“Happy Holidays!” There. I said it. And Jesus? He doesn’t even care.

It’s happening again.  Some of my siblings in Christ are starting to say things that make me want to start calling myself a Christ follower, so I won’t be identified with the Christians.   They begin to say these things, and I feel like that guy in a movie, slowed down so everybody can see that he is not fast enough to stop what is about to occur.  They begin, and I know where it is going, and I just wish… they would stop.

I am not saying that I am being totally fair to my fellow Christians.  I am not proud of all of these feelings.  But… there is something to them, too.  Because here is the thing: if people are trying to spread cheer and joy, it does not matter how they phrase it.

I think it turns out to be historically inaccurate to claim America is a Christian country.  (More specifically: I think it is inaccurate to expect the founding fathers’ Christianity looks much like Christainty does today.)   I am not going to get hung up on this point, though, because here is the thing:

It does not matter.

If we were utterly Christian or utterly not-Christian, it would be quite irrelevant to the more basic point: people are allowed to use whatever words they want to use.

That goes for us Christians, too.  We can say “Merry Christmas”  too the whole world, if we want.  And maybe we should.

I know that there all these stories out there about all this oppression.  This terrible conspiracy.  This evil empire, in league with Satan himself.

The problem is that most of those stories aren’t true.

Private companies are allowed to have whatever policies they want to have.  It kind of boggles my mind when Christianity says out of one side of it’s mouth, “Companies should be free to exempt themselves from health care laws.” and out of the other side of it’s mouth “Companies should not be free to play whatever semantic games they want with how their employees greet their customers during December.”

Truly, I don’t mind looking stupid.  I am a balding man in his mid forties with a pony tail.  We do, by the way, look stupid about this stuff.

What I mind is that we look so petty and out of touch.  There are real problems in the world and there are places where Christians really are persecuted.  But this?  This is just a bunch of words.  We are told that we will be known by our love.  Not our whininess.  Which, in a way is too bad.  Because, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we look quite whiny indeed.

Cold Comforts

I continue to be amazed at this whole grief thing. I am new to it. It’s one of those things that I guess we hope we never get too experienced at. I have this nagging voice in the back of my mind that wants me to spout some obligatory niceties about how pain makes us stronger and mature and stuff. This is the point where I am supposed to find the silver lining in my suffering. I am not really “feeling it” today though. At this particular moment, that is all cold comfort. I guess I am not as enlightened as I want to be.
My mom died months ago.
She is not suffering any more.
I guess I am supposed to gush about where she is now. How amazing it is. How happy she is there. How I will be there, too; there will be this reunion.
It is a little more difficult to admit that this also, it isn’t a whole lot of solace. I think it’s more difficult to admit that this one is no help because it leaves me looking, feeling, and being greedy and self centered. Of course I want mom not to suffer. But also, I want my mom here, with me.
NT Wright focuses on the idea that the history of Christianity is a story of Heaven crashing into Earth, of the divine invading the profane, of the Godly popping up in the midst of the human. This is the kingdom of God: eruptions of these little pieces of perfection amidst the rubbish that this world can be.

The original Jewish temple was such a place. And Jesus, fully God, dwelling among us is, too. The Holy Spirit invades Jesus followers, too. And all these are places where the kingdom is sprouting up, where heaven crashes into Earth.
I am so keenly aware of my mom as an ambassador of God. Parents, in their seeming omnipotence, are inherently this way to young kids. But my mom had this genourosity, this gentleness, this kindness. Even when I realized she wasn’t God, I saw God’s work through her.
I guess one of the things that hurts is that with her gone, I feel a little further from God. That stupid, yappy voice in the back of my head tells me that this is for the best, I should find God more directly. But I’m not much interested in listening to all those sorts of things, right now.

Too Many Guard rails.

