I Aspire to Be a Christian

Author: Gary Hart

What follows breaks two personal writing rules: too many first-person pronouns in an age of ego; and personal focus on my religious beliefs.  Starting with the New York Times commentary page and working outward, every writer makes sure you understand that it is him or her who is rendering an opinion, as if we didn’t know that already.  And though for a time a public man, I served in an age where serious public figures tried to live their beliefs rather than chant them and thus advertise their hypocrisy.

One way or the other many if not most of us practice the politics of identity.  So, Christians say “I am a Christian.”  Perhaps because I was raised in a humble evangelical household, attended an evangelical college, and graduated from divinity school, and have, for better or worse, always been a literalist, the Christian religion requires some qualifications for self-identification.  And if you take those qualifications seriously, as I always have, you don’t just pay your dues and walk through the door.

In the deepest sense, you do not choose Christianity; Christianity chooses you.

Jesus preached a demanding message: the worship of wealth is a distraction from the practice of faith; daily try to help those in need; care in real, practical terms for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the lonely; love one another; be kind to each other; materialism is incompatible with a caring heart; life is to be lived inward spiritually and outward behaviorally.

There are two kinds of Christian aspirants.  Those ascetics single mindedly pursuing purity.  And those of us identified in Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven: “I fled Him down the nights and down the days.  I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind.”

At a more advanced age than I ever anticipated, thoughts are increasingly on things of the spirit and what Kierkegaard would call existential matters.  Although I recall no votes in public service days that were antithetical to the Sermon on the Mount, and tremble in rage at those who so casually deny basic human public services to the unacceptably large number of poor we step over on the sidewalks on the way to self-advancement, I still have failed to faithfully follow Jesus’ admonitions in the radical ways He preached.

In a panel discussion some time back, a former Senate colleague defined the core issue as “how much government we want.”  My response was rather “what kind of society we want.”  We are not simply a very large and disparate collection of people occupying the same geographical area.  The Christian Gospel, and for that matter Judaism and Mohammedanism, are premised in some part on our social responsibilities.  This is both practical and spiritual.  The “every man for himself” philosophy of many on the right inevitably leads to a slightly less draconian version of Blake’s “nature red in tooth and claw.”

I hope I live long enough and follow the better instincts of my nature diligently enough to be accepted as a Christian.  This is my prayer.

I need a little more time and a lot more focus on what is good and true and lasting.  Obituaries serve the interests of the media which have their own priorities and I know the lead paragraph in mine regardless of what time I have left or what I might achieve.

I believe, as the Gospels tell us, that there is a judgment of some kind when it all comes to an end.  For my errors and sins, I will offer on my scale a small role in the lives of a group of younger humanitarians whom I have known and loved and who are daily feeding hungry children, providing books and literacy to young people without access to books, providing public service avenues to inner city youth who have no other chance at higher education, providing health care in small villages, raising money for food and medicine in disaster areas, teaching, healing, and caring.

The Bible says we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.  My hope of salvation rests in what little idealism I helped inspire in these and perhaps others.  Before it is all over, I aspire to be a Christian.

15 Responses to “I Aspire to Be a Christian”

  1. Neil McCarthy Says:

    This essay combines beauty with humility. The “I’s,” therefore, can be forgiven.

  2. Jack DuVall Says:

    Demands are made of those who accept the standards that were offered in the Sermon on the Mount. Sincerity is their standpoint. The result is a demonstration of truth, as in this essay.

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Whatever happened to just trying to be a good-hearted person wanting to do the right thing and leaving religion out of it?

    Some of the most inconsiderate people I know consider themselves to be Christian.

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    What is Mohammedanism??

    We can’t say Islam anymore? Good God!

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    For any offense I have given Ms. Miller, or anyone else, I apologize. I attempted to make it clear this was one person’s confession regarding living up to the faith in which he was raised. There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with “just trying to be a good-hearted person”, but, as the Thompson poem dramatizes, some of us find ourselves being pursued by a higher Spirit. I’m sorry the point of aspiration, rather than claiming a status, did not communicate itself. Rather than claiming to be a Christian, I aspire to that status. And I should have said Islam. We can of course say that and I should have. Do not seek to find offense, Ms. Miller. GH

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    No offense taken nor sought out. 🙂

    Just having a moment and it happened to be here.

    The piece communicated very clearly.

    I like the sound of Mohammedanism … it’s hard to say but I like the sound of it.

    Sorry, I’m without email for the last month and have been missing it terribly. Which accounts for both of my posts here. Should have left well enough alone, as they say.

  7. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Senator Hart, is a good man and a Christian, if that means the sort of man the man we know as Jesus, would have happily had amongst his friends and followers.

    Ms Miller likewise.

    I would be among your chums too.

    This site is inclusive of the friends or followers of the work of a retired senator who on retiring did not retire , but continued to do the sort of work more in the Senate should aspire to.

    An aspiring Christian, perhaps. A fully qualified member of the humanitarian amongst the human race, certainly.

  8. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    And Happy holidays to one and all!!

  9. William Bradley Says:

    Elegant and heartfelt as always, my dear Senator.

    If a bit too humble … 🙂

    Happy New Year to you and and yours and all around.

    Oh, and hang on to your metaphorical hats. It won’t be for nothing that 2018 is the 50th anniversary of 1968.

  10. Tom Gee Says:

    As one of the legion who have been inspired and enlightened for several decades by you, I extend best wishes for the new year and your continued good service. Peace!

