Sunday, April 17, 2005

Christian K.

My name is Christian Kendrick, and I was raised Presbyterian. I consider myself one to this day, though I am affiliated with no congregation or synod and both of my children were baptized in Episcopalian churches.

My religious views are an amalgam of Southern folk tradition, formal Presbyterian doctrine, life experiences and hopefully more than meager dash of learning behavior.

I have been shaped by the comments of older relatives, friends and self-perceptions. I was raised from early age to be aware that much was expected of me, that I had been blessed with a vast arsenal of talents, a trust that was guarded by the angels themselves. I was made aware of folk prophecy concerning my generation within the family, that I had an important part to play in a very important story.

But perhaps my great-aunts were crazy. After all, we are telling a Southern story, here. :)

More below the break. Much more.

The Folk Context of my Faith

Christians make out that their faith is shaped by Scripture and the teachings of their particular church. Sometimes, apocryphal and folk teachings creep into the mix.

This is quite true in the South. I assume it is the case elsewhere, else there would never be schisms and heresies.

I was raised to belief that the gift of prophecy was alive and well, that guardian angels were for real. I had a couple of near-lethal accidents as a child that reinforced this belief, one of them involving being run over by a car as a six-year old.

That a spiritual war for each and every soul in the cosmos was being fought, for as there were angels, there were demons. Perhaps those vast tracts of childhood, seemingly unprotected by any guardian angels per the folk accounts, are in fact conquered territory, at the mercy of the fallen ones. Perhaps I do not like to think too closely on a realm that my contemporary science cannot observe, and am in fact thankful that it cannot.

That God was real, and really interested in each and every one of us. I never thought too much on what God thought of other people as a child, save in terms of how much He thought of me. I remember thinking that the Hindu concept of the avatar made perfect sense -- that God had lots of avatars, an infinite number of them in fact, to handle watching over the little guys.

That there is free will, because unlike God, we do not experience all the dimensions of reality directly. Heck, we cannot even experience three-dimensional reality comprehensively, relying heavily on instrumentation to peer into the deeps of space, to pry loose the Pandoran secrets of the genome, to make X-ray pictures of cancerous lungs and pulse football field-wavelength radio waves into the heart of the Earth and look at the center of a planet that is, in fact, the center of nothing, save for part of the countenance of God.

I was raised to believe that to those whom much is given, much is expected, and that there is a dreadful price paid for not living up to one's side of the bargain.

In later life, I would come to learn personally what that meant for me, and then to look around me and see that almost no one truly honors their intended purpose, to the fullest of their talents, for fear and resentment and envy and simple doubt get in the way.

I was raised to accept that even tragedy has its place, that God is a good pool player, a real cosmic shark that makes all sorts of bankshots.

I was also raised to accept that the Devil has his way, quite often, for his work is enabled by human hands, mostly willing ones. Blessings come from God; injustice, now; that is the work of wicked men. The world where God dictated the spectrum of human happiness and sorrow does not exist; we are free and sovereign beings, free to afflict ourselves and one another if we so wish -- and we wish, oh so often, to do just that.

I was raised to see myself as something special, and fell to arrogance on many occasions.

Then I fell to despair, at having failed to meet the standard that ruled my life since birth.

Then I simply wanted to blend in, to be average, plain, to avoid Fate.

Oh, yes. I was raised to believe in Fate.

Then I got everything I wanted. A normal house, a normal career, a normal wife and kids. Middle-class happiness. My problems are shadows of the deprivations and torments that afflict the multitude of others, nothing compared to the self-inflicted agonies that I visited upon myself and others not so very long ago.

And yet I remain unsettled, for I feel the responsibility of not having taken, bravely and forthrightly, the path laid before me by the instructions of family and of my own faith.

And what was that path? That's just it. I have no idea, just vague instructions from older relatives, long since dead, to...fulfill, and a cryptic fragment told to me on my tenth birthday, the statement of a great-great-grandfather on his deathbed.

...it will fall to the fourth generation.

My great-great aunts Connie and Gladys shared this with me; they were among the youngest of nine daughters. My great-grandmother was the oldest, my grandmother the oldest, my mother the oldest.

I, however, am not the oldest, I told them. My brother is. Then what about all the cousins?

They said something else: None of them are left-handed. You are. So was our father.

That was a lot to lay on a kid.

So I ran.

And kept running for over twenty years.

But I think I know what I'm supposed to do now, thanks to visiting here late last September.

Lessons learned

Much of what has stuck with me from my religious education as a child is the apocrypha; I suspect the same is true for most persons, unless they adhere to a regimen of scriptural study and theological discourse worthy of a master seminarian --- or a scholarly monk.

For me, there is God, a speculative mystery for us all, and then there's me. My fumbling, bumbling journey down an ill-marked and ill-announced path -- then off of it as far as my spiritual legs could carry me - is my vocation, and mine alone. Your path is yours, and yours alone.

For Christians, Christ is the way, not Church is the way. But this is a gross, even abominable simplification of the responsibility for taking the path, and sticking to it, for learning as much empirically as from teachings how to live that path.

