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The importance of a name

I love the name of this column, Everyday Faith.

Names can be fun.

When asked what is your favorite food, my then-4-year-old son said without skipping a beat, “Chicken Corn Dog Blue.” We knew what he meant.

Names can be very revealing or very problematic.

My first college degree was in music. Soon after, I got a job remodeling houses. What else does one do with a degree in jazz? I didn’t know much about building at the time, but I learned as I went along.

At one of my first job sites in Ann Arbor, we took the roof off an entire house to add a second story. One day, we were busy finishing tearing off old roof parts. The lead carpenter sent me off for a tool he needed. He said — and the directions were quite simple — he said, “Go to the back of my truck and get me the…” — but here’s where it started to get tricky — he mumbled, “Get me the sahzah.” I didn’t want to look like an idiot, so I guessed I’d figure out what that was after I looked in the truck.

That’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. I had to carefully make my way 50 feet across the 2-inch joists without slipping and sending my foot through the ceiling into the kitchen of the family who was still living below us, creep down the long shaky ladder, and take the long walk to the road.

I opened the back end of the truck and was shocked at the amount of stuff and tools and debris and general chaos I found therein. I searched diligently for anything that might have that name. Speed is important, so, after a couple of minutes I gave up, made my way back to the house, up the ladder, across the joists without slipping, and back to the carpenter.

“Sorry.” I sheepishly asked, “what’s a sahzah?”

“No,” he said. “It’s a Sawzall. You know, it saws all.”

“OK,” I said, and made my way back to the edge, down the ladder, to the truck, and searched again. And then back to the carpenter empty handed.

“I can’t find anything named “Sawzall.”

“Oh,” he said. “It’s a Saber Saw.”

Ah, good, I thought, that should be easy. A few minutes later, I was back again without success. Now he’s mad at me, like I’m somehow incompetent.

“It’s a reciprocating saw!” he said. “You know a heavy thing with a blade that shoots out one end and goes like this.” He made a sawing motion with his hands.

Back I went and quickly located the box that said “Reciprocating Saw” on the side.

Getting the name right can be very helpful.

After a year, I went back to the university for another degree or two. And now, having been a homeowner for many years, I have found the education in construction to be quite valuable. And I learned some things about communication.

Sometimes, coming up with the right name is difficult.

Our second daughter had some complications at birth and spent a week in the hospital. One of the complications was that we realized she didn’t fit the name we had chosen. For six days, the nurses called her “Baby-No-Name.”

Sometimes, names come easily.

For Christmas one year, one of my young kids got a nativity set. Another got a Playmobile pirate ship. It wasn’t long before the pieces were all mixed together, but the kids seemed to be having a great time in the playroom, anyway. What are you doing, guys? “We’re playing a game. We call it Pirates of Bethlehem!” Good name, kids.

Today, our society has a problem with names. They come too easily and end up meaningless. The early followers of Jesus weren’t named Christian because of their politics, their country of birth, or because their family was part of a church or denomination. Participating in a ritual or ceremony once in awhile may impart warm feelings of connectedness to tradition and clan, but it does not mean one is a follower of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”

What does it mean, that thing we name faith? It’s certainly not blind. In our sense of the word, it’s a relationship, a trust built on knowing and being known. And loved anyway. It fundamentally changes the way we think and act every day. It’s not something that happens one day a week or a few times a year on special occasions.

Can we ask this question then? If it’s not everyday faith, maybe it’s not faith at all?

Phil Cook is a teacher, works in northern Michigan with Biglife, an international disciple-making ministry, and serves on the Board of Directors for Sunrise Mission in Alpena. Contact Phil Cook at p.cook@big.life.

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