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Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English at Grove City College. Photo credit to Jim Fisher.
Let me count the Andy Bylers:
There’s Andy Byler, the greenhouse guy; Andy Byler, the produce stand man; Andy Byler, the other produce stand man; and Andy Byler, the furniture maker. There are probably other Andy Bylers I haven’t met yet, but these are my Andy Bylers.
The best thing about the Andy Bylers is that they claim they’re not related. Right, I think. You’re Amish, you live within a few miles of each other, and you’re not related. Okay, buddy.
I did meet my first non-Andy-Byler Amish man the other day: Jonathan Byler, the donut man. “We’re open every Saturday, rain or shine, winter and summer.” He was very insistent that I know this. “We’re open from 8:30am until 8:30pm. You want donuts and it’s a Saturday? Den come to us.”
“Fantastic!” I say. “I’ll take those 4 glazed you have left and then you’ll be sold out.”
“Oh, no” he says, “We have six dozen more downstairs ready to be fried. How many more do you want, den? We’ll make whatever you want.” Then followed a 10-minute disquisition on the merits of cinnamon sugar vs. glazed vs. chocolate glazed vs. powdered sugar and the respective times it would take to make and cool each.
I was overwhelmed. I almost said “Get thee behind me” but was afraid the humor might not read well. Do Amish people make jokes about Jesus/Satan/the Bible? I don’t know—probably best not to find out. Instead I threw together a random number + donut combination: “I’ll take three of your cinnamon sugar, thanks.”
Two minutes later the most adorable little boy brought three, fresh, hot, donuts up to us—they were totally worth the wait, and the calories. “Thank you, sweetheart,” I said. “My name is Mrs. Moore. What’s your name?”
You know the rest.
In a sense, we are all of us named by the same name—human: creatures of the ground, grounded on the same planet—adam (man) from adamah (earth).
And yet, we are also inclined to insist on our not being related to each other. Oh, I’m not like that guy, we think. I may be human, but I’m not all too human, if you know what I mean.
But to think of being “all too human” as something bad is to miss the point of what it means to be human. In our full humanity we are kinder, gentler, more loving, more patient, more Christ-like—not less. And in becoming more Christ-like we do, I think, begin to lose some of the defining features of “self” by which we attempt to distinguish ourselves—our personal ambitions, our petty preferences, our habitual indulgences, our important accomplishments.
The Amish may understand the value of being named by the same name more than most of us. These are people, after all, who choose to wear the same kind of clothing and the same hairstyle, who work at jobs similar to those of their great-great-grandparents, and who consistently subordinate their personal desires to the common good of the community. A Plain People.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek…then I will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Our shared humanness should bring us back to humbleness, a truth revealed etymologically in that shared earthiness: humble—from humilis—from humus (earth).
From dust you came, from dust you shall return.
But as with any true thing we can say, however, an opposite is probably also true.
In the house I grew up in, on a wall in the dining area, my mother hung plaques with our names, the name’s meaning, and a relevant verse. Sarina from Sarah (Hebrew), meaning princess. Nathan (Hebrew), meaning gift from God. Judith (Hebrew), meaning she will be praised. Paul (Latin), meaning humble.
I spent many meals looking absent-mindedly at those name plaques, absorbing perhaps more meaning than I realized at the time. (You will be glad to know that my husband teases me about that princess stuff—gently.)
Our individual names mark out a path for us—signs that point the way in our individual journey, a journey we always and only can make alone. Sometimes we grow into our given names; sometimes those names are a burden; and sometimes our true names reveal themselves only over time.
Several years ago we were members at a wonderful church where the pastor was known for his beautiful, profound, life-giving sermons. My husband and I would often talk about “Jack’s sermon” on the drive home, and I didn’t realize how much the little ears in the back seat were picking up on our conversation until one day I was driving around town and we drove past Jack, waving at us from his car.
“There’s Jack Sermon!” thrilled our preschooler.
That little preschooler who renamed Jack had also been baptized by Jack, and one of the moments I love most in the baptismal service is when we are reminded that we are marked as God’s own forever. He has written his name on our foreheads.
Some of you West Michiganders know that Jack Roeda retired a couple weeks ago after 33 years of ministry at Church of the Servant, Christian Reformed Church. So for all the many funerals, weddings, and baptisms, for all of the many thousands of good words that landed on ears, big and small, I say thank you, Jack Sermon.
We may not know yet the new names waiting for us, but they will reveal themselves—and they will good names: a white stone inscribed with a new name, known only to the one who receives it.