Remember This.

There is something about turning middle age that causes many of us to focus like a laser on our own mortality. And with that comes the almost irrepressible compulsion to share our maternal or paternal wisdom with our children. The blog “Shit My Dad Says” is devoted almost entirely to this phenomenon.  There’s just stuff we’ve learned along the way and it seems like such a waste not to share these things with our children. And so we do. Early and often. To our children’s dismay.

But I have often wondered, if I only had a few more days or weeks or months left with my children, what would I choose to tell them?  What are the really important things I want them to know?

Surely Jesus must have asked himself this question during the forty days between Easter and his ascension into heaven.  He had spent his entire ministry imparting wisdom to his friends and followers. But his ministry was coming to an end.  Of all the things he had tried to teach them, what were the most important things that he wanted them to remember?

As far as I can tell, it looks like we have about nine recorded accounts of Jesus talking to his disciples during that forty day period after Easter.  So what did he say?  Of all the many things that Jesus tried to teach his disciples, what were the essential things he wanted them to remember?

Well, it turns out that Jesus says about what we would probably say if we had just a limited amount of time left with our children.

He tells them not to be afraid.  That everything is going to work out okay.

He tells them to love each other and to take care of each other.

And he tells them that he loves them and that he will see them again some day.

I guess Jesus knew that his parenting days were over. There was no more time for speeches, lectures, or even parables. It was time to boil an entire ministry down to the very basics. And so he did: Don’t be afraid. Its going to be OK. Love each other. Take care of each other. I love you. I’ll see you again.

Words to remember.



Any Regrets?

My regrets?  Not getting married sooner, maybe.  Practicing transparency earlier and more often, possibly.   A couple of relationships I might undo. But even the bad stuff proved to be pretty good life lessons so even those I’m not sure I would undo entirely. What about you? Any regrets?   Anything you would undo if you had the chance? Some good responses here. Take a look.

…And the Power of Forgiveness

A follow up to my previous post entitled “The power of an apology”.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I generally enjoy accusing Paul of putting hard edges on Jesus’ otherwise grace-filled teachings (See this post for proof).  But on the issue of forgiveness, it may actually be Paul who is the softee.  In the passage in Corinthians cited above, Paul says that we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.  That sounds like a mighty tall order but, frankly, it’s not nearly as scary as Jesus makes it sound in the Gospels.  Jesus, when speaking of our obligation to forgive, is far more blunt:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Woah.  That’s heavy.  It’s one thing to say, as Paul does, that we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.  It’s a whole other thing to say, as Jesus does, that if we do not forgive as our Father has forgiven us, our Father will not forgive us.  That’s strong stuff.  And I don’t think it’s a misspeak.  Or a typo.  I think Jesus probably meant what he said, because it’s repeated over and over in the Gospels.  And, for that matter, we pray that very language every Sunday at my church when reciting the Lord’s prayer:

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

The truth is, that’s not really what I want.  I don’t really want God to forgive my debts the way I have forgiven the debts of others.  I want God to forgive my debts way beyond that.  But that’s not what I pray for and that’s not what God has promised me.  And I find that a bit scary.

Forgiveness is hard to define, much less practice.  I suppose on some level, forgiveness is a choice.  But sometimes it feels like anything but a choice.  In fact, sometimes it feels like an almost impossible path to choose.

I suppose on another level, forgiveness is an act.  But generally, if seems more like a process or, at the very least, a whole bunch of acts.

But some times I think forgiveness is neither an act nor a process but rather an emotion  or a feeling.  I mean, it’s easy to say you’ve forgiven someone but much harder to know whether you really have.  As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography, it’s hard to describe forgiveness, but you know it when you feel it (actually, that’s not exactly what Justice Stewart said about pornography, but you get the picture).  Whether or not we are able to pinpoint our specific act of forgiveness, we are often able to identify the feelings associated with forgiveness.

What I do know is that beyond the unmistakable biblical mandate to forgive, there’s lots of other good reasons to practice forgiveness.  In fact, one could argue that forgiveness is a health issues as much as it is a theological or moral issue.  And precisely because it is a health issue, forgiveness and its benefits have been studied by a number of health care institutions, including the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.  Both those studies, and many others, have shown that those who work through a process of forgiveness (much like a process of grief), enjoy healthier relationships, lower blood pressure, less anxiety, fewer symptoms of depression and lower risks of alcohol and drug abuse.

