After years of leading conferences, and even writing a boring dissertation on responsible decision-making, one would think I would be better at it myself. However, considering all possible implications of one’s decision was a lesson that escaped me while planning a recent home project.
Even with the oppressive heat and drought in Georgia, I pretty much keep something going all the time to get me outdoors and to clear my mind a little. There is usually enough creativity to make it interesting and enough physical challenge to justify it as exercise.
For the past couple of years I have had my eye on a blank spot in a lower, wooded area of our yard that called for something. It is visible from several vantage points inside and outside of the house.
Earlier this summer, I sketched out some basic plans and got started. A just-read newsletter from the First Baptist Church of Marietta, Ga., made a nice template for the jigsaw cuttings.
After a few weekends and several evenings, the project was complete. I was pleased except for one miscalculation. In planning the location of our new arbor, I had not paid close attention to the extended limb well above.
While the shade was welcoming — this limb came off a shagbark hickory tree. When constructing the lattice-style top, and especially while painting the upper section and staining the decking, I faced an unanticipated challenge.
The squirrels cackled as large, heavy green-shelled hickory nuts crashed all around me. The ill-mannered creatures also sent various pieces of the partially consumed nut centers and woody husks over my head and the freshly painted, new project.
With stubborn determination, I finished the work and even added a bench and two chairs to the arbor. It will be a good place to sit and enjoy nature — even if I have to sweep away remnants of hickory nuts daily and wear a hardhat.
There I will watch the maple leaves turn a bright orange, gaze at the red-tail hawk soaring above, and relax to the rhythmic sounds of crickets and toads. It will also be a good place to remember that considering all the factors can help one avoid nutty decision-making in the future.
John D. Pierce | Blog
News that longtime Independent Baptist leader Lee Roberson died this spring at age 97 got by me somehow. At the discussion forum BaptistLife.com, Alabamian Mark Ray rightly chided the Baptist media for not picking up on this story.
Mark is correct, and I feel especially negligent in that my awareness of Roberson’s influence is nearly life-long. He was a well-known, highly influential figure in the Chattanooga area where I was born and raised.
My grandmother lived just a few blocks from the larger-than-life Roberson’s ever-expanding Highland Park Baptist Church and the Tennessee Temple Schools he founded.
One could not have lived in that area during his half-century of dynamic ministry there without some level of awareness if not direct contact.
From childhood I recall Highland Park’s aggressive bus ministry that would venture over the state line into our Georgia community. The buses bore the slogan, “America’s Second Largest Sunday School.”
Roberson must have thought those in second place tried harder. Indeed, his drivers were deeply committed to getting every person possible to the downtown church. They would do dry runs on Saturdays urging kids to be ready to catch the bus the next morning and to bring their friends.
Rewards were offered to those willing to get a group together and board the bus on a given Sunday. My pastor called them “Sign the banana and join the bunch” campaigns.
I resisted such temptations and faithfully attended — not that my parents gave me an option — Boynton Baptist Church, the Southern Baptist congregation in my community. Except for one occasion.
Where giveaways could not persuade me, I did visit Highland Park Church once to meet New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson and have him sign my King James Version Bible.
Over the years, a few of my friends attended either the church or school or both. And I encountered others on occasion when they ventured out in evangelism efforts.
But it was as a commuting freshman at then-Dalton Junior College that I got acquainted personally with several Tennessee Temple students with whom I worked at Loveman’s department store at Eastgate Mall in Chattanooga.
While we were all Baptist college students with shared values and a calling to ministry, there was an obvious, yet undefined, divide between my fellow Christian coworkers and me. Maybe it had something to do with us not looking alike.
The Temple students with their well-cropped hair, white dress shirts and narrow ties could have stepped out of any 1950s yearbook. I not only sold leisure suits with brightly colored, wide lapel shirts in the mid-‘70s, I wore them.
Cursed with big ears as a child, I was among the first of my peers to embrace the longer hairstyles that our parents blamed on the Beatles along with all other social ills.
One day, a newly employed Temple student asked me about my vocational plans. When I excitedly told him about my call to ministry, he assured me that was not possible.
Whipping his tattered Bible from his suit pocket faster than Chuck Conners could grab his trusty rifle, the self-assured minister-to-be quickly cross-referenced a couple of unrelated Bible verses to prove that someone with hair over their ears cannot hear a divine call.
From these students I also first heard of “the Curse of Ham,” a biblically faulty, racist theory used to justify their view of racial superiority. (By the way, the Genesis 9 passage used as a proof-text actually says that a drunken Noah — not God —cursed Ham’s son Canaan — not Ham — and it provides absolutely no support for white supremacy.)
My experiences were limited, though real. I want to avoid overgeneralizations here and not paint with too wide of a brush. None of my coworkers was overtly unkind to me and some could even be considered friends.
