How Eli got his name

My friend and colleague Monique Brumbach gave me a great idea for a book—a dialogue on ethics between my current religious professional self and my fringy counter-cultural self of forty years ago. Monique didn’t know that this guy happened to go by the pseudonym Eli. So, here’s a first installment of the dialogue.

RR: Eli, I look forward to talking with you about some things that are important to both of us, but tell me again how you got your name.

Eli: Well, I can’t tell you the exact moment, but I think I was Eli from the moment I set foot in New Mexico. At least that’s what I told the hippies that I settled down with there. On the commune all rules were suspended for reevaluation and most people came up with new names in the process. In fact, Eli (which I picked just because it sounded good to me) was pretty conservative.

RR: Right, I can remember the Rainbows, Cloudbursts, various creatures benign and sinister, and one hippie woman probably in her mid-20s known only as Mother.

Eli: Yeah, so when I moved to New Mexico I was under a 1-A classification with the draft board and figured I’d have to go into draft dodging mode at any time. We’d made friends with a guy at the Bernalillo motor vehicles office, a local Hispanic guy (we didn’t say “Hispanic” back then, just “Spanish” in contrast with “Anglo”) named Jerry. He’d help us get driver’s licenses even if our driving skills were non-existent or we had no way of identifying ourselves. So, I went down to Bernalillo, passed the driving test, and told Jerry my name was Eli Adamov—like Eli, the last name sounded good and also Jewish to me. Now I was officially Eli! 

RR: So, what about the draft?

Eli: I can’t remember the exact sequence of things, but somewhere in my first months in New Mexico I was called up for induction and I decided not to go on the run. I had already tried to fake a psychiatric disorder when I was called up for classification in California, but it didn’t work. I ended up 1-A, which meant that if I passed this exam in New Mexico, I’d be on the fast track for Vietnam. So, I just imagined I was my horse (which I’d acquired somewhere in this story), standing bewildered in the midst of this huge cavernous facility on Central Avenue in downtown Albuquerque—mostly just unresponsive. I caught the eye of some sergeant enough to get sent to the psych’s office. When they called me in, I just sort of stood wide-eyed at the threshold. After a minute the psych looked up from his desk at this tremulous, mute, wild-haired Eli and I knew I was going to be OK. I’m not really proud of it, but I walked out with a 1-Y, if I remember the terminology, an indefinite exemption for a medical condition, just shy of a 4-F.

But, Russ, what about you? You’re supposed to be a follower of Yeshua, Jesus, right? Didn’t he preach against war and violence? How come all the Christians were for the war in Vietnam . . . and still seem delighted to jump aboard whatever military adventure the government dreams up for them?

RR: Hey, I thought we were talking about how you got your name! But I don’t want to dodge the issues—that was one complaint you all had against the establishment, right? And I don’t want to look like the establishment. 

Eli: Russ, I gotta tell you, you look pretty establishment, even with the goatee. Everyone has one of those these days.

RR: Pretty superficial. I mean, you counter-culture types did as much judging by externals as the fundamentalists do. And your comment about Christians and war is a good example. Lots of Christians opposed Vietnam on the basis of their religious convictions. Remember that Quaker kid at UC Santa Cruz? He was ready to go to prison out of protest against the war, all on his reading of the Bible.

Eli: Yeah, I remember talking with him out on the college promenade, overlooking the foothills descending into the Monterey Bay. He had sort of a glow about him as he told me that he wouldn’t cooperate with the system at all, because even if he got off as a conscientious objector, they’d just send someone else to take his place. Pretty impressive, but he stood out as an exception to the norm. What about you?

RR: I’d have to agree with you that most followers of Yeshua, at least the ones that I encounter, don’t seem to take him to heart on being peacemakers and loving our enemies.  I did a blog on nonresistance recently, which takes Yeshua’s teaching on nonviolence seriously and seeks to apply it in light of the rest of Scripture and the realities of Jewish history in the 20th and 21st centuries. We have to guard against any glorification of war, against militarism, and against hatred and dehumanizing of the enemy. But I argue against total nonresistance to evil, especially in light of the Holocaust.

Eli: So, it sounds like you can be pro-war as long as you feel bad about it. That’s kind of a chicken position, and besides, you can’t apply the Holocaust to Vietnam!

 RR: True enough about the Holocaust comparison. In hindsight Vietnam was a tragic and unjust war and the protestors had it mostly right. The communists won and it doesn’t seem to matter: now they manufacture great camping equipment to sell all over the world. The price of a high-end backpack has come down in recent years because of them. But I’ll respond to your remark about my chicken position in our next blog. First, let’s get back to Eli—I know there’s more to the story about your name.

Eli: Yeah there is, but I’ll hold that one till the next blog too, just to keep you honest.

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