So why don’t we do more of it?  Forgiveness is difficult and, in those times when I’ve needed to practice it most, I’ve given myself lots of reasons not to.  And those reasons are varied:  the offender doesn’t deserve it, revenge is more appropriate and feels so much better, I can’t just act like it didn’t happen, I don’t want to reconcile with the person and I have no interest in being their friend, I’ll look weak or, my personal favorite, it’ll seem like I’m condoning their behavior and I don’t want to be an enabler.

But forgiveness is required.  Our need for forgiveness is deep rooted and, when given, is beautifully redemptive.  I discovered one of the most beautiful stories of the redemptive power of forgiveness just a few days ago.  I was sent an email about a program sponsored by an organization called Restorative Justice.  The email was announcing a speaking engagement of two women bound together by tragedy:  the death of one lady’s child at the hands of the other lady.  I leave you with a letter that the perpetrator’s mother wrote some years ago — a letter that beautifully illustrates the redemptive power of forgiveness:

Two mothers,  that’s what we were… two mothers, alone with our pain.  Not to say we didn’t have people  around  us, we did. When the jury went into deliberation we could hear the quiet chatter of the reporters, police  officers, family and friends echoing  in a void we could not touch.

And then, one by one the people disappeared up the hall, looking for coffee and a bite to eat. In the awkward silence the victim’s mother and I found ourselves standing alone on opposite sides of the corridor. I went over to her; the one whose son my own had killed.

They were only sixteen … the thoughts  in my mind went round and round, searching for some understanding, some reason why life had taken our two sons so young. Holding out my arms I approached the fragile woman with caution.

“We’re in this together.”, I whispered.

The grieving mother hugged me back and then quickly released my embrace. “I must go.”, she whispered. “My family will be coming back soon and they won’t understand.”

Within the hour we were called back into the courtroom and the judge announced the verdict.  “Guilty”, he said. “Ten to life.”

That night I cried myself to sleep. Brutal scenes from prison movies  and stories  of rape and violence flashed through my mind as the relent less sobs racked my body with grief. Towards morning I had a dream. The victim’s mother was leaning over my bed compassionately holding out her arms to give me a hug.  “We’re in this together.” she said, and I awoke with my arms reaching high in the air.

It was almost twenty years later before I saw the woman again. She had come for my son’s parole hearing and was waiting for the proceed ings to begin. Over the past several months, a mediator from the Restorative Opportunities Program had been helping my son communicate with her and her daughter through a series of letters. When the daughter agreed to meet with my son, two ladies from the program filmed their healing exchange and then brought it to my house for a private viewing. They also showed it to the victim’s mother  who lived across  the country, near her daughter.

After watching the video, the victim’s mother was so touched by the changes she saw in my son that she offered to speak on his behalf at his parole hearing. She also asked to meet privately with us after the hearing. It was during this time that the two Restorative Opportunities mediators helped  the victim’s mother  and my son speak openly about the horrible night he killed her son. After so many years of keeping it all inside, my son was finally given the opportunity  to express how sorry he was and offered  to answer  any and all questions the woman needed to ask.

After a couple  hours of frank discussion she turned to face me.  “And I want to apologize to you.” she said. “Apologize to me?” I asked, rather shocked by her offer.

“Yes” she said. “I was so angry and hurt that I think I treated you poorly during the trial.

She looked relieved when I told her my only memory of her was our short exchange in the hallway outside the courtroom while waiting for the verdict to come in. I shared with her that, “I cried myself to sleep that night and towards morning I dreamed you were leaning over my bed to comfort me. ‘We’re in this together,’ you said kindly, and when I awoke I was reaching up to hug you. I have no memory of your treating me poorly. In fact, I’ve been praying for you all these  years;  that someday you might  find forgiveness  in your heart so you won’t have to hurt so much anymore.”

Just then, the victim’s mother pulled out a plastic bag she’d been holding on her lap.

“I brought you a gift,·she said, passing it to my son across the large oval table.

“A gift?” he replied, his wide-eyed surprise impossible  to conceal.

“Yes, it’s a dog,” she said, as he pulled the small stuffed animal out of the bag.

