Archive for August, 2010

Inconvenient Questions

August 31, 2010

If everyone were a Christian, would we have wars?  Why would a Christian desire to participate in a war his/her government has declared?  When we pray in a Christian worship assembly for those in the military, should we use the phrase “fighting for our freedom”?  If we do so, are we making a political statement in our prayer?  Do you agree with Jesus’ statement “Blessed are the peacemakers”?  How would you define a “just war”?  Should a Christian seek vengeance?  If you are a soldier at war and a fellow Christian is in the opposing army, would you shoot him?  Is your religion Nationalism or Christianity?  Can you picture Jesus leading a physical army into a physical battle?  Does “Love your neighbor as yourself” involve a rifle?

Elijah Campbell Letter to Hadassah, March 15, 1866

August 25, 2010

This is a letter my civil war novel protagonist, Elijah Campbell, wrote to his deceased wife’s younger sister in the late winter of 1866.  He discusses his anger and violence and how he eventually subdued them with his Christian faith.  There are some hints to what will happen in the novel, should I ever actually write it.  There are also hints to the romantic interest that will develop between Elijah and Hadassah in the (unwritten) sequel to the (unwritten) novel.

March 15, 1866

Campbell Springs, Alabama

Dear Hadassah

It is cold and rainy here in Alabama.  There is a hint of snow in the air.  We had snow last week, enough to almost cover the ground.  That is not common for this part of our state.  Snow is not unusual north of here in the Tennessee River valley, and even on the upper Buttahatchie in Winston.  But, here on the lower Buttahatchie we get very little.

The day is so dark.  I miss your sister terribly on days such as this one.  Judith always liked the snow so much when it did come.  The last few days have seemed especially hard.  I just thought I would write you.  I hope I don’t upset you with my letters.  I know you miss your sister as much as I miss my wife.  I only have the one picture of her that I always kept with me.  All the others were lost in the fire.  I am constantly looking at my one photograph.  It is getting quite worn now from handling it.  I even kiss it.  I am afraid I will ruin it, but I miss her so much.  It is all I have left of her that I can actually touch.

You remind me so much of her, Hadassah.  Judith would always write you on your birthday.  I do not recall the exact date, but it was about this time of year.  If the day has already come you should be nineteen now.  Judith was only twenty-one when I lost her.  You know all that.  I don’t know what I am saying.  I should quit writing you.  I guess I see Judith in you, and that is not right.  I need to stop bothering you and move ahead with my life.  You are 200 miles away in Tennessee and Judith is not coming back.  I need to think about the crop for this year and the people here at Daddy’s settlement.  I must stop thinking of myself.  People here depend on me and I waste time feeling melancholy.  I must get over it.

It is my faith that has kept me going, Hadassah.  When I have those times that I droop around so, it is because I am not thinking about my faith strong enough.  When Mr. A. Campbell baptized me in Montgomery, Jesus became the most important part of my life. I could not have been more serious than I was.

As you know by now, I was so filled with anger when Judith was killed that I became terribly violent.  What I did to those three Yankee deserters when Claude and I caught up with them was an awful, awful thing.  We could have captured them.  You already know all this.  How many times will I retell it?  We surprised them and could have easily taken them prisoner.  But that would not satisfy me and my honor.  Honor is a terrible thing, Hadassah.  It makes men who are intelligent and sensible act like animals, like wild dogs.  That’s what it did to me.  Only Claude knows completely what I did, and he is the only one who will ever know.  I am ashamed of it.  It seems that if I am not dreaming about Judith when I am asleep, that I am having a nightmare about the scene at the Yankee soldier’s camp.  You cannot know what happened there.

I think my anger and violence was what drew the men to me at first.  They saw in me what they wanted to see in themselves.  They thought I was some conquering knight, straight from the Middle Ages, complete with shining armor and a gallant steed, who would right all the wrongs, real and imagined, committed against them, who would avenge the loss of their loved ones, set the globe back on its pedestal, and return their lives to before Fort Sumter and Shiloh.  That’s what I thought too, for a while.

Then my faith began to return.  It was almost lost in the flames and smoke and imagined screams when Claude and I arrived on the scene of our burning house with its roof all falling in and Judith and Isaac inside.  When we returned from our bloodletting mission , I found that my faith was right there in the ashes.  But, thankfully, the foundation survived.  After a few months, my faith began to rebuild itself.  That was my salvation for the second time.  The first time was when Elder Campbell baptized me.  The second was when my faith began to recover from losing Judith and our child.

