Native American Author and humorist Tom King created a series of satirical radio broadcasts on the CBC called “The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour.” One of the features was The Authentic Indian Name Generator, featuring three wheels that could automatically create names like “Rosemarie Clever Tuna” for anyone who wanted an Indian name. The humor was in the fact that nothing could be farther from the truth of how First Nations traditionally thought about names. Names have meaning and power, and a person could often have a new name bestowed on them that corresponded to some character trait, change, or calling.
In our culture we are used to thinking of names as simply being “handles” used to distinguish one person from another. But I strongly think there is more to it than that. In my own family, great grandfather John McClung was a medical Doctor, as was my mother’s uncle, Arthur Gross. My brother was named John Arthur McClung, and he became – you guessed it – a Doctor. Meanwhile both my father and grandfather were named Charles Harvey McClung, and both were Presbyterian pastors. I was given the exact same name, and – surprise – I too became a Presbyterian pastor. Did we set out to match our careers to our names in the family? Absolutely not. We both tried on other things in our own way. But those names proved pretty predictive! Such correspondences do not always end up that direct, but it puts one to wondering.
So the first High Priest of Israel, Moses’ brother Aaron, was given what has become a famous blessing for the people (Numbers 6:24-26):“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Then the Lord says, “So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” What does it mean for God to place God’s name on people?
The blessing itself gives a pretty strong clue. God’s name implies God’s ultimate care (“keep” you), God’s orientation toward you (“facing” you and shining on you), God’s mercy toward you (gracious), and God’s peace for you (not the absence of war, but rather a harmony for all of life). God’s name was God’s power. It was also God’s character, just as any name in that day was to convey the character and presence of the person named. So if that blessing places God’s name on us, it also says something about who we are under that name. We may defy it, want to ignore it, be unhappy with the claims it makes on us, and feel that we are totally undeserving of it. But in accepting the blessing, we have the name “child of God” conferred on us. Is it about time to take that name both joyfully and seriously? I’ll let you ponder what that means!
- Rev. Charlie