Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it our elders obtained a good report.
Bible – King James Version.
by T. A. Fry
Through faith, we understand the worlds were framed
By God’s words; that things are not made solely
Of which they appear. Without faith, it is
Impossible to please or be wholly pleased.
Faith is a reward unto itself. And those
That state plainly; “we’re earthly strangers, pilgrims,
Seeking a country from whence we came,”
May have the opportunity to return.
But what if we desire something better?
A heavenly country; where God is not
Ashamed to be called our God. Is there more?
Our elders, having obtained a good report,
Through faith, received not the promise;
God provided something better;
They, without us, should not be made perfect.
The end of the American experiment, may well come in part, out of the fictional character from which it was partially fashioned; the idea of American independence and rugged individualism. We have fashioned a cloak for ourselves and our politicians out of this idea of American exceptionalism. The idea that as American’s we are innately superior by our very founders declaring independence and then fighting for our freedom. These noble words and ideas may yet fashion the heroic myth that will be our undoing; the idea that you can make it in this country by yourself, if you just apply yourself and work hard and don’t let the government or anyone else get in your way. What that myth ignores, is that the reason that all of us have things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving is because of others’ contributions, small and large, to our successes and our failures. The Plymouth plantation survived, the reason the revolution succeeded, when so many others prior to it did not, was because groups worked together, communally, with the belief that they could build something better together, build it through self sacrifice for the betterment of others, where alone, they would fail.
It is ironic then, the heroic myth of American exceptionalism and independence is partially responsible for bringing us to the brink of fracturing, has created a divide that is growing through a proclamation of self service, when the need to work cooperatively could not be more beneficial for all. This failing should not be a surprise. It is because we suffer as human’s from the same challenges of being human that William Bradford and his fellow colonists on the Mayflower did nearly 400 years ago, our egos get in the way of our better selves.
Bradford penned a journal of his voyage and establishment of the Plymouth colony, that was published by his sons after his death. A devout Christian, a man of faith and also realism, he believed that his faith in God, could help guide the providence of his community and his family if they worked together with the idea of a common good. He observed:
“The settlers, too, began to grow in prosperity, through the influx of many people to the country, especially to the Bay of Massachusetts. Thereby corn and cattle rose to a high price, and many were enriched, and commodities grew plentiful. But in other regards this benefit turned to their harm, and this accession of strength to weakness. For as their stocks increased and became more saleable, there was no longer any holding them together; they must of necessity obtain bigger holdings, otherwise they could not keep their cattle; and having oxen they must have land for ploughing. So in time no one thought he could live unless he had cattle and a great deal of land to keep them, all striving to increase their stocks.”
William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation
Bradford was a poet as well. Most of his poetry is religious in nature or what we would now call patriotic. Bradford wanted for his sons and their families to have something better than what his opportunities had been in England. I found humorous that Bradford wrote poetry complaining about various things he considered sinful, including – Ranters, proving not much has changed in 400 years, only the technology with which the Ranters rant.
On The Various Heresies In Old And New England, With An Appeal To The Presbyterians (Excerpt)
By William Bradford
Nor need you fear sin to commit,
For Christ hath satisfied for it.
But these doctrines make men profane,
And bring dishonor to Christ’s name.
Now faith is made, hereby, to be
A dead body, as you may see;
And these are but a wretched race,
That they abuse God’s holy grace.
Next unto these we may bring in
The filthy Ranters, near of kin.
Where had they first their rise or name?
I know not from the devil they came.
The Adamites they are most like,
But more against public shame do strike.
Cynic-like, as vile as dogs,
Carry themselves as filthy hogs,
Yea worse than brutes, they know no end;
But all their strength in lusts they spend.
They shame the nature of mankind,
And blot out reason in their mind.
Professed atheists some of them are,
Who openly revile God dare,
And horridly blaspheme His name,
And publicly avow the same,
Which makes my heart quake and tremble.
Nor may I herein dissemble;
Methinks such wretches should not live
In any land offense to give,
Of this high nature, against the most high,
And men it hear, and pass it by.
I might say more of their vileness,
How in contempt they will profess
Their fellow creatures to adore,
That God’s dishonor may be more.
But let them pass; they are too vile
My fingers for to defile.
I hope the Lord’s help will come in
To cleanse the land of such vermin.
I feel compelled to leave a footnote about the poem Through Faith. I thought carefully whether to attach my name to this poem, as it feels a bit like hubris to do so. I recognize that many people take scripture as literal, the literal word of God. I do not. I see it as a creation of many minds over time, written in languages other than my own and passed down. I see the connection between poetry and scripture and the poetry in scripture.
I found this text the first time I read it incredibly confusing. I could not wrap my head around it. If you read Hebrews 11 in it’s entirety it is a lengthy list of prophets in the Old Testament and their trials of faith. It feels impersonal and antiquated. But there was an element in it, that the more time that I spent with it felt relevant. And its relevance is in being a father and a son. The process of deconstructing and then reconstructing the text into a poem made it viable as something meaningful to me. And I hope might open the door for others to look at it through their own spiritual or poetic lens.