Sunday, May 24, 2009

When Mom Uses my Whole Name

Everyone knows that when your mother uses your WHOLE name, you're in trouble. Typically, that's how she uses her voice of authority. Dads typically use a deeper voice to express particular and acute authority for a correctable moment in a child's life. Unfortunately, moms have to use different ammunition because the deep voice thing doesn't work as well for them. Sorry, Moms.

Instead of using a deeper voice, like the dad, moms use the child's first, middle and last names. It's the combination of all three (or more) names that causes the child to stop in their tracks and realize that special authority is being invoked. Growing up, that authoritative combination was used toward me on many occasions. It's not that the memory of it is negative. It's more that the memory conjures moments of motherly authority. Hearing "Aaron Frederick Ott!" always meant: Your behavior is at odds with the ideals I (and your father) have for you. By my own authority I will instruct you on where you erred, and how you will correct course. Listen and obey, or it will go worse when you father comes home and learns that you have ignored my direction.

It was a heavy matter to be addressed by my whole name. It was my mother's magic phrase. If her authority was not heeded, then my father's came into effect. Sometimes it did anyway. I think about how this has been reflected in my present family. The authoritative combination has been heard from my wife on many an occasion. My poor daughter has gotten the unkind curse of two middle names. That way, when she hears the magic spell it's in the form of a a four word cadence: "Jessica Amber Vallerie Ott!" That poor girl. I remember one incident in particular when Jessica asked to go play outside. After not getting the desired response, she came to ask me. I not only denied the request, but disciplined her for ignoring her mother's authority in the process.

The parallel to the above described "motherly" authority is given by St. Cyprian, the 3rd century Bishop of Carthage in North Africa who wrote, ""He cannot have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother." While Cyprian may have overstated the case, suggesting that salvation cannot be found outside of church membership, his quote is still worthy of consideration. How would one claim loyalty to the Groom who does not also have loyalty to the Bride? Or to put it another way: Can one claim respect for the Father's authority who does not honor the Mother's?

Some may attempt to argue against thinking of the Church as their "Mother," but from where did they receive the news of eternal life? Were you not nursed on the milk of doctrine, cradled n the arms of community, bathed in baptismal waters, soothed with the singing of praises, and nourished by communion? In what way have you grown as a Christian that cannot be attributed to the nurturing of the Church? What other avenue of the Holy Spirit's work might you trace through life in developing you?

I have argued extensively elsewhere that the normative means of sanctification employed by the Spirit is the integration Christian's experience to one another in the community of faith. Calling this "integrated sanctification," it suggests that among all models proposed throughout church history for explaining how the Spirit conforms us to the likeness of Christ runs a common thread. This "thread" is the influence of the Church common to all believers. In essence, any expectation I might have for growing in Christ must be tied to my integration to the Church. It would be unwise to expect the Spirit to perform his work of changing me independently of his work through the Church. St Cyprian may have restricted salvation too narrowly, but one can understand his point when we reflect on how the Spirit has uses the Church as his primary womb in which to incubate, and out of which to birth, new believers.

Because of this analogy as "Mother," it can be said that she has authority to correct me where I err and direct me in a manner pleasing to the Father. The Church is the Mother that can, and should, at times use my whole name to grab my attention. Actually, this is rather comforting. Consider how often wayward teens are strangely reassured by the resolve of strict parents in the topsy turvy years of adolescence. In this way I am comforted, stabilized and reassured by the "mother's" authority to direct me in the way I must grow. She is the "mother" that uses my whole name to stop me in my tracks and, with authority surpassed only by the Father, reveals what is expected of me. Any response other than, "Yes Mom," might invited further discipline from Dad as well. It would be unwise to risk it.

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