Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Used to Be a Southern Baptist

I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church in April of 1973. Over the subsequent 36+ years, I have been a member of seven Southern Baptist churches. Both of my parents attended a Southern Baptist seminary. Two of my uncles pastored Southern Baptist churches. I have written for Southern Baptist publications.

My church is no longer a Southern Baptist church after this week's action of the Southern Baptist Convention. While the SBC never bothered to put a reason for its action on the record, the off-the-record and behind-the-scenes and blogosphere justifications for the SBC action all had to do with a disbelief of my church's testimony about itself and an assumption/interpretation by others about what my church affirms, approves, and endorses.

This is unprecedented at the national level. More than that, it is sad.

There are some who don't see much downside to the Convention's action. They don't see why my church should care that it is no longer affiliated with the SBC. They may be right. After all, the Southern Baptist Convention of today is a far cry from what it was in 1973. My church has many different priorities from those of the SBC. I personally am not enamored with many current convention positions.

Still, the history of the SBC has much to be proud of. Even in the current SBC, there are pockets - especially at the local level, where the national politics has not been able to ooze - of Christian service and discipleship that are worthy of support and acclaim. As my ability to support the majority of Southern Baptists in positions of power and the direction of the national convention has waned to almost nothing, I have focused on my support of these isolated areas. And if we (and by "we" I mean both my fellow church members and the Executive Committee of the SBC) are honest, we will admit that there is much that we have in common: we claim the promise of Christ; we seek to follow the Great Commission; we are active in mission work.

I am proud that my church has sought reconciliation. I believe that is the Christlike approach. Paul teaches that, as much as it is up to us, we should live in peace with all. We have tried to do that. The Convention has rejected our efforts and publicly disbelieved our testimony about ourselves. That leaves nothing for us to hold on to.

It is ironic that I write this blog immediately after having written a blog about how I am an optimist. I can see the good in the SBC (I know I sound like Luke Skywalker, seeing the good in Darth Vader) that still exists. I know that many who voted to oust my church believe that scripture is clear and that accepting certain people as church members is a de facto affirmation of their behavior. I believe them when they say that they have no problem ministering to everyone and opening the doors of the church to all people but that an extension of membership is a different matter.

That I understand them does not mean that I excuse them. It is, I believe, either dishonest or naive to conclude that all Southern Baptist church members are truly repentant for all their sins. As I say, I have been a member of Southern Baptist churches for over 36 years, and I know that our churches include many who commit sins for which they have no remorse and of which they have no intention of repenting. I also believe it is poor exigesis of scripture to conclude that the New Testament description of the local church includes only those who have repented of all sins, who have "arrived" at the ideal state of following Christ. Paul himself testified that he had not yet achieved his goal even as he approached his death. He continued to press on toward the high calling. So do we.

Do I think people should repent of their sins? Of course I do. Do I believe that unrepentant sinners are failing to meet the mark we expect of church members? Obviously.

It is a red herring to label my church as pro-gay or pro-sin or apostate or anti-repentance. I have never been in a church with a higher view of scripture in the worship service. I have been impressed with the respect for scripture that my church has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate in dealing with this very issue.

It is sad that we have yet another public picture of Christians who cannot get along. It is sad that the ministries of many good Southern Baptist churches who had nothing to do with the Convention's actions will be marred by the (deserved) bad publicity with which all who bear the name "Southern Baptist" will be marked as a result of this short-sightedness. It is sad that those who have firmly grabbed control of the name Southern Baptist have such little regard for the historic idea of what it means to be Baptist.

Go in peace, SBC. We no longer walk together - and that is sad - but we both continue to bear the name of Christ. I have little doubt that my church will continue on the path that God has laid out for us, and I have little doubt that you will continue on your own different path. I believe the loss is yours.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Do You Speak Funagalo?

Early in the first novel in Alexander McCall Smith's No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, an older man speaking of his early days working in the mines of South Africa says this:

"They taught us Funagalo, which is the language used for giving orders underground. It is a strange language... which is good for telling people what to do. There are many words for push, take, shove, carry, load, and no words for love, or happiness, or the sounds which birds make in the morning."

I am by nature an optimist. I see the proverbial glass at least half full. It is hard for me to see the bad in people. Even after 19 years practicing law and thousands of depositions, I tend to believe what people say to me. Perhaps that is a weakness, but I don't think so.

It can be a challenge to be an optimist. My uncle is dying. In a quick review of updated status reports on Facebook tonight, I discovered that two of my friends have lost family members in the last two days. As I have blogged before, way too many of my friends are going through or have just gone through divorces. Like everyone else, I have lost a lot in the recession of the last months. We are at war. My church stands on the verge of potentially being disfellowshiped by our national convention over an issue that is neither doctrinal nor necessary.

And I have it good. Many of you can readily cite a list of reasons it is hard for you to be an optimist that is much longer and more debilitating than mine.

