Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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By Any Other Name

At eight years old, I was an overtly and overly pious parochial school kid.

First in line for Friday confession, first in line for first Friday Mass. Holy cards falling out of my missal, I knew my Baltimore Catechism like the back of my hand.

Eight years old, I was destined to save souls.

Including little Ricky Berger’s soul. He was my friend who lived in the house behind mine. Ricky was a good kid. Fare and square in all his grade school dealings. Pretty good at kickball and quick to share his popsicle. He honored his father and his mother and he kept the Sabbath just about as good as any kid could.

Problem was, it was Saturday. Which everyone knew was the wrong day, it was supposed to be Sunday, of course. And God had ordained me to set little Ricky Berger right.

Stretched out on the lawn, sitting on the grass in his backyard, I looked him in the eye and told him:

Ricky, I am sorry, I really am but unless you are a Christian, unless you are a member of the ONE TRUE CHURCH, unless you believe in the holy name of JESUS, you are going to HELL.

 Yes, I did. That is what I said. So messed up, I know.

What a terrible friend I was.

Know it all, goody two shoes, go to the head of the class Joani – could not be more wrong. Secure in my faith, I used my religion to trash his. What kind of God was I taught to worship – that would condemn a little eight year old boy?

Does God have just one name?

Does God require only one kind of worship?

Each Sunday, I  stand before my congregation as an ordained minister, an Episcopal priest of 23 years. Leading worship of the Holy Three, the three person and undivided Trinity. All according to the Book of Common Prayer.

At Emmanuel, worship is my primary and passionate ministry, weekly weaving together the dozen or so moving parts of the liturgy into the bulletin for the people in the pews. Liturgy means “work of the people” and this is work I love.

Family at worship Srpague Pearce

“Family at Worship” Charles Sprague Pearce

And I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that we worship the Ultimate One, the One and Only Holy One, the one and only God.

But I have long struggled with my way or the highway theology.

Faith, by definition, is not the same thing as certitude. And Christianity is not a monopoly. If God’s truth can be contained, if you think you have captured God in a bottle – then that is some other genie in that bottle.

Are there not many ways up the mountain?

Does God not answer to a million names?

St Augustine wrote in the 4th Century:

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.

Followed up by philosopher Blaise Paschal, who famously quipped that we are all souls created with a God shaped hole — that only the sacred can fill.

And Augustine and Paschal, both got it from Paul. In Sunday’s reading from Acts, Paul gets it.

Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship. I found among them an altar with an inscription: ‘to an unknown god.’

 What therefore you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you.

Paul gets it. He gets that God did not just drop out of the sky and appear out of nowhere when Jesus was born. God is timeless, more ancient than the stars, beyond the event horizon of the Big Bang, we might say.

Paul’s listeners are accustomed to the methods of Socrates, philosophically inclined and spiritually curious.

From one ancestor he made all the nations…and he allotted the times of their existence…so they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from any one of us.

Paul speaks their language and quotes their poets.

For in him we live and move and have our being. For we, too are his offspring.

 In him….

 Not in idols of clay or gold or silver. Not in idols of success or money or sex.

But in the creator of the cosmos, in the “ground of our being” whose language is love and whose name Paul proclaims as the one and only God.

In recent weeks, I have prayed shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brothers and sisters. I have joined in the mystical worship of the Orthodox – surrounded by icons and drenched in incense. I have worshiped at St Mattress in the Springs and at the Church of the Holy Comforter. (Wink, wink. Nod, nod.) And last Sunday, I prayed and sang with the Unitarians at All Souls, my daughter’s church in DC.

God was and is and will be in all these places, by whatever name God be called.

The Jewish tradition says God’s name is so sacred that it cannot be said aloud – so they give him seven nicknames that can be lifted up by the faithful in their prayers.

Islam, says that God has 99 names, all beautiful.

Christians, not to be outdone: one source catalogued 900 biblical names for God.

What unites us is the One God who listens, the One God who loves us enough to lean in and care about our prayers.

God listens no less if we call him Allah, or Buddha, or Krishna, or Jesus.

Though we Christians are pretty sure it’s Jesus who is really listening.:)

And last week at All Souls UU, I discovered this hymn – which turns out to be in myriad hymnals: Presbyterian, UCC, Methodist, and even one of our own. But I had never heard it before.

