It was kind of a game. A game to teach us about important people, living or dead. The fact that we were playing it in high school history class, taught by one of my favorite teachers, made it even better. Everyone wrote a name on an index card—a person in the news or somebody from American history in the past. A student sat facing the class while the teacher selected a card and held it over the student’s head, so we could all read who it was, all except the chosen one. Then s/he would ask questions to guess whose name was written. I remember very well when the teacher picked up my card and read it. He said “that’s really a good choice!” The name led to a bit of joshing. “Is he alive or dead?” the student asked. “How can you tell?” joked our teacher. It was the one name the selected student couldn’t pin down, no matter how many questions she asked.
It’s fair to say that Billy Graham had a profound influence in my life. As a curious—and very frightened—child, whenever his crusades were on television I would watch, transfixed. I responded to his altar calls at home. Multiple times. My emotions were overwrought and I’d awake the next day feeling redeemed, for a while. I had no real mentors in my Fundamentalism. Ministers preached, but they didn’t explain things. Not to children (what was Sunday School for, after all?). All I knew was that when the rhetoric reached Hell, and the possibility I would die that very night, repentance seemed like the only logical option. The reality of the choice—a black and white one, no less—could not be denied. Either you were or you weren’t.
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University via Wikimedia Commons
As my point of view eventually shifted around to that of my high school teacher—I was in college at the time—I began to realize that Graham’s version of Christianity wasn’t as monolithic as it claimed to be. Once you experience other people’s experience of religion, if you’re willing to listen to them, it’s pretty hard to hold up the blackness and whiteness of any one perspective. Over the years Graham tainted his pristine image in my eyes by his political choices. His son now stands as one of Trump’s biggest supporters. Now that Billy Graham has gone to his reward, I do hope that the Almighty doesn’t hold his mistakes against him. He had no way of knowing that his sermons were terrorizing a little boy in western Pennsylvania into a career track that would never pan out. Largely because other followers of Graham’s so decided. It’s kind of like a game.
Posted in American Religion, Bibliolatry, Current Events, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged American Religion, Billy Graham, crusades, evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, Hell, religion and politics, Sunday School
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.
Posted in Current Events, Environment, Just for Fun, Posts, Science
Tagged Arkansas, Billy Graham, Crystal Mine, gravity, levitation, Mysterious Universe, physics, Travel Channel
An 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.
Posted in Bible, Bibliolatry, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged Beverly Shea, Bible and politics, Billy Graham, crusades, Good News Publishing, Knights Templar, Pastor Ock Soo Park, Richard Nixon
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
Posted in Current Events, Just for Fun, Popular Culture, Posts, Sects
Tagged Billy Graham, Christianity, Dr. Strangelove, Franklin Graham, Islam, Leonard Cohen, Pentagon, Religious Right, WMD