“A dog! Just what you always  wanted!” I said, recalling our prison  visit conversations over the years.

“And when you get out I’m going to buy you your first real dog.” the woman promised. Then, quite unexpectedly, she pushed back her chair and went around the table  to embrace my son. Without a moment’s hesitation  he stood up to accept her hug. Before going back to sit down, the woman whispered something in my son’s ear.

As the meeting came to a close the woman asked if she could continue to contact us, to which of course, we both heartily agreed. Once everyone  was gone I asked my son what the woman said to him while they were hugging.

Turning the little dog over and over in his hands he replied quietly, “She said, ‘I forgive you’.”

Forgiveness.  May we give it and get it today.  Peace, friends.

The Power of An Apology…

On October 27, 2010, Declan Sullivan, a student at the University of Notre Dame, was killed when a hydraulic lift from which he was videotaping the Notre Dame football team practice, collapsed. Within days, with investigators just beginning their work and lawyers warning of potential liability, Notre Dame University President Rev. John Jenkins issued a statement of apology in which he said, in part:

There is no greater sadness for a university community than the death of one of its students under any circumstances. Yet this loss is more devastating, for Declan died in a tragic accident while in our care. For that, I am profoundly sorry. We are conducting an investigation and we must be careful not to pre-judge its results, but I will say this: Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care, and we failed to keep him safe. We at Notre Dame — and ultimately I, as President — are responsible. Words cannot express our sorrow to the Sullivan family and to all involved.

Apologies come in all shapes and sizes.  There is the “I deeply regret” apology where the apologizer connects the with the consequence of his actions but does not actually  accepting blame for the act itself.  Then there’s the “mistakes were made” apology, that acknowledges that something wasn’t done right by someone, but does not accept responsibility on the part of a specific person for a specific action.  There is the vacuous apology extended to “those who misunderstood me” and the equally hollow apology directed to those of you “who feel that way”.  Then there is the “I’m sorry, but … apology that simply shifts blame to someone or someplace else.  And lastly, there is the “I’m sorry I got caught” apology which is, of course, no apology at all.

Some apologies are the stuff of legend.  Who can forget Bill Clinton’s non-apology apology in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?  And then there was was the Mel Gibson apology after his anti semitic tirade following a DUI arrest; the Tiger Woods’ apology after word of his multiple affairs and Kramer’s apology after his racial tirade in a comedy nightclub; or Chris Brown’s apology for beating up his girlfriend Rihanna and Kanye West’s apology for interrupting Taylor Swift at the CMT Awards.  This political season alone has brought us a rash of new apologies:  Todd Akin, a Republican Senate candidate from Missouri, for his reference to “legitimate rape” and his suggestion that it does not lead to pregnancy; Richard Mourdock, another candidate for U.S. Senator, for his suggestion that either rape was God’s will (according to the interpretation of some, though not me) or, that a pregnancy occasioned by rape, is God’s will.  And then just last night, in my home state of South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley’s attempted apology upon word that 3.7 million social security numbers may have been hacked from South Carolina Department of Revenue web servers.

All of these apologies are memorable.  Only a few were meaningful.  A good apology is powerful in part because it is sincere.  A good apology is completely genuine.  It accepts full responsibility and does not attempt to shift blame.  It speaks of repentance and tries to make amends.  It is timely given and given with no expectations.  But perhaps the real power of an apology, appropriately given, is that it can mark both an end as well as a beginning — an end to active conflict and a beginning to the long process of reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness.  And, ultimately, healing.

See this related post on forgiveness.

The Critical Eye of History – Redux

After touring a slave plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, I posed this question in a previous blog post:  100 years from now, what is it that people will say was the evil of our times — that thing or those things that we engaged in and really didn’t appreciate how wrong they really were?

Here’s a fascinating, and perhaps foreboding, look at one man’s take of being on the losing end of history.  Is he right?  Does being on the wrong side of history matter?  What say you?

I Know I’m Right, But What About You?

No sooner had the vice presidential debate ended, but the networks immediately had snap polls telling us who had won. Interestingly, and perhaps predictably, the polls varied wildly from network to network. I had my own opinion, of course. But as I thought about who truly won the debate, the obvious question came to mind: what exactly is the scoring criteria? Are we voting on who won on substance? On style? On veracity? Or simply on who best met their debate and/or campaign objective? My completely meaningless take (as an Obama/Biden partisan): The debate was a draw on substance, a clear Ryan victory on style, a Biden victory on veracity and a marginal Biden victory on meeting objectives of the debate and/or campaign. That was my take, but my wife, and other people I respect a great deal, came up with completely opposite conclusions. But arguments are like that.

