Sunday, July 8, 2012


I have not made a secret of the fact that I am a church-going man (even if I am not as observant or knowledgeable about my denomination as I perhaps ought to be).  Services today focused on baptising two of the congregation's children and issues of the hometown.  I am not about to elaborate here as to what a hometown is, but I will explicate and expound upon one of the comments made by the senior pastor during his sermon.

His talk, "Hometown Religion," worked from Mark 6:1-13, in which Jesus is confronted by those who knew Him in his youth, and who reject His divinity and power therefore, before sending out the Twelve with the instructions about not taking two coats and shaking the dust off of their feet in repudiation of those who turned them away.*  As the pastor, a consecrated bishop, discussed it, the thought occurred to me that I am not certain I blame those in Nazareth for their doubt; in my own experience, I find that I am still looked at as being a child in many ways by the people who, literally and metaphorically, changed my diapers, despite having a PhD in hand and a household of my own.  The bishop phrased the idea differently (and if I am not quoting, I am closely paraphrasing): "In your hometown, people always know you when."  They remember stupid youthful events--or at least enough of them to make certain situations uncomfortable.

The bishop repeatedly used the phrase "know you when," situating the knowledge of the hometown crowd as a current phenomenon, and the juxtaposition of present-tense construction and the implied past being referenced struck me.  The repetition leads me to believe it was a choice, deliberately made rather than a mis-speaking prompted by the extemporaneous nature of the sermon (particularly as performed at the United Methodist Church of the Village), and so I thought about it a bit on the train ride home.  (There is some value to having idle time, and the train ride usually does not demand much from the rider.)  It seems to me that the comment is a variant on the concept of the "always-already," which is to say that it works in much the same way as does the idea that the way things are now is the way that they always have been; in the case of "know you when," the situation is reversed, so that the way things once were is the way that they still are.

I find that there is some truth in both.  Certainly, there are things about humanity that have not changed from place to place and time to time.  And it is just as certain that there are things people do for many, many years without actually paying them any attention.  I know of places and people that make every effort to remain as they imagine themselves to have been in decades past (as I may have mentioned).  Some of them even enjoy some success in those efforts, for worse and for better.

Some of what we imagine ourselves to have been would be very good to really be.

At the same time, neither is completely true.  The problems in the idea of "always-already" have been laid out time and again; they summarize (with admitted simplification) as "It has not always been as it appears to be, and there is more to the appearance than, well, appears."  The bishop rightly pointed out in the sermon that the "know you when" is also flawed because it does not admit the possibility of change.  Whether that is, as the bishop posited, because of low self-esteem on the part of those acting on the concept, or for a more benign reason--something such as "Things were good when we left off, so let's go back to that"--it fails to acknowledge the great fluidity of people.  For although there is much that remains constant in human nature, there is much about each person that does not stay as it is from moment to moment, let alone across the spread of years and the many events of a person's life.

We do not do well to ignore it.

*There is the curious issue of the text, in the King James Version linked above and in the New International Version, noting that Christ could not work miracles in that place.  Here, I betray that I am not a theologian; I am sure that the seminarians and clergy among my fellow congregants, or the pastoral staff at my church, could walk me through the implications of a stated inability on behalf of Jesus, or could at least direct me to useful commentaries about the same.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Elliot, know that I am honored to be so quoted in your blog. Shalom, Bishop J