Thanks to the slew of celebrities around here and more than Hollywood's count of the rich, the powerful, and the genuinely heroic, name-dropping is a way popular sport in the Washington DC area.
I want to be admired even by reflected light. But I am also ashamed of vapid pride whether deserved or derivative. To harpoon at least my own bragging, I have a cruel trick when name-dropping escalates.
“That’s not all,” I whisper, “I once--had a duck named Fred.”
With some people my remark earns me status as the idiot with the duck. These people take name-dropping seriously. It defines their existence. One told me recently, "Oh, you're an engineer of sorts. It's what you know that counts. But in Real Estate, in real life, it's who you know that counts."
Nevertheless, after I drop the duck, conversation diverts from name-dropping to other kinds of puffery. I'm likely to hear (again): Harvard, Stanford, and Boston Law; Hummer, Range Rover, Beamer; Trinity School, Horace Mann, Phillips Academy; OCS, NSWC, BUDS, NSF, NIH, OCD; Marcel’s, Giovanni’s, and The Tombs. Haven’t heard of several of these? I had to subsequently Google 'em. Bottom line, it's all about prestige.
By contrast, I grew up in a rural, literally aw shucks culture that valued humility. If one mentioned a brush with success, it was as a portent of doom. “The corn got top dollar last year, and I had lots of it. So I reckon this year we’ll have drought and blight and grasshoppers.”
Our Amish neighbors were happy people, not at all dour. However, they were reflexively revulsed by whatever smelled of pride. Avoidance of modernity is an emergent aspect of the Amish, not fundamental. Rather, Amish consciously hold that one’s life should build one’s family, church, and community. Pride is poison to those goals and to one’s walk with God. Tech toys aren’t worth the pride, envy, and the illusion of self-sufficiency they bring.
(By the way, how can you tell that the guy in the Amish hat and bracers is not Amish? It’s not the laptop.)
NoVA conversations tend toward "can you top this?" and "here's the way it is". By contrast, swapping stories with the Amish or at the livestock salebarn cafe valued self-deprecation and drawing others to comment. “I’m limpin’ ‘cause a dang cow stepped on my foot.” “Hain’t we told you to dance with chickens, not cows?”
Once I was tasked with painting the roof of a neighbor’s grain bin. I was chosen for being a skinny boy who could safely walk the sheet metal roof. Nevertheless one of the narrow roof slices completely gave way when I put both feet on it. Fortunately, my elbows caught on the adjacent sections of roof, stopping my plunge to the concrete twelve feet below.
Unfortunately, my hands still clutched the half-full bucket of aluminum paint. It collided with my face, leaving me a blinded facsimile of the Tin Woodman of Oz. I clambered down and presented my shiny self to the neighbors working on the other side of the barn. After they found that neither I nor the grain bin was permanently damaged, Claude and Bernard laughingly declared this the best story of the week. Why? Humility! Pride before a fall. No pain, no grain.
(By the way, Amish know immediately that the poser above with the laptop is not Amish. The laptop is suspect, but the mustache definitely means he is not Amish. A mustache is militaristic. When the Amish were kicked out of Germany, it was by guys with big mustaches. Proud guys. Today, Amish assuredly use cell phones, the Internet, and other technologies to the extent these prove helpful to family, church, community, and one’s walk with God. Mustaches notoriously lack such virtue.)
Besides Fred the duck, I am considering another name-dropping bomb that is sure to get me banned from parties. I will tilt my head, the better to get a word in edgewise. Then I will speak up like this:
“Well, you’ve met many interesting people. But, sorry, I am not impressed.” I will grin affectionately.
“You see, I’ve met--God!”
While some edge away, wondering if the refreshments are safe, the remaining, understandably skeptical crowd will want to know what God said, what God looked like, what God thinks of the economy, and whether this was the Muslim God, the Christian God, or did She call from Salt Lake City? I have scoped out responses that are most likely to benefit my briefly attentive listeners, and I will share these with you later.
But first, let me ask, is “I’ve met God” crazy talk? I’ve heard a young man hospitalized with schizophrenia make this same claim, a few minutes later followed by, “I am God.”
Making this claim to some believers will mark me as not just deranged, but as deranged and heretical. Many preach that the Almighty has ceased communications to individuals. To them, meeting God is accomplished through studying creation, Bible study, and prayer. They soothe our homesickness for heaven by observing not incorrectly that God is present in his image: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Even better, Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Some believers allow that God does give a subtle, individual call, as with Lydia: "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said." Some Christians of the Charismatic / Pentecostal persuasion hold that God does speak to people today, but are quick to caution that any resulting insights must test true, or else satanic deception is afoot. Or ahoof.
Might I gush that "I’ve met William Shakespeare," and "I've met Steven Jobs," by pondering their works? Creative output tells us gobs about a person, more than bumping into them in the produce aisle. But it counts diddly for name-dropping. Really, if I say, "I've met God," people reasonably expect not that I enjoyed a day in the woods or an insight from the Psalms, but that I had a scary Moses or Joan-of-Arc epiphany. Meeting God results in a horizontal posture.
Can I claim “I met God in the produce aisle” in the same way I’d claim, “I met Stephen Colbert in the produce aisle”? My own species often puzzles me. What can I take away from meeting a higher species? We are talking about the One “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” So I hesitate to name-drop God.
Also as a caution, there is the matter of that commandment, “You must not use the name of the Lord your God thoughtlessly; the Lord will punish anyone who misuses his name.” Is this a command to never speak of God? Of course not. Rather, as humbling guidelines and astonishing goals for bragging, I look to Jeremiah chapter 9:
Thus says the Lord:
Think about it. To be continued!
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Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
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