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A Meditation on Titles

A Meditation on Titles August 21, 2011

I just received a note from a Facebook friend saying “Thank you, Rev. James.”

I’ve noticed that among my younger friends I’m often referred to in the third person as “The Rev” and to my face as “Rev.” The to my face part, often with a smile. This in spite of my repeated invitation to call me James. And it seems this honor comes from Unitarian Universalists and Buddhists alike. The major commonality appears to be age, all being younger than I.

And I am painfully aware I am aging, so that being younger part is increasingly likely…

Now, I am in possession of any number of titles. On the UU side of things there’s that “The Reverend,” and also minister and also senior minister. People unfamiliar or uncomfortable with UU style also call me pastor and parson and more often than one might think likely, father.

On the Zen side, that Reverend rolls around a bit, more than any other title, I think, as does on a more occasional basis, Venerable. I’m often called sensei which is an honorific and means teacher. And increasingly I’m referred to as and even called roshi, which roughly translates as old fart, but carries a fair amount of respect meaning a venerable. Osho which means priest pops up now and again, as well…

To pretty much all when I’m addressed by one or another of these I respond, “Call me James.”

These titles all feel so posh. And it doesn’t always sit comfortably for this boy from the wrong side of the tracks… (And, yes, of course, a small naggy part likes it, too. But it really is a pretty small part…)

I’m also aware that my various tasks in life include inhabiting archetypes. And it really isn’t my business to tell people what to call the archetype they’re working with at that moment.

I do understand. When I’m at a doctor’s office for the most part I’m not concerned with the person, I want the doctor. I know its true when I’m in the interview room with a Zen student. I know it’s also true when I’m with a parishioner in the hospital. I get called Rev there a lot more by UUs who normally would never, never use a title that sets up a distinction of authority.

Now, I came of age in an anti-establishment era, one that disliked distinctions and classes. And I doubt I’ll ever be completely comfortable with the titles people give me.

And, I’m aware things change.

As they really do.

As have I.

So, along with being called sir by people at cash registers, and being treated increasingly as cute by young women I’d much rather think of me as dashing or handsome or fetching or whatever, I know I need to get over it and get used to it.

There’s a person here. And there’s someone doing something, filling an archetype of one sort or another.

It’s all personal. And, after all, its nothing personal. Woven so fine…

So, when I’m called Rev with a bit of a smile…

Part of me rebels.

And a bigger part, well, I’m coming to like it…

Ah, life…

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