Bruce and me.

There were two other fathers standing between him and me. We were all leaning on the fence around field #1 at John Tarlton Park craning to see our sons as they played youth league football and yelling appropriate encouragement. That night was not the first time that I had seen him at the field. He did not seem any different than all the other fathers who were there watching their sons. But he was different. He was Bruce Pearl, the man who was not only restoring the glory of University of Tennessee basketball, but also taking it to new heights.

Leaning on the fence, no one was thinking about basketball.  The junior midgets from Karns were playing their counterparts from West. Karns was 10 yards away from scoring a touchdown. The ball was snapped and handed off to the Beaver fullback who happened to be my son. He ran into the line where he was hit hard and stood up. However, he was still on his feet and driving. Just as he reversed his field and spun away from the West defenders, the referee’s whistle sounded. My son trotted meaninglessly into the end zone. The play was already blown dead by a premature whistle.

I was compelled to protest such poor officiating. “Let them play ball.” I thought I was yelling loud enough for the referee to hear, but he failed to acknowledge my complaint. I yelled louder, still nothing. I yelled louder. Finally, he turns to look in my direction, but he does not see me. He sees Bruce Pearl and he is glaring at him scornfully. Bruce shrugs his shoulders and mouths the words, “It wasn’t me, my sons plays for West.”  The ref was not convinced. Bruce bore the blame.

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Does the Golden Rule apply to mosque building?

Religious Freedom in the town where I grew up meant that the Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Presbyterians, Independent Baptists, Nazarenes, the Church of Christ, Free Methodists, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) could worship pretty much as they pleased.  I feel like I am forgetting a church or two, but don’t think I am forgetting the Episcopalians, Catholics or Lutherans.  They were absent from the religious landscape of my youth.  There was an Episcopal church in the next town, but I never went there. What I heard about the Catholics from the radio preachers was not good.  My first encounter with a Lutheran did not occur until I was in college.  His lack of inhibition when it came to alcoholic beverages made me think that the Lutherans had something in common with the Disciples of Christ, because one time when I was a senior in high school and working at the Rocky Top Market, their minister came in at a real busy time and bought a six-pack of beer.  I was dumbfounded.  No self-respecting Baptist would have ever purchased beer in such a crowded store.

What would have happened in Rockwood, Tennessee in the early 1980’s if a group of Muslims had tried to build a mosque?   Maybe nothing would have happened.  Curiosity would have been piqued to be certain.  It is really hard to say.  The Soviets still occupied the arch enemy position in most everyone’s mind, and Pearl Harbor was the worst attack we had ever suffered from an enemy.  We had gone through the Arab Oil Embargo, and 9/11 had not happened yet, so maybe Muslims building a mosque would not have been that big of a deal — or maybe it would have.

But now, 9/11 has happened and there is nothing anyone can do to change that fact. Even though the Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest day in our nation’s history, the events of 9/11 are much closer to us than a long ago battle fought between Americans. Most of us remember where we were that morning, if we do not actually recall watching it happen right before our eyes on the television.

Now there are issues with Muslims and mosque building.  Some people say that building a mosque near “Ground Zero”(the proposed site is two blocks from the where the World Trade Center once stood) would dishonor the memory of those who were killed there, and worsen the grief of those who lost loved ones there. There are those people who say that allowing a mosque to be built so close to “Ground Zero” would in some way signify that the Muslims had won.  I am sure that there are other people with other reasons for being opposed to the building of mosques, not just near “Ground Zero,” but at other locations around our country as well.  I am also certain that their reasons are heartfelt.

There are at least two reasons that those of us who are Christians and Baptists might have for not being opposed to the construction of a mosque in our state or in our nation.  The first is the familiar teaching of Jesus commonly referred to as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  There are followers of Christ who live in countries where they are not free to express their love, devotion and commitment to Christ.  A variety of pressure is brought to bear on them to keep them from living openly as followers of Christ.  They face disapproval from neighbors and family, difficulty finding housing and jobs, and in some cases arrest, torture and even death, all because they believe in Jesus.  What I hope and pray for these persecuted believers is that they would have the freedom to live their faith without fear of personal harm or reprisal.  I suspect that most Christians in our country wish the same for believers who are living under such difficult conditions.  Doing unto others means that we treat people of other faiths in our country the way that we would like for Christians to be treated in all countries.

The second reason is found in our beginnings as Baptists. There were no shouts of joy from civil or religious authorities when the first Baptists emerged on the scene.  In fact, the Baptists’ appreciation for the idea of religious liberty was forged in the prisons of England, and in the jails and on the whipping posts of Colonial America.  Coerced by king and colony to conform to the practices of the established religion, Baptists chose the prison cell rather than go against the dictates of conscience.  Baptists who know where they come from cherish not just their religious liberty to practice their faith as they feel led to do, but they understand that religion is not religion at all unless the man or woman who engages in it does so freely and without fear, coercion or manipulation.  In various ways through the centuries, Baptists have said that having no connection at all with God is better than one resulting from force.  The choices we make about God have to be made freely or they are not really choices.  Having been deprived of the freedom to make such choices in their early years, Baptists in America dearly cherish that freedom today, so much so that they extend it freely to those of other faiths or to those with no faith at all.

