Sunday, July 5, 2009

What's in a name - Tiki's story

The Rev. Dr. Brian Blount, President of the Presbyterian seminary in Virginia formerly known as Union-PSCE, announced that the seminary is changing its name to: Union Presbyterian Seminary! Wow! What a radical move...(sarcasm). But, anticipating any haters and nay-sayers who might object, he gives some great biblical precedent for such a decision. Good stuff for any of you who may be thinking of changing your name and needing some biblical rationale:

“Names and name changes are incredibly, almost painfully, important in the biblical narratives. When Jacob becomes Israel a phenomenal shift at some almost primordial level has taken place. This is a man who like his people now wrestles with God. When Simon becomes Peter, this man is transformed into the hope of what he can be: not rocky soil which provides insufficient sustenance for the sower’s seeds to live, but a stable rock upon which a church can be built. When Saul becomes Paul, neither the sound nor the spelling changes are dramatic, but in this very subtle shift, we have an astounding new creation."

As someone who has experienced a bit of a name change in my life (from 1975-200o, I was called by my middle name: Craig--and for most of the years from 2000 to the present I have been called by my first name: Chester), I appreciate the thought Blount put into this decision. Even though I think I like Craig better (maybe just because it's what I have been called for most of my life, but probably also because it is not such a maligned name like Chester), I thought my rationale was valid, even at the risk of being paternalistic. I found myself frequently in a Spanish speaking context, and rather than having my Spanish speaking friends stumble over a name they would eventually forget (Craig), I would go by my much easier to pronounce and associate name (Cheetos or Gun Smoke=Mexico, cigarets=central america, a hybrid mix turkey and a chicken=Brazil). My buddy Terence also switched to his middle name, Mike, for similar reasons. It's weird to call him Mike. I stick with other names I've given to him.

Last week I was at a Ghost Ranch youth week event. It was great. There I met a kid who called himself Tiki. He had two brothers and a sister there, all younger, whose names were Joey, Julian, and Jasmin. So why Tiki? What were his folks thinking? Well it turns out that his name is actually Joel. Check this out: He and his family-a Mexican American family- moved from El Paso to Nebraska when hurricane Rita swept through. He was going into the ninth grade. Before he started school he decided that instead of being Joel from El Paso, and potentially face discrimination in the mean way that kids can pick on each other (this one kid from my high school was from Japan and other kids signed his year book accompanied by any number of pictures of bombs or explosions; here in Santa Fe, immigrant kids are often called *explitive* beaners), he was going to change his name to Tiki from Hawaii. And it worked. The kids all bought it, and thought it was awesome to have a Hawaian kid in their school. Wow. It's a sad reflection on our society and what we ingrain in our kids that this kid Joel had to change his identity to survive, but what a smart kid and what survival skills. I assume that when the kids at school finally found out his real identity it didn't matter, because Tiki/ Joel is a really amazing kid--talented, funny, great personality, lover of God-- by the time they found out they had been duped, they loved him.

Anyway, I wish Tiki well as he moves on to college this year. He says he kind of regrets changing his name. I don't blame him, I sometimes wonder what name I should use for myself; a woman in my congregation changed her name 60 years ago, and wishes she never had. But, who knows how this subtle change that led to acceptance rather than potential rejection, built Tiki's self-esteem and confidence, even shaped his understanding of self. Maybe this change was inspired by God, just like those name changes we read about in the bible.

If I can take it a step further, how bout the name of a church? The church I serve is called Westminster. The name change took place in the 1950s from Iglesia Segunda Presbiteriana de Santa Fe (Hispana) because (according to Alice Martinez) the members, mostly Northen New Mexican Hispanic, wanted the Anglos in the city to know they were welcome to come to the church, so they picked the most anglo name they could think of: Westminster. I kind of wish they'd of left the old name. What does Westminster say to the community now? What could another name say to the community? Who knows, maybe God will inspire even our small group to a name change that would lead to:
"a phenomenal shift at some almost primordial level"...or help us to become, "not rocky soil which provides insufficient sustenance for the sower’s seeds to live, but a stable rock upon which a church can be built"or maybe even "an astounding new creation," that God could use to proclaim good news and love the city in a powerful way.