Category Archives: Christian fundamentalism

Do I Want To Live Forever?

Do you want to live forever?

*Author’s Note: After 800+ essays and poems, WordPress asks this old girl the question – to prompt her reply, we assume. As if, after 800……but, you know the tune.

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Last Sunday, in the second row of the Unitarian congregation of Girard, Blossom McBrier announced her latest impending venture: she, having just turned 99, would celebrate her 100th year by traveling to the North Pole. Seems there had always been thousands of tiny lights in her firmament, and Blossom would seek their source in the Aurora Borealis – even if, as she declared, she froze to death en route.

When I was a kid we, in our family, were raised to face eternity. The sectarian fundamentalists, Christian variety, were into that. Still are, in fact. Life everlasting, after all.

Not to sound glib, the reality was: from birth, the dogma were clear; know that your soul was infinite, and the direction of its path open to the power of free will.

The Bible taught us that God the Father had provided, for lost mankind – gripped by original sin and enmity from its Creator – a way, toward redemption. The source was Jesus the Son, Christ, whose sacrifice on Calvary’s cross paved the way for total forgiveness. Just by confession and acceptance: personal absolution.

And, beyond mere verdict, the reward: eternal life – with God, and the Saviour Jesus, in the Heaven of holy provision. The body would return to the dust whence it had arisen but the soul would continue, forever. World, without end. Amen.

I remember trying to wrap my head around this inaccessible phenomenon, as a toddler. The concept, and my attempt at grasping it, actually made me nauseous. Physically discomfited, I became acutely disturbed by the idea. Comprehending endlessness left me frightened by something even more foreboding: utter powerlessness. Things which had a beginning, a middle, and an end were familiar and comforting and, to a degree, subject to control. Beyond end was a chasm, a black void. I was averted.

Yes. At that particular stage of, for lack of a better word, growth…from that which had no end, I recoiled.

Perhaps growth, mental/emotional let alone physical, would account for a shift in the affect of that perspective. Now, in the “twilight years” or, if the psychics are both real and accurate, the final third of my presence on this planet I can say that my sense and view of eternity has definitely evolved. Everlasting life? Yeah. I can dig it.

Why?

Always driven by creative curiosity, this spirit derives joy from seeking out and finding the new and different. New ideas. New flavors. New places. New experiences. If left to the familiar, I quickly stagnate, even regress. Decompensation, swiftly enacted by the body, even attacks the mind; soon, I am but a slug, repeating tasks like a robot with an excretory system just because it’s handy. Being alive becomes redundant.

But, moving forward allows me reach. Searching yields a banquet of possibility; and, possibilities, they say, are endless. So, why not? Like Blossom McBrier, driven by her teeming need to know, turning in the direction of the North Pole and thermally clad I press on. If life is the absence of decay, or decay just a phase on the brink of rebirth, then being born again – and, again – sounds like a plan.

Yeah. Live forever. Ever, something new, right around the next corner.

Can you dig it? Then, everybody sing!

Hallelujah!

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Copyright 1/10/23 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose thoughts appear and whose name likewise, above this line. No copying, in part or whole including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively, and not by RSS. Thank you for accepting and respecting original material.

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Kathy O’Keefe Linger.

The name Kathy used to be the cool girl’s name.

This meant that, if you were named Kathy, you’d be born among your contemporaries into a sort of automatic class, like Jen or Ashley, who were just a few years ahead of the Carries, Caras, Carlies. You get it.

Only those of us named strangely felt this. The Frannies. The Ruth Anns.

Kathy.

Each of the Sweet girls, four sisters, daughters of Mae and Henry produced their brood post-WWII; and, the third born, Frances, absconding from the Plymouth Brethren to put down roots in radical Parma, Ohio, would be blessed late in life with Kathleen, the last of the grands, circa 1962.

And, our Kathy embodied cool like nobody.

Oh, not because she was a social follower. Kathy O’Keefe was anything but.

The Sweet genes, formidable enough, bestowed their lion’s share upon the daughters of their daughters. And, Kathy, the only “carrot top” in the bunch, was not to be overlorded or overshadowed by any of them.

From her earliest days, sending her signal through the whole extended family like a current, we would learn that Kathy had been born with a life threatening abnormality. Before anyone could comprehend “transplant”, some cutting edge surgeon from the trending Cleveland Clinic installed a replacement porcine aortic valve into her heart muscle.

