Baptist Primer: Backsliding Versus Non-Practicing

A non-practicing Catholic, I guess, is someone born into the Catholic faith who no longer adheres to any of it’s prescribed behaviours or rituals, and I would suppose some people don’t feel they need to practice it once they know how to do it. Practicing Catholicism must be for newbies.

But Baptists are a different beast all together. Technically, if you follow the letter of Baptist convention, no one is born into the Baptist faith. No one, no matter the circumstances of birth, can become a Baptist without actively choosing to do so, though the age of consent for such a choice is surprisingly low. This is why you see so many Baptist preachers dunking little kids in the water—it shows those children have chosen of their own free will to live their lives for Jesus. And if you check the news of late, you’ll find some preachers seem a little confused about what other things children are or are not able to consent to, under the laws constructed by good old human beings.

Once your accepted in the fold, you are saved, and there’s not much you can do to get kicked out, and you don’t have to practice, either. If you don’t keep up your Godly work by staying clean and pure and avoiding all the temptations the earth has to offer, you’re only human and no one should throw stones at you (according to New Testament law).

If you’ve slipped a little, you’re officially a backslider. Baptists believe that a truly saved person can’t genuinely fall out of favor with God. If you actively reject God and all God’s work, you are not a backslider but a reprobate, and God will surely turn against you, because when you said you wanted to devote your life to Jesus when you were six, you must have been a lying little demon.

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No One Will Be There But Jesus (#poem)

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As friends solemnly told him to call
On them if ever he needed anything,
Only his pastor was candid enough
To tell him Jesus alone would stay.

And so it was as it had always been,
Walking alone on the beach, in town,
Along the highway, and in the upstairs
Hallway with no memory of being carried.

He supposed Jesus was a faithful companion,
But a bit quiet, and not much help when
A flat needs fixing. He’s someone you can
Always talk to, but feedback is lacking.

And why should Jesus be different from the
Others? Why would the Son of God care
That he was lonely? Why would he look
For Divinity in the deep pools of loss?

Randall Horton

First Impressions That Last (#fiction)

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X

People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.

Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.

As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?

Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.

So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.

I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.

Randall Horton

The Lustful Ignominy of Death (#prose #fiction)

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III

The funeral was a real shit show. The deceased considered himself Christian, make no mistake about that, but his religious practice was quiet at best. He was sort of a non-practicing Methodist—just enough faith to count when he got to the other side, in case anyone was keeping score, but nothing more. Loud displays of devotion or, well, almost anything, made him uncomfortable. Maintaining decorum was paramount to him.

Can we just say he came from humble roots and wanted to keep his unrefined past buried? That’s why he’d been careful to lead a life of quiet dignity for the most part. When you’re a retired military officer, people give you a bit of respect, anyway, and he maintained a stable marriage and a reasonable display of material comforts for a few decades.

But sometimes aging men want to grab onto what they think they’ve been denied, and he saw the death of his first wife as an opportunity to indulge his long-denied carnal nature. When she died, he announced rather solemnly that he would take a year to grieve and then look for a young companion with “big tits.” And I guess he pretty much proved that you can achieve some of your goals with just a little patience and perseverance.

And so there she was—part trophy, part embarrassment. She was overtly sexual but also overtly evangelical. You might think of Tammy Faye Baker or something. Lots of makeup and tight clothes. You get the picture. And she went to one of those churches where people dance around and emote profusely. And of course no one would deny it was her right to choose the preacher for the funeral.

So you end up with all these retired professors, engineers, lawyers and so on sitting in amazed silence as this preacher says of the deceased, “I tried to think what he would want, and I realized he would want me to preach.” An hour of shouted invocations and praises followed with discomfort settling over the audience like a heavy fog.

So the man who spent a lifetime seeking quiet decorum was sent to the other side with all the subdued dignity of a summer tent revival. Due to separate circumstances, he was also sent to the afterlife with a cigarette between his lips and missing the ring he was wearing when the body was prepared for burial. Apparently his son thought he deserved the ring and that the cigarette was somehow appropriate to the occasion, and maybe he was right. Who am I to say?

 

I Wish I Could Believe (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

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The prompt for day 15 is to write a dramatic dialogue. I think I failed, but here it is, anyway.

I wish I could believe in God.

It’s a free country. Believe what you want.

I can’t believe something just because I want it to be true.

I do it all the time. I believe my wife loves me.

You mean you pretend she loves you.

Fake it till you make it, baby.

But that isn’t belief.

Who are you to say what I believe?

But you implied you don’t believe it.

Yeah, well? It’s a free country.

What does that have to do with it? I can’t believe something unless I’m convinced it’s true.

Who’s stopping you?

Reality.

You know what reality is?

Not for certain, but I try to believe in it.

So you choose what you believe.

Based on evidence.

Choose different evidence.

Like when you ignore the affectionate texts your wife gets from Purchasing Control Centre?

Exactly.

I believe in God because I see good stuff?

That’s what real believers say.

And the bad stuff?

That’s the Devil in it.

And the Devil is more powerful than God.

Seems so today.

The Magic and Mystery of Ministry (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

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Know how in the 1970s the televangelists
All had perfectly sculpted and blow-dried hair?
Well, my Daddy was at least partly responsible
For all that glitz and fancy get-up.

