My “flying” trip to Reagan National Airport (up Saturday and back Monday evening) was a delight in every way. (I found out that many D.C. area folks grit their teeth when hearing that airport referred to as “Reagan” and still call it “National,” somewhat like the residents of Mississippi or Alabama would feel if you named their airport “Hillary Clinton International,” I suppose. Funny.)
What I did was this: stay with Don and Audrey Davidson (he’s the pastor for nearly two years now of the FBC of Alexandria); spend the day Sunday with my hostess Sheri Link of the Northstar Network, the Northern Virginia counterpart to our “Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans,” as we worshiped with the Bethlehem Baptist Church, lunched, visited Columbia BC of Falls Church, met with church leaders from around the area from 4 pm to nearly 6 o’clock, then worshiped with FBC Alexandria, and on Monday spoke at the annual luncheon of pastors and church office staffers at Parkwood BC in Annandale. Met tons of new friends, a number of old ones, and of course, sketched a lot of people (it’s what I do) and drew a number of cartoons for churches and pastors. Arrived back in New Orleans at 8 pm Monday night. It’s a wonderful life.
1) “I want you folks to know each other.” The plan had been for Chet and Eva Lee Griffin to pick me up at the Davidsons’ Saturday evening and we’d eat at a restaurant in Old Alexandria, a historic and delightful section of the city. When Don’s plans changed so that the Davidsons were able to join us, I urged them to do so. The Griffins and the Davidsons needed to know each other. They are both so special to me and our family.
After a career in the Air Force–fighter pilot in Viet Nam, squadron commander, base commander, wing commander, and twice stationed at Columbus AFB in Mississippi where I’d been their pastor, ending with 5 or 6 years at the Pentagon–Chet put in a second career at Northrop Grumman and then retired again. He and Eva Lee are a team such as every pastor would give his right arm for. When they teach a Sunday School class, he is the Bible scholar and she the hostess. She never forgets a name and has a smile that can thaw out the coldest person in the room. “Actually, it’s a photographic memory,” Chet said, and told how she used to read the biographies of the incoming class of student pilots at Columbus AFB and when she met them for the first time, she would know all these details of their lives and ask about “your sister who’s studying at Texas Tech” or whatever, stunning that incoming student pilot in the process. “Unfortunately,” Eva Lee laughs, “two days later I’d see them in the base exchange and not remember their names!”
Eva Lee teaches music, they love the Lord Jesus Christ, Chet is from Rolling Fork, Mississippi, they have this wonderful sense of humor, and since our children grew up together, we are forever bonded.
Ask anyone at the FBC of Columbus, Mississippi, who knew the Griffins. They are “keepers.”
I wanted them to know Don and Audrey and vice versa. We first met the Davidsons in 1996 when Don was new on the trustees of our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and they came down early to the meeting and worshiped with us at FBC Kenner. Margaret was out of town that day and I took them to lunch. That did it. I quickly learned how special they are and knew I did not want to lose them. In 1999, while on a 6 weeks sabbatical from the church, I spent a week of it in their home in Danville, Virginia, and later came back for a revival. He preached in our Kenner church. Don is a reader and thinker and a listener, a lover of good books and fascinating people and interesting adventures. Audrey is a teacher and the same kind of “let me welcome you to church” person as Eva Lee and so vivacious. These two couples should know each other, I felt.
I felt rather pleased with myself for bringing them together, then had a tiny revelation. An epiphany, if you will.
Heaven will be like this. Up in Heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ is thinking of you and me and saying to HImself, “I cannot wait until they get here and I put them together with Henry and Mary Nell.” Or Ibrihim and Vashti. Or whoever. Maybe a couple who live across the globe or died hundreds of years ago but who are still very much alive in the Divine Presence. And the Lord cannot wait to bring His good friends together with one another because He knows we’re going to hit it off.
We sometimes think of Heaven as when we will see Grandpa and Grandma, Uncle John and Aunt Ruth, or the prophets of old. But don’t you suppose our Heavenly Father dreams of putting us together with others of His children from another place, another time, because He knows we have so much in common. “I can’t wait for them to know each other,” He may be thinking.
Last Friday night, a lot of people from our church attended the New Orleans Zephyrs’ baseball game in Metairie. Neil’s family sat to my left, and our friends filled rows in front of us, behind, and all around. Most of us tried to watch the game, but the children had come for the concessions. Neil’s twins, Abby and Erin, now 10, sat to my left. At one point they returned to their seats carrying huge bags of purple cotton candy. As Abby pulled hers out of the cellophane and touched her tongue to it, she looked at me and grinned, “I’m in Heaven.”
