In the five years (nearly) I worked on the Executive Board staff of the Baptist General Convention of Texas I spent more time out of Dallas than most directors. I did so by agreement and by design. My time away cost me dearly at the end for I was in the field when the last great reorganization (now completely defunct, as short lived as it was poorly designed) took place.
I thought we were supposed to be with the people in the pew and the preachers in the pulpits.
I still do.
I criss-crossed Texas by day and night, meeting with our people, preaching in their congregations from Amarillo to Houston, from Beaumont to El Paso. It was not unusual to wake up in Lubbock, fly to San Antonio and end the night in Midland.
My standing joke was Southwest Airlines started to let me do my own security check.
"Look at him," they would say, "that boy ain't smart enough to be a terrorist."
If they only knew.
I flew so many short flights I inflamed the nerve endings in my brain. This set off crushing clusters of headaches. I lost fifteen pounds and had to be hospitalized seven times in 2003. One week I spoke on Sunday and Monday, entered Methodist Central Hospital in Dallas on Monday night late and stayed until Saturday. I checked myself out on Saturday, removing IV's from my arm personally, because I was set to preach the next day in Victoria.
You could say I was a bit driven.
Worse things have been said.
A friend told me, when I took the state wide office, "There are over 6,000 churches and missions to which our convention relates. If you try to see them all once, it will take 6,000 Sundays and Wednesdays. You might try to figure out how long that will take."
I determined to touch all the churches that would let me as soon as I could reach them. The results were sometimes laughable.
There was the time my secretary booked me on a flight into Houston and out of Houston to another city with only 45 minutes to spare. I could have done it. There was one little problem.
Houston has two airports. She inadvertently booked me into one and out the other. With 45 minutes to spare. When I called to tell her I would be a bit late back to Dallas, like three hours, she said, "Should I pack my desk now? Or would you rather fire me yourself when you return?"
Then there was the 4am wakeup call in a San Antonio hotel. I had to speak at two breakfast meetings, one at 5:30am and one at 7:00am. I got up at 4am to get myself ready. I was going to make it, except the hotel room card would not let me exit the hotel parking lot. Not at this time. Not for any reason. Not in any way.
I thought, briefly, delusionally, about running right on through the barrier. I demurred, thinking it would not read well as a headline.
"Brother bashes barrier in bull rush to breakfast."
"Do you want me to go straight home, or do you want to fire me yourself?" I might have asked.
Please do not think the life of a denominational servant is much about glamor. After the third month, all the airports look alike, the restaurants serve some variation of the same three things and the hotels, well, they are just hotels.
You do get to meet heroes.
I met the pastors and their families, living in inadequate housing without any of the trappings of wealth. They worked night and day to do the impossible; to hold together a congregation of 57 people; to do weekday ministry for a neighborhood no longer resembling their congregational type; to show the populace a prophet walked among them.
And, against all odds, succeeding.
I met Pete Sterling in San Antonio. He became my good friend. The year we had the TEC in San Antonio, Pete showed up with a gang of three other fellows to help us do the heavy lifting of the load-in. Pete was the youngest of the Gang of Four.
Pete was 78 years young at the time.
I met a lot of heroes. They made me think then (and they make me think now) about what we once were, together, and what we might be again. Strong men and clever women once figured out how we could cooperate across blood-red demarcation lines. Strong men and clever women, heroes to be, still exist among us.
I still have hopes.