Three Wrongs and an Invocation

Photo on 10-10-13 at 6.35 PMWhen I was a responsible pastor serving a real church about seven or eight years ago, I was asked to give an invocation at a Fresno City Council meeting.

They asked me to show up at the wrong time.

They didn’t have the name of my church listed correctly on the agenda.

They misspelled my name.

But I forgave them!

And, as I began my “invoking,” I told them I didn’t think God needed an invocation.

You may wonder what an “invocation” is, whether at the Council meeting or elsewhere, but first let me try to explain the Council’s wrongs regarding me.

The agenda listed me as “Larry Patton*.” Wrong. I am Larry Patten. My name is constantly misspelled. I refer to it as the “curse of the General.” General George Patton was a famous soldier of the World War II era. In the 1970s (and now constantly repeated on television), George Scott portrayed him in the aptly named film, Patton. Curse and double-curse. So the name, spelled with an “o” instead of an “e,” has received a fair amount of exposure. Further, it’s more common. The Fresno phone book lists eight (8) Pattens and thirty (30) Pattons. We’re out-filmed and out-numbered.

The agenda said my church was “Wesley Methodist Church.” Wrong. I then served at Wesley United Methodist Church, which meant we were part of the United Methodist denomination. Not Methodist. United Methodist. Since 1968, when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, we had been—taking one word from each denomination—United Methodist. In 1968, I suppose we could’ve made other name choices, like The Evangelical Methodist Church or The Methodist Brethrens or maybe even The Untied Evanmethodicals, but we became United Methodist.

But I forgave the Council members their mistakes. I’m sure they’ve made worse. Anyhow, most of ‘em have probably watched Patton multiple times and some of them probably haven’t paid attention to all the changes in the world since 1968.

And I make time errors all the time. Don’t we all? According to the agenda (this time it was correct) this Council meeting was a joint session of the Madera County Board of Supervisors and the Fresno City Council. However, the Fresnans apparently had been notified the session would convene at 8:30 A.M. and the Madera folks were told it was a 9:00 A.M. start time.

We started about 8:50. They established the spirit of compromise right away!

So, around 8:52, misspelled and misidentified, squeezed between the roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance, I did the invocation.

Traditionally, the invocation is meant to invoke—to call forth—the presence of God. Which I think is pretty odd. Most religions I know, from Christianity to Islam to Judaism, pretty much think the Holy is everywhere. Invocations make us feel that the Holy’s out in the other room, hat in hand, waiting to shuffle in when asked. But She is already here, among us. Or He’s already here, depending on your particular pronoun relationship with the Creator. God is everywhere. God is within us. And God, thank you very much, is probably able to function quite well without us sending out invitations.

In general, as a strong believer in the separation of church and state, I’m a tad suspicious of invocations at government-sponsored events. (I have no idea how the Holy feels.) And yet, an invocation may have its place. Therefore I told the Councilors and Supervisors that I didn’t think God needed to be invoked, or “called forth,” as much as everyone there needed to be called forth. May God help each of those misspelling, misidentifying, and time-confused elected officials to bring forth their truest and best selves. After all, they are our servants. They need to bring forth their honesty, compassion and truthfulness as they make decisions.

Given my time demands back then, I couldn’t stay for the meeting. I’m sure it was swell. I did notice that the Fresno Council President gave out fruit basket gifts to all the visiting Madera Supervisors.

Me, I didn’t get a fruit basket. Big disappointment.

But I did receive the gift of knowing that my elected officials are not much different than the rest of us. They make mistakes . . . from thyme to time.


*How is your name typically messed up, rearranged or misspelled?

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  1. I usually read, smile, think, and move on to the next ‘and yet’ of the day, but today’s question caused words to erupt from my fingers to my keyboard.

    Good morning, Patten, Stumme here. That’s Stumme, sounds like tummy. Originally from German, it was ironically pronounced like stomach only without the ‘k’ sound. Or unknowing people use one syllable like the word some, only with a ‘t’ sound after the s. Sometimes people pronounce it like stew, only with the ‘m’ sound on the end.
    This all leads to the various spellings: Stumme (correct), Stummey, Stummy, Stummie, Stewme, Stom and more.

    Also ironic, ‘stumme’ in the German language means ‘mute’ or ‘dumb’, which tells you I was not given this name at birth, some days the words don’t stop for me, I married this name. This starts a new name spelling challenge, Green spelled correctly like the color, or with the extra ‘e’, Greene?

    I must comment that because we live in Iowa now, Stumme is the more interesting name. Many times I am asked the question, “Are you related to….?”. I have learned to just answer “yes” because we probably are related. I never really had that question with ‘Green’. The joke is that my husband had to leave Iowa to marry outside the family. Which answers the question, “How did you marry a Stumme and move to Iowa?”

    That brings up the name of the town we live in, Tripoli (tri pol ah). Ya, don’t know why it’s not tri po lee.

    Good day, Larry.
    From Karen Stumme in Tripoli, Iowa

    1. Thanks Karen!

      Looks like there are as many possible wrong versions of Stumme as there are the proverbial multiple words for snow in the Inuit language. And speaking of snow, got those snow shovels sharpened as you get ready for an Iowa winter?! Heh-heh.

  2. “Randy”

    Even after preaching a sermon, in MY OWN CHURCH, standing at the doors saying good-bye after the service, I get, “That was a great sermon, Randy.” “Awesome message, Reverend Randy.” “Wow, Randy, that one really made me think!” My name is clearly spelled correctly in the service bulletin!
    By the way, did you notice that all the comments about my sermons are positive? – – – Nothing like a few self-serving statements to get the day going (thank you, Larry Patton, for the opportunity to do so).

    I’m fine calling me anything but “Late for dinner.”

    But to your point regarding invocations in public settings. (by the way, if the root word is invoke with a “k” why do we change it to a “c” when it’s invocation?)

    Sorry, blame it on the pain meds…

    Here’s what I’ve learned from my Jewish friends who sit through invoCations and are asked to summon all the supplications in the “name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Amen) I’ve asked them and a few Hindu friends how it makes them feel. Some are comfortable with it, some aren’t – some say it makes them feel as if they’re excluded from the “inner circle” because of their beliefs. And this hurts even more when a prayer for safety, or closeness or comfort or healing is offered because it makes them feel like they aren’t invited to receive it. Because they’re excluded.

    Someone MUCH wiser than me suggested I end public (government) invocations with “in the name of the one each of us claim as our Lord.” After the first time I did that, I was approached by two people (a man and a woman; they weren’t related). I thought to myself, “Uh-oh, what have you done.” Instead of chastising me, they thanked me for making them feel included and welcome at the event. I never asked them their faith, but I was glad I made them feel welcomed.

    Thank you, Larry, for another great message! It certainly makes you think about the need to call forth the one who is indeed everywhere and within ALL of us.

    Have a GREAT weekend!

    1. Hey Rusty (see, I correctly spelled your name!) . . . I think someone in your church calling you Randy is a whole lot worse than misspelling my name. I mean, really: read the preacher’s name in the bulletin, say it at the door. Take care!

  3. Once upon a time, my last name was Goff. Over the phone, people always thought it was Goss. So I learned to say, “Goff – G-O-F-F, as in Frank. ”

    Making hotel reservations. Said my spiel… “Goff – G-O-F-F, as in Frank.” We got to the hotel and they told us they had no reservation for us. After looking at their list of reservations, I finally found our room. Reserved for Frank Goss.

    1. Oh Cindy! I love it. (And I have to wonder if you’ve cleverly put your name on a restaurant’s waiting list or made another reservation in the name of the (in)famous Frank Goff?!

      Thanks for reading . . .

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