You know it’s strange, Hadassah.  If I had not been so violent at first, no one may have followed me.  But then, after my faith returned and I started trying to be like Jesus again, well, I don’t think Mr. Lincoln would have listened to me that day in the White House if I had still been the old Elijah.  He trusted me because he knew I was sincere.  He would have just ignored me without that trust.  We both knew the Federal troops would retake the city in a matter of hours if Lee did not attack from the south.  After three or four hours it became clear that he was not going to.  But Mr. Lincoln still agreed to my proposal.  Jeff Davis had the telegraph.  Everything was laid out for him.  He would lose the slaves, but not the land.  The war was already lost.  But the Yankee army would have turned north and marched home.  Mr. Lincoln would have given the order within a week.  But Davis still lingered.  He was bereft of the manhood it took to do the right thing.  He would have lost face.  He sacrificed his people in an effort to recover his vain pride.   That war could have ended a full year before it did.  The blame for that not happening is at the feet of Jeff Davis and those who put him in power and kept him there.  But, I cannot dwell on that now.

See Hadassah, I succumb to memories of Judith or thoughts of what could have happened in Washington.  I must think about Jesus and let these other things go.  They will be the death of me if I do not release them.  I know what happens when I purge my mind of these disturbing thoughts.  I feel a great weight, like a blacksmith’s anvil, lifted from my chest.  Anger drains your strength, Hadassah.  It makes you stop being human and turns you into a wounded animal who has been hunted into a corner and will kill anything that approaches because it thinks everyone is against him.  I know.  I have been that animal.  Believe me, it is not a good life.  I do not want to live that way.

The way to live is love, love like Jesus showed.  Faith and release is the path to love.  When I love I become a good person again.  I help people without fear.  I do not care if helping them will help me or not.  I just help, I just serve, I just try to show others Christ living in my life.  People then trust me.  They love me back.  I want people to trust me, Hadassah.  They trusted my dad.  I want them to trust me.  They do when I love them.

Talking to you helps the anger go away.  I feel better now.  I know you are tired of reading my letters.  This one is much too long.  There is no other woman I can talk to.  I have said too much.  I will go now.

May God bless you, Hadassah.

Your obedient servant,

Elijah Campbell

Getting it Right

August 17, 2010

– This is from my old blog which is now inactive.

Most of us in the South enjoy turnip greens. Have you ever tried to grow them? Turnip green culture is a rather simple and straightforward matter. Scratch up the ground a bit, introduce a few turnip green seeds and perhaps a little fertilizer, provide your greens field with a drink of water, and before very long you’re in the turnip green business.

Harvesting your bounty is no big deal either. I grab a few leaves near the top, select a spot on the sheaf of greens where the leaf to stem ratio declines to favor the stem and apply the edge of a sharpened blade leaving most of the stem with the roots. If you’re doing this for the first time, watch your fingers.

Cooking your greens is another matter. Only those uninitiated into greens cuisine would simply throw them into a pot and boil till the greens are limp, lifeless, and acquire that nauseous dark olive drab color. Nosiree! If your palate longs for taste and texture, boil them just long enough for that glorious bright green color to appear and then remove at once from the fire. Five minutes may be too long if you want to max out the flavor. I put a double pinch of sugar, and maybe a bit of oil, in the water before introducing the greens, but that’s optional. The presentation must include the obligatory pepper sauce. Not the red stuff, clear pepper sauce works best with turnip greens. Don’t forget the cornbread…and a wedge of raw onion…and some buttermilk for sipping if you’re in the mood.

Now, my little story has a purpose. While I have yet to meet a brother or sister Southerner who couldn’t grow turnip greens, getting the cooking part (just) right may take a while. It may take years of practice to “get it right.” That is, if you take a good, traditional southern plate of turnip greens seriously, as my friends and I do. Furthermore, I think it is self-evident that the more seriously you take it, the better results you will have.

As a student of the parables of our Lord, I think I see some parallels between getting it right with turnip greens and getting it right with our Christian lives. The keys are an appreciation of the seriousness of the matter and an understanding and practice of specific behaviors that will support ultimate success. I want to focus on the specific behaviors part in the rest of this essay.

