Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Keep My Memory Green

As he broke the bread, Jesus said,
"This is my body, which is for you; do this in
remembrance of me " 1 Corinthians 11:24

"Oh Lord keep my memory green."  What an interesting epitaph to be carved on a tombstone.  Charles H. Kerr had turned 23 years old just two days after Christmas -- an age one would think to be young and full of promise.  Then, only six weeks later, he died in Charleston, South Carolina, where I recently found his tombstone in a graveyard at the Unitarian Church.

When I snapped this intriguing picture, all I knew was what we see on this stone that's 149 years old this month.  I did an internet search on the name and also the quotation.  I was surprised at the information it turned up.  First of all, the name brought up a considerable amount of information about a man named Charles Hope Kerr who was born in 1860 and was a Unitarian who began a successful, and I might add, subversive, publishing company in 1886.

At first I thought, well, this publisher must be the son of the erstwhile Charles H. Kerr who would have died five years after his son was born.  They share the same name and the same Unitarian beliefs.  Alas, after more investigation, the publisher's father is listed as Alexander Kerr, an abolitionist from LaGrange, Georgia, where Charles Hope was born.  Around the time the Civil War began in 1861, the Kerr's took their baby and fled to the north where Charles grew up.

In the meantime, the Charles H. Kerr listed on the tombstone became a soldier in the Confederate army during the Civil War and was killed in battle on James Island defending Charleston only two months before the end of the war.  I have tried to discover more about this young man to see if there might be a connection, but I've found nothing.

Here's what I think might be the story (as of now, this is fiction):  Charles H. and Alexander Kerr were brothers, born in Charleston, South Carolina, to parents who believed in the Unitarian way (a way that rejects Christ as Savior and is, therefore, not Christian).  Alexander, the elder of the two, had strong views on slavery which probably didn't coincide with those of his southern family.  He moved to Georgia and somewhere along the way, became an abolitionist, helping to free slaves through the underground railroad.  Because Alexander loved his brother, even though he did not share his beliefs, he named his son Charles Hope in honor of the younger brother he missed.

When the Civil War began, Alexander may have been in contact with his family and may have learned that his younger brother would be fighting in a war that he objected to.  Alexander, his wife and baby fled to the north where he became a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and his son Charles Hope later became publisher of a radical publication called Unity.  The publishing company he founded, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, is still in business and advertises itself as offering, "Subversive literature for the whole family since 1886."

I will refrain from further fleshing out this fictionalized story of the Kerr family.  I've probably confused you enough already.  Suffice it to say, the young soldier Charles H. Kerr appears to have been an honorable man who gave his life for his country and his beliefs.

Second of all we have the unusual quote on the tombstone.  The quote is from a book written by Charles Dickens in 1848.  "Lord, keep my memory green" is the last line in the story, The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain.  I will not go into trying to figure out why the main character uttered these words or why Charles H. Kerr has it on his tombstone, but instead, we'll ponder what this phrase might mean to we who are Christians.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you" 11:2.  Paul's memory has been kept green -- not only among these Corinthian Christians he was writing to, but for 2,000 years among all Christians who study God's word.  Paul's life and dedication to God have been an inspiration and challenge.  We not only feel we know Paul through these writings, but more importantly, we see God more clearly and His matchless name is glorified -- even through the memory of Paul.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, saying, "I thank my God every time I remember you" Philippians 1:3.  In this case, the memory of the Philippian Christians was kept green in the heart of Paul.  As long as he lived, he never forgot their love for him and for the Savior.  Even now, as they are together in heaven, their memory remains green, growing and vibrant.

Our Lord will always keep the memory of His children green.  He will never forget us, but always care for us as for a tender, young green plant.  May we ever grow in His grace and remain green and vibrant for His glory!

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