by SJ Reidhead cross posted from her blog The Pink Flamingo
It isn’t very often that I get to use my favorite things in a blog – the Wild West & Opera, but this time, I can. The images are of the greatest barihunk there ever was, and ever will be – Sherrill Milnes! Yes, you know me well. Submitted for your approval is a photo of Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Phoenix in 2012. There’s something about a barihunk in a cowboy hat! This entire letter is in response to a piece posted on a blog, criticizing cowboys and American culture in general. I gather we’re all going to hell because we’re individuals, don’t submit, and don’t dress like a modified Amish cult.
The only time I ever heard my uncle condemn anyone who was a Christian, or criticize what they believed is when they dared to put themselves above others, and think that what they believed made them better Christians than others.
His version of faith was quite simple: John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ Plain and simple – everyone, no ifs, ands, or buts. he also intensely disliked those who did not nurture new Christians.
He did not do doctrine. He taught people about the love of Christ. With him there were no rules, no condemnation, no damning, no requirements, just the love of Christ.
He would never assume, just because someone did not march lock-step with what he believed, that they were not a real Christian. He did not to tangents, cults, weird religions, or strange doctrine that corrupted the very simple gospel of love and salvation. He was far more at home with C. S. Lewis than Jonathan Edwards. There was nothing, absolutely nothing in his life that reflected Puritan (for which he had abject disdain) and Calvinism. He did not believe in the Doctrine of Original Sin, total depravity, and thought Tulip Calvinism was heresy.
One of my favorite stories about the appearances and self-righteous assumptions of women’s dress took place around 1960 in NYC. My mother had what could only be described as a Jackie Kennedy style suit, red, wool, with a black fox fur collar. The skirt was in the middle of the knee. She wore matching red stockings, black suede high-heel pumps, a black fox fur pill-box hat, matching fur muff, black kid gloves, and jewelry. Her hair was blond, and I think she was wearing a typical short style of the day. Now 84, my mother doesn’t leave the bedroom without being properly dressed with make-up and her lipstick, nor not having her nails quite properly done. Dealing with my 90 year old father and his Alzheimer’s makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
It was nearly noon on a Sunday morning. She was meeting my father, so she stepped into the vestibule of his brother’s church off 42nd Street. One of the ushers rushed up to her, demanding she go into the church and listen to the service. Taking her for some sort of less than proper woman, he kept demanding she listen to the good reverend. She would receive a blessing and would change her ways. She kept listening to him. A few minutes later my father and his brother joined her. His brother, my uncle, thought it was hilarious. He was also furious that she was treated so badly with such an assumption of who she wasn’t.
My uncle never approved of people who thought they were self-righteous, holier than thou, or thought they were better Christians than other people. While his world contained strange views of how women should dress and behave, he did not advocate those things. Instead, his wife, my aunt was always well-dressed, in her own way. Aunt Marjorie is/was the epitome of classic ‘British’ sensibility. You would think her more of a character out of an Agatha Christie book rather than a missionary tale. I never saw her without fresh lipstick, earrings, and a good hair-cut. She wore shorts, slacks, bathing suits, and her skirts were usually right below the knee. Never a shrinking violet, nor required to be this godly and submissive wife, she ended up with a Ph.D. in education and eventually became the principal of a very prestigious school for the children of diplomats, there in DC. Uncle P was home by that time, either writing or doing speaking engagements. He learned how to grow his own veggies quite successfully, threatening his neighbors with kamikaze attack of zucchini if they did not lock their cars. He had that much zucchini. He also taught himself how to cook, enjoying it, tremendously.
Her daughters, my cousins Julia, Jenny, and Sarah are also highly accomplished. A Yale graduate, Julie is the VP of an important NYC publishing house. Having over-come a tragic freak accident her husband provides a limo, nanny, maids, and so forth and so on. Sarah has a Ph.D. in education, divorced, remarried, and is the author of several books on education. My uncle lived long enough to see Jenny go back to school, receive her masters in theology, and be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. She and her husband have 7 children, all very well educated. Her brothers David, Paris, and Jim are also highly accomplished. Paris has divorced and remarried. He is an agricultural expert, the author of numerous papers on various aspects of small farming. My uncle had no difficulty with the fact that two of his six children were divorced and remarried. He was quite fond of both spouses of the second marriages. He also had no problems with people were were gay or lesbian.