Imagine a road.
Maybe it’s a curvy road. It’s a bit dangerous. So somebody sets up guard rails.
The guard rails help, some. They decrease the number of people who drive off the road, damage their car, injure themselves.
Yet sometimes, careless of sleepy drivers veer into the opposite lane. Occasionally, there are head-on collisions. Head on collisions are never good things. So they set up a guard rail running down the middle of the road. And it becomes even more safe.
But once in a while, cars are moving too fast or they are too heavy. They drive through the guard rail. And so they put a second set of rails inside the first.
But even two rails aren’t enough for the faster, heavier cars. So they put a third, a fourth, a fifth.
At the end of this process, the road is left so narrow that nearly every car is bouncing off of them. Some people (presumably those with out much interest in the appearance of their automobiles) even grow to depend on them; they are more careless on this heavily guarded rode than they otherwise would be, knowing that the rails will keep them from driving off.
A good chunk of the freedom people would have had, in the form of space, is just eaten up by the rails. Drivers are limited, now. Perhaps it used to be two lanes in each direction. Now, it is only one. Tempers flare because nobody can drive around slower people in front of them. The original goal is achieved: nobody drives off the road. But is it truly safer? Is it better?
We are handed rules all the time. Often they are good. With the best of intentions, we set up these guard rails. And sometimes, the first set, maybe even the second, these are good, too.
I see this in the church all the time.
The bible says that we shouldn’t get drunk. Good idea. People set up the first guard rails. Maybe don’t have 3 drinks. Also a good idea. (o.k. kind-of a good idea.) And then there is a second set of guard rails: don’t have 2 drinks. And then a third guard: Don’t drink at all.
It’s not a bad thing, not to drink. But when we treat the third guard rail, (don’t drink) as if it’s God’s idea, bad things can happen.
I realized, recently, that this is not new. In fact, it’s one of the first things that people ever did.

God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve reports to the snake, ” God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die.”
We don’t know where the miscommunication comes in. Or why. But it seems to me that the most likely thing is that Adam built a guard rail. To keep Eve away from the fruit he added the idea that they couldn’t even touch it. Who knows? Perhaps he even convinced himself of this.
I can understand why he might want to do this. It would be a pretty dangerous thing, to stand there, fondling and ogling fruit that you are not supposed to eat.
But to claim that the order comes from God that we can’t even touch it… I imagine that Eve stood there, in the garden, and when she touched the fruit and nothing happened, it might have motivated her to take that next step. It would be easy to think, “Well, I wasn’t supposed to touch this, and yet nothing happened when I did. So presumably when I eat it, nothing will happen either.”
I wonder how many people thought that God said we shouldn’t drink at all. And then they had a drink, and the world did not come crashing down around them. And it called into question everything they had been told about God, everything they believed about God. And they decided God didn’t have much to offer them, words that they thought were his turned out to be wrong.
I don’t believe that we are meant to Genesis literally. But I do believe we are meant to take it seriously. I think the whole book is seeped in layer upon layer of wisdom. This seemingly insignificant detail about Eve is just one tiny little nugget of that wisdom.


It is such an effort of will sometimes.
To remember that we will be together again.
In a place past the tears.

It is easier.
It is irresistable, sometimes.
To just long for my mom.
Who knew me like nobody else knows me.

Sometimes I fear that
There is a statuate of limitations on loss.
In everybodys head.
And my hurting, now. It is such bad form.

They didn’t tell me.
Maybe they didn’t know.
The ways it gets worse. Harder.

I never thought that pictures and keepsakes
would catalyze memories growing stale already
after these few months.
How do the memories fade

but not this hurt?

Seeing Her Again.

Sometimes, I think society views most of our emotions in the same way it views defecating. Sure, we can recognize that everybody poops. Similarly, we are allowed to have emotions. But we’d better not go too far in exploring them, discussing them, admitting to them. It is just… unseemly.
There is a positive to this. Wallowing is really not helpful.
But neither is denial.

I have been writing about my moms death, recently. I have been writing about it because it is on my mind and on my heart. I have been writing about it because I think it’s not good, how we want to just sweep everything under the rug. I have been writing about it because I guess maybe I am looking for some sympathy. But I am also looking to validate somebody out there. Society wants to give us a statuate of limations on our grief. But we deserve better than that.

I miss her.

She’s been gone for about 3 weeks now.
I have gone a lot longer than this with out seeing her. Some times, I have gone longer than this with out even talking to her.
But it’s funny and sad. When we know that somebody is there. Available. Reachable. Sometimes, that’s what we need. We don’t need to contact them. We just need to know that we could, if we wanted to.
I believe I will see her again.
She will be healthier and stronger than she’s been in years. And so will I. We will be at our best. Better than we will ever be in this world.
I have to work at reminding myself about this. Maybe it’s the not-knowing when this will be. Maybe it’s immaturity– some day, these short years I spend in this world will be such a tiny little preview of the eternity I will be living in.
In short, it helps some, to know that I will see her again.
But it doesn’t make it all the way better, to know this. It still hurts. I still miss her.
I guess what I can do is live in this hurt, some. Learn from it. Grow through it. I think that’s why we are here, in this broken world. To learn and grow.
I wish it were easier, sometimes.

