I pulled my hand back before he could shake it. “Bob who?”
“Hitler. I know. But I’m not the World War Two guy.”
I struggled to regain my composure. “So, what do you do for a living? (…when you’re not invading Poland, or bombing London…)
“I’m a camp director.”
“Yep, a youth camp director.”
“A YOUTH CAMP DIRECTOR? AS IN HITLER YOUTH? I asked impulsively.
“Well, not exactly. It’s a summer camp and year-round resort. You should visit some time…”
I imagined a desolate camp surrounded by barbed wire and high brick smoke stacks billowing black smoke into the sky.
“Um, sure…” I replied, backing away.
What’s in a name? What kind of promise is pronounced with a name? Faithfulness, optimism, poverty, despair? Certain names carry the weight of a century; of years of conflict, accomplishment, infamy, or pride. It seems some names should have retired at the end of that life due to the shock they incur when spoken to us. Imagine meeting: Jimmy Kierkegaard, Heather Stalin, Penny Eisenhower, Mike Dostoevsky or Stevie Darwin.
We expect so much more Italian poetry from a mechanic named Dante, and sonnets from a cashier named Shakespeare. We expect that they have graduated from West Point, or Harvard. We assume they have published books, that they understand humanity, that they are possessed of destiny and greatness. But the Barbara Clinton who stocks produce at the grocery is not even related to you-know-who, and she has a much finer nose.
If you met someone named Jesus you would expect him to heal your leprosy. If you met someone named Moses you would expect him to have long, grey hair and a wild prophetic look in his eyes. You might feel that he is always judging you. Or, maybe he’s just a jeweler and you’re just a customer. It’s the name that changes the relationship, no matter the relationship.
There is a story in Genesis about a guy who fought hand-to-hand with a big, tough angel. They fought for hours. Eventually the angel said it was getting late and had to leave. Jacob, who was fighting with him, declared that he wouldn’t let him go without a divine blessing. They argued a bit more and the angel just punched his hip, dislocating it. The angel blessed him and also changed his name, from Jacob to Israel. It is how the nation Israel got its name.
His new identity was caused by a sucker punch by an angel. Like a mixture of wine and passion, anguish and trust create a new life, one that is subject to God’s merciful affliction.
Transformative affliction is not a welcomed friend. We do not seek it, we never volunteer. We are drafted into this deep trust, we resist it; hate it. Change is frightening. Not changing even more.
I remember when I went through this process; God used a more contemporary method: hot coffee to the crotch. I placed a fresh, hot cup of Dunkin’ Doughnuts coffee between my knees as I pulled away from the drive-through window. When the lid popped off I was instantly able to pray in orthodox Latin:
in te sperant, Domine, et tu das illis escam in tempore opportuno. Aperis tu manum tuam, et imples omne animal in benedictione. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeulorum (!!!)
This is the first time I ever had brown in the front of my underpants.
My name changed too. I am now Dj Humble, Dj Patient. My life music is serene and inviting. My last name has stayed the same, as a reminder of the past, and it is still a fairly unpronounceable German name. Most people think its Klingon, it’s not, but they are linguistically related.
The transformative affliction you experience may be the only chance your children have for being a better person than you, because you will then have the wisdom to guide them—with confidence, faith and prayer.