Sometimes, it’s hard to define victory in an argument or, perhaps more accurately, sometimes there are many possible definitions of victory (and loss) in arguments such that it is hard to tell who really won. There is what I would call a complete win (a/k/a win +1 on google; like on facebook, win with an * old school). In a complete win, you win on things like substance, merit and style so decisively that you not only win the argument, but you actually change the mind of the other person. A complete win is a pretty rare thing.  Down a bit from there is what I would call just a plain win. In a plain win, you win the argument on either style or substance or both and, as a result, you ultimately get your way, but you’ve done nothing to persuade the other person.  A plain win is more common than a complete win but not quite a satisfying.  Then there’s the win/loss — those times when you win the argument, but impair or destroy the relationship.  A very unsatisfying kind of win.   And then there’s the compromise — neither one of you really wins the argument and neither of you changes your perspectives, but, in the end, you agree to disagree peacefully.  The sort of result most commonly associated with the feeling of “kissing your sister”.  And then there’s plain old lose/lose. You lose the argument and you impair or destroy the relationship.  And you feel like crap when it’s over.

For most of us, our first experience with arguing came from listening to our parents. For some, this was a really traumatic thing — either because of the intensity or frequency of the arguments or because the arguments turned out to be a harbinger of irreparable harm to the relationship of two people who are very important to us. Even for those of us who experienced more benign types of arguments between our parents, the memories of those arguments are still a bit uncomfortable. At a minimum, we remember the temporary disruption in the harmony of our family or because the arguments were simply annoying, particularly when our parents were arguing over things that seemed so trivial.  But, for many of us, the arguments we witnessed may very well have been a somewhat choreographed performance — our parents arguing in front of us to model conflict resolution and to let us know that people who love each other can still disagree (sometimes vehemently)and yet stay together and still love each other when it’s over.

Perhaps more insidious and more dangerous than parents (or spouses, or siblings or boyfriends/girlfriends) arguing, are those relationships where there are no arguments — where one or more parties to the relationship stops arguing. Either because they have capitulated and given their will over to the other person in an effort to buy peace on the cheap or because one party has fought for so long that they no longer care whether the relationship lives or dies — they are now controlled not by anger or a desire to be right but by apathy, which is, ominously enough, the opposite of love.

There are plenty of good things that can come from arguing. Arguing with someone who is about to do something profoundly stupid, particularly if life threatening, is always worth the time and effort. Sometimes we are successful with our arguments and sometimes people change their mind. And sometimes that is a very good thing.

Sometimes arguing reveals the truth. Sometimes two people can hold opinions that are genuine and arrived at in good faith. And though those differing opinions sometimes collide, a thoughtful argument can oftentimes expose the weakness or weaknesses of one side or the other. Sometimes that leads to changed hearts and changed minds. Sometimes it simply leads to a different perspective. And sometimes that is a good thing.

Proverbs says that “iron sharpens iron”. Sometimes arguing sharpens our arguments, even if we were right to begin with. Even if we were right, arguments can expose our weaknesses, show us what we have not yet considered, or show us what might require additional investigation on our part. The result may be a shored up argument that can withstand even greater, and perhaps less well intentioned, assault. And that may prove to be a good thing.

While it is true that the enormity of the issues at stake in an argument might define the tactics used to win the argument, it seems to me that some tactics ought to be declared off limits in most, if not all, circumstances. Violence is not a legitimate tactic to win an argument. Why? Because if one of the goals of an argument is to get at the truth, or that conclusion that ought prevail, violence artificially distorts that process. A person who is bigger, stronger and more vicious and who resorts to violence when arguing, is likely to win most arguments. But that won’t mean he or she was right.

