Looking for smiles along the way

The other day a number of us on the BGCT staff spent a good portion of a day at the Roseland Community Center near the Baptist Building in Dallas. It was a day of play for the kids of the neighborhood, a good lunch from the Texas Baptist Men of Dallas Baptist Association, some parenting tips for residents, and free backpacks and school supplies.

Gerald Davis put this mini-missions project together, along with Marla Bearden; and they did a great job.

I had two jobs — photographer and snow cone distributor (fancy name for a rather messy task). My 11-year-old son, Cameron, joined me in the snow cone booth, and he proved to be the more valuable worker — just ask Jon Randles, Scott Willingham and Pam Poole.

Jon knows how to make any “job” fun and interesting. He evangelized for his snow cones in a manner worthy of a great evangelist for our Lord. Scott was the epitome of efficiency, rolling through the crush of “customers.” And Pam was the quiet glue behind our snow cone success.

The kids, of course, provide the most lasting memories of the day, as they seemingly always do in a missions project. And my most profound memory was, sadly, the lack of smiles on their young faces. I took to asking them to smile before receiving their snow cones, and a few still struggled; but the faces of some lit up brightly.

There were probably no more sad faces than happy ones that day, but my heart went out to the sad ones. One gentleman stopped me while I was doing photography and said he loved my smile. I noticed he had one, as well. I said thanks, that I really didn’t think about smiling, it just kinda happens and I think it’s because Christ is in my life.

I do think Christ can put smiles on our faces. Not that we don’t cry at times, as well. But somehow He enables us to smile at life, even when it gets tough. I pray for more Christ-inspired smiles in the children of Roseland and in other communities where life gets rather tough.

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The importance of compassion

I’ve recently been going through magazines that have stacked up the past few years in a desire to get them to the recycle bin. One of those mags is the March-April 2005 edition of Utne.

In an article titled, “God Alert: Karen Armstrong Wants to Warn the World of a Looming Religious Storm,” author Michael Valpy reflects an interview he had with Armstrong regarding religious fundamentalism.

One quote from Armstrong especially caught my attention. “Compassion is the key to religion, the key to spirituality. … It is the litmus test of religiosity in all the major world religions. It is the key to the experience of what we call God–that when you dethrone yourself from the center of your world and put another there, you achieve extasis, you go beyond yourself.”

I did not grow up being taught that compassion is the key to my religion, but I do think this may be right if you genuinely seek to follow Christ. Love for God and for others provokes a compassion that is not natural. We could, therefore, call it supernatural, which again connects to Christ.

Advocating and caring

In May, I took a new assignment with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I’m now associate director of the Advocacy/Care Center. It’s kind of an odd sounding position, and I get funny looks when I share it with people. Let me explain what I do in very simple terms:

I help Texas Baptists advocate for the concerns that arise from following Christ, and I help them to show the compassion of Christ in caring ways.

It breaks down this way. The Advocacy/Care Center includes the Christian Life Commission ethics agency, chaplaincy, community development, restorative justice, counseling for ministers and a number of other BGCT ministries. Suzii Paynter is the director; so I help her to move this new organizational component in the direction she would have us to go. Our staff includes a bunch of wonderful people with various callings from God and passions for doing His work.

It’s been a wonderful three months at the start, and I pray God will use it in powerful ways to share the love of Christ with a world in such need of that love.

Goats lose

Religious liberty wins out over cruelty to animals. Most of us would celebrate that in principle, but the details make me squeamish.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said the City of Euless cannot prevent a resident from sacrificing a goat as part of his religious practice. The city prohibits cruelty to animals and the keeping of livestock, except chickens, and it obviously didn’t put those ordinances into effect just to stop a group of Santaria worshipers from killing goats. But the 5th Circuit says the goats can die–for religious purposes, that is. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram story)

It really doesn’t matter that Santaria is a small┬áreligion or even a scary one. Those of us who believe in religious liberty know that it minority practices are the ones most in need of protecting. And some people think Baptists are a bit scary.

That said, this ruling just doesn’t seem right. Michael Vick goes to prison for killing dogs (which I detest), but I guess if he had started a religion that requires dog fighting then it would have been OK.

I probably need legal advice, but sometimes I think a little common sense would be nice. We don’t need to be killing goats, or dogs, in suburban backyards. Of course, on my ranch, that would be OK. Life is tricky.

Happy birthday to me

It’s my day today. Birthdays are always a bit strange to me in the sense that I think back to what it must have been like for my mom and dad to have this new little bundle of responsibility in their laps. I know the biggest thing on Mom’s mind was the big bump on my head. The doctor said it would go down in a few weeks, and it did. Since then I’ve survived a few other bumps, some self-inflicted.

I do, indeed, like being middle aged. I have loved each stage of life, but I wouldn’t want to go back. The understanding that comes with time is a great reward for aging, but that is not to imply that I understand it all. That would be far from the truth.

And, of course, now I get to enjoy five kids and five grandkids. Wow! I’m blessed.

Smartest war criminal

The death of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara resurfaces some old and painful memories for our nation. The New York Times story captures the amazing contrast in the infamous man.

President Kennedy once called McNamara the smartest man he ever met. That smart man was a big contributor in the deaths of more than 1 countless people — 100,000 Japanese civilians in World War II; more than 50,000 American young men; and countless Vietnamese, both from the North and the South.

He was, however, smart enough to understand late in life the errors of his middle years. McNamara called his own conduct of the Vietnam war “wrong, terribly wrong.”

As for his role in the carpet bombing of Japanese civilians, both he and General Curtis LeMay admitted they would have been tried as war criminals if the U.S. had lost the war.

I guess it all comes back to the terribleness of war. We’ve lost the notion of war only as a means of last resort in maintaining freedom. It is a terrible business. Must we say it over and over and over? Yes!