That’s exactly how I felt exactly 24 hours later sitting in the Washington, D.C., restaurant with my friends. The conversation was animated, the scenery was spectacular, the food scrumptuous, and the laughter infectious. I thought, “This must be what Heaven will be like.”
Heaven is going to be so fascinating. I can’t wait.
2) “Reverend Kearse used to be a Pullman porter,” Pastor White told the Bethlehem Baptist Church folks Sunday morning. This exciting African-American congregation had celebrated Black History Month and the issue of Pullman porters had arisen as the first Black labor union in America. And since Pastor Kearse had been the longtime shepherd of Bethlehem, Pastor White invited him to speak on Sunday, April 22, the morning of our visit. This octogenarian literally shone in his beautiful cream-colored suit and silvery shoes. “You’re the best-dressed one in the building,” I told him, steading his elbow with my arm and he haltingly made his way up the steps.
The church ran a short video clip about Pullman porters–some called them sleeping-car porters–and then he rose to speak. “They called us all George,” he said, “after George Pullman, the founder. But we didn’t like it. I would tell them, ‘My name is Jimmy.'” He brought a short message from John 3:16, after which Pastor White recognized me to bring greetings.
I said, “Pastor Kearse said he grew up a farm boy in North Carolina, picking cotton and following the mule. I did the same in Alabama. He worked for the Pullman Company and so did I while in college (I was a clerk). Then God made us both Baptist preachers.” I paused a moment and added, “I think I’ve figured out why. He chose farm boys because He knew we didn’t mind working hard, and He chose Pullman workers because He knew we could work for low wages!” I gave a brief report on New Orleans and invited them to the 4 o’clock discussion on the rebuilding of our city, urged them to “pray big” for us.
3) The youth ministry of the FBC of Alexandria has been in the news. Up the street about a half-mile, Williams High School is getting an all-new facility, being built alongside the old one. Apparently, the present school no longer has a dining hall because every day at noon, the students are turned loose to fend for themselves. (Think that’s right; it’s how I got it.) So, on Wednesdays, the student ministry at FBC invites them down for free pizza during the lunch hour. Swarms of high-schoolers load into cars and drive down, others fill the sidewalk and enjoy the brief outing with their friends. Recently, the Washington Post did an article about what the teens are now calling “Jesus Pizza.” The article was not altogether correct or complimentary.
According to Pastor Don, the kids file in and someone shares a couple of verses of Scripture at the mike and leads in prayer. Some of the youth are there at that moment, some arrive later, some stay in the youth building and eat, while others pick up pizza and head back to their cars. But according to the Post, the kids are “forced” to listen to Scripture and to endure a prayer. Not true, but the church made no issue of the discrepancy.
Then, the Fox News people called and wanted to do a feature about the “Jesus Pizza.” They did it early Sunday morning like this: the church’s youth minister was on a phone hookup from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg where he had gone for a memorial service, and–this is the kicker–the television network brought in some kind of atheist nut to attack what the church was doing. Fair and balanced? You tell me. Anyway, the idiot (I’m real impartial and objective on this, as you can tell) was accusing the church of being like a bunch of pedophiles, “luring these unsuspecting teenagers into the church basement and forcing them to listen to Scripture and prayer in order to get pizza.” Not so, insisted the youth minister. The anchor, whoever that was, called the atheist down and said, “Come on, man, they’re not pedophiles!”
And then a minister called. This was the piece de resistance, I suppose. A minister from the west coast, as I got it, called the youth minister at the church later that morning and said, “You lied this morning! You–a minister of the gospel–went on television and told the world a lie!” The young church staffer said, “Sir, that’s a serious charge. How did I lie?” The caller said, “You said you do not force them to stay for the Scripture and prayer and the Washington Post said you do. You lied.”
The youth minister was never able to get across to this moral prig that it was the newspaper that had gotten it wrong.
Pastor Don told me this story and said, ” I’ve thought of calling that minister to remind him that our youth minister is there and the Washington Post never was, and he ought to believe the eyewitness. But I think I’d be wasting my time with a guy like that.”
Preachers can be so harsh and judgmental to their own kind sometimes. Case in point. The Washington Times runs features on a local church and a sermon by the pastor. Recently they did one on FBC-Alex and printed Don’s message in which he had quoted Karl Barth, the eminent theological of the past generation.
The next day, Don received a phone call from a pastor who had read the article. He started off nice, then got to the point: “You quoted Barth. You’re a liberal. And you are a Southern Baptist. Your seminaries are filled with liberals.” Don said, “Sir, you are about 20 years late in your criticism. This denomination dealt with liberalism in our schools years ago. Give me the name of one professor in any of our seminaries who is a liberal.” The pastor couldn’t think of one at the moment.
