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  • Reverend James Squire

I Got a Name



 

I am sure that everyone has a moment that stops you and emotion overcomes you. I have certain trigger events that cause this in me. Why when reading an article about a champion UCF fighter cause me to stop in my tracks?

 

During a recent downpour of a heavy rain, our roof leaked and quickly my wife took the ladder to the attic to save the box where my four years old daughter’s things were stored. She left everything else. Our daughter, Joanna, died of leukemia when she was four. When her things were placed on the bed to dry, I saw her four years old shoes and was overwhelmed and had to leave the room. That did not surprise me. Grief years later is the price of love.

 

A few weeks ago, I learned of a high school classmate’s death. I had a strong reaction to that as well. That made sense to me. He was African American. We walked to school together after being forbidden to do so by my mother because he was black. It was difficult to tell him that. Working class America contained racism, but our school and football team did not. We met one street over in the morning, and we continued our ritual of the morning walk to school without her knowledge. He was the captain of the football team, a defensive end and one of the toughest people I knew. He was the first in his family to go to college, Ursinus. When I called his wife to express my condolences, she indicated that he was one of the kindest people she had ever met. I told her that he was also feared on the gridiron. She said that she had heard that too. I learned early on that real tough guys don’t act tough! Think Trump! Kip, as he was called, saved me more than a few times on our integrated team. He was a star and I was a bench warmer. The practice team which I was on were, in other words, for practice dummies. We were there to make others better and took a beating. I was always in love with belonging to a team. Still am! I get being overwhelmed by hearing of his death. I forgot the strong bond that we formed. It was still there many years later.

 

But why should an article about a UFC fighter cause that seemingly kind of reaction in me? Sometimes I take a look at myself and wonder why certain moments overwhelm me when they are totally unpredictable? The title of the article in the sports section of today’s Inquirer is “Joe Pyfer was homeless. A teacher, helped him work to be a UFC star.” He is a graduate of Penncrest High School, slept on park benches until an assistant wrestling coach at the school took him in and changed his life. He is now one of the top UFC stars in that brutal business. For the uninformed that’s brutal no holds barred boxing and wrestling where there is nowhere to run.

 

I had to reread the article to try and find the genesis of my strong reaction. There it was. His teacher, Coach Harmon, took him in, gave him a home and would share his ham and cheese sandwich with mustard with him at lunch. His mentor said something profound on a trip, Coach Harmon told Pyfer that he loved the song by Jim Croce, "I Got a Name." “His mentor said the singer songwriter was really important to him because that’s all he had in life; just his name. He wanted people to know who he was and not just the bad things but create a new name. The rest is history!”

 

I knew the genesis of that strong emotion that came when it was overlooked on a first reading of all places of the sports page. It was unpredictable, but I found its genesis. My sixth grade educated father told me, “Your name is all you have, but it is everything. Don’t do anything to mess it up!”

 

We need to get back to the importance and impact of our name. We need to return to biblical times and the change of name from Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Saul to Paul. Their names are changed because of a radical new understanding of God and Jesus. They are names that cause a radical change in their understanding of the importance of one’s name. I always make this known before I do a baptism. The parents' struggle of assigning a name to their child is connected to the importance of names in the biblical record. They get it when that struggle is named! They want to get it just right for the child’s future.

 

I think that the renaming of their child is predictable in creating emotion for their child. They will forget the struggle, but through their struggle in life they will find unexpected support and emotion when their child’s name is uttered. Perhaps it will be filled with joy or sadness. Listen to Jim Croce’s song, “I Got a Name” at the end of this blog.

 

Naming comes to us in many different ways that make it sacred, some recent, some in our past.

Vicki and I would always attend class reunions during Alumni Weekend. I was attending one from my distant past when an African American former student came over to us and said, “I want to show you something.”  He pulled a piece of paper from his wallet that was yellow and wrinkled. It was a comment that faculty sent home to parents describing their experience of their son or daughter in class. My comment which he showed me was from my course in ethics. I had some great descriptive things to say about him.

 

He looked me in the eye and continued with these words, “Every time my father or a colleague at work said very bad things about me, I would go to a quiet place, take out my wallet, and read this comment from many years ago. It has helped me a great deal.” He seemed to reach forward for me to read it. I asked if he was giving it back to me. He said, “No! I am not done with it yet.” Across the top of the comment in bold letters was his name. Naming comes in unexpected unpredictable and predictable ways. When those moments move you, pay attention to their genesis. It could tell you what is really important to you as the heart of your value system. It probably shapes your ethical decision making even if it is from a UFC Champion and his coach who you have never met.

 

 

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