names

New Jerusalem

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The old Allentown Good Will

It seems that Allentown (our three years younger neighbor to the north of Emmaus and my temporary place of residence) has hired someone to come up with a new slogan: “City without limits.” I know that the purpose of this slogan is essentially for marketing for development, but I can think of few worse slogans for any town.

Allentown, it should be noted, is no longer the city that Billy Joel sang about. The grittiness and rust-beltishness largely passed years ago. It really is a new sort of town, compared with that time, and perhaps this is the sort of thing the sloganeers had in mind. But the irony is to be found in their comparisons with other city nicknames, namely, New York’s “The Big Apple”, Chicago’s “The Windy City,” Philadelphia’s “City of Brotherly Love,” or even neighboring Bethlehem’s “Christmas City.”

None of those cities came up with their nicknames as part of a marketing campaign. They were simply nicknames that arose from the experience of those living there, for various kinds of reasons. Both Bethlehem and Philadelphia’s nicknames are derived from their actual names. Chicago is, quite literally, windy, and New York, curiously enough, shares its sobriquet with another great city, Constantinople, which was also thought of as an apple. Whatever the case, these towns drew their nicknames from experience. They also drew their nicknames from limits.

The limits which define those other cities are their particular character. Chicago can’t be anything other than windy, and Denver can’t be anything other than a mile high. What makes those nicknames work is that they are peculiar, precisely that they are, indeed, limitations on the character of their geographic reference points. But in the Allentown sloganeers’ desire to market what is, really, not a bad town at all, they chose something that is, in itself, devoid of real meaning.

Ah, yes—what was that town that had no limits to it? Yes, Allentown. Does that mean they’re going to annex poor Northampton now? (Actually, Allentown’s first incorporated name was, indeed, Northampton.) Will fair Emmaus be next or that upstart Macungie? Being “without limits” is precisely a characterless anonymity which simply suggests that here there is undifferentiated ground ready for development. We are SimCity. Paint some arbitrary zoning on us with your mouse. Something tells me that they will try this name on for a few years, until they realize that no one but marketeers and sloganeers (and maybe some Mouseketeers, but surely not musketeers) is using it. Then, they’ll replace it with something else, like “Allentown: Open for business.” Or (and this really is a snappy original) “Allentown: Please build something.”

Limits are precisely what make a place what it is. It’s this, not something else. It’s here, not there. It has limits. If it has no limits, it’s really just screaming out to be an undifferentiated morass of Wal-marts, Starbucks and publicly funded pieces of bad sculpture made from castaway steel girders and doctored up by a group perhaps best known as “Welders Without Borders”, a bland sprawl without grounding, without face, without identity. (Okay, I made up the “Welders Without Borders” bit, but not the art. Our poor valley is littered with it.)

Local tradition has it that Allentown was originally supposed to be named Jerusalem (which is not surprising, given other local names in the Lehigh Valley, e.g., Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Emmaus). That’s right—Jerusalem.

Now, there’s a city with limits.

Ecological Vision in James Cameron’s Avatar

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Ecology was never particularly a subject I thought I would find myself thinking too much about, much less writing about, but it seems to keep coming to the fore for me, especially as I’ve begun to apprehend more of its theological, rather than secular/political, significance. Framing this theological vision in terms of “the story of home” (which is one literal rendering of oikologia, from which we get ecology) makes a good deal more sense than putting it in the rarefied categories of “environmentalism.”

As Master Bueller once put it, “A person shouldn’t believe in an ism.” I don’t agree with him, of course, that a person should instead “believe in himself.” Our confidence and spiritual center as Christians is in Christ, not in ourselves. Ferris’s substitution of self-worship for ideology—and boldly explored in what is still one of the most entertaining films to come out in the past 30 years—is not really much better, but at least he got it half right. Ideology is not the answer. As an Orthodox Christian, I assert that communion is the answer. And that brings us to James Cameron’s Avatar.

