What’s in a Name?

I believe in addressing people by their names. It makes them feel good about themselves.

Unfortunately, my memory for names is almost as bad as my memory for faces. Although aging hasn’t helped that problem any, at least I can still remember my own name.

Because of that–my preference for using a person’s name, not the fact that I can remember my own name–the first draft of my first novel had characters calling one another by name left to right, top to bottom, front to back.

I’m quite thankful my wife caught that problem early enough for me to correct it. Pronouns came into being for a reason, and I guarantee you readers are thankful for that. I’m a reader, too.

According to How Many of Me, which searches census statistics, the United States has thirty men named Roger Bruner. I haven’t met any of the other twenty-nine and can’t imagine I ever will. If How Many of Me was able to search on middle names as well, I’m pretty confident I’d be the only Roger Ellis Bruner.

I suppose knowing I’m relatively uniquely named should be reassuring. Suppose I shared the name of one of the world’s most dangerous and hated men? Hmm. Let’s not even go there.

“Roger” means “expert with a spear.” “Ellis” is the first name of a man my parents were very dedicated to. I wouldn’t be willing to quote the Urban Dictionary’s definition of “Ellis,” but they make being teased during my childhood by “friends” calling me “Elvis” seem less objectionable.

I was almost scared to look up “Bruner,” but the results weren’t nearly as bad. It’s both German and Jewish and used to refer to a person who lived beside a spring or a well. As a Christian, I would like to be thought of as someone who lives beside the Spring of Living Water and invites others to drink from it.

People sometimes used to think my father looked somewhat Jewish. I was interested in learning–while visiting a synagogue in Sydney,  Australia–how few Jews ‘t look “typically Jewish.” So why shouldn’t my non-Jewish father be a reverse of that?

As a novelist, I’m frequently having to name my characters. Although I try to avoid using the names of famous people,  sometimes a person isn’t sufficiently well known for me to be familiar with. Thank goodness Googling a name is apt to identify that person and help me make a wise decision about whether to go ahead and use his or her name.

In When Love Won’t Wait, a novel I plan to publish within the next couple of months, I’ve named one of the protagonists “Katie Campbell.” Google found a number of hits on that name, although only three showed up in Facebook. Since my Katie is a wonderful woman, I didn’t see any reason not to go ahead and use that name.

Nonetheless, this statement on the copyright page is always important:

This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, dialogue, incidents, and places either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Just one additional thought. Because I’m adopted and don’t have any idea who my birth parents were, I also have no idea what their surname was or what they planned to name me. My daughter is adopted as well, but at least we know she was named “Ashleigh” at birth.

I’ve had fun writing this. If you haven’t already looked up your name on How Many of Me, why don’t you do it now and tell us the results in a comment. How about also letting us know what your name(s) mean, if you know.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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The Beginning of a Lifelong Interest


When I was a mid-teen, a favorite great-uncle died, leaving me his good-sized, portable Zenith short wave receiver. I forget how many frequency bands it had, but they included the most common bands used by amateur radio operators and stations all over the world.

I honestly wasn’t very interested in listening to “hams” (amateurs), but probably would’ve felt differently if I’d had the money for a transmitter and if I’d been willing to learn enough Morse code to pass the licensing test.

But I quickly developed a real fondness for listening to international stations. Even those broadcasting from non-English speaking countries beamed broadcasts in English to North America, just as our own Voice of America broadcasts in different languages to the people of other nations.

Most–perhaps all–of the international stations gladly sent out QSL cards. I’ve forgotten if those initials stood for anything in particular or were just part of shortwave jargon. But who could forget the cards themselves?

They were usually colorful renditions of something that typified the country the station broadcast from. To get one, a listener simply had to send snail mail–or perhaps air mail–to the station specifying the date and time he listened to the station, along with enough information about the broadcast to prove he really had heard a broadcast then. An important part of writing in to the station that way was also to indicate how the reception was.

It wasn’t long before my parents let me buy a piece of pegboard to put on my wall, and I mounted all of my QSL cards with sticky-tack. What an outstanding collection!

I enjoyed listening to the music representative of the various nations as well. Polkas from Switzerland, folk songs and ballads from Australia, and even Christian songs from HCJB (Heralding Christ Jesus’s Blessings) in Quito, Ecuador.

But short wave’s biggest influence on my musical taste was Earl Fisher’s Saturday morning program on the CBC, Radio Canada. That’s where I started to really appreciate the soundtrack music from various movies. I not only fell for Miklos Rosza’s soundtracks for Ben Hur and King of Kings, but soon purchased both albums.