Stop Calling Me Names

I have been thinking about identity, lately. Identity, and names. And death. And probably some other random stuff too.
My mom’s death has freed me, in a way that feels kind-of terrible. The person I was to her died with her. If I was a secretive, manipulative person who reserved a separate mask for each person dear to me, this loss would be devastating. If I was totally honest, open, transparent, consistent, true to myself, this loss would mean nothing at all.
I am, probably like you, somewhere between those extremes.
If nothing else, the names we have are a symbol, even a sort-of short hand for how people view us. We might go by our full name to family. A shortened version to aquiantances. A nick name to old friends. Maybe we earned an honorific and in the work place people call us Dr. so and so.
The details are important to us. Have you ever corrected some one at a restaurant, when they were writing your name down? Or corrected there spelling? Presumably, the host will never see us again. Probably they don’t care whether or not there is a silent ‘P’ in the middle of our last name. And yet we make sure they get it all right.
When people call us the wrong name for a situation, it gets awkward and uncomfortable. Some of this is about power dynamics. Officer Jones won’t appreciate it if we call him Jimmy, perhaps. But sometimes it’s not that. Family calls me by full name; friends call me by the short version. Maybe I am just picky. But I find it irritating when somebody uses the other group’s name for me.
Names are the sumnation of whole little pockets of ourselves. For me, Jeff is a person just a little different than Jeffrey. Jeffrey is the accumulation of all the views of me of family. And it shifted, some, when my mom left this world. Because that accumulation of views lost her contributions.
All the names that we have, taken together, in some way, they constitute all the ways that everybody sees us.
It would be terrifying and sad to leave all these behind. But also… it would be liberating.
In some way, all the names, all the identities, that people have for me… they came built in with limits. A ceiling. A set of expectations:
“This is who Jeff is.” “This is who Jeffrey is.” “This is who dad is.” etc…
There is value and wisdom in the council of others. They see things in myself that I do not. But sometimes, those things are for them. Sometimes those things are what they want to see. They are what they need to see.
To accept the names that people give me is to accept the limitations they would place on me.

I get the chills when I think about this promise in the bible. It says that I will receive a stone with a name on it. A true name. A name that Jesus alone has for me.
This is the antidote to the all the names I have been given and even all the names I have earned. Because it is not rooted in what people expected of me. It is not rooted in people want for me. It is not rooted in there fears, or my fears.
The name on that stone encapsulates my truest potential. And so there is also some fear, along with the chills. When I am presented with that stone, will I be overwhelemed at the idea I am really so much? Or will I be paralyzed at how far I fell short of what I might have been?

Just What Exactly Is in a Name?

My name is Jeffrey Mark Campbell.
There was a time in my teens that I kind of loved the idea that my first name means “Divinely Peaceful.” I was a member of maybe the original retro generation, that time in the 80’s when the 60’s seemed like they were going to come back from the dead. So I spent some years in tie dye, long haired, listening to the last album recorded by The Grateful Dead.
As I got older, I thought about how my middle name is derived of Mars, the God of War. I never tried to embrace this meaning by itself. But I saw that my hippie self (like most hippies) lived in this fairy tale that denied shadow and anger.
To this day, I think I’m a pretty paradoxical guy; possessed of an unflappable optimism and a dark cynicism, holy enough to fast and profane enough to watch South Park, idealist enough to hope the Green Party is right, realist enough to stop throwing my vote away; I fancy myself both a romantic and an intellectual and… this is just going to get irritating, I suspect, if I keep going. You see am also rather full of myself and also blindingly insecure.

It’s not the case that I discovered what my name means, and then I sought to live this out. It is probably partial coincidence, and partially that I am seeing who I am through the lenses of what my first and middle name mean.
They are funny things, names.
Summer camps and street gangs and college fraternities and military groups and “primitive” tribes all assign people names specific to the group. The bible is full of stories about people who change their names to reflect their new outlook, stories about the importance of names in possession and exorcism, stories about the importance of the name of the one true God.
In just a few sounds, names are supposes to capture who we are right now, and who we want to be; they are meant to encapsulate the aspects of ourselves under our own control, and also the legacies we have inherited quite independent of our desires.
Consider the fact that our parents choose our first and middle names. That sometimes these are ruled by family tradition. And that regardless of what anybody wants, we are also given a surname, that last name. A reminder, perhaps that there we are the recpients of good and bad things that accumulate from all those who came before us.
I am bothered, some, at the idea that a women marries a man and her family name is most often just erased and replaced. It is as if whatever legacies, whatever curses and blessings she inherited from her forebears are wiped out entirely and replaced with the husbands.
I suppose, the whole idea, that we bare the name of our male ancestors is the flip side of this. There are countless women across countless generations whose actions impact who I am.
On a practical level, I don’t know how to fix this. And for the second blog post in a row, I have managed to babble on about things only tangentially related to what I wanted to say.
I am all written out for the night. But I think this will all pull together. Bare with me.