This past Sunday afternoon, I went with my father-in-law to one of the local big cinemas (alas, not to the Emmaus Theatre, which, not surprisingly, is probably not going to be showing Avatar; Update: Actually, it looks like it is!), and we took in a matinée of Avatar. I’ll be honest: I like big, action-packed sci-fi flicks, and that is precisely what I expected to see in Avatar. I’ve read some reviews from some of my fellow Orthodox which criticize the film’s lack of character development and serious dialogue, as well as its theological unidimensionality, but I wasn’t expecting any of that kind of depth in Avatar and wasn’t disappointed when it wasn’t there. I still judge these kinds of movies like I do Star Wars, which particularly in its 1977 first installment also didn’t have that kind of depth. What it and Avatar do have are archetypal characters dealing with fairly predictable situations in fairly standard ways. All that means is that I still try to watch these movies like I watched Star Wars through the early ’80s—like a kid hoping for a good time. I see nothing wrong with that sort of homely fun. I also admit to some amusement at the film’s humans’ quest for a mineral called unobtainium. Some critics, it seems, took this to be a sign of uninventiveness on the filmmakers’ part rather than the sci-fi in-joke that it is. But no matter.

Anyway, for an intriguing, if brief, comment on the soteriological problems of the film, see these remarks. But perhaps my favorite weblog review is this one from the Front Porch Republic, which takes a localist/conservative look at the film, rather than a neo-conservative/globalist look (the worldview for much of the right-ish punditry on this flick).

That being said, I do think that there are some fascinating questions being explored by Avatar which go a bit beyond the standard cinematic explosions-in-space fare that I was raised on. Given the basic Idyllic-Noble-Savages-in-Tune-with-their-Planet set upon by the Bad-Mean-Military-Industrial-Civilized-Types narrative of the film, there are some writers who have taken Avatar to be “environmentalist” propaganda, and it may well be and may even have been intended that way. But I still think there are some elements of the film worth thinking about and worth comparing with Orthodox ecological and cosmological vision.

One of the basic assumptions of much of modern secular environmentalism seems to be summed up in this question: How do we take mankind out of the picture? Man is typically conceived of as an alien on Earth, and thus the environmental project is to remove man’s presence as much as possible from the planet. The only permissible sentient life is the “noble savage,” who are writ quite large (literally) in Avatar. The Na’vi people are essentially sinless and innocent.

It is a common notion in pagan cosmology and anthropology that there is an identification between mankind, the planet and the creator—in most ancient myths, mankind is birthed from an earth-goddess, and the planet Pandora in Avatar is no exception. The Na’vi’s goddess Eywa is essentially a sort of consciousness for the planet itself, which the scientists there tell us is host to a bioneurological network more complex and conscious than the human brain, via bioelectric connections that run through all the flora of the planet. The fauna, including the Na’vi, are able to interface with other animals and even with plants, thus allowing memories to be stored in the shared network. “Memory eternal” for each person is entirely possible in the mind of their goddess, and there seems to be some kind of communion which can be attained between persons by means of the connection to Eywa.

What I think is worth noting in this pagan/pantheistic view of god, man and nature is its similarity to Orthodox Christianity. With most heterodox, anti-sacramental forms of Christianity, matter and spirit are so disconnected from one another that the environment is looked upon as something wholly “other” from man—thus, one is either an environmentalist seeking to remove man from nature or one is an exploitationist seeking to use nature for all it’s worth. Either way, the human intuition underneath paganism and still present within Orthodoxy is lost—that man is not apart from the rest of creation, but rather is its pinnacle, and also that he is meant to serve as the creation’s priest, making sacred use of materiality as an offering to god/God, to be returned back to him as a means of sanctification. The most bloody pagan knew this as he killed bulls on his altar, and the Christian knew this as he received the Body and Blood in the unbloody sacrifice of the God-man on his own altar.

The Na’vi form a coherent culture, one which is deeply concerned with Place. This goes a bit beyond the devotion to “the forest” or somesuch that we have seen in other kind of environmentalist films (e.g., Fern Gully). The Na’vi not only have their Hometree, but they also have what amount to temples and cemeteries. It is finally the threat to their holiest shrine that is the greatest potential catastrophe in the film. This, too, is an indication of a sense of the holiness of Place, that materiality not only has a functional purpose but a spiritual significance, that any given place is irreplaceable and unrepeatable.