My love of movie music has grown over the years. Right now I’m listening to Ennio Morricone’s Greatest Hits–think The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and I’ve just downloaded the music from Blade Runner, written by Vangelis, who also did the music for Chariots of Fire.

I admit it. I’m hooked. I’d almost rather go to a theater to listen to good music than to watch the movie.

Sometime in my upper teens I lost interest in listening to short wave radio, which was apt to be awfully noisy. Not because it wasn’t still interesting, but because I’d gotten hooked on static-free FM. I traded my Zenith radio for a camera, and I’ve been hooked on photography ever since.

So my great-uncle unknowingly introduced me to two of my lifelong interests.

What made you interested in one of your longtime hobbies? Please leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Pearly Gates & Streets of Gold (conclusion)

If you didn’t read last Sunday’s “Part One” post, you might want to do so before you continue.

Otherwise, let me simply point out that my character, Pastor Gus Gospello (The Devil and Pastor Gus) was skeptical about whether Heaven really has pearly gates and streets of gold. While I’m not necessarily “skeptical,” I am of the opinion that those descriptions may not be literal.

Most of what we know about the appearance of Heaven is what the apostle John wrote in Revelation (note that that word doesn’t end in an S) based on a vision he experienced in which he was taken to Heaven, where various truths were revealed to him. I believe his vision was real.

He described the pearly gates and streets of gold along with many other images that were familiar to him and would be familiar to his readers.

John’s Revelation wasn’t the “speculative fiction” of his day. It was real. True. But how could he adequately describe what he saw in completely literal terms?

Pearls and gold were undoubtedly considered valuable then, just as they are now, but wouldn’t something as special–as unique–as Heaven be made of materials we human beings can’t even conceive of? And what about colors? How could John have hoped to describe colors he’d never seen before–colors no  one on earth could manage to duplicate?

I understand that one purpose for the streets of gold might have been to emphasize that what was considered valuable on earth was so commonplace in Heaven that it was worthy of nothing more than being walked on.

Have you ever been to a foreign country–a country where English was not the normal language? Didn’t you see things that were so unusual you made a mental note to try to learn more about them when you returned home? And didn’t you even take pictures to help you be able to relive your joy at seeing those things in person?

But what happened when you tried to tell your friends about them? Didn’t you find that your best efforts failed to convey adequately the beauty or the uniqueness of what had so impressed you in person? Even though your pictures may have brought smiles to your face, weren’t you conscious of the fact that they failed to do justice to the objects those pictures were of?

That’s all I’m really trying to say. John may have seen literal pearly gates and streets of gold. He undoubtedly saw a number of other things people who would read Revelation ought to know about. But how could he possibly have used human language to describe true godliness?

We sometimes say that people who think they understand God completely are guilty of trying to put Him in a box. He’s too big, too grand, too everything good for any person to comprehend adequately. Any “god” who fits in anyone’s box is too small for me to believe in and worship.

My God is awesome. Nothing else is.

So any description of God’s dwelling place can only be described and understood within the limitations of human speech and understanding.

Even if the pearly gates and streets of gold are literal, I can’t help but be impressed. Not because of the pearls or the gold, however, but because I believe those are just the best representations of things people are incapable of comprehending–or even imagining.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts on this subject, but I’d love to hear yours. How about leaving a comment?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Pearly Gates & Streets of Gold (part one)

Let me begin by sharing a short passage from my novel The Devil and Pastor Gus, which I consider to be the most important novel I’ve ever written, even if its readership has been more limited than for some of the others. This comes from page 269 of the print edition. Gus is having a conversation with Peter about what Heaven is really like. Peter is speaking first:

 

“But God tells me you’re a bit skeptical about the ‘pearly gates’ and ‘streets of gold’ the Bible talks about.” As if anticipating Gus’s defensiveness, he added, “That doesn’t bother Him, though.”

“That’s good. I’ve always believed Heaven is too wonderful to picture, so its exact appearance is beyond my imagination.”

Peter patted Gus on the shoulder. “It’s beyond everyone’s imagination.”

Readers often ask the authors they admire whether their stories are autobiographical. I willingly admit there’s probably some of me in every character I create, even the women. But that’s especially true of Pastor Gus himself. Both of us suffered a midlife crisis for what seemed like years, and each of us wanted to leave a significant spiritual legacy through our writing–novels, specifically.

There are a number of less significant similarities, like Gus’s desire to speak with a genuine Australian accent after returning from a mission trip there. I’ve been to Australia six or seven times, and most of my trips were mission trips.

But what I want to focus on today has to do with the passage of The Devil and Pastor Gus quoted above. I was hesitant to write those paragraphs for fear I would be accused of not taking the Bible literally.