He didn’t do hair for anyone as famous
As Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker, but
Styled hair for some big traveling evangelists
Like Gene Williams. These guys would take the
Word of God around the world, but come back
To Galena Park to get their hair done right.
Sometimes they’d come to the house, too,
And they were always downright charming.

I used to like playing “The King is Coming”
On the piano because it started soft but
You’d be banging on the keys pretty hard
By the end of it, and my parents liked me
To play it for the preachers, even if
I wasn’t very good. And they’d always say,
“That was real good. You should be very
Proud of your boy. He’ll grow up to
Be a great Christian.”

They were always so sweet, and I think
They believed it. They made me believe
The magic. They made me believe I could
Fly when I died or even burn eternally.
They said they had to travel the world
Telling people about Jesus or else
Those people would burn forever.

They would burn forever just because
They hadn’t heard the good word.

“Why would Jesus do that,” I asked.
They said, “Because he loves us.”

On the Disastrous Art of Losing (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

Kisa-GotamiOn our first meeting, she
Described me as a “near Buddhist,”
Meaning, of course, that I had
The ascetic qualities of a monk.
 
And it was true that Siddhartha
Helped me lose my appreciation
For things. You learn first that
Attachment is suffering.
 
But Elizabeth Bishop was more
On my mind. Like her, I had
Lost things every day, and
Most of them didn’t matter.
 
We all get practice losing things,
Of course, and we learn it isn’t
A disaster; lives are nothing
More than crude or elegant mandalas.
 
Everything will be wiped away,
And there is no use torturing
Ourselves with excessive hand-wringing,
Longing, covetousness, or desire.
 
Push on, let it go, they’re only things
After all, and the universe continues
With no pause. And still, I sit
Thousands of miles away
 
Thinking of you.

Life, Love, and Leaving in Livingston, Texas (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

Screenshot 2019-04-11 at 08.07.26In a previous century my grandfather died
Only weeks after my great uncle.
A few weeks later, my grandmother
Made a quick trip to the grocery store
And returned to find her house in flames.

Having lost her brother, husband, and home
In a matter of weeks, my uncle Skeet
(so known because as a child he was
No bigger than a mosquito or “skeeter”)
Tried to comfort his sister.

He was a country preacher with a small congregation
In the Piney Woods of East Texas, and he
Always turned to Jesus, of course, in times like these.
Attempting reassurance, he said, “Ain’t it wonderful, Sis?
This just shows that the Lord always watches over us.
No matter what, Jesus is always by your side.”

He meant, of course, that she was lucky not
To have been burned alive, but I sort of thought
The loss of everything she loved might have
Compensated for the joy of continued existence,
But people say I am just too negative.

In the current century, my grandmother
Eventually died just a few years short of
Becoming a centenarian, so I returned
To Livingston, Texas one last time.

As we gathered at my grandmother’s house
To mourn, one of my aunts complained bitterly,
“Well, we’re gonna have to fire our preacher,
‘Cause he keeps saying the BI-ble says to
Give our money to the poor. They can work for
Their own money like we did!”

Upon learning that one of her new in-laws
Was Mexican, she demanded, “Well, are ya
Legal? If you’re legal, it’s all right, but we
Don’t need any wetbacks in the family!”

I haven’t returned to Livingston, Texas.

The Unintended Consequences of Complimentary Behavior (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

He made a clumsy compliment,
And it was taken for an insult.
Immediately, he tried to explainScreenshot 2019-04-03 at 08.02.28
The misunderstanding, but
He was told to “stop digging.”

And so it was.
He wasn’t in love, exactly,
But he admired her
Constantly and consistently.
He spoke highly of her to colleagues
And mutual acquaintances.

Hoping to eventually mend the rift,
He overcompensated with kindness,
But she seemed to recede further
In the distance with each step
He tried to take forward.

And small mistakes can have
Grave consequences. They say
The entire universe is a mess
Because Brahma was too drowsy
During the act of creation,
Which is an important lesson
For fertile but untutored lovers.

And as the universe tends to replicate
An original error exponentially,
So relationships can create
Great webs of resentment
And confusion. Even chaos.

It was all right, of course.
He found other jobs and
Other social and vocational
Networks away from her gaze.
He found a wife, passed his
Own genes on to unsuspecting
New persons peering into
Brahma’s mistake for the first time.

After her divorce, she heard of him
And his relative success and wondered
How such a ham-fisted and socially
Awkward dimwit could carry on.

But we do carry on.
Brahma hasn’t had a nap
In eons, and light travels to our
Eyes from the furthest reaches
Of space, just so we can experiment
With clumsy compliments.

God is in the Details (#NaPoWriMo #poem)

Some see God where
Others see only
Pain and suffering.Screenshot 2019-04-02 at 06.41.56

I read in the news
About a lady whose home
Was destroyed by a tornado,
Except for a closet
She happened to be hiding in.
She called it her prayer closet
And praised the Lord
For sparing it.
She said, “My God is
Awesome! Shout somebody!”

I guess if I believed
My God just destroyed
Everything I owned except
For a prayer closet, I might
Wonder why God had forsaken me,
But we don’t all see things
The same way, do we?