Tag Archives: City Mission

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.

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The Sweet Thanksgiving.

The brisk breezes would stir the “whisker” tree’s fist sized tumbleweeds, scattering them between our feet as we scrambled up the steps and took the path between the rock gardens to the front porch at Mammy’s house. In summer we’d take the lazier, flat wide stone walkway from the drive, parallel the porch, the potted geraniums and succulents snuggled side by side along its railing under the broad, royal blue canvas awning flapping in the wind. From that side path, we could almost look Mammy in the eye, cushioned into her steel porch rocker in the far corner awaiting our appearance, smile alight.

But, come fall, we’d hasten past the battened down and molting toward the warm yellow light framed by the front door, halfway up the porch already hearing Aunt Martha’s belly and Pappy’s booming laugh rising out of the maelstrom of chattering chaos already testing the outer walls of the entire house. Grasping the round, brass doorknob, and leaning into the glass paneled hardwood, we’d push and burst through, hardly noticed by the throng until one face turned and then Pappy, arms above his head, hands curled from hard work, roared out his raging welcome and everyone except the aunts who never stopped talking turning then to gather yet another of us into their arms.

Kicking the snow from our overshoes onto the multilayered hooked rugs, we’d stack them and take the short diagonal between the twin bookcases past the round oak dining room table and the African violets in the east window through to the kitchen, passing the ceramic cookie jar setting our paperbagged salad fixings carefully on the kitchen-turned- server table next to the apple, mincemeat, pumpkin, and rhubarb pies, where Mammy stood over the stove in her rick rack trimmed cotton apron, stirring a pot of gravy with a wooden spoon, the pressure cooker’s indicator bobbling and sputtering over the back burner like a steam train waiting in the station. All the aunts took their wide hipped turns in the kitchen, two of them diligent about the food and the other two appearing to inspect and taste test, the youngest with a wink toward a niece or nephew as she licked her finger.

Pappy was loud, and three of his four son in laws quiet, each quick with a joke or a witty comeback, Uncle Frank sitting with a closed eyed smile, Dad who was called Uncle Tony with his hands in his belt, napping already in the only scene where he would not command the center of attention, Uncle Bud standing tall near a corner already giggling through a long, spun yarn for the home movie camera, and Uncle George, egging Pappy on with his bright, Irish bell tenor.

We grandchildren were fifteen in all, the firstborn Alan, a brilliant artist and pianist, rarely able to come home anymore being married in Michigan, his four other siblings Philip, Lydia, Lois and Frannie often present, living only two doors down, the elder girls wearing their engagement rings dressed in wool sweaters and straight skirts and pointed pumps, Frannie in keeping with her other, younger counterparts in winter wear warm enough for playing outside if there were enough snow later. Then, cousin Bonnie and half brothers Butch and David from Lawrence Park because Uncle Bud worked at GE, and me and my two brothers, Nathan and Paul, having walked from around the corner and across the street and, finally, our four cousins from Ohio, Becky, Beth, Timmy and Kathy, the latter two with flaming red hair. Being either the first or last to arrive, once all were in house the card table would come out, and the floral painted linens, we among the smallest cousins relegated to the workroom where the rugs were braided and the clothes sewn and the toybox waited and, while the piano took turns being played and songs chosen for singing, the family like a choir from an old country church, Pappy the only tone deaf voice among them, the potatoes were mashed, the boiled bacon drippings poured over the salad, the parsnips and rutabaga and peas and Lima beans and corn ladeled into their divided serving dishes, the silver plated forks knives and spoons set on each soft, embossed linen napkin, tomato juice poured into the slender tulip glasses and set at the center of each China plate, head lettuce leaves placed on each smaller one for salad, fruit filled Jello squares lifted onto each leaf, one half teaspoon of Hellmann’s to dot each center, the gravy poured into the boat, the butter set in its silver dish, the roast carved and, finally, the Parker House rolls, ready and hot, in the round, linen lined bowl basket to table.

Pappy could be heard from any room in the house, but usually Aunt Dora Mae or Aunt Betty would call all to the dinner table. Aunt Dora Mae was hands down the better cook among them, Mammy’s eldest, but Mum’s voice was the most penetrating on account of her hearing loss and Aunt Frances was likely in earnest discussion with another of equal intellectual bent and Aunt Martha busy, laughing in a far corner, her nephews gathered around her ready audience testing their latest comedic mettle.

But, the food drew us all, to the oak table round circled by both Dora Mae and Betty as they’d labored the delivery of their firstborn, to the card table in the living room where Risk, Monopoly, Probe, and Life were won and lost, to the child’s table and chairs that Pappy made in the workroom just beyond the pantry and we, the Sweet family, sat our chaos down to the warmth of hot, family style Thanksgiving dinner and bowed our heads while Pappy thanked the God who brought him all the way across the Commonwealth to build cranes at BuCyrus-Erie, to the street corners to preach, to the City Mission and the Gospel Assembly Hall to settle his family in the east side neighborhood at 923 East 29th.

Then, everyone filled their faces, still all talking at once, Mammy finally sitting down at the kitchen end of the table, laughing with her mouth full, Pappy hunched over his plate, gumming his food with his teeth out, the aunts and uncles and cousins all tasting the same food with their own unique manifestations of the family DNA, all together, the whisker trees’ tumbleweeds flying about outside the east windows, as remnants of the feast wafted throughout the house to leave behind its everlasting aroma in the wallpaper, the white silken window curtains, the ceiling plaster, the floor underfoot, and the dark wood framing each room in the house, the collective spirit of nourishment sustaining life on one small, thankful speck of the planet as the world spun around once more.

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© 11/27/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo     All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.

From the heart of Sweet gratitude: Happy Thanksgiving! from littlebarefeetblog.com