Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blind Spots

I had a conversation with my boss today that got me to thinking. He and I will sometimes sit and talk about life and society and God for a few minutes in the middle of a work day. It's nothing too serious, but it is almost always interesting.

The inauguration of Barack Obama brought today's conversation up. It was about blind spots. Every society has them. Every era has them. And because they are "blind spots," rarely do people recognize them for what they are: major societal moral failures.

During my time in the Georgia/Carolina area, I covered the waning months of Senator Strom Thurmond's life. By the time he died, you would be hard pressed to find a more beloved politician anywhere, and his popularity crossed all boundaries of race and social status. That's particularly amazing, considering he once ran for President on a platform of segregation. What makes it even more amazing is that at the same time he was running, he was helping to put his mixed race daughter through college. He visited her monthly and gave her the money she needed to get through school. They apparently had a very close relationship.

See, despite all of his talk about segregation, he was very integrated when it came to love. As a young man, he fathered a child with the family's African-American maid. All indications are that this was not just some fling; he apparently had very strong feelings for her, and she for him. But everything had to be kept quiet because the time they lived in just didn't allow things like that.

After Senator Thurmond died, his daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, "came out of the closet," for lack of a better term, admitting to the world who she was. It was a big press conference, and I was there to cover it. Someone at the press conference asked Mrs. Williams how she reconciled his racist statements with his obvious love for her. She said that she'd once ask him, "How can you say all of those awful things on the campaign trail and then come down here and love me like this?" His answer: "That's just politics honey."

That's a profound statement. Strom Thurmond and others like him may or may not have agreed with segregation, but that wasn't the point. They knew that if they were going to get elected in the South, then they would have to embrace segregation. That is not a defense of them by any stretch of the imagination. It's just a fact. It's also a fact that many otherwise decent, Christian people were also segregationists. It's really hard to reconcile those two facts, until you understand the concept of blind spots.

I think they've existed in every society since the beginning of time. Specifically, the United States has had major blind spots through it's history, many of them related to race. It was a really disappointment for me to discover, after reading his work for years, that the great preacher Jonathan Edwards was also a slave holder. I love Edwards; he was absolutely brilliant, and on almost every other issue, the model of Christian character and morals. But he had a blind spot.

Thankfully, there are always prophets who point out a society's blind spots. William Wilberforce was one such prophet, working for decades to get slavery abolished in the British Empire, and finally achieving that goal just before he died. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one, preaching the evils of segregation with such power that his message lived on long after he had been assassinated.

So here's the question: what are this nation's blind spots now? What areas will we look back on 50 years from now with shame? What is our country doing now that will be so obviously wrong in our country's eyes years from now, but completely escapes us as a society now? And where are the prophets pointing out our sins to us? Who are they? I think if we can identify some of those things, we can go a long way toward seeing where our blinds spots are.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Scary, but Good

Yesterday was an incredible day. It was the day our new pastor, Dr. Danny Lanier, began his ministry at Northcrest Baptist Church here in Meridian. It was great for a number of reasons: great music, great preaching, the largest crowd we've had in years, and just a generally electric atmosphere in both services. But it's what happened outside those two services that was the most amazing part of the day for me.

Bro. Danny had the "good fortune" of having a deacon's meeting on his very first Sunday afternoon as pastor. As any Baptist knows, deacons meetings can be a real pit of snakes for many pastors. I think I can safely say that our deacon's meetings have never been like that, though. Either way, it's an important thing for a new pastor to get off on the right foot with the deacon body, and vice versa.

I can say without reservation that Bro. Danny did just that. He asked the entire pastoral team to attend the meeting, and also asked non-active deacons to be there. When the meeting started, he did something pretty amazing - he washed our feet. That's right, he washed our feet. Now, for some churches, I'm aware that feet washing is a pretty standard practice; for us, it is not. It's never happened as long as I've been going there, and I'm pretty sure for long before I was there. But Bro. Danny wanted us to know from the very beginning that he was there to serve us, and that's just what he did. He spent 30 minutes, on his hands and knees, with his sleeves rolled up, washing the feet of more than 20 men. And for those of you who don't know, he has fibromyalgia, a chronic illnesses that causes major pain. So I know he was hurting while he did this.

I don't tell you this to toot my own pastor's horn. He didn't do it so we'd tell everyone. He did it to humble himself, and show himself a servant. In the process, he humbled us also, and reminded us that we are servants in the church, not bosses. That's something every deacon body should remember, and I think yesterday is something that every person in that room will never forget. There certainly was not a dry eye in the room.

I really believe something is about to happen in our church, and in this community. Last night, I felt God's presence in a way that I have few times in my life, in a way that frankly scared me to death. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, I was as frightened as anyone who is happy can be, and as happy as anyone who is frightened can be. I pray that it becomes a regular occurrence.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Penn on Evangelism

This is a remarkable video from Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame. He's an atheist, who was recently given a Gideon Pocket New Testament. Listen to what he says about the man who did it, and think about how that might be able to help us bring the Gospel to the world.