One thing that is a bit different about Eywa, the planet goddess of the Na’vi, is that she apparently hears prayer. This is why I regard the theological vision of this film as more pagan than truly pantheistic. In this, I regard the film as more advanced than most modern environmentalist theologies, which usually want nothing at all to do with a deity with any sort of personal existence. But when we see swarms of native creatures begin a coordinated assault on the mechanistic military of the invading humans, narrated by the deep-chested declaration of Neytiri—”Eywa has heard you!”—then we are clearly being told that this is a deity with self-awareness and with potency. Eywa is concerned only with “maintaining the balance” of life and does not take sides, much like the Holy Trinity Who is not partial and only acts according to the divine plan. But both, nevertheless, in some way interact with the persons in their care in a way that can only be understood as answering prayer.

Another intriguing element in the film is that all energy is “borrowed.” On Pandora, what that seems to mean is that, when anything dies, it returns back to the planet and ceases to exist. Yet its being is somehow remembered by Eywa, such that sentient voices can be heard by those who tap into Eywa’s neural network. Again, this is a more advanced vision than modern secularism, which has no idea whatsoever how to deal with death (other than coming up with new ways to hasten it). That humans (and Na’vi) have always put their dead into the ground is an indication of our understanding of the connection between that ground and the flesh which is made from it. Thus, even in death, the Na’vi’s communion is in and through Eywa. Further, even basic communication seems to carry with it the notion of communion and interpenetration, as with their repeated phrase, “I see you,” meaning “I am looking deeply into you.”

Yet while the Na’vi can only hope for the storage of their memories in Eywa, perhaps in a modified form of the personal oblivion of Hindu and Buddhist Nirvana, the Christian knows that “Memory eternal” in God’s memory means that He continues to give us His energy so that we may live forever, whether we are righteous or wicked. The Fathers teach us that we are not naturally immortal, but God does sustain us forever, such that we are effectively immortal.

This leads me to my final question, one which I have not yet seen any writing on at all: Why is it that the scientist leading the Avatar Project, played by Sigourney Weaver, is named “Dr. Grace Augustine”? It’s possible, to be sure, that the juxtaposition of Grace and Augustine is purely coincidental. But could it perhaps be an anti-Pelagian comment, that salvation for a people (whether the Na’vi or the humans who are exploiting them) can only come through divine intervention?

So, yes, I am looking forward to a sequel.

Update Dec. 26, 2009: One bit that could probably do with some fleshing out in the above is the major difference between pagan and Orthodox Christian theology—the utter dissimilarity between the Creator and Creation. We have no idea whether Eywa is the creator of Pandora (indeed, she seems to function on the purely created level), but the identification of Eywa with the Na’vi and other life puts this theology firmly in the pagan camp. Persons are quite literally children of their deity.

For Orthodox Christianity (and Judaism before it), the Creator is utterly different from the Creation. Creation is not birthed from the Creator, but rather created ex nihilo. This is probably a major reason why the traditional Jewish and Christian image of God is as Father and not as mother, to preserve the critical theological affirmation of the total difference between the created and the uncreated. Indeed, it is this difference which makes the Incarnation of the Son of God such an astounding miracle. It is honestly nothing terribly special if a deity which is already identified with her worshipers chooses to make herself known as one of them. It is something else entirely if the eternal, changeless, infinite, invisible and uncreated God becomes temporal, subject to change, finite and visible, while yet simultaneously retaining all the fullness of His deity.

Pagan philosophy had begun to head in this direction by the time of Christ (that is, to profess a total disjunction between uncreated and created, as the Unmoved Mover and the Moved), which is why the Incarnation took the world by storm. This is also why the big theological problem of the early centuries of Christianity was not how this man could be God, but rather how God could possibly have become man.

Sweet Afton

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River Afton, Ayrshire, Scotland

Flow gently, sweet Afton! amang thy green braes,
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Thou stockdove whose echo resounds thro’ the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing thy screaming forbear,
I charge you, disturb not my slumbering Fair.

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark’d with the courses of clear, winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary’s sweet cot in my eye.

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev’ning weeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides;
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As, gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave.

Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Robert Burns, 1791

I’m not entirely sure why, but this poem’s been on my mind ever since my son Elias was born on Sunday. I must admit to first being introduced to it by Nickel Creek, who included a musical version of it on their debut album, framed by a melody which is so clear and appropriate that one feels that it could not have had any author.

