Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Calling out Names
I just can’t shake the beautiful, soul-piercing image of something I witnessed a week or so ago. Our church likes to do its business town hall style, a democratic system with obvious benefits and drawbacks. At the last meeting I attended, I was sitting in the back doodling and listening to the discussion surrounding the hiring a staff position. Many people knew the candidate in question, since said candidate had worked at the church before. But many others in the audience did not know him and had standard questions about his ability to do the deeply (inter)personal pastoral work inherent in the job. The discussion had been predictably town hall-ish, until the moment in question, the one I can’t shake, the one that haunts and inspires me.
A question was asked. A woman took the mic in response, stood and turned to the group, asking for the names of people who had been deeply impacted by the candidate, impacted in the “now I am spending the days of my life doing something that I would not have chosen to do were it not for this person” sort of way. And that is when it started. Names began to roll easily off lips all around the room. Names began to rise and swirl in the rafters: sweet incense, smoky perfume. Names of real people, only some of whom I knew, lifted in public witness. Names and names and more names.
The woman with the microphone just stood there, a placeholder, a gatherer. She kept nodding and when all was quiet again, she sat back down.
I keep thinking about all those names. What if the new bodies promised in heaven are but garments made of names? Will I be dressed to meet my Maker? The gathering of names – placeholders of rich, fruitful life – is, of course, not work reserved for pastors. It is the narrow, rocky path chosen by anyone who claims to follow Christ. The deal is this: If I have breath in my lungs, it was given to me to spend on the lives of others. If I have shoes, they were given that I may walk a long road with a weary traveler. If I have bread, it is for breaking, sharing, sustaining. But can I say that today’s breath brought life to others? Or that I have worn out my shoes as I should? Or broken bread in community? I’d rather not give account.
Lord, help me see, even today, that there is nothing more beautiful than the smoky perfume of names. And help me spend myself thus.
And to the one who was hired, I say, welcome back, Brother. We are so pleased to have you among us again and to say like Paul, Silas and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians: “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 1:3). Come walk among us. And may God bless these rafters with names.