This is my uncle’s family. When they were young, they always had a nanny. They were raised in beautiful homes, filled with antiques, loving, loud, happy homes where there were no rules on how they were to dress, nothing forbidding bikinis, make-up, jewelry, mini-skirts, or submission. Women in my family have not submitted nor been involved in a patriarchal oppression since 1200, when William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke decreed that his daughters, their daughters, their daughters’ daughters and so forth and so on, were to be educated as men, given the same future and rights as men, and be allowed to determine our own faith. My grandmother and her sisters were the same way. Gram, her mother, and sisters were suffragettes, marching for the rights of women. They were literally the first women in the state of Minnesota to vote. They were fashionable, out-spoken, educated, upper class, and would never allow a woman to be required to limit herself to religious based dress codes.
Religion was a spectator sport in their family, social, serious, and part of their lives. It was so drummed into their family, that I don’t think my uncle had any choice but to become a minister. To this day, even in Stage 6 AD, my father wakes up every morning, arguing with my mother. He needs a suit and tie to go to church. He spent his whole life supporting his brother and his missions.
My uncle felt that a person needed a vocation in order to be a missionary. He felt that it did no good to be a missionary without a vocation where you could actually help those you served. He also came to feel that the only way one could be a missionary was to feed the physical needs before one fed the soul. It became almost an obsession with him, especially in his later years. He left the Christian Missionary Alliance by the early 1970s. Eventually, he developed quite a contempt for evangelicals, completely disapproving of the evolution of far right religion in this country. Had he been younger, or had not a mandatory retirement age have been in place, I have no doubt he would have become an Episcopalian priest. The last decade of his life was spent as an Episcopalian, as is his brother, and am I. He did not have a Calvinist bone in his larger than life body.
Like so many members of the family, Uncle P had problem with rules, regulations, authority, and totalitarian behavior. He was not a follower, but a leader. He did not believe in following. Contrary to how it might appear, he was a modern epicurean in ever sense of the word. He loved good food, excellent wine, expensive cognac and Scotch, and had an appreciation of my margaritas. His taste (palate) was almost infamous. No one liked a good steak, a fine restaurant, or interesting cultural cuisine more than he. During his years in NYC, he tried to take in the latest Broadway shows. Zero Mostel was one of his favorites.
Like the rest of us, he had a healthy sense of humor. There was nothing dour about him. He loved a good belly laugh. His favorite movies were It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I never knew him to even involve himself in any form of religious entertainment, nor even to consider ‘christian’ music. The music in his church was classical and operatic. I remember he and my father hilarious as they watched the Blues Brothers and Animal House.
In many ways he was the most worldly person I’ve ever known. He lived in the world, and loved every minute of it. In many ways, he was the perfect example of how a person could be terribly worldly, enjoy expensive wine, song, and a good life, and still be devoted to the love of Christ. He loved music, Broadway, movies, political thrillers, slap-stick comedy, and enjoyed classic Saturday Night Live. He was far from a prude. I don’t think he ever missed a James Bond movie. I know he enjoyed Ian Fleming’s novels. We discussed them, plus the fact that I was given a personal tour of Fleming’s small estate in Ocho Rios. In every way, he was the perfect blend of worldly humanism and a simple love of Christ. He also introduced my mother to the work of Rees Howell and intercessory prayer. When I was working as a lobbyist, and would be in DC, if he was in the area, he always took me to some incredible restaurant, rubbing elbows with the who’s who of American politics. He never made fun of my love of German wines. He liked them too. Our discussions were not about religion, but about politics. Like his mother and her sisters, he was very much a political animal, as am I.
He shared my fascinating with the Arthurian, the Matter of Britain, and the legends of the Grail. If he were alive today, and I told him I knew where to find the Grail, he would be the Dr. Henry Jones to my Indiana, ready to go for it. He encouraged my love of history. He encouraged me to be a writer, and a historian. He would call and talk for a couple hours, discussing history, archaeology, and the Bible. The one thing he taught me, that, as a historian, has benefited me more than any other lesson was to go beyond the sources.