There is something about the anchoring of and in place that comes forward at the birth of a child, particularly (if I may) a son. Since the days of Adam, men have as part of their vocation on this earth to provide stability, unity and name. (And women provide civilization and a motivation for men to undertake their calling.)

Both of my children have so far been born in Pennsylvania, while both their parents are native Virginians. This seems right to me, in a way I cannot quite explain but which is particularly informed by the reality that, in my own immediate family, between five members are five native states. That’s just how things turned out for us, but it’s not something I’d like to perpetuate.

With a new man comes a new grounding in the ecology (per Prof. Alfred Siewers, “the story of home”), a new generation to be ordered among the fathers and grandfathers. Here in 21st century America, the fathers and grandfathers rarely call the same place home.

My prayer is that my generation may be among the last to be so scattered across this world. It seems to me that the Incarnation almost expects it.

The Defamiliarization of the Christ

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Who is this man?

There are many times when I am speaking to someone about Christ, even within a church context, that I feel like I am speaking about an alien visitor from outer space. It is quite similar to the feeling I sometimes have when referencing some piece of history that interests me for which my interlocutor has no context or experience to make it meaningful.

I picked the above photograph for this post to illustrate this point. To the Orthodox Christians among my readership, this is clearly an Orthodox bishop. The more astute may notice that his hat’s particular shape marks him as belonging to one of the Byzantine (rather than Slavic) churches. And perhaps one or two of you who are historically minded in a rather specific way will recognize this as Archbishop Panteleimon of Neapolis, a bishop of the Jerusalem Patriarchate who visited America in the 1920s. But I think just about anyone else looking at this picture might think, “Oh, here is some professionally religious man, an important Christian of some sort.” But ultimately, he is meaningless and uninteresting to them.

This sentiment just begins to hint at the defamiliarization I sometimes feel, especially when I use the name Jesus or His title Christ. I think it is probably all made worse for me that I am a clergyman. It is expected that I play a certain role, that I mention this Jesus, but the clericalism of modern American piety keeps Him firmly on “my” side but just as firmly not on “their” side. It’s okay for me to be religious, and I’ll take care of the religion for other folks, too.

We live in such an atheistically informed culture—in which most people ironically identify as Christian but really are not interested in Christ—that unless there is a clear, mutual experience of being steeped in the Christian faith, even introducing the idea to another person, even within the Church, I have the sense of talking about a space alien. It’s telling, I think, that one form of mockery about the Christian faith refers to Jesus precisely in these terms, that He is a space alien Who has visited Earth and done weird things with His “science.”

What’s tougher about all this is that there is a kind of campy, obsolete quality to presenting Christian faith in modern American culture. The whole nation is such a “burnt over” district that very few really will catch fire any more. Christ is silly to people, a ridiculous, awkward sort of Disney character that they left behind in childhood, or perhaps when He was “revealed” powerless in the midst of their suffering, or when He proved irrelevant to their ambitions.

All this is why I think that street preaching, while very much a major part of what the Apostles did, is not (with certain notable exceptions) very effective in our time and place. I think most of us know this, so we solve this problem by doing precisely what we should not do: we retreat into our churches and just do services and expect that that will be enough.

While I was in seminary, I was told by a visiting priest whose job it was to head up his jurisdiction’s “Department of Evangelization” that “just being the Church” is the key. When I asked him what that meant in practical terms and he responded, my suspicions were confirmed. He was an “if you chant it, they will come” sort of evangelist. So much for that “go ye into all the world” business.

But it is so much the worse if we approach this question by trying to familiarize Jesus, to turn Him into a product of name recognition, some item to be bought or acquired, a bit of righteousness which goes nicely with the decor. Defamiliarization is a challenge, but familiarization is outright evil. Such a Jesus is a pathetic wimp who wound up on the wrong side of the first century Palestinian authorities and got killed for it, but that is not the Christ. The real Jesus essentially climbed up on the cross and continued to rule the Universe from there.

So what is the cure for the defamiliarization of the Christ? I am not interested in “strategies” so much as real experience. (This is a serious question, and I invite responses.)

In my own experience, I’ve found telling people not to come to church if they don’t believe in it to be remarkably effective. We’re so familiar with fake religious folks that it’s often refreshing to be told not to come to church. It’s not worth it to fake it. It’s actually more dangerous to come and act religious than it is to stay home and watch football instead. Please, stay home and watch football. At least you’ll be authentic. This is in line with Orthodox doctrine, too, because our whole theology is predicated upon man’s free will. Religion as obligation is the slow suicide of the Church. It’s a curious thing, however, what men and women will do when you set them free.

