Sunday, December 25, 2016

Objects of Reverence

It's Christmas Day, and I am up before anyone else in the house. Prime time for pondering.

It's also the first day of Hanukkah, so Hannukah Sameach to all of my Jewish friends!

It is my Jewish friends who have me pondering this morning.
It is the normal practice for them to write "G-d" when referring to God.
I don't really understand this.
My understanding of The Name of God is generally as follows:
  • God is completely incomprehensible to us.
  • He communicates to us in terms that we can understand.
  • He has given us a Name that we may use to address Him directly.
  • That name translates to: "I AM"
  • In Hebrew, it is abbreviated "YHWH"
Now, "god," (small g) can refer to anything that is the focus of worship. Even the Bible and Torah refer to other gods in such a way.
"God" (Capital G) refers to the primary deity of any religion under discussion, but it is more like a title, such as "President."

In older times, names were considered very personal and private. In some cultures, people had their personal names, which were only used by intimate friends and family, and another name they used for public purposes. It might even be possible that an acquaintance never even knew the real name of someone he interacted with on a daily basis for years!
I once went to a car dealership with a German friend, whose father was raised in East Germany, and the salesman kept referring to my friend's father as "Frieder." He seemed oblivious to the annoyance he was causing, although it was plain to everyone around us. The salesman would have had a much better chance at a sale if he'd referred to him as "Mr. [name withheld]." Germans tend to be much more formal; Often people who have been friends for decades will still call each other "Herr Schmidt" or "Herr Muller" or whatever the case may be.

In our time, when some children speak to their parents on a first-name basis, we have lost much of this reverence for the one thing that is most intensely personal to anybody. In my day, we referred to people older than ourselves as Mr. _____ or Mrs. _____ and used their family names. This made the army's practice of referring to each other by last names almost natural to me.
I still have difficulty calling older people by first names, even when they introduce themselves by them - which is usually the standard; You call people by whatever names they use to introduce themselves, and use titles (Doctor, Pastor, and so on.)
Sales people operate on the philosophy that people like hearing their own names, and that may be true nowadays. But it still gets on my nerves when they pepper their conversation with the names of their sales targets. I've walked away from sales pitches when my name is over-used.

It is easy to understand why we should not use The Holy Name off-handedly.
It is also easy to understand why we should use the same discretion when referring to God, in any manner, considering that He is the most powerful being in existence and eminently worthy of our awe and worship.
When referring to Him casually, Jews use the term "HaShem," which translated to "The Name." They don't abbreviate this as "H-Sh-m."
The reason they don't write The Name is that they don't want to disrespect it by placing it on anything that will end up being discarded.
There again, I can understand the idea, but not why they would give such reverence to a word that amounts to little more than the title of an office.

What I don't understand is our cultural acceptance of the mistreatment of our nationally revered symbol: The Flag.
There are those who actively disrespect it, of course, but I am not referring to them.
I am referring to those of us who respect the flag, stand and salute when it passes, or when the national anthem is played, or fly it regularly outside the home.
We show such respect for it... And yet we use postage stamps depicting the flag, even though we know that the envelope to which they are attached will be discarded in the garbage.
It is often printed on clothing (which we are not supposed to do) which ends up being discarded or used as cleaning rags (which is why we are not supposed to do it!)

I like the old ways, and so I use titles and Mr. and Mrs., and I even hold on to envelopes with flag stamps, to be burned properly, as with any flag that is past its service life. (I can't do much about the postmarks...)
I have little hope of getting the rest of society to go back to these ways, but I do what I can, and that is to live as though these things were our cultural standard.

I apologize if this essay seems disorganized; I just wanted to get the thoughts out before the rest of the family got up and claimed all of my time for the rest of the day.

Merry Christmas to all, and God bless!

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