Other forms of coercion, like blackmail, extortion, or humiliation ought to similarly be declared off limits. So too name calling or other forms of verbal violence. Bringing up the past, when not relevant to the present, strikes me as “out of bounds”. Interjecting irrelevant issues, even if in the present, ought not be allowed. Lastly, walking out or walking away, ought to be a tactic of last resort. Certainly, walking away, if used as a last resort to avoid other less desirable tactics such as violence, coercion, or verbal abuse, may be an appropriate thing to do in limited circumstances. But generally, parties to an argument ought to stay and see the argument to a peaceful conclusion.

I had lunch recently with a fella who, like me, is a lawyer. In other words, he, like me, gets paid to argue. And after just a few minutes, it was clear that both of us enjoyed arguing, particularly with each other. And we had a good bit to argue about. Mainly, by his own description, he was a conservative republican and I am a left leaning democrat. And though we are both Presbyterian, he belongs to the conservative Presbyterian Church in town, and I am a member at a decidedly more liberal Presbyterian Church.

But he proved himself to be very bright, very knowledgeable, and a very fair debater. We “argued” about many things political and many things theological. I don’t think either of us changed our minds on any thing, but I will speak for myself and say that I certainly gained a different and valuable perspective on a number of issues and I certainly learned that there are smart, respectful and well intentioned people on the other side of issues that are important to me.

So much of the arguing that goes on today is over completely trivial matters. If we were to list the five most pressing issues facing this country, I suspect they are not the same things that we hear argued in our public discourse.  Same for our most valued relationships. The things that are most critical to the health of our relationships are usually not the things we argue about. We argue not about where each member of the family will spend eternity but why the trash hasn’t been taken out since Tuesday; not about how we express our love to each other, but about why people insist on throwing their dirty clothes on the bathroom floor. That sort of thing.

Individually, and collectively, we have lost the ability to argue civilly in a way that add value to public discourse. We argue about the irrelevant, we result to name calling and demonization, we begin each argument with a settled opinion and we guard that opinion zealously until one side or the other relents. We enter arguments ready to talk and convince, not listen and learn. This, unfortunately, is our culture.

And, of course, every Sunday, it is that culture that fills the pews of our church. People who have lost the ability to engage in reasonable debate in a civil society, do not suddenly regain that ability because they enter the church. And so, quite expectedly, we debate the irrelevant, we refuse to listen, we resort to name calling, we engage in verbal abuse and we irreversibly impair relationships.  And leave denominations.

As discussed in this previous post, one of the major theme’s of Paul’s writings, was the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul believed that Jesus Christ was to be the Lord of everything. Absolutely everything. And that God’s people should be unified in following Jesus Christ as Lord of everything.

In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul encourages us as believers to be humble.  And gentle.  And patient.  And to bear with each other in love.  And to work for unity.  In an effort to keep peace among believers.

Paul spoke often about the Church and he used metaphors that emphasized the importance of church unity. In I Corinthians 10, verse 17, Paul refers to “one loaf” and says that though there are many of us, we all eat of the same bread.  In Romans, Paul refers frequently to “one body” and the need for each of us to perform our roles in harmony and synchronicity with the rest of the body; in I Corinthians and again in Ephesians, Paul refers to “one building” and reminds us that Jesus is the foundation and chief cornerstone of the house of God and that the purpose of Christian ministry is to build up the body of Christ.  And in 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to the church as “one bride”.  Just as a husband cleaves to his wife and literally the two become one flesh — that no one should dare tear asunder — so too the church is the bride of Christ — all of us cleaved together and bound to Jesus as one in the flesh. It comes as no surprise, then, that no one should tear the bride apart nor tear her from her groom.

I think Paul and I would generally agree on the importance of the unity of the church. Those of us in the church have our share of disagreements, just as any parties to a long term relationship would. Sometimes we argue about the trivial. Sometimes we bring up the past or maybe the irrelevant present. Sometimes, we resort to name calling, verbal abuse, coercion or, worst of all, violence to solve our disputes. And sometimes we grow apathetic and just walk away.

But sometimes I feel like we’re called to compromise, which can feel strange. Two parties, both following the same God but hearing different messages, compromising on an article of faith. That’s a bit strange and not easy to handle. Apostacy exists, but probably far less than we think.  As to the rest, I think we are called to compromise.  In the words of Demitri Kornegay, in his book Man Up!  No Excuses – Do the Work!:

What actions do you choose when confronted with those who don’t see things as you do?  Do you fight?  Do you argue?  Do you negotiate?  Do you surrender?  Let me tell you something right now.  If you live more than a few days you will find conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.  You don’t have to fight about everything.  Even the Marines have a saying, “Choose the Hill you want to die on.”
If you must fight about something, if there must be that thing that will make you raise your voice, grind your teeth and pound your fist on a desk, let it be something that has to do with respect, dignity and integrity; or someone’s attempt to deny another of one or all three of those things.

