Since we moved to North Carolina nearly 15 years ago a number of times I have had occasion to interact with Southern Baptists. As with all religions in all parts of the world, there are some closed-minded fanatics and Baptists are not unique in that regard. However, I have experienced what feels like a disproportionate number of Baptists with some characteristically wonderful qualities. In this day and age, generalizing about any social subgroup is a bit risky, but people need to face that there are such demographic tendencies we need to acknowledge lest we bury our heads in the sand.
Firstly, I have noticed a great deal of purity and innocence from many Baptists. Note that by innocence I mean the opposite of fanatical or closed. Secondly, I have experienced a great deal of warm-hearted kindness from many Baptists. I remember being in the checkout counter at WalMart… The older white haired lady behind the counter was incredibly sweet, open, and loving. Her sincere “God bless you” as we said goodbye was pure hearted, beautifully touching, and characteristic of my experience with so many Baptists.
However, the final point is the one I find most compelling. I have on three separate occasions had long discussions with Baptist ministers all sharing one common thread. Recently, it was with a man sitting next to me on my flight home from the San Francisco class. He boarded the plane with a fiddle case under his arm, string tie around his neck, and cowboy hat upon his head.
My first words to him were to pull out his fiddle and play us all a tune, which in a most abstract sense, is exactly what happened. He reached out his hand and introduced himself with two initials followed by his last name. As is my way, I could not help the discussion going from southern gospel music to music in harmony with the laws of nature of the land that birthed it, to cultural integrity and tradition which upholds living in harmony with nature.
He was clearly open to my words and wanting of more. After telling me he was a Baptist minister, I covered everything from the manifestation of existence, to free will versus predetermination, to Darwinism versus creationism. I was touched by the depth of his pondering and lifelong pursuit of the deeper meaning of life as expressed through the Bible. He was very open to the notion that since the Bible had so many times been interpreted, translated, revised, and rewritten mostly 400 years after the passing of Christ, my oft used line that, ‘When the Master speaks it immediately ceases to be what the Master said and becomes what the listener heard’ was important. The quote, I believe, even thrilled him.
Now do not misunderstand me. His devotion to Christ and the Bible was great and unquestionable. He is a wonderful man who goes to Africa every fall to do missionary work and speaks beautifully of the people there. He is a deep thinker. He looks deeply into the Bible to find the gemstones of Truth in it, though they be hidden from so many that read the book. At the end of the flight, he thanked me for clarifying so many things for him. When I told him how much he was helping so many people, he seemed moved as if it were something he was not even aware of… adding in my mind to the affirmation of purity and innocence he lived. He asked for this website address which I provided.
I trust that he is reading this blog and would like to say to him, “My congratulations and thanks for a life well lived.”