Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's in a name?

Kansas U. Softball shortstop is Destiny Frankenstein. That's her real name. She said she doesn't use her name at restaurants because people don't believe that's her name. Our name can effect our behavior.

When I was born, my dad's favorite baseball team was the Brooklyn Dodgers and he named me after their firstbase man Gil Hodges. I went on to play five years of minor league baseball and I coached college baseball for 20 years. A name can set a course for our life.

I wonder now, what name would people give me? Conservative, moderate, liberal, post-liberal, post-modern, post-Christian, leftist, rightist, fundamentalist, literalist, environmentalists, feminist, separatist, isolationist, nativist, hawk, dove, gay, straight, orthodox, heretic, evangelical, low church, high church, broad church, Christian? What's in a name?

The first people to be called Christian lived in Antioch, 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was in the earliest days of the new found sect. Followers of Jesus defined themselves as followers of the Way. It was their critics who first called them Christians; more as a term of derision and to probably to set them apart from other Jewish sects of the day. But, there must have been something different about those early Christians to warrant a special nickname.

Those Christians were followers of Jesus. The Jesus who taught his followers to love one another as he had loved them. Sounds pretty tame? But, his message got him crucified. His message of love must have been threatening and dangerous.

Love becomes dangerous when it is more than words. Doing love is dangerous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught that Christian love means to encounter the love of God in everyone met and to be God for that person. In other words, to meet the very presence of God in the other and to be the very presence of God for the other. Bonhoeffer was preaching a "religionless Christianity." A kind of Christianity that is only concerned with the needs of the person that I am being confronted by each day; not the dogma or teachings of religion.

In preparing to become a priest I took Clinical Pastoral Education from Banner Thunderbird Hospital. The Director of Spiritual Care of BTH is Ss. Sat Kartar Kalsey Ramey. She is one of the few women in the world who is ordained Sikh.

Sat Kartar taught me that in order to really be present to the patients in the hospital I had to realize that I am not the Lone Ranger. First, she said, I had to be present to myself. Second, I had to be honest with who I am as a Christian so that I might be present to God. And then and only then could I be present to the patients. It would take me being a Christian and she being Sikh and the other Chaplains being present to God in their tradition for us as a team to be effectively present to the patients in the hospital. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with being present to God.

Being truly present to someone who is in need is difficult. That person doesn't need my theology and religion; they simply need me to be present for them.

So, I ask myself when I with someone:

Am I really present?
Do I see God in them?
Am I being in the place of God for them?
Is my love dangerous enough that others might call me a Christian?

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