to forget that these days, when we hark on our differences rather than our similarities. But I feel that if I try to be a better person, the way I think God would like me to be, then I can make life a little better for the people around me, and that is a good thing. I can draw strength from that thought.

    • To make life better for others is the most beautiful goal one can have, I believe. To look at and try to learn from people who truly live that principle is a source of strength for me too.

  16. I was raised a Catholic, but my faith waned as a I sat through sermon after sermon condemning me and many of my friends to the fires of hell. Our sins? In my case, I was living with a man without being married and using birth control. My friends were proud, active homosexuals. All good, loving, caring people, apparently hated by God and deserving of damnation. The stings of those experiences, all those years ago, still stay with me, and though I was a Christian, and knew many wonderful fellow Christians, I now feel anxious whenever anyone declares themselves to be a Christian – I expect to be hated, judged, criticized and condemned. It all seems so far removed from the Jesus who chastised people for being judgmental, and who associated with prostitutes, tax collectors and other “unwanted”. So I thank you for your post, and for your honesty and your openness, for helping me remember the many wonderful things I loved about being a Christian, and for helping remind me that, as in any group of people, there are always going to be different kinds of Christians. I don’t even know anymore if I believe that there was a Jesus, but I’d like to think that if there was, he’d be very proud!

    • It’s amazing how much condemnation and hatred goes on in the name of a being who did not condemn or hate anyone — quite the opposite. Given your painful experience, thank you for reading and being open to my words.