I also have found that telling the basic story of the Gospel has great power when used in public preaching and in private conversation. Most of us are familiar with the starting point, namely, that we are a broken and suffering humanity. If we know any suffering at all, then we can begin to hear the Gospel. (I have great concern for those who have never known any pain, want, or agony, because they see nothing that they need to be saved from.) Where we go from there—man’s true freedom, God’s compassion for us, the rustic reality of the Incarnation—is often the key for connecting people to the God Who is real. In other words, it’s about learning and living dogma. Dogma, you see, is not a bunch of esoteric religious concepts but rather an attempt to describe the real nature of God, humanity and the universe and practically to prescribe how they should be interacting.

Perhaps the defamiliarization itself is something of an advantage. So what, then, if we’re saved by a space alien? What makes it all even weirder is that it’s a space alien Who became an Earthling. Knowing the alienation of divinity from humanity is the starting point of knowing the Divinity through His incarnate humanity.

It’s time to meet Jesus again, to see Him not as a “tame lion” (to borrow the Narnian phrase) but to experience Him as the Lion of Judah, Who cannot be predicted or predicated. He can, however, be preached.

Barton Decker, barber

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USS Lenawee (APA-195)
USS Lenawee (APA-195)

This past Friday, I made another assay into the streets of and around Emmaus to find myself a decent barber shop. My first haircut experience in Emmaus, to put it frankly, hurt. I have no idea exactly why that gent had such a need to dig the clippers with such fervor into my neck, but, suffice it to say, once I did my fiduciary duty to the gentleman, I resolved not to darken his establishment’s door again. I’ve had many haircuts in my day, and, despite the ancient connection between barbers and dentists, I believe that association has now been firmly and properly severed. It does not have to hurt. (I won’t mention the establishment’s name, lest I turn away custom from a man who may simply have been having a bad day.)

Thus, when it came time this month for my haircut, I first decided to check out a shop on my usual route home, just outside Emmaus, titled simply “The Barber Shop.” I pulled up in my car and peered inside the window. I saw rows of shampoo bottles on shelves and immediately began to suspect I was in the wrong place. Then I saw a sign with the prices on it and was confirmed in my suspicions. This was not the old-school, small-time barbershop I’d come to trust on sight. This, despite the name, was some sort of “salon.” I did not go in but immediately got back in my car.

I turned back toward Emmaus proper and decided to try a place I’d seen on Chestnut Street not too far past the Emmaus Triangle. (We don’t have a town square. We have a triangle.) Barty’s Barber Shop was small, not very impressive on the outside, and thus, probably just right on the inside. Even the sign emblazoned with the proprietor’s name, Barton Decker, was not awfully visible from the street. There is, however, a barber pole, and that is quite enough. And one cannot go wrong with a name like Barton Decker. It is hard to imagine a more “barberly” name.

As I glanced into the window at Barty’s, I saw walls smothered in photographs, many black and white. Opening the door, there was a faint whiff of pipe smoke. I was in the right place.

Mr. Decker was clipping the hair of a customer in his chair, pipe snugly in the corner of his mouth. The two—barber and, ah, barbed—were jocularly trading mild jibes. I was most definitely in the right place.

Eventually, the gentleman left, satisfied with his haircut, and I took the chair. I removed my clerical collar and unfastened the neck button of my shirt. Mr. Decker and I introduced ourselves to one another. He told me he’d lived in the house which included his barber shop since the 1930s. To let him know what I wanted for my haircut, I told him, “I’d like to keep what I’ve got. Just less of it, please!” My standard line, which always gets a smile out of a good barber. This time was not an exception.

I spied a prominent painting on the wall amidst all the photographs, itself adorned with a few snapshots embedded asymmetrically in the edges of its frame. It was the USS Lenawee, a USN amphibious attack transport used in the Pacific at the tail end of World War II, as well as in the Korean and Vietnam wars. I asked Barton about it. He then regaled me with a fountain of tales of his time in the U.S. Navy. Was he an engineer, gunner, etc.? No, he was a U.S. Navy barber. Never fired a gun. Just clipped sailors’ hair. And he loved it.