Kathy wouldn’t just live. She would thrive, with a pig valve, for many years. Naturally energetic, loving the outdoors and as much physical activity as her teeming mind would allow she threw herself, headlong and whole heartedly, into everything – camping; hiking; and, especially, water skiing on Lake Chautauqua. She could water ski before the rest of us had learned to swim.

Heading toward college, equally determined to use her frontal lobe to its fullest, Kathy became a math teacher. And, not just a math teacher, she was a mathematics and economics whiz, rising to the top of those respected among her ilk. Inheriting the shrewd, critical thinking intellect of her mother, a strong work ethic its corollary, she made highly organized productivity into a lifestyle.

We among the family would get to see her at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, when the O’Keefe clan would make the extra effort to tool east to meet the rest of us at Mammy and Pappy’s on East 29th. Her intensity was always palpable ( and, audible – talking is what the Sweets did ) – from the moment she burst into the room until the final, equally driven departure. Kathy was purposeful; there was always a motive to act, because there was a reason for everything. When it was time to go, it was time to leave. On to the next thing, the next reason to keep on living.

Her second heart valve surgery came around age 21*. The pork valve may have had its own shelf life, but she did not. However, this replacement was man made, mechanical, and bore with it a lifelong ticking clock which could be both heard and, mostly, felt. Kathy would now live by that clock, the ever present reminder that, to her, each moment was the gift.

Childbirth is toil for any woman but, for Kathy, the reality would prove confrontational; right as she approached the date of her own daughter Kristen’s arrival (yes; she was married) that valve would signal its own, looming demise. The CC team of surgeons gathered, obstetrics and cardiology; Kathy would give birth, naturally, even as her second aortic valve was about to die, and receive the third and final prosthetic in the months following.

For me, when the cousins married they slowly retreated from my view; I was the last to tie that knot, and the first to let it slip loose. But, when Kathy’d met Rob, they were bound forever. Theirs was the deep, abiding friendship built on common outlook, interests, and activities that makes marriage true. Part of a family whose society was determined by close proximity and faith-centered commitment to each other, they lived out their own place therein in the finest of form.

But, the baby of any family has a special spot to occupy. Kathy’s relationship with her Dad, a Baptist minister, was both admirable and endearing. She regarded him with absolute, Godly respect, and he toward her with complete encouragement and acceptance. As he aged, enduring heart health challenges of his own only to survive them against unheard of odds (massive coronary, age 80? subsequent infection, triple bypass surgery, and still living to age 98?), Kathy would come to expect that indomitability was both inherited and learned.

Maybe this indomitability both informed and drove the decisions she would be forced to make when, just a couple years ago, her symptoms finally led to the sobering diagnosis of a cancer which carried with it erratic statistics; multiple myeloma was “manageable”, treatable, potentially less than life curtailing. Kathy of all people could most definitely fight and win against this level of foe. All she had to do was, well, be Kathy O’Keefe.

Enter the silent enemy, the ever-wielding unknown. Powers, those that both were and those that aspired to be, dictating the courses of treatment. Everything distilling down to the perceived sources of trust and trustworthiness, and those who embodied each. Like her mother before her Kathy would make clear to everyone and all; decision making was her domain. Her devoted husband, perhaps he only, fully understood this. At every point, juncture, even apparent impasse, Kathy would ready herself to choose.

The latest news had rendered a sort of last gasp euphoria, in recent weeks. Inexplicably, after struggling to sustain the stem cell replacement therapy which had been effective for so many, she’d survived the only remaining chemo protocol, including an infected gall bladder; now, the latest, most “promising” treatment regimen, just FDA approved, was finally in her hands. The Cleveland Clinic had the whole thing ready, and her body seemed equally prepared.

We’d all watched, through the lens of social media, as she took her first, second, third dose, only to marvel at the ever present grin and thumbs up outcome of each tentative step. Suddenly, it was Christmastime and, discharged from the Seidman Center, Kathy and Rob and Kristen were allowed to go home. This news, alone, was an extra special reason to celebrate the joy of the season.

Silence was less familiar, to the Sweets. To us, when you didn’t talk, something wasn’t right. And, this time, something wasn’t. Kathy had been full of life, playing (and, winning) board games, running at her familiar nearly frantic pace; but, just beyond the fully decorated Christmas tree, a quiet cloaked the scene.