Here are a few suggestions:

· Allow yourself room for growth. While perfection is your goal, don’t get discouraged and quit because you realize that your Christian life is in constant need of work. God says: as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, (1 Peter 2:2 NKJV). If God commands growth, He surely allows it!
· Cultivate an attitude of seriousness. Your Christian life is all that really matters. Period! That’s it. Everything else doesn’t just not really matter. It doesn’t matter at all. Family life is included in your Christian life. Health is good. But you don’t have to have it. Money can help out. But you don’t have to have it either. Education is a good thing. But education in the Bible is all that will ultimately make any difference. God says: But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7 NKJV). Would you be a better person if you took your Christian life as seriously as you take sports? If Alabama or Auburn win (or lose) every game they ever play, what effect will that have on your life? In case you’re having to think about that, let me answer the question for you – it won’t have any. Let’s get serious about what is serious.
· Practice doing good. Compile a list of Christian character traits. Pick one and work specifically on developing that trait today. Look for opportunities to manifest that particular character. Be creative, and pay attention to your surroundings. Plenty of opportunities are out there if you are alert for them. At the end of the day, think about what you have done. How could you have done it better? What opportunities did you miss? What chances to be salt and light would you have missed if you had not been looking for them? Pick another trait for tomorrow and work on it. Do this every day. After a couple of weeks, is better Christian behavior becoming a habit? If you’re sticking to the plan, it will. Here’s a good starter list of Christian attitudes and actions. There are lots of lists like this in the Bible. God says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV). If you want to experience purpose and fullness in your life, when you get dressed every morning, put on these.
· Do the unexpected. Pick out someone you don’t like. Perhaps they have wronged you in some way. I imagine that’s what the Bible means by your enemies. Now do this. Forgive them. Even though they haven’t asked for it. Even though they don’t deserve it. Even though it’s hard. Just do it (thanks Nike). Don’t allow them to control your mind. You control it, and forgive them. You’re not finished. After forgiving them, pray for them. Go before God and petition Him on their behalf. You can ask Him to help them change their behavior if you want. But, think about their needs, and not yours. You’re still not done. Do something good for them. It can be a kind deed, or a good word. But it needs to personally impact them. Just having good thoughts about them won’t get it done. When you have finished doing something good for them, even though they don’t deserve it, you have acted like God – who sent His Son to die for you – even though you didn’t deserve it. Here’s a Bible text. Again, there are lots of them. God says: For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV). Kinda scary, isn’t it? Here’s another one: Therefore If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. (Romans 12:20 NKJV). I’m not sure what the “coals of fire” mean. But I’m highly suspicious (note especially verse 19) that they are not coals of vengeance, but coals of purification.
· Work on your thoughts, you deeds will tend to follow. What do you think about? When you drive to work tomorrow, what will occupy your mind? Bathroom humor from the depraved radio? You can do better. Garbage in, garbage out applies to more than computers. Maybe you own some Bible audio CD’s. That’s a great start. Remember that list of Christian character traits you compiled in bullet-point three? Try thinking about those. What does each one mean? Who in the Bible effectively modeled those traits in addition to Jesus? How did Jesus demonstrate them in His life? Who is someone that you know today that shows what Christianity is like with their life? How do they do it? Have you seen times when they acted like a Christian when it was surely hard for them to do so? How is the Christian life the best life there is? How are you using your Christian life to influence others? How can you do a better job as you change other people for the better with your Christian example? The list of good, positive thoughts is endless. God says: Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8 NKJV). Another: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalms 1:1-2 NKJV). Who is the person that God says He will bless? The one who meditates on His word. What are you thinking about?
· Know where you’re going. “All roads lead to Rome,” but there is only one highway to heaven. Make sure you’re on it. The Bible teaching on how to become a Christian and how to live the Christian life is not rocket science. Meaning, it’s not hard to understand, though it may be sometimes hard to do. I am convinced that to a very significant extent, it’s as hard as you make it. If you try to hang on to the world and be drawn by the word of God at the same time, it will be hard, and you will ultimately fail. But if you let go of the world, if you can get to the point where, regarding the things of the world – you just don’t care – then the Christian life becomes doable. Even, at times, somewhat easy – at least, easier than it used to be. God said He would get the faithful Christian to heaven. Believe Him. Trust Him. Live a Christ-controlled life. You’ll get there. God keeps His word. Here’s your text, God says: And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13 NKJV). Ban doubt from your mind. Run over it with your Christian life and leave it dead on the side of the road as you drive confidently down the highway charted by God’s word, the highway to heaven. The devil will try to manipulate you any way he can. He will mess with your mind. Don’t let him. Let God own your mind and your life will follow.

Getting it right means following a recipe, and we have the perfect recipe book – the infallible word of God. God gave you all the necessary ingredients when He created you in His image. You just need to follow the correct procedure to complete the preparation. The end product is Christ in you.

My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, (Galatians 4:19 NKJV)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 NKJV)