He almost single-handedly raised morale aboard the Lenawee, stemming from a conversation he had with the captain. The captain, it seemed, liked to have a little more hair on his head than was the Navy custom in the early ’50s, because his wife liked it that way. But of course the men on board the Lenawee had wives, too. And Decker was the man for the job. He gave them a little something to run a comb through. Not a Hollywood haircut. Just a good, clear haircut. And it was one of the happiest ships in the whole of Uncle Sam’s Navy.

I told Barton about my painful experience at the other barber shop. He didn’t comment directly, but mentioned that he’d been cutting hair in Emmaus for 55 years (as if, perhaps, to suggest that the other fellow was “new” and thus, well, suspect). I asked him if he thought there was a future for him there in Emmaus. He laughed. He said he’d wanted to be a barber since he was in 6th grade. I asked him if it had been a family business. “Nope. I just knew that, ’cause I wasn’t too smart, a barber was a pretty good thing to be!”

By the end of the haircut, he’d done a fine job. (How could he not? He’d been doing this since before my father was born.) I thanked him. We both smiled. I tried to pay him. Nope. He’d have none of it.

“This ancient and honorable name”

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The Knauss Homestead, Emmaus, Pennsylvania (1777)
The Knauss Homestead, Emmaus, Pennsylvania (1777)

The image above is of the Knauss Homestead, one of the founding family homes in Emmaus, established in 1777. It was the patriarch of the clan, Sebastian Knauss, who first donated land in 1759 on which Emmaus was to be built. The Homestead property borders directly on that of St. Paul Orthodox Church, where I am pastor. It’s probably a decent assumption that we now worship on what used to be Knauss land.

I ran across the following passage today which both amused and comforted in a curious way. It is from The Guardian: A Monthly Magazine for Young Men and Ladies, published by the Reformed Church in America. This particular issue was printed in 1881, and this text figures on page 88:

NAMES OF PLACES MISPRONOUNCED.

It is curious to observe how frequently the names of places are miscalled by railroad officials. On the North Pennsylvania railroad there is, for instance, a station called Bingen. The name is beautiful; derived from the old town in Germany which furnished the title for Mrs. Norton’s noble ballad, “Bingen on the Rhine.” Of course, it ought to be pronounced with the g hard: Bingen. Travelling that way, some years ago, we repeatedly heard the name announced: “Bin-jen! Bin-jen!” It put us in mind of “Old John Brown, who had a little Injun” It is, however, but just to say that this error has since been corrected.

On the East Pennsylvania railroad, near Allentown, there is a thriving town which was named by its Moravian founders after the village of Emmaus, to which the two disciples were going, on the day of the resurrection, when they saw the Lord. It should be pronounced in three syllables—Em-ma-us. We would like to know by what authority it is now spelled Emaus, and pronounced by railroad conductors, with an indescribable drawl, “Ee-maws.” Somewhere in that region there was once a guide-board, at a cross-road, which directed the traveler to “Amouse.” That was bad enough, but the modern form is hardly an improvement. We think the citizens of Emmaus should protest against the corruption of this ancient and honorable name.

In 1859, twenty-two years before this issue was published, Emmaus was incorporated as a borough of Pennsylvania (having been founded in 1759). Its original name was indeed spelled Emmaus, but one of the M’s was dropped in 1830 and the borough incorporated as Emaus (the Pennsylvania Dutch spelling), but petitions circulated in 1938 via the local Rotary Club, and the spelling was reverted back to double-M status.

I find it doubtful that The Guardian in 1881 knew the circumstances of the change which had occurred more than half a century before its publication. One might well also read some Anglophonic snobbery in the text above, especially since it is quite possible that Emmaus’s first hundred years or so probably heard a lot of German being spoken in her streets and fields on the north slope of South Mountain.

All that said, one has to take some small delight at citizens being encouraged (in a magazine for “Young Men and Ladies,” no less!) to mount up a protest against the “corruption” of their town’s “ancient and honorable name.” There is a certain honor that attaches to a name, and if you’ve ever had your own name mispronounced, you know what I mean. Names are something shared in a community. They not only mean something to individual people, but they also convey a common understanding and are an element of the economy of the place, the commerce of personhood that flows between persons.