Remind Me of Your Name

“I’m sorry, but could you remind me of your name?” My Dad blinked, peered more closely at my face, and flashed a self-deprecating smile. It was all very gentlemanly. He would have done the same thing dozens of times as a pastor. Like when he was at the First Baptist Church of Shelby in, say, 1992. I recognize the situation, the smile, the tone and the phrasing. Because I use it in my own work as a pastor with H2O Church of Kent in 2022. So I know it wasn’t personal. It was just one of those things.

“Eric,” I answered. But my Dad persisted in prompting me for the rest of my name, to try and help jog his memory. So I said, “Eric David Asp.” Both of those last two names directly inherited from him. It honestly didn’t stab my heart as much as one might expect. It felt surreal more than sad. Still, it felt like a significant moment to note: the day that my Dad forgot my name.

He Has Good Days, and He Has Bad Days

His dementia comes in waves. But he was having a particularly rough night on Tuesday. I was at a friend’s house, watching the Cleveland Cavaliers post-season (mis)adventures. My Mom called towards the end of the first quarter. And I could just tell from the tone of her voice that she was desperate. I stepped into the dining room of my friend’s house to try and talk my Dad down from his confusion and anxiety. I’ve done it many times in the last six months. But he was making even less sense than he usually does in these situations. He was talking about men living in castles and women conspiring against him in swimming pools and who-knows-what-else.

It was kind of like an airplane circling the runway of an airport. My Dad was a panicked pilot. And I was the air traffic controller trying to speak calmly and clearly to help land the plane. Every time I thought we were getting close to a successful landing, the pilot would gun the engines again and regain altitude. Dad felt like he needed to leave the house in order to get to his house and his Jan. And when it became clear that he simply would not be talked out of it, I begged him to at least wait long enough for me to go out with him, so he wouldn’t get lost. I flew over there as quickly as I could.

Dad was acting even crazier in person than he was acting over the phone. He kept talking about the conspiracies with the women in the swimming pool… Feeling imprisoned… So, we put on our coats and went outside. I was thinking we’d go out the front door, but my Dad chose to lead us towards the garage door. When he got out into the garage, he seemed confused. But after a moment’s hesitation, his body language indicated “Ah, what the heck,” and he hit the button to open the garage door.

Almost immediately upon stepping outside, without going even an arm’s reach away from the house, Dad pulled up short and said, “Oh, wait. This is the place I’ve been looking for.” And then he seemed to decide that he would use the moment to talk some more about the swimming pool conspiracies. It was weird.

That was the moment when my Dad asked, “Could you remind me of your name?”

The Memory of Dave, The Memory of Jesus

I’ve recently started reading Wendell Berry’s novel The Memory of Old Jack, on loan from my friend Mark. Mark had made it seem like it might be an interesting window into the process of a person disappearing into the fog of dementia. And even in the earliest pages of the book, I can see how that would be the case. I’ve become kind of obsessed about the double-entendre of the title, which I didn’t notice when Mark first handed me the book. The Memory of Old Jack can be understood as Old Jack’s memory of other things, or, the memory of Old Jack that remains with others who knew him throughout different phases of his life. It’s a brilliant twist of phrase. One section of the book outlines this powerfully:

All his life (Old Jack’s nephew) Mat has had Jack before him, as standard and example, teacher and taskmaster and companion, friend and comforter. When Jack is gone, then Mat will be the oldest of that fellowship of friends and kin of which Old Jack has been for so long the center. He feels the impending exposure of that — nobody standing between him and the grave. He feels a heavy portent in the imminent breaking of that strand of memory, reaching back into the Civil War, on the end of which Old Jack now keeps so tenuous a hold.

I’ve been thinking about that exposure and that strand, as it relates to my Dad. And I honestly think that it points me to Jesus in a way that feels especially powerful this Easter season.

In the Name of Jesus

My Dad taught me about Jesus. He also taught me the basics of the ancient Greek language of the Bible. So, I’m continuing my slow study the Gospel of Mark in its original language. And it’s recently alerted me to some interesting features about the power of a name, in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

This one chapter covers a lot of ground. There are narrative parts. And there are parts where Jesus is teaching. My New International Version Study Bible breaks the chapter down into five different sections. And for most of my life, I’ve thought of these five sections as independent scenes. A casual glance doesn’t seem to reveal much connective tissue to it all. But I noticed something this week regarding the name of Jesus.

First, the narrative sections of chapter nine start using the name of Jesus far more frequently than many other sections of Mark. For instance, there’s only two occurrences of the name “Jesus” in the three entire chapters preceding Mark 9. And that’s actually not all that remarkable because Mark generally prefers simple “he” and “him” pronouns for Jesus. But in this one chapter, we see five occurrences of the proper name “Jesus” in the text. And four of them are clustered in verses 23 through 39. Stick with me, here…

Second, there are four references within these same seventeen verses which point to actions undertaken in the name of Jesus. Curiously, they’re spread across three different sections in most English translations where different headings would seem to indicate different stories with different themes. Furthermore, slight variations in English translation make it easier to overlook the patterns. However, the recurring theme regarding the name of Jesus is harder to ignore in the original language: ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου. Welcoming a little kid in the name of Jesus… and casting out demons in the name of Jesus… and offering someone something to drink in the name of Jesus

A name is a representation. I’m thinking of a memorial donation made in someone’s name… or a sports team’s victory in the name of an injured player or deceased coach… It’s a way to show continuation, even in the face of interruption. Jesus knew that he needed to prepare his followers for his departure. So he lent his name to them. He instructed them to pray in his name… to baptize new followers in his name… to bring his power to bear in extraordinary and everyday situations by invoking his name. And through the generations, Christians have continued to pass along the name of Christ. All the way into the present.

My Dad represented Jesus to me. Back when I was a little kid… when I came of age, as an adult… and even in the recognition of his deterioration in the face of Parkinson’s Disease. He offered blessing and protection. But not just in his own name. He conferred blessing upon me in the name of Jesus. And even as the memory of my Dad is complicated by his dementia, I know that the complication is temporary. Jesus initiated the hope of Resurrection, and that hope is eternal. Jesus signed his own name on that promissory note. And successive generations of Christians have done the same thing. Just as I hope to do for the generations who come behind me.

If or when I come to that phase in my life, where sadness and confusion drift in like a fog over the harbor, I may well have to ask “Could you remind me of your name?” But it’s not personal. It’s just one of those things. And if you remind me that you live and move and find your being in the name of Jesus, that is all I will need to know.

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