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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How do you know a Christian?

Now, I know a lot of people who talk about being a “Christian.” They belong to the most attended church in town. They are active in the adult Sunday school; they even serve on the church council. Some of them are leaders in their communities, publicly recognized for their efforts. None of this is a put down. I congratulate them on their efforts. They might even give money to a homeless person if they knew he or she wouldn’t drink it or shoot it in their veins. Those are what I call christians.

One lady, I’ll never forget her. She worked at the food bank here in Sudbury. I really liked her, a writer. We bumped shopping carts at the local Food Basic and she asked me what I was doing since I wasn’t volunteering at the food bank anymore. At that time, I was working with the volunteers at the Elgin Street mission on Saturday mornings, serving breakfast. She commented, “Oh, I see. Well, you know, the school that I come from says that we don’t help people giving them food for free.” Yeah – to quote Bill Engvall – there’s your sign. She’s a christian.

On the opposite side of the aspen tree is Kate. Kate is one of those fiery Scots – probably from a long line of Presbyterians. She used to work the Highland games slinging cans of haggis for recreation. Since I’ve known her, she’s worked in a couple of different jobs and been part of at least two 12-step programs, maybe three. She’s got a cat that’s skirting the edge of mortality. She was one of the first people to recognize my ire at God because it was something we shared. All this mumbo-jumbo about God being nice; what’s up with that? God is the entity that brought us more misery than anything. Because all this time we thought we were doing good -- bad things were happening. Children turned away from us. Money dogged us at every turn and we spent years in financial insecurity. And here we were, praying like mad – to the maddest of Matter. Ok, ok… anti-matter.

Kate and I have had more than one discussion that ended with, “I don’t know why God doesn’t like me.” The thing I find so odd about her is that she’s the one who gives me books about Father Tim, the Episcopal priest in Jan Karon’s Mitford series. Kate was the one who held my hand via email, telephone and any way she could when my son died. Every single time she showed up was when I was in the midst of a wrestling match with the Almighty – carrying messages full of “keep breathing, Scarlett, tomorrow is another day.” She doesn’t shy away from saying, “Yeah, your God… you know what the hell He did to me this time?” And I laugh and ask her to tell me all about what He did. If doubt were a religion – both of us would be elders in the church by now.

So, here’s a quandary. “Religious Tolerance says the most common definition of a Christian is one who is ‘a follower of Christ and his teachings.’”

I don’t know if Kate is a follower of Christ. If it’s the same guy I’m thinking of, she’s more of a bar stool mate. His teachings? Well, let’s give some examples:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” – Matthew 5:7

I know that every single time I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth to the point of swallowing my ankle, Kate didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to.

“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.” – Matthew 6:5-6

The story of Father Tim arrived on my doorstep when I was angrier with God than I had ever been in my life. I was so angry with Him that I wasn’t yelling anymore. I was silent in my rage because I didn’t have the energy or the will left to fight. A card and a book arrived in the mail. The card said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” On the inside, written in the prettiest cursive I know, it said, “I really do believe in you – you’re one of the toughest, most resilient people I’ve ever had the privilege to know…and remember the promises – it will get better!”

Recently, Kate was telling me that Charlie requires medication that she can barely afford, her physical pain is tearing at her and she doesn’t really know how much longer she can hold on to – well, anything. She’s tired.

Today, I came home from work and I’m tired. I think I’ve got a touch of the flu combined with a dose of the “I miss my children being in my house-itis.” Most of all, I think I miss my eldest daughter because she’s growing up and away from me. Hell, she was growing up and away from me at 12, but I didn’t mind it as long as I had charge over her laundry. I had some measure of control then, anyway, right? No clean underwear for you!

In the mail today was a package from K8’s Books and I knew, immediately, that Christmas had arrived on my doorstep. It was a copy of Fannie Flagg’s book, “A Redbird Christmas.” And Kate – I know that redbirds and cardinals are different, but my sponsor believes that when a cardinal shows up at your door, someone who has passed to Heaven is thinking about you. I believe that when a redbird from California shows up on my door, I’ve been blessed by a Scottish angel.

I’ve got something for you, my friend. God isn’t angry with you. God isn’t punishing you. God isn’t about that – and you already know all of these things. I think you shout them to me because you know that we are clanging… symbols. We are channels of His peace, teachers and students of the capital “C” Christianity. And no, silly, I don’t believe that Christ is, was or ever will be the only way to God. I believe he was a carpenter’s son – a fisherman’s and a whore’s best friend. Being a capital “C” Christian is not about spouting your beliefs – it’s about sitting, holding hands in the darkest days of doubt and waiting patiently for good things to return. You know, they always – in all ways -- do.

Here’s my Christmas certainty for you – my friend.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” - Matthew 6:25-26ish

Amen. <~~~ click, please….


  1. I know many people who call themselves Christians and haven't the faintest idea about the meaning of the word; selfish, uncaring and cold.
    I also know people of no religious faith at all who are the most generous, caring and loving people who would do anything for anyone.

    I know which are the true Christians

  2. As usual, you goof, you have completely blindsided me! I never in all my born days thought I'd be put in the category of christians who really live their religion. My friend Sue G. is one of those people, and I adore her because of it: she doesn't preach or posture about her religion, she just does it. Sorta like Nike.

    I'm working with a life coach, trying to get the ADD backed into a corner & manageable. She having me read Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. It's my profound hope that I'll discover that the force I think is HP is actually some huge, hideous, hairy gremlin and that I can banish the SOB to parts unknown. I miss the relationship I thought I had with HP -- I miss having a spiritual life. Keep your fingers crossed!

    Have a redbird kind of Christmas -- and I hope you enjoy the book. Hell, I KNOW you will!

    Love ya,