However, there was a self-righteous attitude in most of these students that I never got beyond. Though extremely conservative myself — probably fundamentally so — at the time, I was amazed at how clearly these guys knew everything about God and the Bible without any hint of struggle for truth or a recognition of differing viewpoints.
Between sales, they would “study” by memorizing flash cards designed to properly indoctrinate them about God, Jesus, Satan, sin, salvation, and especially an aggressively defended understanding of premillennial dispensationalist eschatology.
Though engrossed in my own Christian experience with deep commitment, I was never fully accepted as a “brother-in-Christ” by my coworkers. Perhaps it was my different look or my attendance at a secular college or my membership in a Southern (rather than Independent, Fundamentalist, KJV-only) Baptist church or something else.
It may have been simply my rejection of their rigid legalism, though I had a pretty tight list for my own beliefs and behavior — and not a very wide view of God’s mercy for those unlike me.
One Friday night as the store neared closing time, I suggested to one coworker that we catch the late showing of Corrie Ten Boon’s "The Hiding Place" that had just come to the mall theater. Temple students, he reminded me, were not allowed to attend movies.
“But this is about a Christian woman who….” I protested. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s against the rules.”
So were unchaperoned dating, revealed knees and a whole lot of other stuff. There was no room for personal discernment. Students were told precisely what to believe, where to go or not go, how to dress — and any departures from the rigid rules led to “demerits” that could result in punishment or banishment from the school.
No doubt, the school’s rigid regulations and doctrinal positions have surely evolved (though I doubt the word "evolved" is used much on campus) since I encountered these students in the 1970s. And in no way am I suggesting the long legacy of one widely-revered Independent Baptist leader — or the thousands of sincere folks associated with his ministry through the years — should be summed up or fully represented in one person’s casual reflections. These are just the thoughts that surfaced when recalling an earlier time and place during my own developing years.
In a strange but true way, I am actually grateful for lessons learned from my early exposure to the self-righteousness and strict legalism of these unwavering fundamentalist disciples. And, more importantly, I am grateful for the more grace-filled models — in my church family, the secular college I attended, and elsewhere — that kept me from equating the Christian faith exclusively with this very narrow expression.
Interestingly, during those years and several afterward, I would express how thankful I was that Southern Baptists didn’t hold such judgmental attitudes and legalistic leanings. But then I watched up-close the radical shift in Southern Baptist leadership over the past quarter century where now Independent Fundamentalists feel much more at home than I do.
Last week, my early morning proofreading was being well enhanced by good hazelnut coffee and near-solitude when the exuberant foursome burst through the café door. Their boisterous laughter and matching bright pink T-shirts — as purposefully designed — drew my quick attention.
On the front of each shirt was the digital image of one of the four delightful women along with the bold and widely-used words: “Lordy, Lordy, Lisa’s 40.” As if that was not embarrassing enough to the “honoree,” one woman turned to me, a stranger, pointed to her friend and exclaimed: “She’s 40 today!”
A big laugh followed from the others, and I offered my congratulations and best wishes to the embarrassed woman. Soon loaded with coffee and pastries the four friends were out the door for an early start to what was obviously a big, well-planned day to mark a personal milestone.
Life’s important transitions — whether the joyful celebration of a newborn, the tragic loss of a loved or the mixed-emotions of a birthday that ends in a zero — are better experienced when surrounded by family, friends and a community of faith.
When I think about graduations, marriage, the birth of our daughters, the deaths of my parents and other significant passages of life, there are faces of faithful friends and family that come clearly into focus with each episode. Their presence and encouragement were comforting and reassured me of a divine presence as well.
While over the last decade my appreciation for solitude has grown significantly, I am always grateful for those timely interruptions — such as the one in the coffee shop last week — to remind me that the road of life is not designed to be traveled alone.
There are moments when we need the company of fellow life travelers — willing to embarrass us on significant birthdays and embrace us in times of sorrow.
Last Tuesday evening, my daughters and I witnessed baseball history when the Atlanta Braves hosted the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field. Maybe we should sell the ticket stubs on eBay.
It had nothing to do with What’s-his –name surpassing the career home run record of the gracious and talented Mr. Henry L. Aaron. That happened a week earlier in San Fran — so I heard.
No, the record broken on this warm night in Atlanta came at the end of the fifth inning when Braves manager Bobby Cox was ejected from the game for the 132nd time in his career, surpassing the late longtime New York Giants manager John McGraw.
Actually, McGraw had been ejected several more times as a player than Cox, who already held the record for ejections by a manager only. But, clearly, this title was not one sought by scruffy and popular Cox.
For nearly two months he had bit his tongue, scratched his head, stomped around the dugout and, somehow, avoided getting dispensed to the clubhouse early. But when his star third baseman reacted negatively to a called third strike, Cox was there to defend his player.
The bulk of his ejections have come in the latter years as manager of the Braves. As a fellow fan and I discussed after the game Tuesday night, Cox is not the hot-headed, dirt-kicking kind of manager one would expect to hold such a record.
