It started in 1972, when our family moved into our newly purchased house on Sierra Madre Boulevard.  The phone company installed the line we have used since then, with the same number, for over forty years.  As a pastor, I’ve wanted to be accessible, so the number has always been listed.  About three years ago, grandson Sean modernized all of us with Smart Phones.  We disconnected our old land line.  Judy created a new, personalized number.  I decided to have the forty-year-old number transferred to my cell phone so that I would still be accessible to old contacts.

Guess who was glad that I was still accessible?  Yes, every telephone solicitor who is selling something related to an occupant-owned home, especially building contractors, painters, solar panel installers and roofers.  I average probably two of these calls a day.  I can usually tell what’s coming even before I pick up; the screen may show “Blocked,” or the calling number may be from Texas, or Connecticut, or Nevada.  But I have to answer in spite of my suspicions, because some of our church members keep phone numbers with area codes from their former residence, which may be Texas, or Connecticut, or Nevada.  Others put a “Block” on their number for reasons of confidentiality.

So I pick up the call and say, “Hello.”  If there’s a long pause, that’s a clue; it’s probably because the phone solicitor is finishing up on another line before connecting with mine.  But there’s a chance it may be a church member in distress who is have trouble speaking because of deep emotions.  So I listen on.

Then comes the absolute giveaway: “Hello, Geo?”  Now, I’ve had a few nicknames during my life, some of them printable, but I’ve never been called “Geo.”  It took me a few calls to figure this out, but it’s clear that each of these solicitors is reading from a list that they’ve all purchased from the same central source, probably with the heading “AGING, LONG-TIME HOMEOWNERS WHOSE PROPERTY IS PROBABLY DETERIORATING.”  The original creator of this list had a limited number of spaces.  My long last name forced him to abbreviate my first name into “GEO,” and that’s been who I am to all subsequent generations of that original list that have been sold and resold.

So when the person on the other end says “Hello, Geo?” I know what I’m dealing with.  Now the challenge is to get off the phone as quickly as possible.  Do I just hang up?  Do I interrupt the spiel?  I’m often kept from saying anything nasty or angry by the thought that this person is just trying to make few dollars to feed her/his family by doing this difficult cold-calling.

I’ve finally come up with the perfect response.  Right after I hear “Hello, Geo?” I say “Geo doesn’t live here anymore.”  I’m able to end the call with satisfaction.  First, the call is over quickly and painlessly.  Second, I haven’t dumped on the person on the other end, just updated their information.  Third, I’ve told the truth, because the “Geo” who might have been me in 1972 is not at all the person I am in 2014.

* * * * *

Is there a past You who haunts your present?  That You’s name may be “Irresponsible,” “Failure,” “Naive,” “Hypocrite,” “Superficial,” “Addict,” “Insecure.”  YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER TO THAT NAME ANYMORE.” When someone addresses you that way, treats you like the You that used to be, you can say, “Sorry,    (fill in the blank)    doesn’t live here any more.”

Follow up on this idea by reading about some significant name changes in the Bible:  Abram to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8), Sarai to Sarah (Genesis 17:15-16), Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:27-28), Hadassah to Esther (Esther 2:5-ll), Simon to Peter (John 1:40-42).  If the past keeps intruding on your present, you might consider having a formal name-changing ceremony in prayer with your friend or one of ABC’s  pastors.  This might empower you to say, “Sorry, ________ doesn’t live here any more.”

— Pastor George Van Alstine