Monday, March 27, 2006

What Being A Christian Can Mean

In today's political circus, all too often the label/description of "Christian" is co-opted to refer only to the branch of that is very narrowly confined within the strictures of the current "conservative" political structure.

"Christianity" is actually a faith that has a much broader base than that of the so-called "fundamentalist" and "conservative" flavors.

As an example, within the confines of one distinct sect, Roman Catholicism (which is the single largest self-professed denomination in the United States), there are views and congregations that are as conservative as any found in strictest chapel of the Southern Baptist Convention (which is the branch of Christianity that is most often identified with the American "conservative" political wing) and there are the views and beliefs held by those who are members of the Catholic Worker's Movement, where service, conscience and social justice and equality are the bedrock of their faith, and all those flavors in between. There is a certain titular commonality of definition, but, depending on the national character of the congregants, there is less, or more, emphasis on heterodoxy, with a "gentleman's agreement" not to whisper the "H"- word. As with many Christian sects, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the drive towards orthodoxy and the concept of service without regard to requirement of submission to doctrinal norms.

My upbringing was as a Roman Catholic, but my "flavor" was that which viewed the requirement of active service to be an attainable goal, even if perfection of service itself was not, and this is the background that informs my identity as a "liberal." Part of that early indoctrination was the recognition that there are many roads to "salvation," but that, whereas I earnestly believe that recognition of the glory of sacrifice of a Divine Redeemer, who has made Himself manifest to us, is the "right" road, it is not the *only* road.

Not being bound to a strict doctrine of inerrancy in any human endeavor (and any transcription, and retranslation of text, no matter if divinely inspired is going to be a human endeavor) means that I can regard a set of scriptural texts as being "inspired" and "truth," but that such text can also, by virtue of the human intervention, be inaccurate. I have the freedom to view it all as divinely inspired allegory.

Alas, part of that freedom also means that I feel a stronger pull of conscience if the Church I am a member of strays, in the name of orthodoxy, from the path of service towards all Christ's children. In the case of a member of the Roman Catholic Church, the current and prior "administrations" have moved towards such a state, partially in reaction towards the perceived challenge of the more doctrinaire and stricture-bound sects that comprise the "fundamentalist" Christian movement. Unfortunately, as a single member of a church that is so large, and that is organized under such a strict hierarchy, I could see myself not being able to both answer to my conscience and answer to the Church's demands for "orthodoxy."

So, like any wishy-washy protestant who is looking for the "easy way" I left the confines of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church for the life of a non-observant, non-practicing Catholic.

I still considered myself a Catholic (and yes, Catholics consider themselves "Christian" as well) and part of the greater corpus of Jesus' followers, but without a formal locus for worship.

Until a chance request brought me to a small congregation of a parish of the Episcopal Church.

I went to a Sunday morning service in order to help out a visiting houseguest by giving her a ride so she could attend, and found the Church I thought had left me.

There's more in that vein I could ramble, but this is really serving as a roundabout way to introduce the subject of this post, which is a plea for aid.

Heifer International, an organization that is making the logical extension of the adage about "teaching someone to fish" rather than only giving food away , has been in operation for more than 60 years.

The idea of what has become Heifer International came to a Midwestern farmer, Dan West, when he was serving as a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War. Heifer International's strategy is to provide livestock to a community, and have all members of the community have a stake in the effort, work and responsibility, and all share the benefits. One of the strongest bonds in the heifer project is the commitment many communities make to "pass along the gift." Because Heifer International provides livestock with the aim of providing viable breeding stock, the recipients are in an ideal situation to provide help-in-kind to their neighbors, by donating some of the female offspring from their own animals. This can help start cycles of growth, sustainability, trust and service in communities ravaged by war and natural disaster.

Even though Heifer was started as a project of service within a Christian church, the organization makes no requirements of any church membership, of any faith. But the tradition, and ideal, of service draws many of Christian faith to work in and with the organization.

This brings me (after even more of the roundabout tattoo) to a woman who is currently training to be a deacon in our church. Her "second ministry" is working with Heifer International at Heifer's Overlook Farm Learning Center, in Rutland Massachusetts.

A staff member at Overlook Farm surveys the fire-damaged barn (Holden Landmark photo)It was through her association with my new church that I learned of a fire at the learning center, on March 6 of this year, where a barn, seed greenhouse and tool shed were destroyed. The fire was finally knocked down by companies from four communities. (news video showing some of the aftermath can be seen here)
Luckily only a small number of fowl and larger animals died in the fire, but the center also lost about 50 baby chicks that had just been delivered. However, the tool shed, with its complement of hand and power tools was completely destroyed.

To help in rebuilding, and replacing the tools lost, I'd like to encourage you to aid the effort at Overlook. I'm not affiliated with the farm at all. If you wish to visit and see if they can use the donation of your own hands, or tools you may be able to donate, please feel free to call them for directions and an appropriate time. If you wish to donate monetarily, checks in any amount can be mailed to:

Heifer International
Overlook Farm
216 Wachusett Street
Rutland, MA 01543

Please note "Overlook Capital Fund" in the memo portion of your check to direct the funds to the rebuilding.

Again, I'm not affiliated with either the farm or Heifer International myself (the closest I've come was when my wife and I donated to Heifer International one year in the name of a relative of ours), but this seems like a worthwhile project that needs support.

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