Following Christ is not always an easy thing to do.  There are times when doing so brings us into direct conflict with the voices of this world who are clamoring for their own way. However, Christ calls us to treat others not as they have treated us, or as they might treat us, or even as we think they ought to be treated, but to treat them as we would like to be treated.  The voices from our Baptist past help us to understand the wisdom of such hospitality.  Glenn Hinson writes, “God never asks those who witness for Him to use any means of persuasion stronger than the force of love.  Love is patient.  It will wait for God to decide.”

Remembering Mary Martin

In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

That great cloud of witnesses is richer and fuller tonight because Ms. Mary Martin has taken her place among them. Tonight, her love for Christ and His church has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her passion for telling the story of God’s work in the world through Ball Camp Baptist Church has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her love for children and her dedication to teaching them the story of our faith has joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Tonight, her adventurous heart and her determined spirit have joined that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

Monday morning of this week, Mary’s life on this earth came to an end. She was blessed with a long and full life, and we were blessed by the way she lived it.  For most of the last decade, Mary moved with grace and dignity through the halls of Arbor Terrace Assisted Living Facility.  She carried herself with a style and confidence that made you think that she was in charge of the whole place; and that is exactly what she wanted you to think.  Rarely, during those days did it occur to me to think of Mary as a person approaching 100 years of age. She was full of life.  Mary’s condition changed in the last couple of weeks. Those changes in Mary’s condition made me thankful that she had been able to be as active as she was during the last decade of her life.

We can be thankful that Mary lived such a long and full life that contributed so much to so many people. We can also be thankful her life was active and full for so long. Yet, even with good reason to be grateful in the face of Mary’s passing, we also grieve. Death always takes those we love sooner than we are ready to let them go.

Mary is at rest now. Her labor here on this earth is finished. She has left a legacy of commitment and service to God and God’s people. If we have ears to hear, her life and her example will continue to speak to us.  We would do well to listen carefully as the testimony of Mary’s witness echoes through our fellowship.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us of the importance of our children and our responsibility to teach them.  For 50 years, Mary taught children in Sunday School in this church. Long before a book was written telling us that it takes a whole village to raise a child, Mary was investing her life into the children of the Ball Camp Baptist Church and community. Were children important to Mary? Fifty years. How important were children to Mary? Fifty years. Did it matter to Mary that generations of children learned the lessons of faith and of God’s great love for each of them? Fifty years. With her life, she proclaimed clearly the value of our children and the vital necessity of teaching them, loving them, and leading them to a personal understanding of the love and grace of God.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us of the significance of our history.  Mary loved our church in many ways.  She had a particular passion for the history of our church. In 1970, her History of Ball Camp Baptist Church was awarded third place in a nationwide competition sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. (If you would like a copy of Mary’s book, there are two copies in very good condition available at Amazon.com.)

Mary did not just write history, she lived it. She lived it as a Baptist woman with a deep faith in the grace and mercy of God. Her faith was personal, and her soul was competent. She knew that she was a part of a royal priesthood, and she did not hesitate to use the gifts and talents that God had given to her to proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

When Mary left her home and moved to Arbor Terrace, she took with her scrapbooks of clippings and photos of the life and ministry of our church. She would not let go of that which was so dear to her.  If we listen carefully to Mary’s life, we will hear her saying that our past is important and that our heritage matters.  As Baptists, that means we each have both the freedom and responsibility to read our Bibles with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and to listen for what God would say to us, trusting in the word of God rather than man-made creeds and confessions. It means that church for us is a gathering of people for whom Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. It means that together we discern God’s direction for our common life without interference from ecclesiastical or governmental interference.

The history and heritage of her faith mattered to Mary. How much? Well, she wrote a book about it.

If we listen carefully, Mary’s life will remind us that our own lives are gifts from God to be celebrated and to be shared.   I never met Mary’s husband. When she would tell me stories of their life together, she referred to him as Martin.  One of her favorite stories involved a night of dancing in a hotel ballroom in downtown Knoxville. After that night, Martin was smitten. Their destiny was to be together. In those days, as Mary would tell the story, the Baptists did not take kindly to those of their membership who frequented dance halls and such. “Such scandalous behavior,” Mary would say as she told me the story with a twinkle in her eye.

Together, they were faithful servants of the Lord at Ball Camp Baptist Church. When our present sanctuary was being built, the church met for worship in the Martin’s store. They gave themselves to God and their community in every way they could.

Whatever we have said tonight, as we remember Mary, will fade with time.  Yet, if we listen carefully, her life will continue to speak to us of what it means to live a rich life that brings glory and honor to God.

Finally, from Mary’s History of Ball Camp Baptist Church, the invitation that she accepted and offered each day of her life and that is offered to each one of us tonight:

To all who are weary and need rest, to all who are lonely and want friendship, to all who morn and need comfort, to all who pray and to all who do not, to all who sin and need a Savior, and to all whosoever will, this Church opens wide its doors and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ says, “Welcome!”

Mary has been welcomed home. She is at rest with the Lord. Amen.