I agree.  And I do think it is somewhat ironic that Paul, who wrote so much about the importance of church unity, is the one who also gave us so many of those doctrinal things that seem to stand in the way of the church actually being unified.  And I question whether we are supposed to die on those hills.  At the end of the day, I think Jesus cares more about his bride than he does about any of the relatively small minded things that we argue about.  I think we are called to be peacemakers and to protect the unity of the church.  Shoot, I find myself agreeing with Paul so often now that I think we are well on our way to a full out detente.  And I’m ok with that.

What’s in a Name?

Sunday School starts back up next week.  The start of a new year always causes me a little angst.  Partly, because I know that I will walk in to a room of nearly 30 kids, some of whom I’ve had in my class for years, some of whom will be there for the first time, and I won’t know the names of most of them.  I’m bad like that.

I used to work for South Carolina’s United States Senator, Fritz Hollings, a great man and a masterful politician.  Senator Hollings never forgot a name.  Ever.  And people loved him for it.  That he was able to call them by name made them feel incredibly special even if they didn’t care much for his politics.

Names are powerful.  Sometimes they can make us feel important (or maybe just old) — who can forget that first time someone younger calls us “Mr.” or “Mrs.”?  But names can also make us feel small — like when we’re kids and our parents call out our full names:  “James Benjamin Alexander, come here!”  Uh oh!  Sometimes names can make us feel bad or just plain hurt.  Kids learn this early — “doo-doo head” and “dummy” in the early days and then “geek”, “goober” or maybe “dumbass” later on.  Faggot. Asshole.  Liar.  Words can hurt.

Sometimes names describe us:  When I was younger, I was given the nickname “Friendly”.  Today, most folks who know me well just call me “Ben”.  People younger than me or who don’t know me as well might call me “Mr. Alexander” — suggesting a distance between us or at least a lack of familiarity.  And then there’s the extreme:  If I get a phone call from someone wanting to speak with “James B. Alexander”, I don’t generally return the call.

Names also define the nature of relationships and tell what we know about people.  The guy we used to call by first name becomes “Judge” or “Your Honor” when he’s wearing a black robe; the man or woman wearing a white coat might be called “Dr. Smith or Dr. Jones”; my school teachers remain Mrs. Cavan, Mrs. Carter and Mr. Byrd — and not Betty, Barbara or Robin.  Some names define the really special relationships.  Names like “sweatheart”, “sissy” or “honey”.  Or, my favorite name, “daddy”.  Hearing those names let’s us know that all is well with those very special relationships.

The names we give God have that same power — the power to tell others what we know about God, to describe the uniqueness of our relationship with God, and to let everyone know that all is well with that very personal relationship.  And God has many names.  No, really.  There are literally hundreds and hundreds of names for God in the bible.  (Here, this will get you started:  Names that describe what others have come to know about God through experience.  Names like Yaweh.  Emmanuel.  Living Water.  Refuge.  Day Spring.  Fortress.

When I pray, I usually mindlessly revert back to the names for God that I learned as a child:  Heavenly Father, Lord, Merciful God.  But these names really have little meaning for me now and, to some extent, they may even hinder my relationship with God as they tend to refer to the authoritative God and, to be honest, I’m not so good with authority.  They certainly don’t reflect the uniqueness of the relationship I have with God or the totality of what I know about God.  I have experienced God, at one point or another, as a Teacher, a Counselor, a Life Line, and, to some extent, a Savior.  Someday, I want to be able to say that I have experienced God, and know God, as my Comforter, my Clarity, my Friend. My Abba.  And to feel comfortable calling Him by those names.

My goal for this new year in Sunday School is to learn the names of all the kids in the class.  I want to call them by name so that they will feel important and special.  But more importantly, I hope that together, we will learn new names for our God as we experience God together.

So, I’m curious.  By what name have you come to know God and does calling God by that name help you remember the uniqueness of that experience or that relationship?