 It’s called “Bring Many Names”, by Brian Wren and its six verses are very apropos for today. So I had it printed in the bulletin for you to keep and take home.

At 8:00 at Emmanuel, we will read it together as a concluding prayer. And at 10:30, with the music director’s  help, I am going to make the congregation sing!

Bring many names, beautiful and good,

Celebrate, in parable and story,

Holiness in glory, living, loving God,

Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!

 

Strong mother God, working night and day,

Planning all the wonders of creation,

Setting each equation, genius at play:

Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!

 

Warm father God, hugging every child,

Feeling all the strains of human living,

Caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:

Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!

 

Old, aching God, gray with endless care,

Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,

Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair;

Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!

 

Young, growing God, eager and one the move,

Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,

Crying out for justice, giving all you have:

Hail and Hosanna, young growing God!

 

Great, living God, never fully known,

Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,

Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:

Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!

 

JoaniSign


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What’s in a Name?

baby-names1 - you named we what 2

My mother ran out of names.

Providence Hospital, DC, March 3, 1955: Three days old, I lay swaddled in the nursery nameless.

Preceded by a sister, Maureen Ann, and a brother, Timothy Francis, it seems my mom had already exhausted a very brief list of favorite names and could not come up with one for baby number three – me!

The discharge nurse told my mom I had to have a name to be discharged. “What shall I write  on the birth certificate? “ My mom responded with a question. “What’s your name? she asked the nurse. “Joan”, she said. “Then we’ll call her ‘Joan’,” my mom said, “and tack on ‘Louise’. That’s my middle name. That’ll work.”

So I went home as JoanJoan Louise.

Growing up I searched for a grander story – a better story to tell. A grandiose little Catholic soul, I believed I was named for Jean d’Arc. A lacquered portrait of Joan hung on my bedroom wall – a First Communion present from my second cousin, the priest – Father Buddy Litkey. Shining in her armor, mounted on a white horse, banner furled, and wielding her sword, I believed myself her heir apparent.

So I canonized myself – St. Joan.

Yet even sanctified, It did not take long to grow bored with my monosyllabic name. (Don’t you love it that “monosyllabic” has five syllables?:)) Such a plain Jane name is Joan. So at my confirmation – as little RC kids traditionally do – I chose a saint to be my patron.

I chose “Veronica”: the woman of legend who wipes the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Her beautiful name literally means “true icon”. So beautiful. But for none of the above reasons did I choose it.

I chose it because it was the sexiest damn name this little 10 year old could come up with. Four syllables, exotic, and musical it rolled off the tongue –

Veronica!

But everyone still called me Joan. Well Joani actually (as I spell it now).

As a kid I tried to stretch my name on the page by adding letters: Joan, Joanie, Joannie. In my hippy dippy adolescence I chopped off a couple– an “n” and an “e” in homage to Joni Mitchell. I still have all of Joni’s music on my iPod, but I held on to the “a” for my own namesake:

Joani.

Two weeks ago at SpeakeasyDC’s “Unhinged”, Dara, one of the storytellers, introduced us to her husband’s alter egos. Struggling in their marriage, she met them all in therapy. Out came Michael, a shy and vulnerable boy. Out came drill sergeant, Charlie, his champion and protector.

Her husband, who suffers from DID, Dis-Associative Identity Disorder, by any other name is still her husband. All three gentlemen sitting on the couch were fragments of the man she loves. Shattered by trauma, to cope and survive, he gives them different names.

Each week in therapy they would pick up the pieces, befriending the fragments, collecting them together, both hoping to be be healed, both hoping to be made whole.

And I too go to therapy — twice monthly — to remember my name. I go to recall who I am, to recall just who my God calls me to be – in this time and in this place. And in ten years time, who I call myself has changed many times over.

Names change as lives change. Biblically speaking, on the way to the Promised Land, Sarai becomes SarahAbram becomes Abraham. Wrestling with angels, Jacob is renamed as Israel.

Even the Holy One, whose name was never to be spoken, has too many names to number: Elohim, el Shaddai, YWHW, I AM, Emmanuel – just to name a few.

So what’s in a name?

Well for each and everyone of us  – a whole, whole lot.

Name them and claim them.  Count them up and collect them. Try to understand them. Hold them close and cherish them. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Birth to death, each and every one is an integral and indispensable part of you.

Thanks be to the nameless God — who calls us all by name — whatever that might be.

JoaniSign