Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Boys of LHS Part III

Last night I was sitting around a table with some friends and I shared a little about my faith journey. I told them that I caught my first glimpse of Jesus Christ at a Christian camp in 1993. I told them that I was basically blind-sided by Jesus that week. I signed up to for the girls, and the horseback riding, and the girls, and the rappelling, and the girls. Jesus wouldn't have broken into the top 1,000. In fact, I remember sitting by one of my high school friends Lauren Lowe the first night at dinner. Someone stood up to pray for the food. "Oh man," I said, "you mean this is a Christian camp?" Of course I knew it was a Christian camp, but Christians were anything but cool in my book, so I was playing dumb. For Lauren and any other girls that might be listening.

That's the thing about the Jesus I met that week. He is totally cool with the kids trying to be totally cool. Totally cool with the kids trying to be totally unchristian. In fact, for me, that was what great Young Life was all about - being totally cool with the worst kids in the school.

The boys of LHS who climbed aboard the bus with us in 1998 were not the worst kids in the school, but like me, they were definitely trying to be. Sagging pants, wife-beater shirts, foul tattoos, fouler language. They were a mess. I remember talking with a parent of some other kid who was going on the trip from some other high school. He is now mayor of Lubbock. A very honorable guy. Also a very conservative guy with a very Baptist hair cut. I was telling him how excited I was to be taking the kids we were taking from Lubbock High. "Some good kids then, huh?" he said, shaking his head as if he understood why I was so fired up. Obviously he had missed my point. "No, not very good kids at all," I said.

God wants to call the worst kids in the school, and those who want to be the worst kids in the school. If you don't get that you don't get Jesus. But no worries, there's hope for you too, because Jesus has also come to call the people who don't get Jesus.

It's pretty incredible, but a lot of the LHS boys who climbed aboard that greyhound that night had never been outside the Lubbock city limits. They had never had an opportunity to go on a real vacation. Never been outside their confined world. I kept telling people that. "The moment the bus john rolls past the Lubbock line these guys will be further from home than they have ever been."

I was proud. What I did not know, however, was that in a metaphorical, but much more profound sense, I was about to travel farther from my own home than I had ever been also.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Report from the NBC

On Saturday I returned from my trip down to Atlanta for the New Baptist Covenant. The NBC was a meeting of Baptists from all across the theological, racial and geographical landscape. President Jimmy Carter, a life-long Baptist, convened the meeting and some 15,000 showed up in a united effort to say that in spite of all our differences there some common things about our faith that unite us. Those common things are expressed most clearly in Luke 4, the NBC's theme scripture, wherein Jesus stands up and basically says that God has annointed him to bring good news to poor and outcast folk.

There were some brilliant moments in the meeting's four days. There was some powerful black preaching that had me up on my feet talking back to the word of God. "Amen." "Alright." "Okay now." After James Forbes preached on Friday I turned to the white guy from Indiana and asked him if they preach like that in the Midwest. "Not like that." Forbes's Bible might still be hot.

Other notables.

Tony Campolo, one of my evangelical heroes, preached in pictures. Parables of the Kingdom where some say yes and some say no to the claim of God on our lives. I was especially interested in his bold criticism of one of his former students who is out there somewhere doing boob jobs and tummy tucks for the materially consumed.

John Grisham, the author, spoke. I know, who knew he was Baptist? But man, that is a layman who knows why he is a Baptist. He called us to civility and inclusion. And he called us to get out of politics - atleast the kind of politics that co-opt the church into the red state blue state junk.

And there was the rub that made me feel a little out of place all week. Jimmy Carter convened this thing and I think most sane Baptists have all along felt he is a man of sincere faith. I was very happy to hear what he had to say and felt it was full of the wisdom of a man of God. He called us to quit letting non-essentials divide us. He explicitly named our varying beliefs about the inerrancy of scripture, or the place of women in the church, or the practice of homosexuality, and said they were non-issues, much like the issues of circumcision in the early church. Basically he was calling for us to start focusing on what we share in common, our central faith in the Lord Jesus Christ - which he said is in the end the only thing. Everything else is distracting us from our call to proclaim the Gospel into the world. On the last night of the gathering President Carter shared his own story and talked about how it was that simple, central faith that he saw demonstrated in an uneducated, small-time preacher from Brooklyn, that changed his life.

I heard Christ speaking in President Carter.

I heard Christ speaking in President Clinton also, but was less settled about his presence there. President Clinton spoke as if speaking to friends wounded from some common battle. In other words, in spite of the large number of black and Northern Baptists gathered, he seemed to be speaking to those who felt hurt by the strong dogmatic and authoritarian turn of the Southern Baptist Convention. His counsel was pastoral, encouraging meekness and humility when we come into disagreement. He impressed upon us our need to remember that we all see through a glass darkly and we are all trying to do what we feel in our hearts is right.

The message was clear and timely and I very much appreciated President Clinton's humility that night. Yet, and this goes back to what Grisham said, I couldn't help but think that it was a mistake to have so many political figures speaking. It really wasn't the fact that any one of them should not have been there, but all of them should not have been there together. It was just too much. And, given the fact that the two most prominent Republicans invited, Mike Huckabee and Lindsay Graham, ended up backing out after agreeing to come, the whole thing ended up being way too heavy with Democrats.

Look, here I inject my personal opinion, if there is going to be a pan-Baptist movement that is seriously going to do things to proclaim the Gospel to lost, hurting, poor, outcast, and imprisoned people, then it is not going to come from former Presidents and old veterans of the Southern Baptist Convention war. Instead it is going to come from new names in Baptist life like Ben Cole, Sarah Jobe, Michael-Ray Matthews, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. If you are a Baptist with an interest in the next 40 years then learn who these people are. They are the next generation.


I have never been to a black church conference and was very surprised to see that one of the large convention halls was turned into a market. Now most of the places I have been to will provide space for vendors to sell Christian books and maybe some religious artwork and crafts, and perhaps even stoles and robes. But down in Atlanta they were selling suits. Now part of me thought Well, they're doing something positive for the the black community by inviting black businesses to come in. It is a kind of counter-cultural economy. I have to say, however, that something set uneasy in my soul when I saw all the glitz and glamor. There's a fine line and this market was awfully close, if not beyond.

But here was the perk. I got my shoes shined at this thing and I have to say that the lady did my dogs right. I mean to tell you, she raised Lazarus. And I don't even know if James Forbes could have done that.