Still, I long for the words that express love and happiness and the sounds that birds make in the morning.

I know plenty of folks who speak their version of Funagalo. They are at work, where nobody does anything worthy of receiving a compliment. They can be found on the internet or the radio, where they preach gloom and doom. Sadly, they are at church, where differences and disagreements dominate the conversation and things simply can never be like they used to be.

Perhaps I am naive. Maybe I miss the forest for the trees. But I think there is much that is wonderful around us. I have met only one person in my life in whom I could find no good, and I suspect that was my failing and a result of a rather limited amount of time spent with him.

I remember a conversation with a close friend who lamented over lunch how terrible things are in the world, how they are continually getting worse. I was flabbergasted. This came from a Christian leader. Of course I see what is happening to our culture, and yes, I see many manifestations of sin and evil around us. But God is good all the time. God is at work all the time.

The coverage of our current economic problems that compares today's climate to the Great Depression shows an amazing historic myopia. As hard as the current economic crisis has hit - and it is a crisis and it assuredly has hit hard - the standard of living today is embarrassingly luxurious in comparison to that of the Depression. Walk through a Best Buy or a car lot and then ask yourself if life today is anything like the economic times of the thirties.

Birds still make those sounds in the morning. Love and happiness are everywhere. God loves you and me, in spite of you and me.

Let's speak a little less Funagalo.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Today I Left Elementary School

In August of 1998, nearly eleven years ago, my wife and I took Trey, our oldest child, to kindergarten. Since our home at the time was less than a mile from Harpeth Valley Elementary School (so yes, we became members of the Harpeth Valley PTA), we loaded Trey up in his little red wagon and, video camera in hand, took him to school. So began two traditions: the wagon, which lasted as long as we were in Nashville for Trey and then for Carolyn when she started kindergarten; and the video camera, which still comes out on the first day of school each year, much to my kids' chagrin.

We took Trey to Ms. Hatmaker's classroom and left him there. He was confident and happy. We were bewildered that time had flown so quickly that we could already have a child in school.

Over the next five years, we took Trey to each successive grade at Harpeth Valley, and, in 2001, we added Carolyn to the wagon ride as she headed for Ms. Jeffers' kindergarten class.

2003 brought us to Texas and to Florence Elementary School (too far from home for the wagon ride - not that I wasn't tempted!). Trey was by now a fifth grader and too old for elementary school (the time was still flying by), but Carolyn dutifully began second grade at Florence, and the next year Annessa became a kindergartener herself.

Today was the last day of fourth grade for Annessa. Next year, we will have one child in high school, one in middle school, and one in intermediate school. I am today amused that, way back at the age of 33, I was wondering where the time had gone just because my son was "already" in kindergarten.

Walking out of the elementary school today, with the knowledge that I am unlikely to walk back in for quite some time, was a milestone - probably a greater milestone than when I walked out of Walter Stokes Elementary School in 1977 (back then, "elementary school" lasted through the sixth grade). As a student, I knew that it would be summertime and then I would move on to junior high. As a parent, while I know that it is summertime and that many more years of school will follow for all of my kids, I somehow am much more cognizant of what has gone before:
- the truly great teachers like Kimber Halliburton and Joyce Blair and Jana Houk and Kristi Schultz and Tricia deJonge and Kelly Persyn;
- Mark Martin, a principal who goes above and beyond;
- projects and artwork and early stabs at authoring books;
- friends, friends, and more friends;
- disappointments and heartbreaks that are tragic to a 7-year-old and, a parent knows, only hint at what is to come in life;
- victories and achievements and awards that are almost passe' to a child but fill a parent's heart with the strangest of emotions.

I cannot go back to my thirties any more than any of my kids can go back to the second grade. I would not want to go back, and neither would they. Still, there is something about the end of elementary school that signals the end of something more.

Maybe it is the end of the truly innocent time for all my kids. Maybe it is the end of "young adulthood" for Gena and me. Maybe it is the end of the easy stuff.

Or maybe it is, as I was reminded in a sermon this past Sunday, not so much the end of anything as it is a launching point. Maybe we are simply finishing the first stage of preparation. Maybe today's meaning is that for all of my kids, to quote Dr. Seuss, their mountain is waiting. Maybe it is time for them to be on their way.

I know that in eight years, when my last child graduates from high school, I will revisit many of these same feelings. Perhaps then I will look back and think just how silly I was, at the tender age of 44, to think that the end of elementary school for Annessa really was a substantial milestone.

Maybe.

But it sure feels important today. It sure feels like we have moved over a significant line. Maybe it will be with my great-niece Aubree or maybe (perish the thought) with my own grandchildren before I next have a reason to cross the threshold of Florence or any other elementary school.

Today, after eleven years, I left elementary school. It sure was a nice ride.