  11. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    What the world needs now is more Lorenzo Cherin!

    I’m going to try to spread the word about the project you highlighted a few posts ago …

    Happy New Year!

  12. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    To Elizabeth

    That is such a terrific comment, you are marvellous! Some time back tried finding you on facebook, cannot , if your’e there, friend me, friend!

  13. Eric Jacobson Says:

    On Feb. 15, 2017, writing in Counterpunch.com, Adrian Kuzminski rather-well-assessed our nation’s neo-Roman-Empire-esque plight during the earliest days of the Trump regime. (And it is essentially a one-party rightist regime, not a conventional American government, as the unilaterally-passed regressive Republican tax-bill monstrosity illustrates.) The full essay, titled “The End of the Republic and the Coming of the Neo-Kinship World” is found here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/15/the-end-of-the-republic-and-the-coming-of-the-neo-kinship-world/ .

    In one passage I find relevant to Sen. Hart’s topic Mr. Kuzminski wrote:

    “If there is to be a resistance to these developments, it’ll have to come from an alternative vision—as it has so often in the past. In the Roman case, that vision turned out to be the universalist message of Christianity, which built up a counter-society, with its own institutions, which survived the fall of the Empire. Such a counter society has yet to appear in our time; but its hallmark will be a similar degree of separation from the current system. We can take its measure, in other words, by how far it departs from what we have; this means trying to imagine politics, economics, and society outside the terms of the current system.”

    Arguably Sen. Hart has been attempting this quasi-Christian-in-spirit project all along in his life inside- and outside of American politics proper. Interestingly, Hart’s evangelical roots and piety were always met with skepticism-to-hostility amongst secular non-conservatives. LA-based pundit Mickey Kaus, for example, was one such detractor I recall encountering (in-person) during Hart’s California visits in the 1984 Democratic presidential primary campaign.

    Part of what Kaus and others didn’t like I guess was the audacity of Hart titling his 1984 presidential campaign book “A New Democracy”. America’s old one was already “gone with the wind” then — swept away by the gale-forces of plutocracy — the title accurately implied. (Those other secular Hart-detractors, of course, included the infamous personnel and owners of the Miami Herald, Washington Post and the National Enquirer who assassinated Hart’s character, alas politically lethally, in May-June 1987 for committing Mike Pence’s idea of a venial sin in late March 1987 when Hart was a private citizen preparing to run for president again in 1988.)

    Hopefully Sen. Hart’s Dec. 27th blog essay is not entirely personal in nature, but also signals continued dedication to his quasi-Christian life’s work of attempting to form a “counter-society” to the rogue one we live in today (and have been living in since the day rightist conservative Ronald Reagan became president and centrist conservative GHW Bush became vice-president in Jan. 1981).

    As JFK said in his inaugural address: “Here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

    Happy New Year to all!

  14. Paul G Says:

    “CHRISTIAN” without a capital “C”

    President Reagan, Christian with a capital “C,” like Nixon before him, betrayed incumbent presidents’ negotiations with foreign enemies of the US; named nuclear missiles “Peacemakers” and murderous Contras “Christians;” shredded social networks and tax policies that gave to billionaires while robbing the working poor and our society’s most vulnerable; hugged Social Security recipients while cutting their benefits; doubled the prison population in Nixon’s vengeful never-ending Drug War to the benefit of the legalized mafia-drug industry while tripling the national debt; criminally ignored the AIDS health epidemic for almost a decade as 1,000,000 citizens suffered horribly slow deaths pillaged public lands and waters to benefit privateers (modern pirates). But, he successfully aspired to lead a moral majority as president even as he publicly declared the US government to be “the enemy.” Yet, this all seems “fake news” to our long-established political media referees whose company owners’ stocks continue to trump our nation’s ideals while proclaiming Reagan more popular today than WWII hero and WWIII preventer, President Kennedy.

    JFK, despite his many failings – like all of us flawed human beings – was a man of peace and enlightenment and therefore massively unlike the ignorami and warmongers that followed his 1,000 days as our nation’s 35th. president. He may not have been a Christian (with a capital C) but he was a rapidly growing christian in his exemplary concern and vision for our connected world of humans “who feel the same pain” and share the “same hope” for a life of basic human dignity, free of endless wars, ignorance and poverty.

    Unlike Reagan and many presidents that followed him, of both major parties, JFK’s and RFK’s action-packed lives – and willingness to readily admit mistakes or failures – fanned the fire of practical idealism in our honorable host that he continues to spark even in these nuclear-fueled joke-bullying times. We The People need a President Hart or his protegee to reconnect us with the best of our aspirations as his hero, Thomas Jefferson envisioned and Ben Franklin at age 80, warned we risk losing if we don’t know what we own. Whether we are Christian with a capital ‘C,’ or not, our best students who aspire to lead our nation need to hear directly from our host; to learn from his 50+ years of dedicated Lincolnesque service to our nation’s long-established principles as a republic; and, above all to learn that the wealthy can always take care of themselves without any need to betray the rest of us including our working poor and the most vulnerable among us in 2018 and beyond.

  15. JJ Kinnick Says:

    Excellent post by the only Democrat that I ever supported for president. Yes, I left the party in ’89, or should I say it “left me” when it veered a hard-left from the mainstream. You influenced me thirty years ago with your new ideas and common sense approach to national defense, security, and govt.

    Godspeed!
    JJK
    John 3:16

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