FOR my Advent reading, I am dipping into a modern rendition of Thomas à
Kempis's Imitation of Christ. It is edited by Swami Abhayananda, which
promised to be an intriguing spiritual encounter between East and West. It
transpires, however, from reading inside, that Swami Abhayananda was born Stan
Trout, and raised in Indianapolis, in the US. West encounters Midwest.
Stan becoming Swami was a fresh start occasioned by a spiritual experience,
and maybe book deals are now easier. But it is a shame he felt it necessary in
himself, for name-changing, like name-calling, is an adolescent activity.
Names define nothing, least of all you.
I recently spent more than a month in the store being "Omar". There was
panic in the shop. Apparently, the CEO was coming. Company policy dictates that
we should always wear a name badge, and not having one myself, the manager was
offering me one from his "spares" box. He wouldn't allow me "Agnes", which was
my first choice; so Omar it was, and there it stayed. Nothing was different.
Customers just complained about Omar instead of Simon. A name is no more
personal than a number; and a number is impersonal only if you are impersonal
Our names, however, may soon be on identity cards. This will not be for our
sakes, but as a sacrifice to the insecure god of control. It will have no more
value than Joseph's traipsing to Bethlehem to register. This is really a debate
about trust in government; so it shouldn't be a long one.
Dame Stella Rimington, ex-Top Secret Squirrel, has criticised identity cards
for being vulnerable to forgery. I think I and the world knew this already, but
she's a name; so people listen. It's certainly clear the cards won't concern
the terrorist, but might perhaps help estate agents confirm our identity. What
a brave new world that will be.
Back in the real world, our name, like a lollipop wrapper, is a throwaway
thing, containing nothing of substance. Whether No.
|845, Omar or Simon, I
am still glorious. Saul? Paul? Am I bothered? Was John Wayne a better actor for
dropping "Shirley"? And Reg Dwight's songs would be just as fine as Elton John'
We accept names, for form's sake, but attach to them no importance. No one
takes my name in vain! I don't have one. And maybe Jesus doesn't now, either. A
schoolboy famously asked recently why the parents of the baby Christ had named
him after a swear word.
I'm enjoying my Advent reading, but, for me, Abhayananda was best left as
Trout. Anything else is distinctly fishy.