Tag Archives: Billy Graham

On the Rocks

This universe is indeed a mysterious place. You don’t have to believe in the paranormal anymore to see it. A look at the headlines makes my point. There are those, however, who do look at the genuinely strange, and once in a while this realm crosses paths with that of religion. A friend pointed me to a story on Mysterious Universe about floating rocks. Apparently this story is going to be on the mainstream Travel Channel, so it’s not completely bonkers. It caught my attention because it’s about rocks. While of decidedly poor qualification to be a rock-hound, I have more than a passing interest in geology. Itinerates shouldn’t collect rocks, but I can’t help myself. Anyway, I’ve been known to go to publicly open mines and tap away with my rock hammer hoping to find some not-so-hidden treasure.

According to the story, there is such a publicly open mine in Arkansas. Crystals (I expect quartz) are available for surface excavation, for a fee. Then the owners, the Murphys, noticed the anomalous rocks. Since they are conservative Christians (this is Arkansas after all) they feared what powers might be behind rocks that don’t obey the laws of gravity. The mine didn’t get closed and hushed up because of an unusual source of inspiration. An article by Billy Graham on divine mysteries led them to keep the mine open and to allow for investigation. Once the Travel Channel comes out with its program Crystal Mine is sure to experience an influx of business. Mainstream scientists, one expects, will not be among them.

The universe is vast. We haven’t explored all of our own planet yet (we’re kind of busy destroying it at the moment, so if you don’t mind…) and yet we gleefully claim what’s impossible. I don’t know if there are levitating rocks in Arkansas, but I do think we’ve been a bit hasty about some of our conclusions. We may yet find things that will force the concepts—the laws—to change. Consider gravity, which seems particularly relevant in the case of floating rocks. Sir Isaac Newton (devout theist that he was) ending up having to relinquish the “correct” explanation to Albert Einstein. Some have been so bold as to suggest that maybe even Einstein might not have gotten the whole skinny on gravity. We continue to learn. Levitating rocks are indeed strange. Not so strange, however, as Billy Graham being the one to rescue an anomaly for the world to see.

Celestial Politics

Two things about my childhood: I grew up religious, and I grew up learning you didn’t talk about religion or politics. Now I see that that combination leads to tremendous potential for abuse. Many conservative Christians believe that their faith only ever endorses a Republican candidate, no matter how bad. This is a strange idea and it goes back to some strange people. If I can talk about it.

We live in a cult of celebrity. This is nothing new. People have always admired the individual who could get him or herself noticed. As early as the epic of Gilgamesh, the guy willing to show his bad self managed to capture the public imagination. We’re still reading his story some five millennia later. Of all places this tendency to treat a human being as authoritative should be considered strange is evangelical Christianity. This religion grew out of a largely Calvinistic backdrop where no individual could be assumed to be good. Indeed, total depravity was part of the theological environment. Mix in this stern outlook with the revivalism of the two “great awakenings” and an uncanny alchemy takes place. People, who used to be bad, now found enthusiasm in religion. The first real superstar in the United States was George Whitefield, a preacher. He had a massive following and was, in every sense of the word, a celebrity. This culture became the social substrata of the new nation. Open to all religions, yes, but mostly belonging to this one.

Once American religion became based on popularity, singular figures emerged as defenders of this faith. “Trusted” leaders and authors. Not all of them home-grown either. Names like C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Francis Schaeffer—not to mention Billy Graham—grew to a status they never had in their lifetimes. Well, Schaeffer and Graham came to be evangelical gurus in their own rights and Graham remains among the living, but Lewis and Bonhoeffer were really adopted by conservatives only after their deaths. The interesting point here is that Lewis and Bonhoeffer often wrote things that directly challenge the easy evangelicalism that accepts them as celebrities. The problem is, we don’t talk about religion any more. We use it for voting, and for feeling good about ourselves. Superior, even. It seems strange to think that Calvinism had some safeguards built in that have been knocked down for the sake of the polls. I can’t imagine John Calvin casting a vote for Donald Trump. But then again, Calvin became a celebrity in his own lifetime, so I might be wrong about that.

