More than Beard Envy

The man in the photo is Alexander Snider, my great-great grandfather. Born in North Carolina on 23 March 1826–I must remember to get a card in the mail!–he moved with his father, Philip Snider, to the hinterlands of southwestern Missouri in 1844, marrying Mary Ruth Wommack three years later. A history of Greene County, Missouri says that the Sniders arrived

when the county was sparsely settled, neighbors were far apart, game and wild honey abounded. He built a small cabin upon the farm where he now lives.

In fact, that sparseness of settlement was sufficient that other than Mary Ruth’s family, no one else lived within a mile of the Sniders for quite some time.

I admire Alexander, where some of my ancestors I simply tolerate. He wasn’t an exceptionally distinguished fellow, although his brief obituary describes him as “one of our oldest and most respected citizens.”

Alexander SniderIt’s not just the beard that I admire about this man, although you have to give him credit for a magnificent stand of whiskers. Instead, I admire him for some more significant character traits.

At the age of thirty-six in 1862, Alexander and his musket showed up for military service as he joined the Enrolled Missouri Militia where he served for more than six months as a corporal. Six months of militia duty is not extraordinary, but it demonstrates that this man, past his peak and with six children to support already, came when he was called. There’s no evidence that Company F. of the 74th E.M.M. ever saw any real duty, but we do know that he stood when summoned.

Similarly, he attended Mt. Comfort Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the years after the war until his death. Not only did he go to a church that was an inconvenient distance from his home, but he served that church as an elder, mentioned several times as taking on various lay duties for the congregation. In the church’s records, Alexander’s line does not give a date at which he “Ceased to Act” or moved elsewhere. Instead, a one-word note describes his separation from that body: “Dead.”

Alexander Snider would have presumably spent a good amount of time following a team and plow across his farm. By the time he shuttled off this mortal coil in 1900, mechanization of farming remained something in the future.

That history mentioned above describes him as “one of the leading men of Jackson township” while the obituary concludes by naming him “an old landmark in this part of the country.” Alexander Snider was not a man bound to appear in Who’s Who. But he was a landmark, a dependable figure who provided stability in the community.

We could all do worse than to be known as a landmark, a sort of living Ebenezer. In 1 Samuel 7:12, after leading the Israelites to a victory over the Philistines, Samuel raised a memorial stone:

Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The Lord has helped us to this point.”

Alexander Snider’s life, it seems, stood as such a marker, encouraging others and showing them the way. By and large, those who came after him seem to have followed that track. If I envy anything, it is that legacy. But the beard is nice, too.

Family Outcast (Hebrews 2:11-12)

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,    “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Hebrews 2:11-12)

I have a cousin. For discretion’s sake, I’ll just refer to him as Bluto. Since we grew up and lived in the same town, I fairly often encounter people who, learning my name, look at me and say, “Oh, are you related to Bluto Browning?”

Whenever I hear that question, I pause, contemplating the potential pitfalls of my answer. Invariably, I reply in the same fashion: “Do I want to be?” More than once, my questioner has smiled at that reply. They understand, even if they like Bluto, what I’m getting at. He’s–how shall I say–a little hard to take for many people.

In the Vacation films, the hero Clark Griswold, one of my favorite on-screen personalities, has an embarrassing cousin, Eddie, played by Randy Quaid. Clark attempts to avoid Eddie when he can and keep him at arm’s length when he can’t. Eddie is considerably different from Bluto. For example, Bluto has never dumped the contents of an RV’s sewage tank into a storm drain only to blow up part of the neighborhood. But the feeling is similar, I’m sure.

What’s beautiful about our family relationship with Christ is not that we don’t have to be ashamed of him. After all, why would we be ashamed? What’s beautiful is that after making us holy he doesn’t have to be ashamed of us. We are the awkward cousins in the relationship until Jesus gets hold of us and renders us perfect family. That’s my prayer for Bluto.

Carry the Burden–1 John 5:2-3

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,–1 John 5:2-3

Last week, a young man in Independence–a young man with problems I can only begin to imagine–called his estranged girlfriend, the mother of his four-month-old child, over to his home where he shot her. With her lying dead in his home, he called her father to report his deed and to announce that now he would shoot himself, which he did.

In the course of moments, two people were dead and an innocent was left orphaned. However, this story did not really develop in just moments. This story was, in fact, years, even generations in the making.

I know enough about the young lady’s life to recognize the obstacles life had placed in front of her. Her mother abandoned her and her three siblings when they were quite young. Her father was a less than terrific role-model. Mom and Dad met at Mom’s work, as an “exotic” dancer. Great stuff, eh?

But then Mom can’t be completely blamed. Her father was in prison during her childhood and she was raised by grandparents who were, apparently, not quite up to the task. And who’s to say that the generation before them didn’t drop the ball in some way?

I don’t offer all these observations in order to beat up on a family that is already reeling from a tragedy. Nobody, no matter what their failings, deserves what happened in Independence last week, and Lord knows I have plenty of failings of my own. Instead, I offer these facts to remind myself, and you as well, that the wages of sin is death. That applies not only in the eternal sense, but in the short term as well. Death, whether dramatic and violent death or a slower, less obvious sort, follows inevitably when people do not follow the commands of God.

Those commands are not burdensome, John assures us. He’s not asking us to climb Mount Everest each morning before breakfast. He’s not asking us to learn multiplication tables up to the 100s or memorize all the former cabinet officers of the U.S.

For this generation and for the next, for those close to us and those we scarcely know, for those who died by violence last week and those whose lives were scarred forever, for the glory of God and the increase of his kingdom, let us put our shoulders into bearing that light burden.

Family Love–1 John 5:1

<blockquote><em>Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.</em>–1 John 5:1</blockquote>

Think about the people with whom you go to church or perhaps the people in your family. Somewhere among that cast of characters there is somebody who just drives you buggy, right? I can think of a couple such people. One person is simply too blunt, saying whatever comes into her mind regardless of how rude it might be. Another has this issue with doing laundry often enough. A last person simply never shuts up, yammering on as my eyes glaze over.

We also have our favorites, the people we enjoy spending time with. I have a good group whose company I greatly enjoy, people I admire and look forward to seeing. This entry is not about them. It’s about the people in the first paragraph.

It’s so easy to love the paragraph two people, but not so easy to love the ones in paragraph one. In our family, we almost have to make a good show of getting along with everyone, but in church we can get away with less civility. That’s not how it ought to be, however. We are–you and I–brothers and sisters. John makes that clear today. And when you’re a member of the family, even when your brother or sister drives you nuts, you make nice for the sake of the family, for the good name and happiness of mom and dad.

Those annoying folks in paragraph one are my brothers and sisters, born of the same heavenly father as me. If I truly love that father, then I have to love his other children. Once again, John pulls aside the phony Christianity that I might like to cover myself with, exposing me for what I truly am. How about you? If you can’t love your Father’s kids, do you really love your Father?