Episode 3: Definitions and What's in a Name?
I waited until I was at the highest point and leaped, coming down hard enough on the sparse grass to stun my feet for a moment, though I managed to absorb the impact without hurting myself. I was definitely getting better at that. I turned to watch as the swing kept on going without me, seeming oblivious to my departure, and it made me think about life and death.
When someone departed this realm, everything continued to move on regardless of their absence. Not for them of course, their part in the play was finished, but the show went on. I had seen that firsthand having lost my older brother to a car wreck a few years earlier. I missed him still but the pain had lessened over time, which made me sad. Where once I’d thought about him every waking moment there were now whole days when he didn’t cross my mind.
And speaking of days, it had once again been six of them since I’d last seen ijustam. In my mind this had become his name like a slightly distorted version of the name Justin, and because of that I’d recently found myself thinking about names. It had occurred to me that there was no mention of last names in the Bible which had caused me to wonder when that had changed. Or why. Especially why. I was dying to see my elusive friend because I knew without a doubt he had thought about these things and maybe even had some answers.
I was still watching the swing as it settled down into a gentler rhythm, though most of my sight was turned inward, which is why, once again, he startled the Bejeezus out of me.
“A penny for your thoughts.”
I spun around to face him, my hand on my heart. “How do you always dothat?” I demanded.
He laughed. “It’s not difficult to sneak up on someone who’s so rarely paying attention to their surroundings.”
I narrowed my eyes a fraction, “Are you insulting me?”
He held up his hands with a laugh, “Not insulting, teasing. I actually find it endearing. It should be easy to understand being in the world but not of the world for someone who practices it naturally.”
My brows furrowed. I’d heard that before in church but something told me that his interpretation would not sound anything like Pastor Thomas’s. I cocked my head to the side and waited.
“Curious?” I nodded.
“It’s something I’ve been pondering and the conclusion I’ve come to is that we need to realize that we’re all just playing a part. Shakespeare said ‘All of the world is a stage and we’re all actors upon it.’ He understood what I’m talking about…In fact his actual name was Sir Walter Raleigh not William Shakespeare, perhaps having an additional persona in the form of a different name helped that realization.”
I raised my eyebrows. “That’s strange because I was going to ask you about names.”
He smiled in a way that made me think he knew that already. Although how, I couldn’t say.
“What did you want to know?” He asked.
“I wanted to know why there aren’t any last names mentioned in the bible.”
He grabbed my hand suddenly and pulled me towards him, spinning me around before grasping both of my hands in a medieval dancing pose. He smiled at my expression before saying; “Because last names, which are actually called surnames, didn’t exist until the early fifteen hundreds.”
He dropped one of my hands and began walking toward the woods, still holding the other one so I was forced to hurry or be dragged along.
“Why?” I asked breathlessly as we stepped onto the dirt path.
“Why did they invent them? Well, partly for convenience. During medieval times you knew which people were from what families during battle because they would carry shields depicting their family’s crest, with certain colors and symbols. But as families grew and spread out it was easier to give them another name, one which they all shared, in order to tell them apart. I wish that was all there was to it, I mean it makes sense doesn’t it? Unfortunately nothing in this…world…is ever quite so simple. The thing is that while your first name, or given name, is acknowledged as belonging to you, the surname belongs to them. They have a patent on it you could say. You might be a little young to wonder why it’s the last name that matters when dealing with commerce, such as filling out an application for a bank account or a driver’s license…I mean you can just stick an initial in for your first name, but the last name has to be in full…since they have a patent on it, every time it’s used they make money off of it. It’s a lot to explain, so I’ll leave you with that for now, unless you have questions?”
I stared at him, a bit stuck on the “You might be a little young” statement. He couldn’t be much older than me…could he? He sure didn’t look much older. As for whether or not I had questions…he was right I needed to think about it first. I shook my head slowly.
We were still making our way through the woods, and once I looked around I noticed some of the same things as I had the last time. The sun filtering through the trees as we entered into the pines being at the forefront. It made everything appear ethereal, haunting really. Also like last time we stopped once we reached the metal box and he once more pulled out a blanket for us to settle on. I did so without needing to be coaxed this time, stretching out across from him as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it was.
He reached out and seized my wrist, tracing something on it, what felt like a figure eight, and a shiver worked its way up my body. “Anything else on your mind?” He asked softly, releasing me with his hand only to capture me with his gaze.
