Category Archives: faith

My Christmas Card List.

When Mum found out she was terminally ill, I remember her smile of resignation as she looked from one to the other of us, sitting there on the front porch, together, nearly all of us in the family. It was almost apologetic, as if somehow she’d disappointed each of us by not getting the “good” diagnosis. That was Mum, always determined to do the right thing, the acceptable thing, the thing which was expected.

But, then she set about, to plan, as plan she would whenever anything presented to be addressed. With a noticeable sense of urgency, her ability to verbally communicate rapidly deteriorating, she insisted on finding [managing to get me to find] her box of Christmas cards. In methodical if repetitive silence, she flipped through them all, searching for names and their addresses. Since organized thought was diminishing with the tumor’s encroachment, this was a trying task. She enlisted me, yet again, haltingly explaining that she needed to “let everybody know.” I would compose a letter, to copy and send out to everyone on her list. These were the people who meant the most, who would care to know; these were those whom she loved.

Most everyone I knew who still sent out Christmas cards did so dutifully; there were endless, extended family and both present and former coworkers, that end of year stock taking of those still considered part of the relevant realm. But, to Mum, the list was precious; these were her dearest friends.

In her world, actually spending time with others just for fun had to take a back seat to the needs of the family. Dad had his shop; he could never leave his haircuts. There was no time in a given year to travel – except for that one week in August, south of town to the college campus about 90 minutes away where everybody on her Christmas card list would convene for seven full days of heavenly Christian fellowship.

These were people she’d known, together with all the cousins out east, since childhood. They’d kept in touch every year, for the entirety of their lives. Most had married, raising children who would represent inter-familial connections from within the fellowship. They were all joined at the heart.

Or, at least, Mum thought they were. She carried them all in her mind, as she sat every day at the sewing machine, revisiting any number of brief encounters across the whole of her life. Her thoughts devoted to every detail of a vivid recall, so each person would materialize in her memory. It was inside her head that she would sustain her relationships with each of them, tucking her favorites into their own corners for reference as they came into the frame of her story.

I’d sat, perusing the list we’d gathered. Many of them were totally unknown to me; surely, I had never met these, at all. Some were familiar, among the few ministers who would visit yearly with their wives; still others just names I’d heard spoken over the phone, in conversation with a sister or two. Mostly, had we ever actually seen these people cross the threshold of the front stoop, our house would have been filled every week to flowing with the glow and glitter of live laughter, of real life interchange. I was certain, sitting there next to Mum in the chair beside her bed, that they’d all have felt her love just as much as she did without them present in the room.

But, they hadn’t been, and they weren’t, and now she was about to die without them. She would send my letter, and some would call. Most would send cards, and set reminders to order flowers. But, she would know them, well, as well they ever could have been known, with a kind of devotion unseen and unspoken. And, every Christmas thereafter, maybe she would occur to them, and they would finally know.

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I was the second born, the love child of a reunion marriage. Often, I’ve been known to declare myself the embodiment of both my parents’ strongest and weakest traits. Among these, I bear Mum’s willingness to love from afar, her inability to materialize relationships, her life of wistful imaginings. If you are on my Friend list, I carry you in my heart. Whether we live or whether we die, you will have been loved, if only by me.

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© 3/11/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting, in whole and part, the entirety of this story – by leaving its contents intact and untranslated. Sharing permitted via blog link, exclusively. Thanks, again.

The Revelation.

[ newly edited ]

In an age when diversity is celebrated, and all implicit or similarity bias is being expunged, individual identity faces a mandate: who am I, and where do I belong?

Even as we pursue that definition, we should be ready to accept that each living human has a story which is distinct, not requiring any classification. As a new friend reminds, can we not just be the best “me” we can be? Can we dispense with seeking alliances?

Alliance assumes a need for protection; feeling a need for protection acknowledges the presence of threat. But, wherein does threat present, if every story is recognized and accepted as unique?

If the focus shifts to a recognition of individual value, whence would any group need to band together? Would the BLM movement no longer be required to raise awareness? Would other movements, for other marginalized groups, cease their relevance as well? Banding together, while the need to do so seems immediate, is a far cry from bonding. Motivated by a need to protect one’s own, banding can provoke animosity and enmity, yielding more hostility and strife; by contrast, healthy bonding fosters nourishment, sustaining life. Could we not bond with one another, irrespective of classification by race or ethnicity?

There is an expressed fear, for example, among some members of the Jewish American community – a fear that anti-Semitism will be revealed among those they call friends. Why? Because of a need to feel intact, safe from suppression? Such fear is not unique to the Jewish population; sectarian Christians, for example, experience similar reactions in countries where religious intolerance prevails. Such fear pervades all ethnic groups, races, and religious subgroups when they differ in representation from those in close proximity or when those from outside of their group express bias or prejudice.

Being confronted recently by accusations of anti-Semitism, I was brought into discussion intended to enlighten and educate me. The outcome of the exchange led me to question many things.

To what extent do we derive inherent personal value from our heritage? Should we?

My paternal history is Italian. While I can claim some genetic connection with its rich artistic contribution to world culture, I am also forced to acknowledge the thieving Roman conquerors and even Napoleon, whose progeny in Southern Italy is undeniable. On the maternal side, William the Conqueror emerges in the family line; who was he but yet another marauding narcissist, overtaking all of central England, erecting castles in his wake and siring those who would colonize Africa and India, enslaving millions.

Taken in totality, my “heritage” leaves little to celebrate.

So, whence “identity”?

Accentuating the positive, as the old song intones, I find that elements worthy of distinguishing us can be found in culture. What of the food, the clothing and other textiles, the furnishings and various decor, from every people and part of the planet? What of the art forms – the song, dance, sculpture, design, architecture, and drama? How many different ways can we, as individuals, embody that which binds us historically?

