Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Name Game

Moira Naomi Cagle is my oldest granddaughter. Today is her birthday.

Her first name has several meanings, depending on what language you consult. For the Greeks, “moira” meant fate. For the Celts, it was a variation of “Mary” or “Miriam.”

Her middle name, Naomi, comes from my paternal grandmother, Naomi Scott. Sometimes as I pass my grandparent’s picture on the wall, I will point to it and say to Moira, “look; that was the first Naomi. You sort of look like her. I wonder if you will be like her when you grow up.”

She always asks, “What was she like?”

And I say, “She was kind. She was a good Christian. She loved her family. She prayed for all of us, even the ones who had not yet been born.”

“Like me,” she asks?

“Of course. You have to remember that you have her name. So she would especially want you to be a good person.”

Names are important. Although we think our parents name us, I believe it is God who names us. That’s why when I am counseling someone I will often ask them their full name. Then I will ask if they feel attached to their name. I’ll discuss what their name means and from what it derived. As the conversation progresses, that person will nearly always give me important information about their sense of identity.

Words – especially names -- have personalities. Like all personalities, some words appeal to us and some do not.

In my last blog, I alarmed some of you by trying to define “church.” I asked if human beings even have a right to define “church,” since God is the One who birthed it and named it. In that case, I suggested, perhaps our definitions are kind of beside the point.

I reminded us that the English word “church” has several meanings, including the one we don’t use much but which the New Testament intends nearly every time it uses the word.

In the Bible, “church” refers to the universal body of Christ: the people of God scattered throughout all time and space. When ancient Christians spoke of “church” in that sense, they usually added the word “catolica.”

I use the Latin because the English word “catholic,” provokes a lot of people. The largest and one of the oldest Christian communities is commonly called “The Catholic Church.” However, the word “catholic,” was not meant to refer to a single group of churches, even to one as large as the Roman Catholic Church. For first century believers, ‘catolica” meant something like “international,” although that English word also limits the concept too much.

“Catolica” actually meant something like “everyone, in every culture and in every period of time who belongs to the body of Christ.”

In the Apostles Creed, we confess our belief in “the holy catholic Church,” although, in the church I serve, we use the word “Christian” in the place of “catholic.” We try to avoid the emotion that the word “catholic” generates. Perhaps someday we will be more mature, who knows? I hope so. But whatever word we use to express the concept of catholicity, I am sorry to say Christians differ widely in the ways they define both the word “church” and the word “catholic.”

Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of the differences.

Consider the following questions and you will see why we Christians define the word “church” differently. Is the word “church” merely another way of saying “the collection of people who claim to follow Christ?” Or, does “church” mean God’s spiritual family?”

If you will look carefully at the two definitions for church in the last paragraph you will see that they are not expressing the same thing at all.

The first definition begins with the individual believer. In that view, the church is to the believer as the ocean is to a drop of water; the ocean being billions upon billions of water drops.

In the second view, we begin with the community. It implies that God created the community first and then invited individuals into it.

Now try to answer the following questions.

Is the church a useful thing, an important thing, or an essential thing in the life of a believer?

In our times, the popular idea is that the church is helpful for most believers but hardly essential. In this view, the plan seems to be get saved, walk with God, and, if you can, find a good assembly that will meet your needs. That way you will have good company on your way to Heaven. This is the most modern and up-to-date way to look at “church.”

I believe that way of looking at church is terribly flawed. In fact, I believe it ends up destroying the concept of “church” altogether. Having that opinion puts me into a decided minority. That doesn’t make me wrong but it does make me outnumbered; at least in this century.

At any rate, the answers we give to such questions produce vastly different definitions for the word “church”. We call the study of such questions, ecclesiology.

Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Baptists differ with one another in several ways, including the way they define “church.” So we say that they have conflicting ecclesialogies.

Moira Naomi Cagle doesn’t yet have an ecclesiology. She does however have a story and the story is older than she is. It had been in progress long before she got here.

I told you about her first name. I also told you about her middle name. I didn’t tell you about her last name.

Her last name is Cagle, which is, appropriately enough, her father’s gift to her. I first met her father when he was a little boy. I had just arrived at Christ Church, where I now pastor. The assistant pastor, Dennis Cagle, had invited me to lunch. He introduced me to his young son, who was uninterested in me because he was busy provoking his sister to wrath.

The next time I saw him was fifteen years later, when his father and mother were visiting someone in Phoenix and came by to see me.

The third time I saw him was through my daughter’s eyes, who informed me that she intended to marry him. She hadn’t told him yet but I just shrugged. She had already made up her mind and so it was settled.

I saw him again the day he married my daughter. I saw him once more when he held my first newborn granddaughter, Moira Naomi. Then I saw him the day he said goodbye to his father, who had abruptly left this earth. He’s a good man. I’m glad his story joined with mine.

As it turns out, a hundred years ago, the Cagles lived just an hour from here, in Hickman Country. They lived there for a hundred and fifty years after a male Cagle came from North Carolina with his Indian wife, Bird. Before that, their name had been Kagel. I think the Indian woman made the family change the name because they had used it in reference to a part of the human anatomy that had been previously unidentified. That’s just a theory though.

Austin’s mother had a story too. For years her father was Billy Graham’s secretary. He preached the gospel all his adult life.

If I go any further with this, it’s going to be a terribly long blog.

The point is that Moira was born into a family. The family has been on a journey. She can add to its history; she can’t change it. When that family gave her birth, it placed it genetic material in her. All of its past members now live through her because their choices defined how she would begin life.

We can make her heritage a bit clearer by sharing pictures, stories and genealogies but whether we do or not, the very color of her eyes reveals who she is.

What she will do with all of that is up to her.

Human beings do not create themselves. They never have. They never will. We can only interpret what the past has given to us by adding to it, ignoring it, or rejecting it.

I don’t understand how being born into the family of God could possibly be any different.

Moira, like all of us, will have to decide if her name will be mere fate or if she will choose to respond as the most famous Mary did, “The Almighty has done wondrous things unto me for Holy is His name.”


Shannon said...

I relate to your feeling that it is not our parents who name us but it is God. When I was pregnant with my daughter, its a long story, but God gave me her name. Emmanuella Grace. And so when I was assurred that I was having a girl (even though I knew it all along) I gave her the name her Father gave to me for her. Emmanuella means "God with us" just as the Messiah was called Emmanuel in the old testament, because he would literally be God with us in human form. But my daughter is a constant reminder to everyone who knows her story that God is always with us... She was born 4 months premature and the doctors all told me she would not live. But I knew better. Her name and her Father told me different.

karenjetton said...

So are you saying that we can be in the family of God all the while rejecting it? So, do you believe in predestination? I thought to be in the family of God you had to accept/believe??