For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance… (Psalm 139:13, 15, 16a)
God does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart… (1 Samuel 16:7)
The universe is not all about any one of us, but only all of us together and with God. (Richard Rohr)
In my new appointment as the pastor of Tigard UnitedMethodist Church people have been asking me how I wish to be addressed. Reverend and Pastor seem to be the two options even though I have suggested “Most Venerable, Honorable, Esteemed and Very Right Reverend.” No takers on that one yet.
All kidding aside, I feel ambivalent about titles. I was given a name plate several years ago that included the word “Reverend” engraved beneath my name. Every time I looked at it struck me as pompous and self-important so to tone it down I wrote “IR” on a piece of paper and taped it in front of “REVEREND.” That felt much better. When asked the question about how I wish to be addressed, I usually say something like, “Just call me Jeremy.” It is my name, after all.
I know that honorific titles like Rev and Pastor and Dr and Mr and Ms have a role to play in how people relate to one another. I don’t want my children to call their teacher or doctor or the President by their first name. I want to teach them proper respect for authority figures. (I also want them to learn how to challenge unjust authority…but that’s for another time.) And for adults who use honorific titles, I also acknowledge that it is meant to show respect for the leadership role that one inhabits which is distinct from the person in that role. By virtue of my ordination in the United Methodist Church, I am a clergyperson—a “Reverend”—just like a person with a medical degree and license is a “Doctor.” So while I don’t shun a title, I don’t particularly feel a need to broadcast a title, either.
For me, it comes down to that basic question of identity. Who am I, really? Beneath any titles I might be justified in using, underneath the roles I inhabit—pastor, father, husband, leader—who am I? Much of the spiritual life is about acknowledging and stepping beyond the ego. It’s about recognizing that all of the information we think makes us who we are is, in fact, peripheral to our true identity as a creature who has come into being through the creative impulse of God. Ultimately our true identity is not about our work, title, education, career, nationality or any other similar descriptors. Our true identity is rooted in the divine imprint upon our soul. I have seen how a strong attachment to one’s title or position of authority can wreak havoc on one’s spiritual life. I don’t want to go there, hence my ambivalence around titles.
So call me what you will—Rev Jeremy, Pastor Jeremy, Hey You, Jeremy, or Mister. Just keep it nice. I’m praying all the time that I will remember that my true identity is beloved child of God. May you remember that, too!