Thursday, December 21, 2006

My name, her name, His Name

Husband and I hosted our annual champagne party last night.

Sounds a bit posh, doesn't it? Actually it is a very informal 'champagne and Cornish pasty' party.

Husband (who usually has more note-worthy role models) took the inspiration from a certain Jeffrey A. We had champagne and shepherd's pie one year, but shepherd's pie for 15-20 guests without a catering size oven was a bit difficult to manage.

Last year we experimented with Cornish pasties, bought from the best CP shop in the area (supplied by makers in Cornwall). This year we voted to have the same.

'We' are the eight or nine church members meeting fortnightly at our house as a 'fellowship group'. The party (a Christmas celebration, if I hadn't made it clear) normally includes those members who cannot usually attend due to class schedules, invited guests of the members and members of their families.

Last night started out alright. I had cooked the pasties in good time, unlike the previous year. (You see, experience always helps.) The warmer was switched on and the pasties were transferred into it, all ready and just waiting to be served when all the guests had arrived.

Son decided that it was a 'I am very shy' day and stayed away, but husband and I each half-expected that (thus making it whole!!). Son did make a couple of brief guest appearances, only to show off his newly-discovered skills on the piano.

But a guest, let's call her GR (grrrrr!), decided that there was something wrong with me because I mentioned that I am generally known by my maiden name at son's school. She then went on and on AND ON about how odd it was that I had not taken my husband's surname at marriage.

I said, "Look! My mum never took my father's surname. She was known all her life by her maiden name. We used the title 'Madam' to refer to her as a married woman."

Having also married very late in life it was natural for me to keep my surname especially in my professional life.

GR: "No, that's not right. When you're married, you should take your husband's surname."

Pardon? I then highlighted how in Hong Kong women tended to just add on their husband's surname to theirs. In several Scandinavian cultures, the couple double-barrel their surnames and BOTH parties use both.

As a Singaporean Chinese married to an Englishman my name sounds awful when linked to his English surname and I quite like keeping my identity, thank you.

She would have none of it, and went on and on and on IN MY LIVING ROOM telling me what I should have done.

I said, "Go ask my husband if he cares whether or not I have not officially taken his name."

Now that I am writing about this I remember with great fondness how my late father-in-law-to-be (the best father-in-law, in my opinion) smiled and agreed that it made sense for me to keep my surname. ("I can imagine you as a prime minister but not as a lecturer," he once said with a twinkle in his eye. He actively encouraged me to take up local politics, but I wanted -- still want -- a life.)

The point is: what cheek! To come to my house, come to my party, eat my food and drink my champagne and tell me I was wrong not to take my husband's surname!

And does it matter, really?

Nowhere in our marriage vows did I promise to take on my husband's name. We promised to live the biblical model of marriage to honour the Name of the Lord, but nowhere in the Bible does it say that a woman must take on the husband's surname.

Of course, surnames are a very recent invention in the western world. In biblical times, people are known as 'son of' and 'daughter of' so-and-so, often even after they were married, so that the genealogy could be quite clear. It would be logical to assume that the women kept some identity of their family of origin.

(Incidentally, Ruth was known as the 'Moabite'. Husband's grandmother referred to me as 'that foreign woman' when she was told about our engagement!)

Not too long ago, while doing our Bible study together, this same member noted that it was God who 'set all the boundaries of the earth', who 'made both summer and winter' (Psalm 104:17). Wherever we are, people see summer and winter and they see God, she argued.

I said (just to wind her up, really), "Yeah, but in Singapore we do not have these seasons. We have the monsoons."

But she then went on to try to convince me that there are still the four seasons in Singapore.

I said, "I lived there 30 years, I should know whether there had ever been a winter there."

Considering the fact that she comes originally from a country without the four seasons I found it hard to understand why she was so adamant that winter does come to Singapore.

Why am I telling you this?

The church is imperfect. It is made up of people who are far from perfect. We have members like GR in every church and we accept them for what they are.

Jesus came to earth (which is what Christmas is all about) for people like her AND ME because we are imperfect human beings. Those who are not ill do not need a physician ... indeed. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Indeed.

GR will always be welcome at our house. If she does not mind occasionally exchanging verbal blows with me, she's always welcome. She has a choice of not coming to this group. The fact that she does, I hope, means that she can find some comfort in our meeting together.

We might never agree about the seasons in Singapore (hot, very hot, wet, very wet), but I hope that as we look into the Bible and discuss both the significant and the mundane she would also begin to understand better the principles with which believers should interpret the Bible.

That is the beauty of the church. The members are so different, not like the Christian university students I used to work with.

As they say: do not look for the perfect church. If you think you've found the perfect church, do not join it. You would make it a little less perfect.

How true.

Back to Organic-Ally.

No comments: