Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Two
Chronologically, I loved Texas before I loved God.
That is, I fell in love with Texas first. You don’t have to be born in Texas to love the state but it doesn’t hurt. For some reason, the soil seems sacred, the sky bluer and the people friendlier.
So, I love Texas.
I stood once in the presence of a fellow who deeply demeaned Texas publicly. In fact, he inferred General Sherman of the Yankee army once said he would rather go to Hell than Texas.
I remember telling the gentleman that, as a native Texan who had travelled Texas for years, I could never recall seeing a statue to William T. Sherman or any other Yankee carpetbagger. I closed our conversation by adding that, as a native Texan, if someone told me they would rather go to Hell than go to Texas, they could just go to Hell.
Do you ever have that feeling, when you walk away from a conversation, you just then think of something you wish had said?
I long for such a feeling. My life would involve a lot less controversy if, on a few occassions, I had a little less time to think or a lot slower brain.
My mother gave birth to me (it seems she should receive credit since she did the work) on October 5,1953 in the Memorial Hospital in Cleburne, Texas, the only hospital then in Johnson County, Texas, located just behind the only Dairy Queen in Johnson County, Texas. The occassion was marked with some disgust by my one year old brother, Nick, who had come into the world on the exact day but one year prior.
"You were my first birthday present," Nick used to say. "Things went downhill from there."
Yes, it runs in the family.
We were not a church-going family. My life changed in that regard when Dr. Charles Pitts came to visit my mother in the hospital. Dr. Pitts was pastor there in Cleburne. Though my family lived in the nearby hamlet of Joshua, Texas, Dr. Pitts came in to the hospital to visit everyone. That good man settled in next to my mother in a chair by the bed and asked all about her and me.
Before he left, Dr. Pitts asked if he could pray for us. My mother, of course, assented.
Dr. Pitts prayed for her recovery, my health and then added this caveat. He prayed, "God, one day save this little boy and call him to yourself for a preacher."
My complete, total confidence in prayer stems, I think, from that moment. I never knew what he prayed, until my mother told me about the incident after I had been saved, called to preach, educated somewhat and preaching for some time. Understand, my father was an alchoholic, Yankee sailor, unsaved until he reached age 57 and I reached age 15 (Freudians, start your engines).
The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous one avails much, Dr. Pitts. You availed much.
So, I am a preacher. I am not a life coach, communicator, mentor or any of those other things we use to flatter our profession these days. In my house, to be "preachy" is not a sin, a crime or a reduction in rank.
I came to Christ at age eight, though I would try immaturely, emotionally to pull away from my experience with Christ. A baptist Christian minister (baptist is an adjective for me and so only valuable as it expresses its identity to augment the more important word it precedes) led me to Christ in one of those folding chairs baptists buy because they are cheap and uncomfortable.
We were in the fellowship hall area of the First Baptist Church in Joshua, Texas, a tacky, cinder block building with the inevitable bargain sale tile flooring. I remember it because I knelt on that flooring to repeat the prayer the pastor tremblingly led me to pray. I was eight. He just wanted to be sure.
He did a good job. From that day, regardless of anything I knew or did not know, I was different. The Jesus Generation revivalism that would sweep me along in doubt creation as an early teenager to duplicate the experience pales in comparison to that faithful, fearful baptist pastor who painstakinly explained as much of the gospel to me as an eight year old could get. He did not scare me, push me or manipulate me for a baptismal number.
He was the first one to hold my salvation in his hands, with fear and trembling.
Non-baptist readers should know baptists join the church first by profession of faith and only then by baptism. Baptism is, ideally, only for believers who make the conscious, personal choice to put their trust in Christ and then follow Christ in immersion, our mode of baptism.
We pretty much allow ourselves to be called baptists to express personal, spiritual salvation by the grace of God through the faith of the believer (small though it may be). Baptism is a huge deal for us but salvation/conversion/regeneration/redemption; that is the thing. Clean souls, not wet bodies are our aim.
We would no more offer water baptism to represent salvation than we would offer a "hot check" to represent a billion dollars.
Yes, we are that kind of believers. All of our churches are independent and autonomous, so that no central authority tells us what to do or how to believe or forces us to reduplicate its errors. We make all our own mistakes.