09 February 2007


Thought I should see what all the rage (of three years ago) was about. For starters, here's a 10-minute exercise in biblical storytelling that some people seem to appreciate. A note on pronunciation: as hebraic as you know how. So "Ab" sounds roughly like "Ahv."


My friends call me‭ "‬Ab.‭"

"Ab.‭" ‬Can you believe it‭?

My name is Abram,
‭ ‬son of Terah,
‭ ‬Nahor,
‭ ‬Serug,
‭ ‬Reu,
‭ ‬Peleg,
‭ ‬Eber,
‭ ‬Shelah,
‭ ‬Arpachshad,
‭ ‬Shem,
‭ ‬Noah,
‭ ‬Lamech‭ (‬no,‭ ‬not‭ ‬that Lamech‭)‬,
‭ ‬Methuselah,
‭ ‬Enoch,
‭ ‬Jared,
‭ ‬Mahalel,
‭ ‬Kenan,
‭ ‬Enosh,
‭ ‬Seth,
‭ ‬Adam and Eve,
‭ ‬made by God.

I bet you can't trace your ancestry back to the creator of the universe.‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬sure,‭ "‬knit me together in my mother's womb,‭" ‬we're all children of God, and so forth,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬still,‭ ‬to name all the generations between yourself and God‭? ‬God,‭ ‬the High One,‭ ‬the eternal.‭ ‬El.‭ ‬The name be praised.

It's a lot to live down.‭ ‬Or up to,‭ ‬depending on your perspective.‭ ‬And it's not like my human lineage is full of nobodies,‭ ‬either.‭

Even pagans have heard of Noah,‭ ‬who crafted a boat on dry land,‭ ‬watched the sea rise up around him,‭ ‬and saved humanity.

Of Methuselah,‭ ‬blessed with long life even by the standards of those days,‭ ‬who would probably be living still but for the flood.

Of Enoch,‭ ‬who walked with God,‭ ‬and was taken.

Of Seth,‭ ‬conceived as a substitute for Abel,‭ ‬whose offering so pleased God and so angered his brother.

And,‭ ‬just in case simply having those people as my ancestors was not enough for me to take note,‭ ‬my father,‭ ‬Terah,‭ ‬bless his heart,‭ ‬cleverly named me Abram.‭ ‬Ab‭ ‬-‭ ‬ram.‭ ‬The father is great.‭

Thanks,‭ pop.‭ ‬It's not like I was going to forget.

The weight of living up to that name.‭ ‬Oy.‭ ‬For‭ ‬70‭ ‬years I did what any rational person,‭ ‬given a name of that magnitude might do.

I tried to avoid it.

That seemed to work pretty well,‭ ‬and I thought‭ ‬...‭ ‬30‭ ‬years ago I was certain‭ ‬...‭ ‬I had a co-conspirator in El,‭ ‬the name be praised.‭ ‬Nearly‭ ‬30‭ ‬years ago,‭ ‬I had a vision.

I'm not normally one to put much store in visions,‭ ‬but there are things even cynics take seriously.‭ ‬Thirty years ago,‭ ‬El,‭ ‬the name be praised,‭ ‬showed up,‭ ‬and told me just what I wanted to hear.

‭"‬Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.‭"

There may have been some other things in that vision,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬truth be told,‭ ‬I heard nothing beyond that first sentence.

Finally,‭ ‬an excuse to extract myself from my ancestry.‭ ‬To shrug-off the burden of my name.‭ ‬To leave that place where everyone knew me,‭ ‬knew my parents,‭ ‬knew my grandparents,‭ ‬knew where I came from,‭ ‬and regarded me with worth because of my ancestors.‭ ‬This was a chance to start afresh.

I grabbed it.

But El,‭ ‬the name be praised,‭ ‬is sly.‭ ‬So it happened that in leaving and wandering and sojourning in lands not my own I discovered something about myself.‭ ‬Something I suspect El,‭ ‬the name be praised,‭ ‬was aware I would discover.‭ ‬I discovered that my name mattered to me.

In my wanderings,‭ ‬I was willing to do stupid things to survive.‭ ‬I lied about Sarai and called her my sister.‭ ‬I do not believe she has ever completely forgiven me for that.‭ ‬I attempted to establish my line through Sarai's handmaid Hagar.‭ ‬I might have gotten away with that‭ ‬...‭ ‬except it worked.‭ ‬Neither Sarai,‭ ‬nor Hagar,‭ ‬nor Ishmael,‭ ‬nor Isaac have forgiven me that episode.‭

But despite my sometimes desperate circumstances,‭ ‬and despite my appalling lack of judgment in those circumstances,‭ ‬I never once,‭ ‬even for a moment,‭ ‬considered discarding my name.‭ ‬Never once did I lie about my identity.‭ ‬I discovered that my name became much more significant to me than it had been when I was living in my own country with my own people.‭

I was Abram,‭ ‬son of Terah,‭ ‬son of Nahor.‭ ‬Somehow my ancestry ceased to be cause for discomfort,‭ ‬a burden I had to bear.‭ ‬It became a point of pride.

Thus it was,‭ ‬twenty-five years after that first vision,‭ ‬at about the time I had finally and fully come to terms with my identity,‭ ‬had finally reconciled my name with my ancestry,‭ ‬that El,‭ ‬the name be praised,‭ ‬showed up.‭ ‬Again.

‭"‬I am El Shaddai.‭ ‬Walk before me,‭ ‬and be blameless.‭ ‬And I will make my covenant with you,‭ ‬and will make you exceedingly numerous.‭ ‬No longer shall your name be Abram,‭ ‬but your name shall be Abraham‭; ‬for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.‭ ‬And Sarai shall no longer be called Sarai,‭ ‬but Sarah will be her name.‭"

What‭? ‬What‭?!‬ You can't be serious.‭ ‬C'mon,‭ ‬El.‭ ‬You ripped me from my family and country,‭ ‬dragged me into this forsaken place,‭ ‬drove me as a stranger through other lands,‭ ‬and now,‭ ‬just as I was finally claiming my name,‭ ‬the name given me by my father,‭ ‬the name that traces back to you,‭ ‬now,‭ ‬now,‭ ‬you tell me to change it‭?

And why was it exactly,‭ ‬that you did not do this back when I was in my home country‭? ‬Back when it was what I wanted‭? ‬I cannot believe this.

And you think Sarai,‭ ‬after all I've put her through,‭ ‬is actually going to take this word from me as your word‭? ‬And what kind of names are these anyway‭? ‬Sarah,‭ ‬seed-bearer,‭ ‬and Abraham,‭ ‬father of a multitu‭ ‬...‭

My life's most awkward situations have come about because of just this thing‭ ‬--‭ ‬I tend to speak before I've thought.‭ ‬Sarah tells me my mouth is nomadic but my brain's in the tent.

In that moment I realized two things.‭ ‬One,‭ ‬I had not claimed my name as fully as I was making out,‭ ‬and two,‭ ‬my name was not actually mine to claim.

Ab‭ ‬-‭ ‬raham.‭ ‬Father of a multitude.‭ ‬Abraham.‭ ‬Shaped by my ancestors,‭ ‬but not defined by them.‭ ‬Abraham.‭ ‬Named by the Eternal Name.‭ ‬The name be praised.

And my friends call me‭ "‬Ab.‭"

Can you believe it‭?

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