Joe is interviewed by Vanity Fair (sort of)

On the final page of Vanity Fair’s October 2015 issue, Whoopi Goldberg is interviewed. The questions are generic, sort of here’s-how-to-interview-anyone. So, I thought I’d give it a try and answer them myself. (At the end, I added a few more.)  Here goes….

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being in the place God put me, doing the work He gave me.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Likewise, the best definition of hell on earth is to be out of His will.

What is your greatest fear?

Just that very thing: being out of his will.  I fear nothing so much as disappointing Him.  That could happen to any of us. None of us is immune to temptation. That keeps me on my knees every day.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Abraham Lincoln. I’ve been to his birthplace, the restored “New Salem” where he lived as a young man, to his hometown of Springfield, his burial place, and in Washington, D.C., to Ford Theatre and the house where he died.  I own many books on Lincoln.

Which living person do you most admire?

The thing is, when you are young, there are so many you admire with something akin to idolatry.  But through the years, as you see the clay feet of everyone, the number dwindles seriously.  These days, there are four men at the top of my list:  Don Davidson, a pastor in Alexandria, VA; Chet Griffin, retired fighter pilot in Fairfax, VA; Jim Graham, a retired sales executive in the Atlanta area; and at the top of the list, my roommate during the college years and best man in our wedding, Joel Davis.  Joel has served the Lord consistently as a businessman while also ministering bi-vocationally in churches for over half a century.  He’s now in his early 80s and still at it.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

There are so many to pick from. Laziness. Inconsistency. Shallowness.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Hypocrisy: saying one thing publicly but privately being ungodly.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Every three years or so, I purchase a new car.  That’s about it.

What is your favorite journey?

If the question means the favorite trip which I have made, it comes down to a) Holy Land in 1984, b) Singapore in 1977 to draw an evangelistic comic book for missionaries, c) England in 1982 on a tour with our church youth choir, and d) Italy in 2012 to speak to pastors and wives.  Not sure which is tops. Probably the Holy Land.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Tolerance. it sounds so noble, but you end up letting some people get by with destructive behavior. “Well, I didn’t want to offend him.”  I say, “Please, go ahead and offend him.  If he is trying to destroy the institutions placed there by righteous people, it’s time you took a stand. Tolerance is usually cowardice in a suit and tie.

On what occasion do you lie?

When someone asks me to critique something they have done.  Telling people “this stinks” is really hard and feels awful.  You don’t want to discourage them. So, I fudge the truth.

Which living person do you most despise?

Despise is too strong a word, but I could name a few celebrity-types who wickedly oppose almost every virtue I believe in.  They disgust me.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

You’d have to ask someone who listens to me a lot.  I’m unsure.

What is your greatest regret?

A time in my life when I fell away from the Lord.  It grieves me to this day, and that was decades in the past.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Jesus is the “Who,” and family is the “what.”

When and where were you happiest?

Now. Here. In my retirement years, I have been as happy and fulfilled as any time in my life.  (I retired in 2009, I tell people, “Had I known it was going to be so great, I’d have gone straight from ordination into retirement.”)

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to write great novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

What is your current state of mind?

I am deliriously happy.  Positive, sunny-side up.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d lose 40 pounds.  Thankfully, I’m in great health, I walk every day and do certain exercises to keep the body functioning, but the expanding midriff is a disappointment.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I have no idea.  My kids? The people I’ve led to Christ over the years?  The churches I’ve pastored? Who knows. Maybe it was the kid I sketched in a restaurant this week.  We will leave this to the Lord.

What is your most treasured possession?

Are grandchildren possessions?  If the question refers to “things,” then I’m at a loss.  There is no “thing” I couldn’t live without.

Where would you like to live?

Someplace safe with someone good.  (Thanks, Jan Karon. Great line.) That would be somewhere with four seasons, maybe a clear stream running by, with sweet gentle mountains in the distance, and a quaint village within walking distance.  I love New Orleans for many reasons, but we do not have four seasons, clear streams, mountains or such.

What is your favorite occupation?

When I grow up, I’d like to be a preacher and a teacher and a cartoonist.  Oh, and a writer.  The most wonderful thing is I’m those things now.  Am I blessed or what?

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m so happy. I notice this about me and I like it: Sometimes after sitting at a table for hours sketching people, I’m still enjoying each one as much as I did the first one. That is from the Lord, believe me.

What do you most admire in your friends?

The men I find myself admiring most (see my list of four men above) is a strong and quiet spirit that does not dominate the conversation (thus leaving room for me to do so).

Who are your heroes in real life?

The men and women who place their lives on the line every day to do scary things, like enter burning buildings to save a child, confront hostile people with guns to try to protect victims, and defend this country.  Most of these wear uniforms.

What is it that you most dislike?

To be called extremist because I am a Bible-believing Christian.  As the song says, we are traveling “where the saints have trod.”  I have not moved, but the society and culture have.  They have marginalized God’s people in a process that will continue until Jesus returns.

How would you like to die?

When Margaret died last January and the family was gathered around her in tears, I said, “Now, listen.  One of these days it will be Grandpa lying here. And I don’t want all this crying.”  A granddaughter said, “Why?”  I said, “Well, good night–I’ll be 98 years old and will have preached the previous Sunday. What’s to cry about??”  They all laughed.

What is your motto?

The words of Job 4:4. “Your words have stood men on their feet.”  Whether to write or preach or simply to speak words that turn people around and give them backbone, that “strengthen feeble knees” and encourage them to give it another try, that’s as good as we preachers could ask for.

A couple more questions that were not in Vanity Fair…

Who is your favorite grandchild?

The one I’m with at the moment.  (I used to tell Margaret, “I wish all eight lived in our house.” She wasn’t so sure about that. But these are the dearest people on earth to me.)

What do you do for fun?

I make up stuff and write for my Facebook friends–funny stories, odd combinations of words which I ask people to form into sentences, oddities discovered in my reading, great stories from my journal or memory.  Same with my blog.  To write a piece and soon have thousands of “likes” and “shares” is as rewarding as anything I’ve done.

What are you preaching more than anything else these days?

I’m preaching “faith.”  With Scriptures such as Hebrews 11:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:7 and Luke 18:8, I’m reminding God’s people that living by faith (Habakkuk 2:4) means there will always be some unknowns and unseens, questions we cannot answer, but we labor on in the “sure and certain belief” that God is alive, Jesus Christ is on the throne, and the Holy Spirit is in this place.

What is your biggest surprise on being 75 years of age.

I’m completely surprised to find myself as young as I’ve ever been.  I feel great. I’ve not had any aches or pains for years.  Only the mirror knows my age; my inner self is getting younger and stronger all the time (which is, of course, 2 Corinthians 4:16).  To be “elderly”–man, I hate that word!–and still on the battlefield for the Lord is such a wonderful privilege.  That’s Psalm 92:14, incidentally—another scripture worth framing.

What prayer do you constantly pray for yourself?

That God will enable me to serve Him many more years. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in my 90s and still getting invited to preach to young people?  That’s what gets me out every morning to do my walking; it drives me to take my vitamins; and it keeps me on my knees (knees which, incidentally are still working just fine!).

Am I blessed or what?

“I love the Lord with my whole heart.  I will serve Him as long as I live.  To labor in His field alongside some of the dearest people on earth is the greatest privilege of my life.  How I praise Thee, O Lord!”




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