a vision for redemptive family

godfrey coat of arms

What do I want to be about this coming year?  What do I want my family to be about?  What do I want my organization to be about?  These are good questions to ask on New Year’s Day.  For Christmas I made my two older boys Nate and Karch notecards with our family Coat of Arms.   My wife’s initial reaction was, “Ah… I don’t think they are going to like that.”  But to my surprise and delight my eldest son Nate really liked the cards.  This was a way for me to communicate to the family what I want to be about and what I want us to be about.

Family has always been a very difficult emotional zone for me.  It has much to do with my Mom being mentally ill through my childhood.  I was embarrassed by my family.  I didn’t like my family.  I tried working around the problem by engaging elsewhere.  I became a very good jazz drummer as a result and ended up playing in one of Indiana University’s Jazz Ensembles my freshman year of college (1982).  I still have fond memories of Dominic Spera, our Director.  One of the other drummers, Sean Pelton, is now the drummer for Saturday Night Live.

The good thing about engaging elsewhere is that I was able to find real joy in those other things.  I love jazz to this day.  But the joy I experienced there is something I want to experience more of now in my own family.  I’m a visual person, so one of the ways I’m working this out is by seeing the good, the true, and the beautiful via our family Coat of Arms.

Experts in genealogy may poo poo this idea.  They’ll say, “Coats of Arms were given to individuals not to a family name.”  Or they’ll say, “Even if there was a Godfrey family Coat of Arms you don’t know whether you are those Godfreys.”  Points taken but the larger point is that every family, or every little platoon, needs an identity.  This is why military units develop their own insignias.  I view the Godfrey Coat of Arms as an insignia for my family.  Also, in God’s economy, names have meaning.  What is the redemptive story God wants to tell through the name of my family?  There is a good one here.

Our family name, ‘Godfrey’, means “God’s peace”.  The family’s motto is ‘Deus et Libertas’, or “God and Liberty”.  During the Crusades the first Christian King to rule over liberated Jerusalem was a character named Godfrey of Jerusalem.  In the era of ISIS it seems a little easier to appreciate the positive aspects of the Crusades than it would have been previously.  One book I’ve just started reading is Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

The shield features a black background on which is a gold chevron between three gold pelicans.  According to the House of Names the black (or sable) shield symbolizes deep religious commitment as well as prudence and wisdom.  The chevron symbolizes protection (as in the roof of a house or for my Russian friends, a krisha) and was given to those who had accomplished a notable enterprise such as building a church or fortress (or liberating Jerusalem from Islamic militants).  Gold symbolizes excellence and achievement and someone who has demonstrated great valor.   The pelicans are pictured vulning themselves.  For a pelican to vuln means to use it’s beak to draw blood from it’s neck in order to feed it’s young.  “Pelicans vulning” became a symbol of the piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue associated with the love Christ displayed for his disciples as illustrated in the Last Supper.

The crest features a Saracen (or in contemporary terms a Moslem) holding a cross.  The Saracen was there as a trophy representing deeds of prowess during the Crusades.  We may have Godfrey of Jerusalem to thank for this particular element of the crest.  I’ve seen other versions of the crest in which the Saracen has been replaced by Jesus.   Maybe this was to avoid the perceived indelicacy of portraying a Saracen there as a trophy.

So the story this Coat of Arms tells is one of deep religious commitment, prudence and wisdom, protection for others, excellence and achievement, valor, piety, self-sacrifice, virtue, an prowess.  Wow, that’s a legacy I’d like to be part of and cultivate.

One special blessing for me in all of this is that in our extended Godfrey family my boys are the only males who will carry the family name forward.  I am so thankful to the Lord for Nate, Karcher, and Noah Godfrey.  Just as my Dad was a knight for me may I be a knight for them.

You probably have family pain to navigate too.  Maybe it’s a suicide (like my Mom’s dad), maybe divorce, maybe mental illness (like my Mom), maybe something else.  How would you like to see God redeem that pain?  He’s very good at this.  Look for redemptive threads in your own family’s story that you can weave into a vision for a redemptive future.

Let’s continue the conversation:

  • What is your family’s Coat of Arms and what redemptive threads have you found there?
  • Who are some notable figures in your family’s history and how can you draw on their legacy?
  • What pain has your family experienced that you would like to ask God to move to redeem?
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