By Sarah M. Wells
In memory of Brian Doyle
“I don’t want to wait in vain for your love…”
- Annie Lennox
“Jesus” feels like sandpaper against the roof of my mouth these days because I’m so out of practice saying the name. I’d like a new name for a while. Maybe Bob, Lisa, or Mister Louie, the name given by Brian Doyle’s Sunday School class he wrote about in a short essay once. Any other name, except the one thrown about on placards and Hallmark cards, careless and whitewashed, reeking of pastels and artificial rose scented soap. Something unusual and refreshing, something as unexpected and revolutionary as the actual Man-God that touched untouchables, talked to unspeakables, taught unteachables, healed unhealables.
When great and beautiful things would happen, we would say Praise Mister Louie! It would be new and unusual enough to maybe matter, maybe even tweak a nerve connection between heart and mind, maybe make us think or feel or do a little something, a little something more than wariness at this idol we’ve made of a name. Which Jesus are you referring to just now?
These days I don’t feel like I follow the same Jesus some people say they follow, so I avoid the name altogether, opt for “Christ follower” as if that’s any better, or call myself “spiritual” instead of religious, on a “journey of faith” instead of a Christian, preach Love as the Way, the Truth, and the Life instead of just swearing allegiance to this name. It’s this amped-up commitment to try to follow more closely the Son of Man, One Who Sees, Lamb of God that has caused some followers of Jesus to question my salvation. They are concerned when I doubt the existence of an eternal lake of fire, an eternal separation from Love Incarnate, even though Paul in the New Testament says he’s “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
They worry over my soul. I am “losing my religion.” I am “drifting in a wake of godlessness.” I have become “too afflicted with the world.” Have I forgotten my Jesus, have I “given the devil a foothold,” have I renounced my faith in the saving name, the name above all names?
Sometimes when a name is so stained, you need a revelation, a revolution of thought to upturn the tables set up to sell forgiveness.
“Mister Louie loves you!”
Brian Doyle’s Mister Louie isn’t that much of a stretch. They didn’t even call him “Jesus” when he walked around Judea. Yeshua translates from Hebrew to the English Joshua, from the Greek Iesous to the English Jesus. We could call him Joshua Christ.
Oh my Joshua.
I let loose a “Jesus Christ” in a circle of Christians recently and all their eyebrows raised. And I remembered, oh yes. There’s a commandment about this, and in their eyes I just broke it.
Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain. I am not big on offending the Almighty, whom I doubt is easily offended anyway, but sometimes I need to call the people I love by both their first and last names when I want their attention. Jesus Christ, are you listening to me right now?
I search for a definition of “in vain” and come up empty-handed, that is, unsuccessful, without results. In vain. Can you utter God’s name in vain? Is it even possible if nothing is impossible with God?
“Thank you, Mister Louie!”
At a Mexican restaurant in Louisville, KY, my husband and I waited for the check with another set of friends. When it finally came, my friend said, “They must be really religious - the check says, Thank you, Jesus.”
“I think that’s his name,” my husband said, “Hey-soos. Not Jesus.”
But why not thank Jesus? Why not? Why do we say instead “Thank Goodness?” or “Oh my gosh?” Who is Gosh? When I mean to thank God, why shouldn’t I just say Thank God?
“Mister Louie is watching, look busy.”
“Jesus Christ,” I mutter, “oh God, oh God,” at the latest televised atrocity. Just turn on CNN or Fox News or whatever other 24-hour reality horror show you prefer and you’ll be saying it, too, if your heart be not hardened, if your ears can hear, if your eyes can see.
Even the One Whose Name Feels Like Sandpaper Against the Roof of My Mouth cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s abandoned, why have you abandoned me? God Himself felt left to die without any clear intervention from God Himself, bearing insults and suffering, bearing the weight of oppression and violence and mercilessness the exact way we don’t want him to bear it. We want him to turn into the Warrior God, the Vengeful God, the Mighty Smiter, we want him to come down from the cross and prove himself to be the god we want him to be, not the I AM THAT I AM.
When Jonah goes to talk to Nineveh, he’s pissed when they actually listen to him and repent - all he really wanted was God to destroy them. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” I’d rather die than you put up with this shit any more. Enough of your patience. Enough of your abundant grace. Enough of your mercy triumphing over justice.
The news cycle turns over and it’s “breaking” yet again, another earthquake, another bomb, another gun, another dead boy whose face will only haunt our dreams for a little bit before we pass over him, because really, what else can we do but change the channel, say a prayer, maybe send a check to a non-profit to feel better. Vanity of vanities, says the most cynical Teacher in Ecclesiastes, everything is vanity.
Maybe every whispered prayer in times like these is vanity.
“What would Mister Louie do?”
In the Old Testament, whenever God called out by name to his people, they answered, “Here I am.” Here we are on earth, you and me. I am here. I AM THAT I AM is here. Somehow we are now embedded with this Presence, this Love, to be here, to be present, to represent. There is a name above all names we keep saying without meaning, and I’m tired of it.
