I intend to write these last two memoir blogs as though they are the last things I will ever write.
This memoir would not be complete without some word about E B Brooks. E B served the BGCT in various capacites over nearly three decades before being told he was retiring. The late Phil Strickland, thin, frail, even then dying, sat with me in his office one day in 2005. He was clearly shaken.
"Charles called me back in after our Leadership Team meeting today," Phil said. "He told me he was going to move E B out and I would have to help him with the PR backlash."
It was a measure of the tottering nature of the administration that a gallant, dying man would have to take the flack for yet another seemingly contradictory decision. I had been told less than a month before I could have no more meetings with Charles Wade unless E B Brooks was in the room, so great was my fearsome aspect to the Executive Director. Now, cancer ridden Phil Strickland was summoned to take the heat for E B’s sudden departure.
There are never enough Phil Stricklands to go around in this world.
We should find better uses for them.
A long time friend, trying to decide which way to land in the constantly changing world of BGCT politics, called me one day not long after I left the BGCT. His purpose for the call was simple.
"E B Brooks," he asked. "Saint or snake?"
"Let me give you another alliterative choice," I answered the long distance call. "Try the word survivor."
Hear me when I say that is my real feeling on the enigmatic personality of E B Brooks. Brilliant, erratic, whimsical, deeply committed to church starting and the community of God, E B could be alternately warm, abrasive, understanding, hateful, reassuring and threatening, sometimes all in the same conversation.
He was not my friend. He is not my friend now. When I have approached him the few times I have seen him since we both left convention employ, he seems to want to leave quickly. He definitely keeps some physical distance between us. The sight would be amusing if it were not so pathetic.
I conclude he remembers the times he screamed at me during meetings and the responsive looks I shot back at him. I am not someone’s junior staff member to be bandied about in cavalier fashion. It is unwise to threaten or belittle me.
Yet, since he lived through decades of the most tumultuous times in Texas baptist history with most of his reputation and some of his sanity intact, there must be more to this now shunned man than the sorry legacy of his leaving. I still do not know why he put himself through the sham of a farewell ceremony, including a plaque presentation by the man who sacked him. I declined the same offer from the same man. Frankly, I lost some respect for E B Brooks when he let himself be pictured with his pitiful little plaque, as though his career sat there en camera.
A week before his retirement announcement, I directly asked E B if he intended to remain at the BGCT. His reply?
"They will have to blow this end of the Building off to get me out of here," he told me, gesturing violently. "I am staying here and working. I will work until I die."
He ought to work until his dying moments. E B Brooks has as much to offer as any fellow I know. I would offer him an executive staff position myself, if I had one. I could work with E B but I would not work again in a subordinate position to him.
There are dozens of rumors floating around about E B Brooks. I was perfectly happy to leave them as rumors, to deal instead with the man in front of me. If all the sinners are purged from Texas baptist life we will have a much smaller payroll. I despise, personally, the turf-driven, jealousy dominated tacit character assassination used against men like Brooks, Currie and Montoya. They are doers, not poseurs. Doers move. Movement causes friction. Enough friction and dead wood bursts into flame first. Brooks, Currie and Montoya certainly burn up dead wood.
I did not enjoy and barely tolerated, seething, the recriminations that came my way when I refused to sign what I knew to be inaccurate time sheets submitted by some of my staff. I wanted to get the people paid. I just would not put my name on things I knew to be inaccurate. I understand this was common practice for some directors but so was granting hundreds of thousands of dollars to persons who are now alleged to have produced only "Phantom Churches." I did not take part in that travesty either.
I refused my own farewell reception in a private lunch with Charles Wade. I refused it so vehemently my interlocutor folded up in fetal position across the table from me, literally twisting sideways, pulling his legs up to his chest and looking back across his shoulder at me in apparent fear.
This in a public restaurant.
In a potentially contentious interview, never play out possible scenarios prior to the meeting. If things do not work out as you predict, you may betray your innermost feelings when confronted by a formerly passive opponent.
"Engage the enemy," Napoleon said, "and see what occurs."
This is a wise policy, if you know your own abilities and the commitment of your army.
I have fond memories of E B Brooks. I certainly learned a great deal from him. He pointed me to books and people I did not know existed. He also bullied me, as his reputation for ill temper would have warned me, had I known. He never put his hands on me, as he is rumored to have done with others, except to embrace me. He raised his voice to me often but I am a basketball referee. Yell all you want. Just don’t get too close. He often sighed and rolled his eyes when I finished a presentation. E B did not much care for preachers, particularly evangelists, and I am both. Still, his rolling eyes did not deter me from my message. His apparent disgust just made it easy for the other turf protectors to isolate me in a building where everybody lives in a silo. He did not destroy my self esteem but he did damage my feelings about him for a time.
If E B finally proved to be a chameleon on plaid, history must remember he did not make the plaid cloth or place himself on it. He danced around the tribal fire for over a quarter century, while different administrations came and went. In a better world he might have been the Executive Director himself but this is not a better world.
No one need defame him to me, tell me he lied routinely or was inwardly sinister. On one of the frequent hospital trips I made in 2002, I came out of a drug induced fog to the painful light of an early morning. E B Brooks sat next to my hospital bed, perched on a very uncomfortable chair, consoling my wife. He had no reason to be there. Most boss types would not have come across Dallas traffic in the early hours of a winter day.
I looked in his eyes. I am no seer, not a prophet of the prophetic school, just a poor dresser of sycamore trees. I did see genuine concern in him, along with the usual discomfort of a man whose humility runs so deep he can encompass magnificent self doubt. As so many times, on so many occassions with E B Brooks, he was doing the right thing without any personal self confidence he would be welcome in the room.
I did not know, until recently, that, among American generals, Eisenhower and MacArthur were known never to question their own courage. George Patton, according to biographers, called his own courage into question time after time. His frequent outbursts are better understood in the psychological profile of a man who wondered if he would fail his men, his country, his mission, himself, if he did not push himself and his men to the uttermost.
Brooks, never an attractive personna to many, held in him the tormented psyche of a man feeling he was entrusted with a great responsibility but ever questioning his own ability. He pushed himself harder than he pushed others. He pushed others hard enough. He was always genuinely surprised to be included. A loner’s loner, E B Brooks shuffled sadly off the stage of history, a diminished man, lessened by a man neither his intellectual nor moral equal.
If, as has been alleged, E B lied about the phantom churches in the Valley, if he lied about the support going this way or that way, if he lied about anything, it is because he was hard placed in a system that ran on lies, fueled by deceit, held in place by practiced duplicity. A survivor to the end, one could tell just how mendacious the system in place was from the top down, when a pleaser like E B Brooks could not find a comfortable position to rest. The system was sick from the top down and it infected everyone who came in contact with it. E B, hardwired to the central nervous system, was doomed from the start.