My legal first name is not John. What my real first name is not\r\nimportant unless you are with the government ot my bank. Those are the only two places I use my legal name. I’ve been John so long I don’t even answer to my legal first name anymore. What I want to talk about here is how I bcame John and why I’ve used that name for almost forty\r\nyears now.
When I was in third grade, my family moved from one suburb of Philadelphia to another suburb. That meant a change in schools. In my old school people used my full first name – a Germanic name – not a shortened version of it. No one teased me about my name or my accent or because I was an immigrant.
But the opposite happened in my new school. I had to live with a diminutive of my name that I absolutely hated. Kids made fun of my last name. And I was repeatedly called “Nazi” simply because I was German by birth. That was the most difficult part to swallow because my maternal grandfather back in Stutgart spent six months in a Nazi labor camp because he refused to change his political affiliation from the Christian Democrats to the Nazis. My grandfather, for this reason and many others, has long been my hero.
When I went off to college in 1966, one of he girls that was part of my circle of friends there gave me the nickname of “Beatle” since I had a Beatle haircut and dressed like John Lennon. That was what my friends called me from then on while I was there. Unfortunately, I got involved in things other than my studies while I was there – smoking pot, girls and radical politics. My grades suffered and I was suspended. I never did go back.
After my suspension I went to community college back home for one semester. At the end of the semester I decided I had my fill of school for awhile. I decided I needed a change of scenery and ended up in Chicago, after short stays in Pittsburg and Washington, DC. By the time I ended up in Chicago I was broke and homeless. So, I ended up as part of the street culture of Old Town, the hippie district in Chicago.
I spent a lot of time congregating with others like myself in Lincoln Park, drinking wine or beer and smoking joints. One of the people I hung around with in those days was a guy who claimed he was a Hell”s Angel. He was known as ”JC.”
Well, one afternoon when we were all in a state of artificially-induced euphoria, I jokingly said,”Well. if you are JC, then I am John the Baptist” and proceed to ”baptize” him with water from the lagoon in the park. We all had a good laugh but the name stuck. From then on, I was ”John the Baptist.”
At the time, the name was more of a joke than anything else. But over the years. I have grown into the name. In a lot of ways, I came to see myself more and more as a voice in the wilderness. I changed from an irresponsible punk into someone who has learned to accept not only personal responsibility for his actions but to seek answers to some seriuos questions about life. Along that road, I have done a lot of things that I have come to regret and for which I am repentant. I have hurt people who were close to me. I have broken several of the Commandments for which I have asked forgiveness of God and of the people involved, where that was possible. In other words, I have tried to atone for my sins through repentance and by changing my behavior.
By using my own mistakes as lessons, I have tried to help others avoid the errors of my life, especially with my own children. The knowledge of life I have learned from my readings and my experience have become the source material for what I write and what I teach. Like the oroiginal John the Baptist, I have preached, in secular rather than clerical forums, repentance and metanoia. Like the Baptist, I believe that we only recieve forgiveness and salvation when we change our lives for the good. God does not save the unrepentant. But he does save those sinners who repent.