I’m tired of saying “Jesus” when we should be seeing “Hey-soos.”
But Lord, when did I ever see you hungry or thirsty or naked or as a stranger or sick or in prison and not help you?
Mister Louie would see. Mister Louie would hear. Mister Louie would sit bedside. Mister Louie would act. Mister Louie would show up. Mister Louie would offer his lunch. Mister Louie would wait. Mister Louie would be kind. Mister Louie would save.
“Mister Louie have mercy”
My best friend’s fiance’s mom died suddenly of pneumonia two months before their wedding. “Oh God, I’m so sorry,” I text. There are no other words here, though others will surely be delivered about “more angels needed in heaven” or worse, her time to go. Lord have mercy on us, who claim to be salt of the earth and instead sprinkle salt in wounds.
When Brian Doyle was diagnosed with brain cancer, a friend set up a GoFundMe account and donations came from everywhere. I believe it was God who moved through him to move others to love him, who seemed to love everyone and everything that the Lord God made and called good. It was the perfect 21st century triune, the blessing we give and take and give and take, a giant, virtual, tangible, incarnate communion of saints. And then he wasn’t healed. And then he died. It is both horrible and holy how things break and heal and die and live forever.
My best friend has written in permanent ink in her skin, Kyrie Eleison, which translates to “Lord have mercy.” Lord have mercy. Lord of that name, that bloodied, beaten, tortured Name pinned to a cross that some claim was placed there to appease an angry father. Lord have mercy, compassionate and gracious God. Lord of heaven, Lord of earth, Lord of the weary, Lord of the worn, Lord of the poor, Lord of the beaten, Lord of the peacemakers, Lord of the lost, Lord of the broken. Lord who saves. Lord have mercy.
“Mister Louie saves.”
From a bridge today an Amish man in a straw hat and black pants signaled down to the semi I passed. Honk your horn! He pulled his imaginary air-horn string, the one I know hangs slack above the driver’s left shoulder, and wouldn’t you know it, the driver obliged, two long blats like a tuba’s. The Amish man’s signal turned into a wave and then we were all gone, the bridge, the road, the parallel lanes, the Amish man, the semi-truck driver I passed, and me.
We were gone, another communion of saints concluded.
I want to tell you how full the world is with joy and Brian Doyle-isms and semi-truck drivers and Amish men on bridges but I’m afraid of waxing sentimental in the midst of all this cynicism and sadness (everything is vanity, everything is meaningless), though who wouldn’t want a sentimental wax? I’ll take a little dab of that. I want to keep feeling it roll against my ribcage from the inside.
There are so many bridges that end other than in two long air-horn blasts of interaction. There are so many other bridges that separate us, body from spirit, flesh from bone, son from mother, real life from a screen. There are fallen bridges, jumped bridges, and broken bridges. We could have just missed it, just not been paying attention. There ought to be more air-horns sounded just for the joy of the thing. There ought to be more signals, more connections, more hands raised not for protection but in presence, in preservation, in praise.
Here I am, here I am, here I AM.
“Don’t take Mister Louie’s Name in Vain”
Maybe the commandment means something more than what we’ve made of it, like so many commandments passed from priest to parishioner that have lost the heart and kept the hammer. Maybe God never meant the command to be about what we said but what we did - whose name we did it in. If God is love, then the commandment becomes Do not take love in vain, do not make love in vain, do not say you love and not mean it or do it or give it legs or make it move, do not be a clanging cymbal or a banging gong, do not say Lord, Lord or Jesus, Jesus, and never feed the hungry, never clothe the naked, never tend to the widow or the orphan. Do not say Love and then hate. Do not say Love and then walk away. Do not wait for God to move when God is Love and you could be loving and moving right this minute, loving and moving in love with your loved ones and your unloved ones, making good neighbors instead of good fences, building Amish-air-horn bridges instead of bigger bombs.
Maybe if we just give this a try for a bit, I can get over this name thing and just follow Mister Louie, like he said.
“One day Elizabeth said something so naked and direct about Mister Louie that after she said it I excused myself and walked out of the room and wrote it down. ‘It doesn’t matter what we call him,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter what his name is really. It just matters that we can still talk to him and that he said love is the boss. Isn’t that right?’” - Brian Doyle
 Romans 8:37-39
 Matthew 25:44
Sarah M. Wells is the author of a novella-length essay, The Valley of Achor, a collection of poems, Pruning Burning Bushes, and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce. Her family devotional will be published by Discovery House Publishers Fall 2018. Poems and essays by Wells have appeared recently in Ascent, Brevity, Full Grown People, Hippocampus Review, The Pinch, River Teeth, Rock & Sling, Under the Gum Tree, and elsewhere. Her work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and essays by Wells have been listed as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. She serves as the Director of Content Marketing at Spire Advertising. She blogs regularly for Our Daily Bread Ministries's website, Off the Page.