Love shows up. Even when sometimes we do not communicate with our words as well as we like, our actions, as they say, “speak louder than words.” Yes, it is a double-edged sword.
Pet Names Demonstrate Endearment
On May 7, we received a call from Bruce, Chief of the Tuttle Fire Department. It was the day after. Bridge Creek and parts of Tuttle had been the scene of another tornado event. Several helping agencies sprung into action.
Bruce shared that a group from Baptist Disaster Relief, with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, were looking for a location from which they could stage their operation. We were all in. There was no need to call a meeting. We did not have to send it to committee. Our memories of May 3,1999 spurred us to act, not speak.
We hosted and housed the Yellow Shirts until last Friday. For two-weeks our buildings were abuzz and our parking lot full. And by last Saturday there was barely a remnant of their presence, the Yellow Shirts, The Baptists.
Several times during the days the Baptist Disaster Relief crews were here I would head down and be sure they had everything they needed. I would stop by our Secretary’s Office and tell Evette, “I am heading down to check on The Baptists.” It was short hand. Sure, I could have said something like, “I am heading down to check on the BDR.” But, who talks with code letters outside the U.S. Government?
“The Baptists,” or Yellow Shirts, did not represent derision our disrespect. Yellow Shirts described the identifying shirts the crews wore so that homeowners might be able to distinguish them as they arrived to help. “The Baptists” expressed my sense of endearment. I am glad The Baptists showed up.
Actions Cover a Multitude of Sins
Some of my friends have asked over the years, “Why are you still a Baptist, even a Southern Baptist?” Other friends express a sense of dismay when after a while they find out I pastor a Southern Baptist Church.
Most of their consternation stems from reading the ways we engage culture by warring. I admit to finding this largely unhelpful. The activity does a fine job of stirring the base, of providing those in our tribe with confirmation bias. However, it does very little to convince outsiders, that is those not clued into the inner-tribal nuances.
Opinions are formed and despite more illustrations on the ground that we really do know how to love before casting judgment, our media juggernaut and the sound bites that get picked up by media outlets friendly or not tend to play to the caricatures already developed. Those of us who are Baptist, even Southern Baptist, know not all of us think the same. Some of us inhabit the edges of our denominational world. I will pick this up in the next post by looking at Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer.
So when The Baptists showed up, we did not sit around concerned about how to respond if someone helped did not find alignment with our theology. We helped. More than 250 work orders were filled during those fifteen days. Many worked in the rain to see those who could not bear another rain while their debris continued to get soaked.
To my way of thinking The Baptists put into practice the Proverb, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all offenses.” The Apostle Peter interpreted the parable this way, “Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Any debate to parse one another, or Jesus’ love your neighbor, as an exclusive treatment to insiders misses the point.
The receptivity encountered by The Baptists revealed a sense of solidarity, “someone came to be with me.” Standing here with my roof in disrepair they come bearing tarps. Bewildered by the tree laying into my home they come bearing chain saws. Shocked at the amount of water that flowed through my house they come bearing skills to begin the process of restoration. Yes, actions cover a multitude of sins.
We Could All Do With Less Talking
There is a limerick many of us learned as children,
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.
It is a lie.
We cannot undo harmful or hurtful words. Try putting toothpaste back into its tube. Cannot do it successfully.
Not a few years ago many were dashed to learn that St. Francis did not say, “Preach the Gospel at all times. And when necessary use words.” If he did not, he should have. Someone should have. Those who defended words should have been equally ardent to defend actions. Jesus did. John did. The Bible does.
I am not naive enough to think that the actions in the midst of a disaster erase the slate of misused and misspent words by we Baptists, even Southern Baptists. However, we could learn at thing or two by the actions the Baptist Disaster Relief Teams. They came from Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and New Mexico, as well as parts of Oklahoma.
You see what is disturbing to me is that critics of we Baptists, even Southern Baptists, did not organize, take off work, spend some of their retirement days, adjust schedules, sleep on floors, shower in a trailer and help those affected. It does not mean that some people not associated with Baptists, even Southern Baptists, did not help. There were a number of helping agencies who came and some of them with no particular affiliation with any Christian denomination. Though, that does not mean in any way they were not themselves Christian.
What I mean is that many of my friends who often wonder why I am still Baptist, even Southern Baptist, who spend a good bit of time criticizing our warring, did not and often do not affiliate with any group that has in its agenda helping people in the midst of disaster. No pooling of resources. No very fine tuned helping organization. Instead, it is silence.
It is the age old application of the goose and the gander. If we may be criticized for our actions, then why not apply a bit of counter criticism? Why I have friends who talk about helping others but find no compulsion to help me raise money for health care for a small group of people in Guatemala because the agency involved is Christian. It is just $10!
When we talked of putting together a local Foundation to help local school children, many would not participate if the money was funneled through our church with 100% transparency. The real issue is that when it comes time to do, it is easier to talk about it.
None of Us Get It Right All the Time
Rather than read those last three paragraphs as screed, rant, or carping, I would rather us own up that none of us get it right all of the time. Even we Baptists, even Southern Baptists, don’t get it right all of the time even if we want you to think we do. Some of us are self-aware enough to know that applies to all of us.
What would be wrong with we Christians among with our friendly skeptics and cynics opt to do more together? Sure many of my friends will prooftext, “Be no unequally yoked.” I will up your prooftext with one of my own, “If they are not against us they are for us.” Yes, maybe rather than warring we will find ways to build bridges and not crosses on which to crucify those with whom we disagree metaphysically. It could be that our mutual interest in others would prove grounds of understanding rather than a means to further entrench in our tribes – both of us.
We Christians spend a great deal of time talking about grace, mercy, and love. Sometimes we forget that among all the actions applauded, the greatest of these is love.
The Baptists got this one right. It is possible they did not get all the details right. But, when it comes to leaving comfort to help those in need, The Baptists showed up. And, what we may say to each other when thinking of what love looks like, we may say, “Love shows up.”