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Why Crusade?

CrusadeAn invitation to join a crusade is a dicey proposition these days.  Perhaps Pastor Ock Soo Park is not aware of the burdensome theological freight the word carries these days.  The Bible Crusade is, nevertheless, coming up on April Fool’s Day, and, I’m glad to see, admission is free.  The tract I clutch in my gloved hand is more like a pamphlet and it is number 3 in a series, “Woman Caught in Adultery,” causing me to wonder what numbers 1 and 2 might have been.  Still, it’s Good News Publishing, so I suppose it can’t be bad, whatever the topic.  The young lady on Seventh Avenue seem surprised when I accepted the booklet she held out with a simple “Bible Crusade?” invocation.  I often accept what the shills hand out; a more thankless job is difficult to imagine.
 
The concept of biblical crusades has a strong resonance with my youth.  Although I attended the occasional revival at our local church, I never actually went to a crusade.  I did watch Billy Graham, however, on television.  I would sit glued to the screen, hanging on every word of the sermon, feeling once again the flush of my sin and the urgent necessity of repentance, then and there.  I was terrified of never giving enough of my life to the Gospel, of backsliding, of hypocrisy, of Hell itself.  As a youth I had no idea of Graham’s political agenda or of the close friendship he had with Richard Nixon.  For me, it was purely a matter of what I had witnessed on the screen as Beverly Shea lead the repetitive chorus of “Just As I Am” that reduced me to tears every time.  When we were asked to list an important person for history class in high school, I felt compelled to write Billy Graham on my slip of paper, and I wondered why people laughed when no one in the room could manage to guess who it was after 20 hints.  As guileless as a dove, but not as wise as a serpent. 

Crusades are all about conquering territory.  Sometimes, historically, that territory is physical and the violence is palpable.  It is charging fully ahead with the conviction that there is no way you could possibly be wrong, even in the face of others from foreign faith traditions willing to fight to the death over the issue.  It is invasion.  Conquest.  In the name of the prince of peace.  Evangelistic crusades are not much different.  The battlefield may be metaphorical, but it is not less real for all that.  The human psyche is not infrequently victimized in the worldview of utter conviction.  Often the driving force is the same as the Templar on his steed—control of the infidel.  With control, as the Templars soon learned, there is great wealth to be had.  As a poor boy in a run-down house, I never questioned that Billy Graham or any other evangelist deserved the money that accompanied such solemn longing of heartsick souls.  It was self-evident.  Now, standing among the crowds on Seventh Avenue, beneath a huge sculpture of a needle sewing on a gigantic button, I have to wonder about the economics of scale.  Reality is seldom what it seems.

Militant Evangelists

It is not often that the military gets to rebuke an evangelical, no matter how much the evangelist may deserve it. In the world of Christian crusaders few come close to the stature of Billy Graham, a man who has had more than half a century of undue influence on American culture. At a library book sale a couple weekends ago a middle aged-couple hovering over the religion books (where I have professional obligations to hover) were discussing how they’d read all of Billy Graham’s books. When the family business passed to Franklin Graham, however, the scepter failed to be firmly grasped by the blushing co-regent. At the center of controversy since his comments about Islam beginning in 2001, Graham the younger was recently stricken from the (apparently) prestigious Pentagon prayer service roster.

I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that the Pentagon has a regular prayer service. My image of the military is one of beefy guys (and some gals) with ultimate confidence in their weapons and more than enough brashness to go around. They don’t project the down-on-your-knees-before-the-almighty image. “Guided by the beauty of our weapons,” as Leonard Cohen once sagaciously quipped, the military gets first crack at technological advances and heavy metals. The basic components of carnage and devastation. Yet they pray.

The old adage that there are no atheists in fox-holes glosses military service with a divine prerogative, so when these tough guys rebuff a famous evangelist there must be a story behind it. The military’s refusal to dis Islam displays a sensitivity uncharacteristic of most evangelical rhetoric and theology. The Religious Right’s revisionist claims that America was founded as a Christian nation are impotent without their WMD. Even so, the program should continue. “I don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up,” do you?

When Enola Gay comes to play