It is for each of us different, how to best exemplify our best purposes. However, I do not think that much of what I see the current Republican Party espousing as faith bears any resemblance whatsoever to my views -- nor to Scripture.

And for this rede, I shall stick to Scripture.

But I wanted you to see the context.

Note: this is a variation on a GOP email bashing Kerry a few months back. It was sent out by an aunt of mine...I replied to her entire email list.

Two relatives applauded the move.

My aunt has yet to speak to me again.

Castigation against the Right and their Religious Slander

What follows may come across as harsh, but these are in substance not my words, but rather The Word.

I write this to caution, not to admonish. This is the season when a free people chooses whom to entrust with the fate of the next four years, and perhaps for what span of years remains to the United States of America. It may be right soon, when last banner is furled and taps is played for the final time. I pray not, but it is not my place to choose, only in my small role to assist in the choosing of who shall act as servants of the people, who shall guide a free nation four years closer to its ultimate achievements.

I am troubled by the ease with which many cast what can only be called religious slander espoused by the leadership of the Republican Party in this dark and troubled hour.

I am troubled because everything I learned
and understand to be true about our faith says this sort of behavior is wrong, wrong, wrong.

But never mind what I think. Let's read together what God thinks about it:

Exodus 20:16: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."

Exodus 23:1: "Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness."

Those who would denounce and deny the faith of others had best be certain the charges had best ensure the charges are accurate ones.

Elsewhere, we read about the worth of persons of great power and reputation, and the futility of either in the search for salvation, or the use of either as measuring-sticks of goodness:

Matthew 19:16-17: "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."
(Mark 10:17 , Luke 18:18 )

You can be certain of but one thing - the greatest among us is just a man, and as all men mortal since the casting-out from Eden. Further, everything that he has down to the bones in his skin is a gift. The only thing that is his, and at terrible cost in separation from God, is his willful, sinful soul, which is free to stumble back toward the light...or despair and sink into darkness.

In other words, he's just like you and me. He's a prisoner on death row, condemned to die, and there is no reprieve, only a leap of faith that the Resurrection awaits on the other side, that the last sighing good-bye in this Earth is not a parting of ways for the faithful, but a rejoicing at reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone before...and a promise to those who remain that this separation is but for a short time in the grand scheme of things.

Matthew 10:39: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Which makes on wonder - Why the recourse to religious slander? Why take such chances, why depart from a course of embracing the Word as a shield, and taking dangerous license with its other usage -- as a sword? Surely, Jesus said -

Mathew 10:34: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword."

But who other than the Son of God is skilled enough to use The Word as a sword?

And who among the GOP elite has wisdom comparable to Christ to know whom to call 'enemy', and whom to call 'friend' on God's behalf?

There is no good man among them. No, not even one.

There is a difference between what is true, and what the mortal heart wants to be true, on account we are all born in sin and without constant prayer
and diligence, we are prone to see in the little wrongs of others shadows of the great wickedness without every one of our own hearts.

The Lord, however, doesn't miss a beat -

Proverbs 6:16-19:
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
Many claim the mantle of righteousness, and lacking the blessing of the Holy Spirit, cover evil schemes with loud claims and wordy prose.

Pause - Okay, so I'm going on a bit, here. I'm loud and wordy and scheming. :)

Matthew Chapter 6:1-6 speaks to how such posturing is both unnecessary..and unwelcome.
Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Pubs want you praying secretly, so they can prey upon you and call you godless heathens. But God knows this, and has rewarded them in full; it's just a question of when the check will be cashed.

More on the "hypocrites" passage: I take this to mean that it is not the place of mortals to usurp God's judgment of the worth of any man's faith, or statements to that effect. God sees our true mettle as Christians, and dispenses rewards accordingly.

The philosopher Plato posed the question to his students: "Is it better to be virtuous and despised, or villanous and admired?"

The true Christian knows the answer without hesitation, since the lesson comes straight from the Gospel.

And yet, in a free society, we must judge both by prayer for insight and judgment as to the heart and works of those who hold stewardship over the
principle, power, prosperity and reputation of of a great nation. We cannot NOT judge; it is the law of our land to choose our stewards:

Luke 12:42-48:
The Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the right times? Blessed is that servant whom his lord will find doing so when he comes. Truly I tell you, that he will set him over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My lord delays his coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, then the lord of that servant will come in a day when he isn't expecting him, and in an hour that he doesn't know, and will cut him in two, and place his portion with the unfaithful. That servant, who knew his lord's will, and didn't prepare, nor do what he wanted, will be beaten with many stripes, but he who didn't know, and did things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few stripes.

To whoever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.
We covered this verse above, at self-indulgent length, but it is worth repeating: To whoever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.

Take heed of the Word, if not my words. I pray that my commentary is a true and accurate understanding of the Scriptures, as best as has been given me to understand them. Let none be led astray by any misstep of mine. Let all come to the light in the time and fashion ordained by the father. For not even Pharoah was permitted to see the truth, until it served God's plan that He do so.

I do not think matters are any different in the age.

Yours in Christ,
Christian Kendrick

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