I missed writing last night because we were traveling back from Richmond. I am still figuring out what to say about what I saw in heard in our days there. I keep coming back to the image of layers that I used in a different context a week ago as I began this year’s version of my Lenten journal. As we traveled, we got word of Billy Graham’s death. As I said on Facebook, I met Billy Graham when he came to Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, where we lived, in 1960. That visit started a friendship with my parents that lasted the rest of their lives. The better story has to do with my mother. She was a student at Baylor when Billy Graham came to speak at a campus revival, somewhere in 1948 or 1949. He was still new to the scene, as it were.
My mother was walking across campus when a car pulled up with four young men inside and asked directions to one of the buildings on campus. She answered their question and then invited them to the revival. When they sort of snickered, she asked if they knew Jesus as their savior. Again, they kind of laughed, and so she shared her faith with them—a hallmark of my mother’s life at any age.
That night, when she got to the service and the introduced Graham to the crowd, she realized who she had witnessed to. And then Billy told the story to those who were gathered. The guy sitting next to my mother said, “What kind of crazy person would witness to Billy Graham?”
“I know,” my mother said.
Before we left Richmond yesterday we visited the Maggie Walker house. I did not know anything about her before I got to Richmond. Now I wonder why she is not a nationally known figure. She became the first African American woman to own a bank in the 1920s—in Richmond. She also owned a department store and a newspaper. She was an early leader in the NAACP. She suffered great personal pain even as she became a commercial, political, and even spiritual force in Richmond. “Have faith, have courage, have hope, and carry on,” she said.
Walker’s faith was more grounded in helping people find jobs and homes and education than telling them the buses would wait, yet both she and Graham were living out the call they heard from God. I find more resonance with her expression of faith than I do with Graham’s altar calls, but as I have read those who have been quick to offer a critique of what he did, I find myself reticent to pile on—and not just because his death is so recent.
I came to the place long ago where I ceased to believe that Hell was a place. I think Love is the last word, not just for this life but for eternity. However things go in the dimension that lies beyond this life, I think God is calling, “Olly olly oxen free.” That goes for Billy Graham. He doesn’t have to agree with me for God to love him.
I will let the Lost Dogs sing our benediction: breathe deep the breath of God.
The busses will wait.