Titles and Honorifics
Gaby sent me a message asking if I’d be willing to take her up to the Mexican Consulate in DC so she and her husband could renew their passports. After checking my calendar, I told her I’d be glad to.
There is one thing that sets her apart in my mind. She is from the Federal District of Mexico – the equivalent of our District of Columbia, but it’s not that. She completed High School and some undergraduate work. Though that is relatively rare among the folks we work with, she's not the only one. What distinguishes her is her demeanor – or her manner, I should say. She is confident, self-assured, and speaks to us as we prefer – as equals.
I’m used to being addressed as “Don” Kenny, or “Padre” Kenny, or simply “Padre”. I appreciate the intent and the respect with which it is used, but the title burns a little in these baptist ears.
Gaby doesn’t call me by any of those titles. To her, I am just ‘Kenny’. It may not seem like much, but it is significant enough in my mind to give me a sense of relief when I speak to her and hear it from her. In thinking about it, I think what I’ve come to understand about the underlying dynamic that that speaks to IS that sense of equality – that I – that WE – try to communicate in the work of the ministry is in essence what Paul touches on in his letter to the Galatians – about there being neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor free, male nor female – that in Christ we are all brothers and sisters on equal footing.
Time and again, people asking me to intercede in prayer for them have approached me, and in the course of the request, the reason is stated as being ‘God hears your prayers for SURE.’ that separation that happens when someone tells themselves that God is not as attentive to THEIR prayers, so they should go find someone who God WILL listen to, is a terribly sad thing. It tells me that their understanding of God is of a God who gauges their worthiness by a measure other than the self-giving, self-sacrificing love that God showed himself to BE in the person of Jesus Christ.
But when Gaby talks to me and addresses me as simply ‘Kenny’, or calls Leslie, ‘Leslie’, there is an understanding that that egalitarian impulse of the Gospel present. I realize that, for the most part, the titles used to address me are more signs of respect, but in a significant number – perhaps a majority of those cases, it is more, and goes deeper, than simply respect – it speaks to a view of our roles as being different because of what we do – that because I am a minister and a pastor I have an inside track on God – a direct line.
Many of the folks who are regulars at our gatherings – who’ve become that ‘core congregation’, as it were, have begun to grasp that the truth is otherwise. In part because Leslie and I don’t pretend to be something we’re not. We share with them our own struggles: our hardships and challenges in raising children, keeping food on the table making ends meet and caring for a family. They’ve watched us weather losses and hardships, health challenges and the stuff of life that gets thrown at anyone. And we’ve been there beside them when THEY have gone through similar experiences; to pray together for strength and courage, peace and comfort for whatever it is.
Ultimately, we come to the reality that should be obvious: we are equal. In our dreams, desires, challenges and, most importantly, in our minds and hearts.