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.

The Pieces of Ourselves that We Give Away

So I was dropped to my hands and knees, there in the hallway, just outside my classroom door.  I was desperately trying to gobble in some air.  For a moment, it didn’t seem to be working.  My coworkers were around, and the students, too, staring down at me. 

With the help of my classroom aide, I scrambled into the nearby principals office.  I began to put it all together.  It was hard to think, because their was this pain that dominated my whole consciousness in the side of my neck.  And there was something lesser, but unpleasant, going on in the back of my skull.

As I half turned in the doorway I saw that they were restraining the student (let’s call him Nate.)  And in something like a flash, I put it all back together.  I had just been assaulted.  He landed a closed fist on the side of my neck and I didn’t see him coming.

The idea that I hit the wall on the way down, I figured that part out later.

I teach at a residential facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents.  Being assaulted isn’t an every day occurrence.  But sooner or later, in places like this, it happens.

Several years ago, I spent three endless, pain-filled weeks on disability with a sprained back.  About once every couple months, I participate in restraints, keeping our students from hurting themselves or others.  I have had close calls.  I’ve been hit, spit on, and my experiences are nothing compared to some of the heroes I work with, who daily, regretfully, put their hands on our students; who have dealt with all manner of body fluids, who have been hospitalized, occasionally for quite lengthy stays.

My back still feels sore when it rains, after all these years.  I have been in a lot of pain today and spent the morning getting a cat scan to make sure I didn’t have a concussion.  I know that I will be feeling this one for quite some time.

These injuries that I carry with me, they have changed me.  Reduced how much I could, for example, wrestle with my youngest.  I was (if you must know the truth) feeling kinda sorry for myself this morning, as I sat in the ER, waiting for my number to come up.

And then I had this realization:

I am not any different than anybody.  Except that it’s just more obvious for me.

We are wounded by our work, whatever it is.   For all of us, our livelihood take things from us that they should not.  We give more than hours in exchange for our pay checks.  We give away parts of ourselves, and we know that these are parts are families deserve, but we have sacrificed them because we really don’t have an alternative.

Mostly I love my job.  I don’t have a solution, or a neat, happy thought to tie this blog post up with.  I guess I will leave it unresolved… like life.

We Could Be Heroes

Matrix screen saver
Matrix screen saver (Photo credit: Ian Ruotsala)

I feel a little bit like that guy in the Matrix.  The one who betrays all of his allies for an illusion.  He sits in the restaurant with Agent What’s-his-face and expresses the idea, more or less, that he doesn’t really care that he is living in a world of illusion and lies because they are quite enjoyable illusions and lies.

You see, a month or so ago I cancelled our cable television.  And last Thursday, I got in a car accident.   I’ve been riding with people and haven’t been keeping up with NPR.

So it came as a shock, yesterday.  My kids heard the news about the shooting in Connecticut.  I haven’t got any first hand information about this tragedy.  No pictures, no voice overs, no news, no information, really.

I know that I would be effected if I had seen that stuff.

And if I had?  In some sense, I’d be better informed.   I get it that on some level I’d be more qualified to speak about what’s going on.  In some sense, I fully own the idea that I’m like the Judas-figure in The Matrix.  Wanting to live in denial, a bubble.

And yet… this distance bestows a certain different kind of authority.

From this distance, I am able to see something that I would miss if I was closer to it all.

I see that the pathetic, broken weasel who caused this suffering is utterly insignificant when compared with the forces that have aligned against him.

There are the first responders.  And the kids, and adults who were there and faced him.  And the parents and loved ones who helped the survivors through the aftermath.  There is the wider net of systems that works 99% of the time; I am not minimizing the pain and suffering that this abonimation, this abberation caused.

I am saying that we ought to marvel at heroism in so many different forms.  Not just the on-the-spot heroism that occured in Connecticutt at that terrible time.  We should also marvel at the unspoken, unreported, often unknown acts of heroism: the child who finds love amid so much hate, the teacher who believes in her kids after being let down time and time again, the aunt who steps up when mom and dad abondon their responsible, the family friend who finds the words of comfort and love even while his own heart pounds with rage and sadness.

I know that people shout that the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.  I don’t begrudge them this sentiment.  But I actually think the almost-inexplicable thing is that their is goodness.  And goodness with a lower-case g, it is rooted in a Source, Goodness with a capital G.  I think this connection, this rootedness, is why that broken little creature seems to pathetic when compared with the forces aligned against him, so many people, united in undoing what he has done, aligned in preventing it from happening again.

A reality check on Christmas Eve

“Are you closing?” This middle-aged woman was asking me.  She had frizzy hair.

I looked back over my shoulder.  The lights were shut off.  The sign was shut off.  It was six PM on Christmas Eve.  It was one of those questions that you don’t want to answer because it seems to obvious for words.

“I thought maybe you’d be opened on Christmas Eve.” She said all in one breath, in the panicked way people talk whose whole worlds are on the edge of collapse.   “It’s Christmas Eve and I have no where to go.” And then she let out this sound; a moan, a sob, a laugh.  Something somewhere in between.

If this was a fiction story I would have had all the right things to say.  I stood there and looked behind her.  She stood in front of one of those newer SUV’s that kind-of looks like a minivan on steroids… It was a soccer mom car.  She looked like a soccer mom.  How did she come to be alone on Christmas Eve?

If this was a Hallmark special, if this was a story in a sermon, if this was the kind of tale that people forewarded in emails, it would have a resolution… most likely a happy ending.

But in reality I stood there paralyzed.  I tried to smile at her.  I tried to suggest the movie theater on the other side of the shopping center. 

She took a few minutes, presumably to gather herself together.  I prayed for as I watched her pull away.  I am sure that Jesus was proud of me for spending three minutes of my precious time thinking about her.  (Note sarcasm.)

I don’t know where she went, or who she was, or what her story was.  Probably I never will.

In some way I’m offering up this as blog as a confession.  I posted about how Jesus wants us to reach out.  And then I didn’t.

The event was a wake-up call.  I’d been feeling quite sorry for myself.  I have a second job and was away from my family on much of Christmas Eve.  I was annoyed with people who wandered in, 10 minutes before we closed and who mulled around the racks after closing as the 20-odd staff were wanting to get out and go home.  Truthfully, I was even resentful at the fact that we’re a one car family and that I had to be picked up like a high school kid. 

And then…. Wham!  I’m confronted with somebody who is not only alone but who is also terrified with the realization that because Barnes & Noble is closed, they have nothing to do.

I tell myself it would have been easier if she hadn’t been a woman or if I hadn’t been a man.  There are very few acts of kindness between strangers of the opposite sex that don’t look inappropriate.

And so I’ve been thinking about that, today.  Things that look inappropriate.

I’ve been counseled– probably wisely– to be careful about things that look bad.  The idea is partially that we should be on our guard from bad stuff that could happen, but also that we should be on the guard for things that are in truth innocent but look inappropriate.

I get that, I think.  But I also wonder if it’s biblical.

If a prostitute today rubbed a pastor’s feet, if a woman gave a minister a scalp masage, it would look bad.  End of story.

But Jesus allowed these things.  And he lived in a less touchy-feely, much more sexually segregated society.

And so I guess it’s a fair question, to ask “How does it look when a man and a women are in public and…”

But there’s a follow up question, a bigger one, I think.

That follow up question is this:

How does it look when a man who claims to follow Christ does nothing more than point the lonely to a movie theater?