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him what he’d just done, but there seemed to be magic in it and I was afraid calling attention to it might destroy it somehow. So instead I haltingly asked, “Do you remember the last question I asked before you left….” I could tell by his expression that he did. For some reason I didn’t want to push it by repeating, I found myself worried about his answer.
He regarded me steadily for a few moments before responding. “I’d rather tell you my thoughts on church and its interpretation of the bible, I don’t think you’re ready for more just yet.”
I wanted to deny that claim, but I couldn’t, so I said nothing and waited.
He smiled faintly. “The Bible is a book of law. And not just the Old Testament, but the whole book. Did you ever hear about the famous Clinton trial, the one where he tells the attorney “It depends on what the meaning of IS, is.”?” He cocked his head.
“Maybe something about it…,” I shrugged slightly. “Well the reason he said that is because in a law dictionary there are many different definitions for the same word. So anything that’s said in a court room can mean entirely different things depending on what definition they’re using at the time….do you follow that?”
“Okay, well the bible is the same. This is why there are Pastor’s conferences, so that the leaders of these churches can all get together and learn what definitions they are supposed to be teaching to their “flock.” Because of this most of what comes out of those buildings are a perversion of the truth, or even an outright lie. For example, in the King James Version of the bible there’s a chapter in Corinthians where Paul speaks about Charity. They made a new version of the bible called the NIV and replaced the word charity with love and dubbed it the love chapter. As if the words love and charity are synonymous. There’s also whole verses that don’t appear in the NIV. And those are pretty glaring examples, there are many other more subtle and therefore far more insidious ones.”
“Why? What’s their motivation?”
He rolled over onto his back and tucked his arms behind his head. “Control. What better way to control an entire nation then by their faith? They hear the words of these preachers and think they come from God causing them not to question it…to fear questioning it in fact. It’s ironic that the basic foundation of the Christian faith is supposed to be unconditional love and yet the church leaders teach doctrines that are all about conditions and somehow the people don’t question the contradiction. God is unconditional love but if you don’t believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven than your condemned to hell…well I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a single entity that I would wish an eternity in hell on, even those I strongly dislike.”
I frowned. “I’ve thought about that before. I asked my mom and she said that God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, that he’s desperately sad about it but since He gave us free will it’s basically out of his hands.” He looked at me without saying anything and I felt he was waiting for something. I looked down at the blanket and picked at a piece of string that had come loose.
“That’s ridiculous isn’t it?” I whispered, though I was talking more to myself than him. “If there is an eternal entity that embodies love there’s no way it would create a race of beings knowing that most of them would end up in a horrible place forever and ever. Because He’s supposed to be all-knowing and all-seeing, right, so….” I shook my head and said softly, “I think I’ve always known that, but I was afraid to really think about it.”
“Why?” He asked.
I looked at him and smiled half-heartedly. “You know why.”
He nodded. “The doctrine of Hell is a powerful one, the best fear device they ever came up with. People can deal with all kinds of torturous things here on earth because they know it’s temporary, but to believe that there is a place of eternal torture and they might possibly go there? Yeah, that’s terrifying.”
I must have had a look on my face because he reached out and covered the hand that was still absently picking at a string. When I looked up he was smiling. “Don’t be afraid- there’s no such place….but don’t take my word for it, listen to your heart. What does it tell you?”
“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself?” I offered.
He grinned, “Exactly.”
“So what does happen when we die?” I asked him.
He shook his head and got to his feet. He reached down for my hand and pulled me up. “Notice I never did answer your original question,” his lip curved in humor.
He hadn’t, and I knew without asking that he wasn’t going to, at least not today. “Let me guess, you have to go?” I asked.
He winked at me before scooping up the blanket and depositing it back in the box.
“Would you walk me back?” I asked him tentatively.
One side of his mouth turned up. “I could do that.”
We walked in silence, my mind whirring with all the different ideas inside of it. He hadn’t said he didn’t believe in God, I realized, only that he didn’t believe in the church’s portrayal of Him. I decided I needed to get more specific with my questions, think through the things he’d said so far and then ask him to explain what I didn’t understand….I shot a glance at him as he pulled a branch out of the way for us, wondering what he was thinking. Wondering how he could know so much. Wondering if he was…was what? I laughed at myself inwardly. He’s just a boy who happens to be extraordinarily intelligent.
Just a boy.