He is not as red-faced and animated as managerial characters of the past like Leo Durocher, Earl Weaver or Billy Martin — or the contemporary Lou Piniella. However, I have urged my daughters not to read Bobby’s lips too closely when he engages an umpire in debate and it is shown close-up on TV.
And he is certainly not a showman like the Braves AA manager Phillip Wellman who gained YouTube fame and a three-day suspension for a colorful, five-minute tirade in Chattanooga on June 1. I was privileged, by chance, to see that historic event in person as well.
Truthfully, my daughters and I — like almost the entire crowd of 37,000 — were unaware that Cox had been ejected for the record-breaking time during Tuesday’s game. It was done more quietly than usual by umpire Ted Barrett. You just can’t argue balls and strikes though some umpires allow a little more of it than others.
I wish it had been more obvious, if not spectacular. For, sadly, the fans didn’t even have the chance to boo Barrett for tossing Cox or chant the ever supportive: “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby…” during a harmless nose-to-nose exchange of differing opinions.
After the game the veteran Chipper Jones, who has never known a Major League manager other than Cox, said he was proud that Bobby had set the record while standing up for him. Outfielder Matt Diaz added that it was typical of Bobby: “He went out there and had his player’s back.”
What novice or non-baseball fans may not realize is that a good manager will come out and argue on behalf of a player even if he is not so sure whether the call was a good one or not.
In other words, his foremost purpose is to stand between the player and the umpire and to plead the case for one of his own.
From a pragmatic standpoint, too, it is less damaging to a team if the manager has to inconveniently direct play from his clubhouse office than to have an upset player removed from the game — or worse, suspended for several games.
But, ultimately, Cox is seen as being deeply loyal to his players and willing to take the heat on their behalf. That and his even-handed and respectful relationships with them make him extremely popular with his players.
Loyalty and evenhanded are good characteristics. And whether on the field of play or in other arenas of life, we all need advocates. When the last time you or I stood up for somebody else?
The 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death is being marked today, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007. That date in 1977 was on a Tuesday, however, I vividly remember.
In those days, mid-August was still considered summer. Students didn't return to their classrooms while the temperatures outside soared to triple digits.
So, as a rising college senior, I was in the latter days of serving as summer youth worker at Silvertown Baptist Church in Thomaston, Ga.
Each Tuesday, I would drive the church's two-tone green van filled with teens to the popular Metro Bible Study, an interdenominational gathering that drew a large crowd of younger folks from the Atlanta area and beyond.
Early contemporary Christian music pioneers, like the guys with Pat Terry Group, led what would later be called "praise music" prior to the Bible study time. It was the place to be for youthful Christians of that era.
As we drove from Thomaston toward Atlanta, I made a comment to the youth about the shocking news that Elvis had just died. It was the classic case of "crying wolf" too often.
Because I was known to pull their collective legs regularly, it was obvious not a single person onboard believed I was telling the truth. Despite repeated attempts at assuring them the King was dead, they just shook their heads in disbelief.
Pulling into the parking lot of the school where the gathering took place, I noticed a tall, long-haired (not unusual for the '70s) man walking alone toward the large assembly.
Rolling down the window, I asked for help: "Please tell them who died today."
He shrugged his shoulders at the obvious and replied: "Elvis, man."
My information had been verified by Mylon LeFevre, an early Christian rocker who was getting his life turned around back then.
Raised as part of the Southern gospel family group, the Singing LeFevres, Mylon had been through a prodigal experience into secular rock music that included drug addiction and failing health. He was bouncing back.
But there was some irony in that casual encounter in 1977 that did not surface in my mind until several years later when reflecting on the day that Elvis died. The person who had confirmed the sad news for my youth group had also written a song that Elvis recorded.
At age 17, LeFevre had received the ultimate songwriter's compliment. Elvis recorded, Without Him, that Mylon had penned in 1963.
Without Him I could do nothing,
Without Him I'd surely fail;
Without Him, I would be drifting.
Like a ship without a sail.
Jesus, Oh Jesus, do you know him today?
You can't turn him away, oh Jesus, oh Jesus.
Without him, How lost I would be.
Without Him I would be dying.
Without Him I'd be enslaved;
Without Him life would be hopeless,
But with Jesus, thank God, I'm saved.
Jesus, Oh Jesus, do you know him today?
You can't turn him away, oh Jesus, oh Jesus.
Withoust him, How lost I would be.
A few years after the death of Elvis, Mylon formed a new Christian group called "Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart" that stirred the faith of hordes of young people for a decade and even won a Grammy.
Now each time the anniversary of Elvis' death rolls around I remember that summer day in August 1977, the now-grown youth from Thomaston, and that one song in particular.
It is number 200 in the Baptist Hymnal (1975) and has been recorded many times. One of my favorite renditions is by the soulful Kate Campbell on her "For the Living of These Days" CD.