The promise of a final protocol which was heralded as life sustaining had failed. Kathy’s body curled up, giving its spirit over to the God who had governed the O’Keefe clan from go and its soul into the arms of her father, Pastor George, who welcomed her with transcending relief. The woman who had run so hot, her body cooled by death, was ever the embodiment of a life lived on terms that would challenge even the most arrogant women and men. Kathy had withstood; she had persisted; she had run a course most would merely observe, and that with awe.

Kathy O’Keefe Linger. Not just another Kathy. Loved by so many. Admired by more. In a class, by herself.

*precise chronology on these surgeries still in edit/awaiting clarification.

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Copyright 1/4/23. Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story is hers, and whose name appears above this line. Please respect the family. Thank you.

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“How Shall We Then Live?”

For many years, this writer has been alluding to having been raised by a sect of Christian Fundamentalists. Most of the time, the context has been apologetic, or in the form of some excuse for alarming or curious reactions to life events. Almost assuming others are looking on with cocked eye or raised eyebrow, I have felt the need to explain why it is that I respond differently to just about everything.

Enter the coronavirus pandemic.

At first sign, I was sure we were in for a radical change in our social and professional landscape. Most thought me purely reactionary, alarmist, then sensationalist. Some laughed, handing me their version of a tin foil hat.

All this proved true but, by the time such reality was manifesting, my prophetic cries were muffled by dictae from the voices of hastily appointed if frequently shifting actual authority.

What ultimately ensued is still affecting everyone, today; yet, the ones out front sounding the call are still pushed aside in favor of some vaguely gathered general consensus by those firmly planted in the middle of the collective scope of reference.

You won’t find me among these. Why?

Because I was raised by a sect of Christian Fundamentalists.

What distinguishes me, and those of my ilk?

First, we view the world through firmly entrenched dependence on the black and white lens. It’s in our cells; we can’t – without excruciating, conscious effort – escape it. We see things from an all or nothing perspective; one is either saved or lost, bound or free, right or wrong.

And, this informs our judgments. When things happen outside of our deliberate action, we must immediately evaluate according to a moral paradigm. “Whatsoever things are true….honest….of good report……” Is there truth, inherent? Is there candor? Is the source trustworthy? Are the instructions clear, and appropriate? And, based on all of the above, what should our course of action then be?

But, it doesn’t end there.

Like most students of the Scriptures, we dig. Deeply. We read, and listen, and consider. We check references. We constantly ask of these: where is your evidence? From whom do you derive your data? No alleged, or self imposed, authority bends our knee. Having been taught to believe that the devil appears as an angel of light, we peel back face value to find what may be hiding behind.

Once we have made all of the determinations outlined above, we are compelled to act. And, act we do, but in a manner which some might term beyond earnest.

It’s called zeal. We don’t just decide, for ourselves. We stand, on the proverbial corner, and preach.

That comes from having been told to do so. “Go ye, into all the world, and preach the gospel to every tongue, people, nation…..” To us, there are no limits to either our scope or sphere of influence. We must tell it, on the mountain, to all.

So, the next time you find yourself recoiling at yet another declaration on social media which doesn’t quite align with that which you and your milieu have come to accept as true, stop. Look. Lean in. Take a moment, or more, and really investigate what is being presented. And, if it’s coming from me or somebody else so inclined, you might find yourself enduring a shift. Don’t let that frighten you. Many call this growth, and most celebrate its worth.

When you do, you may notice a certain kind of clarity of purpose forming. And, this will drive your action toward decisions which bring an even deeper peace. You will have developed a plan for living which no longer depends on following what just seems like an acceptable path presented by those with either the loudest or most pervasive voices; rather, you will have carved one for yourself, from the inside out, and nobody will be able to take that from you.

We in the Plymouth Brethren were taught that this source was the Spirit of God, and the gift given: discernment. I can’t prove the presence of such a Spirit. I have no hard data, on that. What I do have is a driving force, that comes from the center of my cellular nuclei, which moves me to both think, look, listen, read, compare, contrast, verify, contemplate, and then act. And, for that, I make no apology at all.

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Quote footnotes: “How Shall We Then Live?” – Francis Schaeffer; “Go ye into all the world…” Mark 16:15; “Whatsoever things are true…..” Philippians 4:8.

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© 10/1/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole, including translation and screen shot, permitted without signed written permission of the author. Sharing permitted by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for representing the higher standard.

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