I do take the Bible literally, but with these (go ahead and call me liberal if you must) thoughts in mind:

  • Ancient Hebrew didn’t originally have vowels, and many words had multiple meanings. Without having the constant guidance of someone who lived during biblical times, many passages that would’ve been perfectly clear then are confusing to modern readers. It’s even possible that the original meanings have sometimes been “lost in translation”–or at least unintentionally mangled.
  • Furthermore, some things were applicable to the Jews of yesteryear and were never meant for modern-day Christians. Remember that the next time you’re, uh, pigging out on bacon or sausage.
  • Ancient Hebrew didn’t have uppercase letters. So the contemporary tendency to uppercase pronouns designating God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is–in one sense–an enhancement to the Bible. That may be correctly done in most instances. But are all of the correct?

Are you accusing me yet of being too liberal? I hope not. I could give you more ammunition that’s not relevant to this blog post. For example, I don’t really care whether the seven days of creation were twenty-four hour days or periods of time. I’ve heard both from people I highly respect.

My, but I’m straying from the original purpose of this post. Tell you what. Let’s call today’s post “Part One.” I’ll finish next Sunday.

Any comments on Part One? Please share.

If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Things That Aren’t Really Ours

Some years ago, I had some business cards printed; that was in the days before Vistaprint bargains. Current address and phone number.   Useful information about me. Designed to impress. Right?

Of course.

But a short time later the phone company–bless their pointed little heads–arbitrarily changed my number, and I was stuck with quite a stack of expensive and useless business cards. Useless unless I scratched out the old number and added the new one in some blank spot that looked better bare.

Of course, with my handwriting, I’m not sure I could have fit the new number anywhere on the card.

The way to impress? To put it in the colloquial, not hardly.

So I called the phone company. “You changed my number. My business cards are worthless now. You owe me some new ones.”

“Sir,” they responded with somewhat less than the sympathy I’d expected, “that’s too bad. But you don’t own your phone number. We do. So we can change your number at our discretion. And we are NOT responsible for your useless business cards.”

Thank goodness the phone company couldn’t take away my address, too, although I suppose that probably didn’t actually belong to me, either.

Have you ever tried sticking something in your mail box–yours, as in you bought it and you put it up–that wasn’t genuine mail? You may not have gotten in trouble over it, but the Post Office–more blessed, pointed heads–considers that box to be for their use only. The person who purchased and put it up isn’t free to use it as he pleases. He doesn’t really own it.

When we send checks to pay our income tax, we’re apt to question whether our earnings ever belonged to us. Methinks it’s not exactly a matter of “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.”

Some things just aren’t ours.

Not even our bodies. Not even this aging seventy-two-year-old body I claim as mine. As if anyone else would want it. . .

Whoops! But the Bible says the body is the temple of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s His to do with as He pleases.

But how can He inhabit or fully utilize a temple that requires so many different prescriptions just to function at what too often feels like just a minimal level? How useful can I really be at this age and stage of my life?

Hmm. Probably every bit as useful as He wants and enables me to be. If I weren’t accomplishing something in His name, no matter how modest, He would probably decide that keeping me alive was pointless.

Like phone numbers, addresses, and mail boxes, my life is something to use wisely and appropriately–as if it were really mine. And I should be thankful God hasn’t yet flicked the on-off switch. And I am…VERY thankful.

Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Jesus’s Toughest Commandment

Jesus’s Toughest Commandment

Some years ago I wrote a song called “(If Christ Had Not Been) Born a Baby.” The first stanza goes like this:

If Christ had not been born a baby,
Fully human and yet still fully God;
Had He not lived and died as a man,
Then how would God know what we feel?

Whenever I sing that at our church’s weekly nursing home ministry, I invariably introduce it by saying that Jesus isn’t just my Savior, but my role model. Since He was the only perfect person ever to live on earth, that makes sense, doesn’t it? If I pattern my life after Jesus’s–if I say and do the kinds of things He said and did–how can I go wrong?

Forgive me for breaking out laughing. Please. It’s just that I’m all too aware of my shortcomings and the many ways I fail to live as godly a life as I want to live. The apostle Paul knew what he was talking about when he said something to this effect:

I do the things I mean to keep from doing, and I fail to do the things I intend to do.

That describes me to at T at times, and–if I’m not being too presumptuous–it probably describes all Christians. No wonder people often describe us as hypocrites. They look at the way Christ lived and see how far each of us misses the mark by comparison.

