Of wallets, poetry, and leaving the church

I put this article aimed at challenging preachers to tell the truth about Afghanistan up on a Baptist Ministers egroup, and my friend Chris responded with this story. It’s so beautiful I think it needs a wider readership, so here it is:

I always wondered why my paternal Grandfather, who died when I was a boy, never really went to church much. He was a Baptist, as was his father and grandfather before him all the way back to the great patriarch Rev John Turner who brought out his small Particular Baptist congregation to Melbourne in 1852. My Grandpa’s name was Roy, and he was more involved in the Fitzroy Football Club than he was in his Baptist Church. I asked my Dad about this and he told me that his Father was a man with a strong social conscience and that he never really felt that the church gave voice to his own concerns about important social issues. I wondered about this for some years. I wondered what my Grandfather’s social concerns might have been. I was sure they would have been many and varied but I was naturally curious. Not long before my own Father died he gave me Roy’s old wallet. It is made of Pig Skin with R.H. TURNER stamped on the front in gold leaf. It was given to Roy by his work mates when he retired from GMH years ago. It has a gold pen inserted in it with a note pad, change pocket and a slip for notes. It also has a pocket containing a small fold for stamps. While looking it over I pulled the stamp fold out of the pocket and a small newspaper clipping slipped out into my hand. It was poetry…
I know not by what master
minds are moved
Brave pawns who march
wherever they are sent,
Nor how by Christian leaders
is approved
Each new appeal to war’s
arbitrament.
But this I know: in graves
today there lie
Inspired by platitude of
voice and pen,
Who in great trust went out
to fight and die,
Uncounted hosts of gallant
cheated men.
What then of marble, ceno-
taph or shrine
If some new lie should cheat
your child and mine?

I asked Dad whether he had put it there and he hadn’t. There was no indication of the author. Roy had put it there and had given me a tiny window into why he wasn’t that interested in church. Even as I write it today I have the same sense of being moved by it as I had when I first read it. My Grandpa was a man who valued truth and gospel from the pulpit. For him there was no place for false nationalistic jingoism in the life of the church and so, because of his great faith, he removed himself from it.  I am of course inspired by Roy’s faith and I like to think that my own social conscience is grounded in his. I had always wondered where it had come from. I am not a radical, nor a revolutionary by nature, but I do hope that I will always have the courage to preach the gospel as costly peace and reconciliation.
Chris.

Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Of wallets, poetry, and leaving the church

  1. That’s a great story, and a poem to pass on! The poet is Victor Courtney – http://www.wabushpoets.com/pastpoets/Courtney/courtney.html – there’s a copy of it in a scanned diary at http://www.newcastle.edu.au/Resources/Divisions/Academic/Library/Cultural%20Collections/pdf/Cocking-ZZC2-1958-1960.pdf – p13 of the pdf file, p10 of the diary. Guess it’s in one of his poetry books which you may be able to track down in Austalia, possibly ‘Cold is the marble’ (1948)? Be really interested to know if there are other reflections on war / church in that

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