aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Remembrance and Exemplum

My cousin Robert died last week at his home in California. For most of the last forty-five years, he has lived in a Hare Krishna monastery in Soquel. Before settling there, he lived in other monasteries of that sect, as well as traveling to India and other places.

Robert converted to the Krishna form of Hinduism about the time Deanne and I got married. As newlyweds and recently professed United Methodists, we went up to the Krishna temple in Evanston, Illinois, to visit him and see what his new adherence meant to him. We were worried about him. The visit was not a success. I have only seen Robert a couple of times in all the years since, though for a long time we regularly exchanged Christmas cards. Robert himself remarked on the oddity of a Krishna devotee sending Christmas cards to his family (he didn't lose his sense of humor when he converted); he even said the Hares in Soquel celebrated Thanksgiving (though I doubt they had turkey).

Robert came from a family which was sports crazy. As the eldest son, he was expected to be sports crazy, too (as his younger brother, a professional sportscaster, continues to be). He played baseball and bowled, both very well. He liked to race slot cars. But he was also a loner. He never talked about any friends he had. Nor did he ever have a girlfriend that I know of. And there was something else, an emptiness in him that was driving him to strange places. He started taking drugs -- hard drugs -- in high school. I remember him telling me, when we were both around 17, that he was tripping on LSD (I think it was) while walking his paper route; he said that at one point on that early morning walk, he sat down on the sidewalk and had a really heavy discussion with a dog about the draft.

And then he found Krishna. For Krishna's sake, he gave up drugs. He sought enlightenment. And he was happy. I am glad he found something other than drugs to stimulate his soul. Without his religious devotion, he would probably have wound up in prison or died of an overdose within a few years. And yet, I wish he could have found that deliverance through Christ, rather than Krishna.

Robert's journey and our relationship is something I have contemplated all through the years since. I am glad he found the peace he sought, but I wish with all my heart he had found it somewhere else. And now that he has left this world, what can I hope for Robert? For if submitting oneself to the lordship of Christ as one's savior is a consequential act, an act that changes one's eternal destiny, then surely rejecting the lordship of Christ, with full knowledge, for another lord must also have consequences for that destiny. I am not one of those who can make himself say, "all roads lead to God," for I am bound by the words of the one who claimed, "no one comes to the Father but by me." Perhaps, since God's view of things is necessarily wider than mine and his love infinitely greater, Robert and I will meet some day in the kingdom of heaven. I can hope so, but I have no authority to say so. I pray for him as I have prayed for him all these years, but I pray without assurance. I only know that I love him, and that God loves him even more than I do. And that's all I can say.

There are many such people known to every one of us, though religious affiliation is not always the issue. For as with belief, so with behavior. There are many people I know who engage in behaviors that I was taught were wrong. They are, by and large, nice people. And all of them are deeply loved by someone who wants them to reach that city which has foundations. And what shall I say of them and how act toward them? To me, they are all as Robert. I can love them and pray for them, and I refuse to scold them, as if that would make them repent. But I am charged, as a "steward of the mysteries of God," to teach the revelation of God as it is in Scripture. I have thus no authority to say their behavior is right. I can offer absolution, but I cannot offer approval. In the end, I will love them as they are, but I cannot say, "your acts are righteous and good."

If that isn't enough for them, if they feel that is insulting or condescending, well, that may damage our relationship, but it can't be helped. To sacrifice my integrity -- to falsify the truth as I know it -- to retain your love, or gain your approval, or keep the peace in the Church, does neither of us any good. Changing the definition of the good is like giving someone fairy gold; it turns to dead leaves in the morning, and impoverishes us both. And behold: if they really love you back, then they will (like Robert) accept that we still love each other, even passing over the gulf that stands between us.

You must be who you are. And I must be what I am. And neither of us should manipulate the other emotionally, or demand from the other what cannot be given freely. And the truth as revealed by God must be proclaimed and maintained, even when we don't understand it. Even when we could wish, for the sake of a loved one, that it was other than it is. But if "speaking the truth in love" is what builds up the body of Christ, then I must love you enough to tell you the truth, even if it hurts us both. And of course, I earnestly pray that your sins may be forgiven, even as I pray that mine will be. And in the end, I have to put you and me both in the hands of God, who knows everything -- even our hearts. And he is greater than our hearts, we are told; that is a great comfort.

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