When I first got engaged, I can say honestly I did not know that men do not normally wear engagement rings. This was before reading any scholarship on gender or taking the one women’s studies course I did as a graduate student. It was genuine ignorance. Or innocence maybe. It seemed odd – if women wore them to signify their preparation for marriage and departure from the dating pool, then why would men not also do similarly? It was only after those readings and that one course that I learned it was a vestige of ancient patriarchal instincts about women being property of which most societies in the modern era are highly critical. So when I got half-engaged last year on Labor Day (my then-fiancée proposed back to me on the seventh day after I proposed to her), I wore an engagement ring. It just seemed logical.
So when we were getting ready to enter marriage, we talked about what name she might take. The conversation didn’t last long before it was about the name we might take. It just seemed logical. And reciprocal.
The thought of giving up my family name(s) was not easy. None of the options seemed ideal. Hyphenating was out of the question, unless we wanted to be only double hyphenated couple we knew of (Mehl-Laituri-Tardie doesn’t really roll off the tongue either). We played around with a Scrabble-type last name, in which we discovered new names made up of the letters from our parents names (including her mom’s maiden name, of course), but we just were not touched by anything we came up with. At our first wedding shower, close friends proposed names for us, that we selected pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style, but we are not the type to have “#” in our name either, so that was out.
But something struck while our friends toasted us during that first shower. A few themes emerged of characteristics they saw in us collectively; of giddiness, youth, celebration, and laughter. In fact, I frequently tell Laura that, despite my vestigial combat stress from a 2004 deployment to Iraq, she reminds me who I once was and who I could be, a person who was goofy and vibrant, who smiled easily and often. It was something some of my seminary friends only saw in me when I was with her, because my experience at a student veteran at Duke was not the best (which I mention in the introduction to my first book, Reborn on the Fourth of July).
I went home that night and did some digging. Those words our friends uttered stuck in my mind like a warm caramel apple from the candy store, or salt in my eyebrows after an afternoon surf; joy, happiness, hope, laughter. These things I was and am with her…
In many sacraments, like ordination or confirmation, for example, Christians take a new name. It is to signify an evident yet mysterious change in the person. When priests become bishops or deacons in many denominations, they will add those titles to their name and take the name of a saint who has inspired them. Upon confirmation, I took the name Martin, from the fourth century bishop and soldier saint who modeled the lives Christian soldiers can aspire to by protecting life and serving the poor.
Women in the west have most often changed their names upon being wed, but in secular society it is not considered a sacrament. It is considered a change of ownership – in this case from their father to their husband. But in the church, people are not owned, they are one body of Christ in which there is no slave or master. We submit to “the least of these,” those who give up everything, be it sex, wealth, or prestige (all of which priests have historically done). We follow Jesus downward, to the lowest of the low. We give up in order to be taken up, we might say.
Of the three major patriarchs in the Christian Old Testament, Isaac is the most minor of the three figures. His father was called as Abram by to be “the father of many,” but nearly killed his youngest son in obedience to God, and becomes Abraham. His son, Jacob, would “wrestle with God” and become Israel, the father of the twelve tribes. It is only Isaac who never receives a name change operation in the text. Isaac is noteworthy for being the only patriarch to have only one sexual partner, his “faithful” wife Rebecca, though their relationship seems strained, as the incident toward the end of his life indicates – Rebecca conspires with their youngest to redirect the birthright against Isaac’s wishes.
Isaac seems the type of character the Bible wants us to notice. Like Abel and Seth before him, he is overshadowed by the greats by whom he is surrounded. Cain was highly regarded by Eve, but Seth “replaced” Abel, and was said to have been “made in the image and likeness of Adam” (who had been made similarly, but “of God”). The same cannot be said of Cain, whom commands the readers attention in Genesis 3-6. The authors point, however, seems to focus on the overlooked Abel…
Isaac, despite the difficulties he faced in life (stemming from the daddy issues certainly arising out of the whole Moriah affair), is called “laughter.” I aspire to be unassuming, like Abel and Isaac before me. But I also aspire to laugh. It is a new years resolution I made not so long ago with my mom, after a year in which laughter was hard to come by for me. It will no doubt be a pain to change my name (after returning home from a year abroad, more on that later), but as a guy, I don’t have much room to complain. More importantly, changing my name (in about a year from now) will shape me into a new person, or rather into a personhood shared with my partner. Though we are individuals, we will become a single entity as far as both church and world are concerned. I hope we become people worthy of the name by laughing frequently and being faithful to one another and to God.
Hopefully we will become Isaacs.