As individuals, we can represent these cultural aspects of our heritage without desiring or seeking any recognition for their relative value. No aesthetic feature is superior to another; neither should any group be.

Every child needs to feel valued; every adult deserves to feel valuable. Each of us is a part of the grand history of humanity. Can we move away from fear and threat, and toward universal acceptance of every feature we contribute to the picture of earth’s people?

This realization was a revelation to me – a revelation of which we can all now be a part. Maybe its insights will lead us toward Renaissance, rather than revolution – and, that, one identity at a time.

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© 1/21/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Sharing permitted via blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting original written material.

littlebarefeetblog.com

How the Good Souls Are Taken.

After not one, but two, articles appeared in major newspapers covering so-called “White Christian Nationalists” devotion to the Trump regime, I figured that piece I’d been toying with writing had better hit the page. God’s inspiration should never be ignored, after all. Oh; and, believe me: I mean that, sincerely.

For all practical purposes, I am a voice of the “white Evangelical Christian.” My family was established into the fellowship of the Fundamentalist sect of the Plymouth Brethren by our grandfather, a street preacher who’d migrated from eastern PA to get a job building cranes and raise his children. A couple elders of “the meeting” on East Avenue in Erie met him, at the local jail, and invited him to join their assembly. Soon Henry, his wife Mae, and their four daughters Dora Mae, Betty, Frances, and Martha, would be born and raised among them, attending Sunday School, Morning Worship and Gospel Meeting – all on Lord’s Day – plus, Prayer Meeting and Bible Study on Tuesday and Friday.

Aunt Frances, the most liberal thinker among his offspring, would go radical and marry a Baptist minister. The rest raised all of us on the self-same attendance regimen and its accompanying rules for dress and decorum; head coverings for the women, seated silence for all females in the presence of their men.

Pappy, as we grandkids would come to call him, was a closet Republican who came to accept that, like the rest of the Brethren, his citizenship was in Heaven and that God would put into office whom He will – with no need for his actual vote. My parents, and our entire extended family (with the exception of the Baptists) modeled after their patriarch, listening intently to the election results on the radio but refusing to participate in the democratic process.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at age six, but registered to vote at age thirty one, in 1988, the year our grandmother’s soul left her body for the seventh Heaven. The competition for the office of President was Bush/Dukakis and I, torn between Dukakis’ education plan and Bush’s GOP platform of fiscal conservatism and social traditionalism sat, biting my nails until the polls closed – never placing my vote.

The next time being a Christian became relevant in my political world was the year 2000. For some reason, though I’d long since left the constraints of the PBs and church culture in general, I’d found myself in the convocation of our local mega-congregation, curiously named at the time “First Assembly”. Movie screens were mounted to the left and right of the sanctuary, primarily intended to present praise lyrics but, on this occasion, the projectionist was preparing a form of worship from which there would be no escape.

I don’t remember what was said from the lectern, by way of introduction. I just remember the ceiling lights dimming and strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic wafting from speakers mounted throughout the large, wide church as an authoritative baritone underscored in narrative what we were about to experience.

This was no missionary appeal, with its opening report about life in the Caribbean or African interior. This was a film about George W Bush, designed specifically for the church congregations of all America. There were images of uniformed military, and family photos of the Bush dynasty, splayed out across a metamessage of persuasion as moving as an altar call at the City Mission. I was aghast, astonished; what was politics doing amongst the faithful? Furthermore how, two thousand years after the birth of Christ, did a piece of campaign propaganda ever find its way into the First Assembly of God?

Now, twenty one years hence, I think I know.

Now, I recall my immediate family’s open defense of the President soon to be history. I trace back further, through conversations with my beloved former student, a high ranking military officer of the US Army Air Force and born-again Christian, his ardent support of the George W. whom he actually met filling his eyes with light. Mostly, I call to mind prayer breakfasts for whose keynote speaker politicians were pinned, political rallies populated by entire church contingents, the voice of America’s morally upright finally being heard by a mainstream society clearly in precipitous decay.

Here’s the thing about “true” Christians, the ones who read the Bibles they own and who live for the Christ they call their Saviour. Once they’ve accepted the doctrines which dictate that the Truth is theirs for the delivering, they hear the mandating call to go out and preach that gospel to every tongue, people, and nation. These having spent generations separated from the World and all its fleshly lustings, some shrewd political strategist finally realized that one more call, tactically placed, couched in all the trappings of a real conviction to act, would render an entire demographic literally clamoring for a place in the palm of their hand.

Now, there would be no need for the subliminal strains of an electric organ cued by a pastor’s gentle request for bowed heads. Just a country song, sung by a Christian entertainer, and youth group car washes popped up in every church parking lot in the nation – complete with bumper stickers declaring the candidate of consensus. Just a message, insidious in its power, that the marginalized faithful were important, thrust into the spotlight of the Almighty God’s intention for His people and summoned to a service no true Christian could, in good conscience, refuse.

What nobody calculated was the incredible intractability of the true Christian. To say they are an emboldened fringe is a dangerous oversimplification; this is far beyond extremism. These are both Fundamentalist and Evangelical. This is an entire mentality of infinite scope, with eternal life its branded hallmark. Psychologists would say that theirs is not a dilemma. The path is clear; wavering is not part of their lexicon. They shall not be moved.

Somewhere between the promise of prosperity and sinless perfection, the message these march has the Kingdom of God all over it. Pandora’s box should have been left tightly closed, just like the fellowship of the Plymouth Brethren, exclusive unto itself. But, politics played its ever-greedy hand, and now we all pay the price for that unforgivable sin.

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© 1/18/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting authentic original stories.

littlebarefeetblog.com