He taught me to look beyond the Bible, into history, archaeology, the Talmud, myths and legends when researching or writing about a person in the Bible. He also taught me never to even bother with the King James Version. He was a fan of the Revised Standard Version, and the NRSV. He did not do many commentaries, or the writings of so called leaders, or other ministers and missionaries. He did not need to. He was a match for them all, going to original sources, picking verses apart, and trying to find the historical and cultural precedent behind them. Because of him, and the example he sat, I have an absolute contempt for 99% of so-called ministers, leaders, writers, theologians, and teachers who are attempting to promote their ignorant version of what they think we should know.
My uncle was incredible this way. He did not like Augustine of Hippo. He had no use for the neo-Platonians like Thomas Aquinas. His version of original sin was that when David said in sin he was conceived, he was conceived out of wed-lock, in sin. His father was philandering around on his wife. It was one of the reason David was relegated to second class status within his family.
Like my grandfather Froehich, he loved David. He was a man who constantly sinned, did everything wrong, but loved God. He would confess his sins, and be forgiven. He was big into David, and spent very little time on the Epistles. I never really remember a conversation about Paul, other than the fact that he was not all that much a fan. Like a good Episcopalian/Anglican Communion priest, he concentrated on the Gospels and on Salvation.
He taught Salvation. He did not teach rules, regulations, or nit-pick verses apart to turn them into something they are not. He did not approve of such things. According to him, it was all in the translation and the original intent of the original language. It did not matter what some commentator had to say about a verse, it mattered what the verse was about, in context. He did not believe in taking the Bible out of context nor historical context. One of the reasons I am so adamant about costume, fashion, and the foolish version of modesty today is because of what my uncle taught and how he encouraged me to go beyond the obvious and find the reason behind what was written.
You never knew my Uncle P. He helped shape what I believe. If he were still alive, while he would be rightfully flattered, he would be disgusted by what you wrote to me. He did not believe that way. He did not believe or follow any of the things you have said. He loved Christ. He taught me to follow the Sermon on the Mount. He loved the fact that Christ sat down with sinners, rescued the fallen women, and made women the centerpiece of his ministry. He is the one who caused me to understand the first actual Christian was a woman.
My uncle would never condemn how a person believed. He did not like historical, cultural, or ignorance when it came to the humanities and how it was applied to Christian living. I know this because we had many discussions about it. Those discussions are what has shaped the way I look at the world, and Christianity. He would not approve of the condemnation spewed upon me, because I don’t believe the way you do. For him, salvation was enough, then growth.
Now, as for fashion, I specialize in fashion, fashion history, and the history of the Wild West. You have described working on a farm, or dairy. My grandfather Froehlich had the largest independent dairy in Florida for nearly a half century. He was never a cowboy. He wore gentlemen’s boots and a straw hat. He never identified himself as a cowboy. My uncle, his son is very much a cowboy, complete with championship belt buckle, boots, hats, and the whole nine yards. Cowboy is as much an attitude as it is a costume.
I find your disgust with the culture to be insulting to me as an American. That is very much our culture. The first cowboys appeared in this country during the early 18th century out of Charleston, driving cattle up from the boats, to the interior of South Carolina and Georgia. These were men who worked the cattle. It became a life-style as well as legend and lore. To demean or condemn people because of how they dress or their music is bigoted and foolish. I detest country music. I also detest so-called gospel, ‘Christian’, religious, western, and folk music. I’m an opera freak. There is nothing that reeks of sex and violence more than opera. I like my religious music classical, lofty, well sung, and in magnificent buildings. Just became someone enjoys the outward show of humility is no indication that they are any better a Christian than someone who dresses fashionably and worships in a Cathedral. To assume so is to be completely wrong-headed and basically adhering to some sort of brainwashing cult.
As an individual I am contemptuous of the ignorance of history, sociology, art, fashion, culture, and the humanities. I am a historian. Thanks to my uncle, I have learned that one must apply many different studies to understand even a moment in time. This holds true with the ancients, with Christ, and with Paul. Not doing so limits God, terribly. It also reeks of fear that what one believes might not hold up to the test of time, which is quit sad.
I still cannot imagine a condemnation of an entire culture because someone is so self-righteous that they don’t like music that has nothing to do with the culture or the history. If you knew anything about the cowboy world, you would know that, for the most part, the culture was and is made up of hard working men and women who are surprisingly devout and thankfully quite simple in their faith in the Lord. They don’t need theology, the words of others, Luther or Calvin. They just need the Bible.