The word “prejudice” literally means to pre-judge, to come to a conclusion before you hear the evidence. Of all people, ministers of the gospel should never ever be guilty of such.
I leaned over to ex-farm boy, ex-Pullman porter, and longtime preacher James Kearse and said, “When you and I worked for the railroad, even though you were 20 years my senior, I would have called you ‘Jimmy’ and you would have called me ‘Mister Joe.’ But those days are over. Now we’re brothers.” He smiled and said softly, “That’s much better, isn’t it.”
It is indeed.
3) The Lord gives you these little mental notes because you will be having a use for them later.
I was sitting in the Reagan airport Monday afternoon waiting for my plane to be called and noticed how crowded the gate area was. All these business people and families and tourists coming and going. And it hit me. “Everything has to do with finding the right gate.” Go through the wrong exit and they’re in trouble. Find the right gate and they get to their destination. I thought of Jesus saying, “I am the Gate. By me, if you enter in, you find salvation.” (John 10)
An hour later, our plane is ready to leave the gate when US Airways personnel come aboard and ask “Mister Crenshaw” to please raise his hand. An attendant walked back to him and said, “Sir, you’re on the wrong plane.” “No,” he said, “I’m going to Baltimore. This is my plane.” The man said, “Sir, this plane is going to Charlotte. You came through the wrong gate.” And they escorted him off.
Millions of people and lots of gates, but only One Gate will get you home safely. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the ultimate Road Home Program, to use (and abuse) a local government program connection.
I’ve told you how Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home in Metairie has some unusual signs in their chapel. The first time I noticed them, I was standing at the podium conducting the funeral services of a friend. In the back I could see the wide double doors which would soon be opened and the casket wheeled through, above which the message shone, “Exit.” But off to my left and right were smaller doors which led perhaps to storage areas. Above them, the signs read: “Not an exit.”
I thought of all those religions of the world which are promising afterlifes to their adherents. Even if we concede that each one was created from the best of intentions to help people find God and to live right, there is still a vast difference between them. The religions of the world are attempts of man to seek God. But in Jesus Christ, God was seeking man. He came for us. The world religions are bridges, if you will, man is trying to build from earth to Heaven. But Christ is the Bridge God built from Heaven to earth. Big, big difference.
He’s the Gate. He’s the door through which you exit and arrive safely at home.
On the flight from Charlotte to New Orleans, my seat-mate Debbie and I discussed this very reality. God gave me the insight just in time to share it with her.
(4) Jasmine graduated from college last year, has a job in D.C. with a publishing firm, and has an apartment of her own. Recently, she had an unnerving experience. Late one night, she heard a man outside her bedroom window calling softly, “Jasmine! Jasmine!” She thought it was her fiance and went downstairs and unlocked the door. But no one came in, and suddenly she grew afraid and went back and locked it and called 911. Her neighbor heard the same man calling her name, so she knew it wasn’t her imagination. The man never ran off, but continued walking around the building calling out, “Jasmine! Jasmine!” The police arrived and within a few minutes, knocked at her door. “Everything is all right, miss,” they said. That man lives in the next building and he’s lost his little dog. Her name is Jasmine.”
I told Pastor Don that’s such a good story, it has to illustrate something for a sermon. But we never could think of what.
Souvenirs from my weekend visit to the Nation’s Capital. Some people go and come back with t-shirts and trinkets. I brought back stories.
John 10:26-28, might work!
Shocked, I tell you! Absolutely shocked that Waschington, DC people would be so narrow minded that the name Reagan offends them! I am overwhelmed, I tell you. Overwhelmed! I thought our nation’s capital was a bastion of bi-partisanship. Shame on me for not knowing better. I appreciate the tie-in to gates/exits/etc. It is the old message, isn’t it? Jesus is THE WAY? God help us to preach it boldly–
What wonderful stories from DC, brother Joe.
My favorite is the one about Reverend Jimmy Kearse. What a wonderful picture you’ve given us of how times have changed, even for believers. You would have called him Jimmy then, not meaning any disrespect, but just because that’s the way things were. I’m so glad things are different now — and that you accorded him the respect and honor he was due.
It made me wonder if you sketched Reverend Kearse — and that got me to wondering if you ever want to keep any of your drawings of interesting people so you can remember them better. Does it make it easier to give away the sketch, when you know you get to keep the story?
And on that whole Washington Post/Alexandria/Prejudiced “minister” thing — the most maddening aspect of that story to me is that it doesn’t surprise me! Christians acting in good faith. Mockers telling lies and accusing them. Brothers and Sisters in Christ choosing to believe those lies rather than pursue the truth and peace. What a sad but old story.
For today, I’m going to think about Reverend Kearse instead!