Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What is your name?

What is your name?
When Alex asked, oddly enough, I was somewhat at a loss for words.
We were standing on a small stretch of beach with the San Diego skyline in the background, on what was one of those picture perfect evenings. The Mesa Grande Chorale was performing that weekend with similar groups from San Diego and La Sierra Academies. Having spent the afternoon practicing for the next day’s worship service, we were gathered here by the ocean to welcome the Sabbath. I was along, mainly, because I was needed to drive the bus. But this evening, I also had the opportunity to share a few thoughts for worship.
So, sitting on the sand, we thought together for a few moments about another much older beach scene with a much different skyline, where Jesus and His disciples had once come ashore only to be greeted by at least one, maybe two, men who were struggling with some pretty significant issues. Luke describes him (Luke 8) as demon-possessed, unable to be restrained, and living in isolation among tombs.
As we thought about the story, we noticed the horrible conflict that raged within this man. He comes to Jesus because on some level he is seeking help, and yet when Jesus first speaks to him, his response is to plead with Jesus to leave him alone. Clearly there are conflicting agendas raging within this man. Then Jesus asks the question, “What is your name?” Not “what are you called?” or “What do you answer to” as names tend to be in our culture today – simply nice sounding labels -- but in the full Biblical understanding of what a name is – something that represents who you are at the core of your being. It’s as if Jesus asks him, “So, who are you, really?”
The response? “Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
We talked for a few moments about how, albeit on a much less dramatic level, we find ourselves so caught in the same crazy making dynamic, often being “named” or “defined” by the various roles we play, people we try to be, expectations we try to meet, that we lose track of who we really are. As my friend and mentor Chuck Miller often puts it, we cease being human beings and instead become human doings. And when someone asks us the question, “What is your name?” or “Who are you really?” . . . in our more honest moments we might find ourselves responding, “Legion, for we are many.”
We then talked for a few moments about how Jesus gave this man the gift of sending away all those other things that had sought to define him, and which masqueraded as his identity, and gave him back his name. The wonderful discovery that if we were to stop doing all the things that we think give us value, or trying to live up to all the expectations that we think make us acceptable, or attempting to internalize all the various identities we think we need to survive, that there is still someone there – someone who has a name -- that is the gift Jesus gave back to the man that night. The scriptures tell us that when the people of the village came and found the man sitting there at Jesus feet, he was in his right mind again.
I invited them to think about when the last time it was that they actually stopped long enough to consider how they might respond if Jesus asked them, “What is your name?” Or when the last time it was that they took the time to ask each other?
We prayed. We welcomed the Sabbath hours. And as we took a half hour or so to simply enjoy the peaceful beauty of the surroundings, it was then that Alex walked over to where I was standing looking at the lights on the skyline across the water, and asked, “So, pastor Ken, what is your name?”

Ironically, having just talked about all this, the question was as unanticipated as it was moving. Suddenly being acutely aware that having prepared the worship was not the same as having an answer, and realizing I wasn’t entirely sure I knew the answer, after what seemed like a very long silence, I finally said something like, “That is a very good question, thank you for asking.” We were both quiet for awhile after that – as I quietly struggled a bit with simply being a person, and the recipient of a very thoughtful question, rather than a pastor who should have been able to give a well thought out neatly packaged answer. It was actually good to be a person.
His question was a gift. I’m still thinking about it, and will be, I hope, for quite some time . . .how I tend to answer that question . . . how I would like to . . . I hope Alex will continue to develop a way of life that continues to ask that question.


Daniel said...

Hey, let's hope the teens keep asking provocative questions so you can write more blogs!

Michael J. Bennie said...

Go Alex! I love/hate it when my kids and students ask pesky questions that make my wise teachings come alive on me.

It's interesting that both "What's my name?" and "Who's your Daddy?" have become phrases of derision, smack-talk that demand proper recognition of one's superiority over the listener. Maybe we if rested more securely in the knowledge of both answers as given to us by our Heavenly Father, Giver of our true name, this kind of compulsive striving wouldn't be necessary.

Craig said...

Hi Ken

It's nice to know that God loves us for person we are beneath all those roles we play. Sometimes it's hard understand how completely he loves us for who we are.