On the plane returning to New Orleans from Atlanta, I found myself seated beside a Catholic priest making an overnight trip to my city to speak at a local church. We fell into a conversation about our respective ministries in a brief attempt to understand each other better. At one point the priest said, “What’s it like being a Baptist in New Orleans?”
While I was formulating an answer, the lady in front of us–we had no idea she was listening–turned around and said loudly, “I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s like being a Catholic in Atlanta!” A dozen passengers around us, also tuning in, erupted in laughter.
Outnumbered is the point. Maybe overwhelmed sometimes. And, if we’re not careful, overlooked.
Five years into our marriage, Margaret and I had a honeymoon. That’s what happens when you are a) poor and b) in seminary all the time, trying to earn your credentials as a pastor.
Anyway, I was just graduating from seminary and pastoring a little church on a bayou some 25 miles west of New Orleans and we decided the time had come for a real vacation. We did something that was so unlike us that it seems a little foolhardy now and I wonder that we did it at all. We hired a lady to come in and stay with our two small boys for the week. (Okay, it wasn’t quite that scary. Leola was a lovely Black lady who helped Margaret with the housekeeping one day a week and our boys adored her.)
We were driving a 1964 red Ford Falcon with no air conditioning, but hey, it was 1967 and that’s how most people lived. And so we went to Texas.
Have you ever fainted? I did once, in a cafeteria. I had taken my sons and daughter-in-law to dinner while my wife was out of town. Standing in the line, I began to feel queasy. By the time we started selecting dishes, all I could think of eating–and holding down–was jello. At the table, I asked the waitress if they had a couch where I could lie down. They didn’t. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back under the table being attended to by two physicians who had been dining at the next table. Later, my son Marty teased, “Dad, if we had gone to Taco Bell, there wouldn’t have been no doctors at the next table!”
I was doing a wedding once where the bride fainted. At first, I thought she was just swooning against her beloved father, but then she dissolved into a pile at the groom’s feet. The best man carried her to the church parlor and laid her out on the carpet and someone broke a capsule of smelling salts. She opened her eyes and said, “Oh, mother, I’ve embarrassed you in front of all your friends.” Mom said, “Hush.” I asked if she wanted to cut short any of the wedding material. She said, “No, not after all the planning we’ve done. But talk fast.”
Among the people in my past I give thanks for most is the small parade of friends who loved me enough to confront me about some area that needed my serious attention.
As a freshman at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, two-thirds of a lifetime ago, I was approached by classmate Bob Cornell who asked if I would like to help him a couple of afternoons washing windows at the president’s home. I casually answered, “Sure,” and walked with him the next afternoon across the highway to the president’s mansion where we cleaned windows in preparation for an open house the school’s first lady had scheduled. Now, I grew up on the farm and certainly knew what hard work was, but washing windows was not the way I wanted to spend my autumn afternoons. So, the next day, I just simply did not show up, and thought nothing about it.
“Mrs. Bertrand wants to see you,” Bob said to me that evening in the cafeteria. “Me? Why?” I said, without a clue. “She says you had made a commitment to help me wash windows and you let us down.” I laughed and shrugged it off. To my way of thinking, I had agreed to help my friend wash windows that one afternoon, but I did not sign on for anything more, and I surely made no commitment to the president’s wife. I put it out of my mind.
A couple of days later, the hall phone in our dormitory rang and someone yelled my name. It was Mrs. Bertrand. “Are you busy?” she asked. “I’ll be by in five minutes. Meet me in front of your dorm.”