Odd as it might seem, naming a thing for what it is apparently is not accepted everywhere, nor is it everywhere obvious.
The events of the past couple months in our country took me back to my first year in theological seminary. I expected the very notion of retreating from everyday life, including putting a wife and three children on the back burner (according to some in our family), for belly-button gazing and for thinking about the “God question” was grounds for divorce, as one very significant and outspoken family member insisted at the time.
Name a thing for what it is.
It shouldn’t take four years of study to figure this out; it should be obvious, even to small children. But it seems that, for a large portion of our country, this is a difficult concept.
We have a grandson in middle school, politically astute for one his age, whose mother was recently an election judge, who is wondering about all of this. Is it really possible that we can name a thing for something that it is not? How can that be?
I learned in seminary that the very foundation of any theology with integrity is to name a thing for what it is. It is not to name a thing for what it might be, for what it might like to be, for what we would like it to be, but rather for what it is. Evidently, this is a problem for many people.
I will come back to this.
It happens that I am reading “Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker. As usual with good fiction, the book is opening up whole new vistas of ways of thinking for me. (I’ve always been a late bloomer; ask my wife!) While the female protagonist of the novel goes off on a soul-searching adventure down the Amazon River, following a hair-raising warm-up white-river rafting excursion down the Colorado River, her lover takes a vacation in Hawaii, which leads him on his own life-changing adventure.
While there, he runs into a lover from two decades earlier, a native Hawaiian, who refreshes his memory about beloved Hawaiian Queen Lili’uokalani, who was deposed by currents favoring the colonial, military, and commercial impulses of the United States. About that time, enormous tracts of fertile land in Hawaii were being forcibly accumulated by large American corporations. Locals were coerced to labor over land and produce that had formerly been their own. (I have known about this for 40 years, but I still buy pineapple.)
Queen Lili’uokalani, beloved of her people, considered “mother” of her people, also a great songwriter and poet, was under house arrest. (Americans even made it illegal for Hawaiians to speak their own language.) She knew her people would take up arms to come to her defense, if only she would put out the call. She had only to cry, “Stand by.”
But she knew that many of her people would die in her defense, and she loved her people more than she loved being queen.
Name a thing for what it is.
I was blessed to still have two grandparents living when I entered the seminary. They were farmers. They knew how to name a thing for what it was. I suspect they were puzzled that I needed four more years of study to figure it out.
We watched in real time the incitement of the insurrection on Jan. 6. Our grandson saw it. He can name a thing for what it is.
The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.