Christianity isn’t a religion. It doesn’t have a strict set of rules and regulations. It’s a relationship with God through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And there’s really only one two-part rule:

Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus even gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the fact that everyone we have contact with is our neighbor. But He took it a step further by telling us to love our enemies.

Love our enemies? How impossible does that sound!

I don’t really have any personal enemies. Or, if I do, they simply avoid me rather than demonstrating their hostility. As a true conservative, however, I look at the far left and cringe at the things those people stand for. Not to mention the things they’re doing to try to destroy this country.

If I have enemies, it’s those people. Shouldn’t I have the right to hate them?

Hmm. Not if I pay close enough attention to Jesus’s words on the cross when He prayed for the Romans who were crucifying him:

Forgive them, Father, for they don’t  know what they’re doing.

Whoops! If Jesus could do that, what’s my excuse?

But, Lord, Jesus was still God even though He was also human.

Then a still small voice whispers in my ear. “What about Stephen, who was martyred for his faith and for preaching the Gospel? He was only human and he prayed the same prayer Jesus did while being stoned to death.”

Okay, Lord, Jesus really does want us to love our enemies as well as our friends. But it’s tough! The very people I know I’m not supposed to hate really anger me at times–most of the time, in fact. How can I love them when I don’t even know them, anyhow? I just know I keep seeing them do the very things I disapprove of so much.

That same still small voice whispers back, “Start with the one who angers you the most. Pray for him or her on a regular basis. Seek to understand that person and pray for me to accomplish good in and through that person’s life.”

I chose someone–who it is is between me and God–and started praying. Praying sincerely on that person’s behalf is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as Christian. But I believe it’s also going to be one of the most fulfilling.

Do you have someone you consider an enemy? Perhaps someone who’s extra-hard to get along with, but who you must see and perhaps work with on a regular basis. Try praying for that person.

Jesus did it. Stephen did it. And I’m doing my best to do it. Give it a try.

Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t change the person you’re praying for, however. But don’t be too shocked if it changes YOU.

Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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When  It’s Time to Go, It’s Time

When It’s Time to Go, It’s Time

We sometimes hear about people who are determined to stay alive a little longer, despite circumstances that threaten their health and well being. And we also hear about people who feel so hopeless about their current situation that they would welcome death. Some of them consider committing suicide, and some actually do it.

Please relax. This blog post isn’t about the life and death of human beings. Or of animals, either.

In fact, it probably won’t disturb you at all, no matter how sympathetic you might be.

1.
Almost three years ago, I posted an article about my favorite houseplant, a ZZ plant. It looked gorgeous then.

If you’ve been with me that long, perhaps you recognize the picture.

Some months ago, that pot-bound beauty was starting to lose leaves right and left. But only on certain stems. So Kathleen and I decided to get rid of the nasty parts and re-pot the rest. We divided it and put it in two separate pots.

We put the fuller one in the bathroom. Uh, the outer part of the bathroom–on the ledge surrounding the appropriately labeled garden tub. It’s still looking great, as you can see here.

The other ZZ plant looks pretty lonely in that big pot; I question whether we shouldn’t have used a smaller one. Nonetheless, after a month or two, one stem began losing leaves. We eventually cut that stem off. What remains of that plant seems healthy enough, but I keep a close watch on it.

Laugh if you must, but it’s difficult keeping myself from praying for its survival.

2.
Not long after buying our mobile home, I planted a small pyracantha bush. “Bush” is actually a bit of a misnomer; over the last seventeen years it has grown taller than our home (the picture below doesn’t do its size justice). Keeping it from taking over the front porch has been a challenge, but watching robins and mockingbirds use it for their nests has been wonderful. Despite a less-than-pleasant odor, the blooms are pretty, too. So are the berries.

    

This tree has meant a lot to me because it’s been in the yard almost as long as I’ve lived here.

As much as I love snow, it’s no respecter of pyracantha. Especially when coupled with ice. Our most recent snow storm left the pyracantha hopelessly split in a couple of places. Even if I could successfully trim it to get rid of the nearly-detached branches, it would never look the same again. (Only the part leaning to the right would be left.)

My wife has complained (mostly nicely) from time to time about the way the pyracantha has taken over the porch and blocked the way to the shed; this morning she pointed out that I should’ve planted it a foot or two further from the porch. Hindsight is wonderful. isn’t it?

We’ve pretty much decided to make the sacrifice and get rid of the pyracantha. A crape myrtle should be much more satisfactory.

Conclusion:
How do I feel about the probable loss of the pyracantha and the possible eventual loss of a ZZ plant?

Yes, I feel a little sad. But I suppose plants and trees are like human beings. They have a limited life span. And when it’s time for them to go, they go.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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