The American west is dotted with very small country churches, where the community would gather, and quite often still does. If you knew anything about the rodeo culture, you would know about their prayers, chapels, and the fact that at most race tracks in the west, there is a chapel and Sunday services. As far as the comment about the Marlboro Man, well, a person doesn’t go to hell because they smoke. You don’t go to hell for drinking adult beverages. A good cigar does not cause eternal damnation.
This concept of blind obedience to a so-called godly Christian leader has nothing to do with Christianity as I know it. Being a Christian, as I was taught, was being an individual, being required to stand out in a crowd, to stand up for what you believe, and never do anything that might cause someone who doesn’t believe to walk away from the possibility of salvation. It is about kindness, love, gentleness, very few rules and regulations, and loving one’s neighbor as you love yourself. It isn’t about damning someone or telling them they are going to hell because they don’t follow your version of what a Christian should be. To even think this was what my uncle taught is a lie, a total and complete lie. This was not my uncle. He was a man of humor, laughter, faith, learning, letters, science, history, humanities, tolerance, and honor. He was also quite proud of his humility, he would laugh.
Quite frankly, I don’t even comprehend your theology. It is quite alien to me. I’m a simple person when it comes to my faith. Christ died for my sins, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven. If I believe in him, and confess my sins, I will one day be with him. There are no rules and regulations regarding levels of heaven, paradise, purgatory, or hell. That went out with Dante. I believe in the Holy Trinity. My faith is stated quite nicely in the Nicene Creed. That’s all I really need.
One thing I will never do is mistake self-righteous behavior and holiness. Holiness is defined as being holy and sacred. I will never reach that position in life. I leave that to those who have greater ambitions than I. All I try to do is live by John 3:16, and by 1 Corinthians 13. My God is a loving God who forgives. I don’t know about yours. I do know, though that one can make a graven image out of religion.
I wish you had known the real Paris Reidhead and not the person you think you know. I suspect you would not like him, not at all. He was nothing you assume he was, thank heavens. To make the assumption that Christ would not hang with cowboys is just foolish. When Christ was alive, he associated with the most notorious tax collector, the most hated man in parts of Judea. He associated with rowdy men of the world, partied quite well, and rescued the fallen women.
I suspect, if Christ were to return today, he would avoid religious individuals like the plague, instead, opting to have dinner with a group of gays or lesbians, or showing love and compassion to the woman who had recently had and abortion. He detested men of the church and those who were religious. I find it fascinating how you have managed to twist the stories of his life and his teachings into something unrecognizable. I might suggest a little less John Calvin and a little more Matthew 25:35-40. That is what my uncle believed. He never called down hatred, thunder, nor threatened people who did not believe what he did. Instead, he treated them with kindness.
Finally, my uncle loved this country. He did not hate what it became. He was a patriotic individual, who cherished our freedom, our history, and the role the Reidhead-Perkins family played in the founding of this country. Please, DO NOT spread your LIE that my uncle did not like what this country became. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had no problems with our culture, or politics, or our history. He loved politics. He loved living in the metropolitan DC area. What he was concerned about was the mass-marketing of evangelicals, going so far as to write a book called Getting Evangelicals Saved. My mother was shocked when I told her what you wrote. Like she said, nothing, absolutely nothing can be farther from the truth.
Thank you for responding. I apologize for taking so long in getting back to you. I’ve been busy with family. My father turned 90 on June 11, so we’ve been quite busy. Please, reconsider how you are misrepresenting my uncle and what he believed. I gather you truly hate the United States. To understand my uncle, you cannot separate him from this nation, our history, the history of our family, and the history of our faith in Christ. From your warning to me, if you knew my uncle, I suspect you would consider that he, too was going to hell, along with me.
I wish you the best fortune with your work. It is not an easy thing you do. I might suggest, though, that you lighten up a little and learn how to laugh. The Christ I know was a happy man, who enjoyed his friends, treated women as equals, had no problem drinking wine, and attending a party. He loved his friends. His greatest commandment was about loving one another as we love ourselves. I’ve spent the past three years deeply involved in the study of Matthew. It is a shattering Gospel, requiring us to put ourselves last, and those around us first. Christ detested religious leaders who were self-righteous and thought they knew more than others did. He forgave those who crucified him. If we can’t love, we are nothing.
Please visit SJ Reidhead’s blog The Pink Flamingo