Thursday, May 12, 2016
Morning Thanks--the Bible
Years ago, I listened to Phillip Yancey reading from a new book of his, a book titled What's So Amazing about Grace? A couple dozen of us were sitting in a circle in the Great Room of a retreat center as he read a chapter about Mel White, an old friend of his, a ghost writer for several evangelical Christians, who had quite shockingly walked away from his family and come out of the closet, a gay man.
That was twenty years ago, I'd say--a long time. What that chapter of the book does is tell White's story. Sympathetically. Philip Yancey and Mel White were good friends, remain so, in fact. Several of the writers in that room knew White too.
When Yancey finished reading, he shut the book to total silence.
Yancey is a fine reader, but it wasn't his intonation or theatrics that cast a spell; it was the difficulty of talking at all about that subject, especially among Christian evangelicals. I remember Walter Wangerin saying he didn't think the writers in that room, Christians all, could say anything at all about gayness without hurting someone deeply and taking a beating themselves.
I've been a member of that small group of writers, the Chrysostom Society, for more than a quarter century now, but that moment is one I'll never forget. Writers don't often go speechless.
If someone in central casting was looking for an Old Testament prophet, they'd could do no better than Eugene Peterson, not simply because Eugene, at 80+, has that sage look, but also because his thoughtful manner lends him a gravity that feels. . . how shall I say it?--almost seraphic. He'd hate me saying that, but it's true. Eugene is not a big talker, but what he says when he says it always, always, always seems wise.
Eugene volunteered that he appreciated the chapter Yancey had read, but he didn't know what to think because he didn't know what to think about the whole issue. Not a week went by, he said, without someone on one side or the other campaigning, writing, calling, begging him to join one side or the other in the battle created by LBGT questions.
Millions, literally millions of people have been blessed by the work of those men and the other writers in the room that night. Right now, at sunrise, somewhere here and around the world, someone is reading The Message. Just a few days had passed after the heinous murders at Sandy Hook Elementary when someone asked Philip Yancey to come to New Town, Connecticut, and talk about grief and grace with the parents who'd lost kids.
But this morning's bit of thanks is not about grief and grace and certainly not about gayness. It's about Eugene Peterson and Philip Yancey and Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who claims the two of them to be his favorite authors. And it's about the Bible.
Not long ago, Gov. Haslam vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible "the official state book" of the state of Tennessee. The sponsors of that bill claim to be attempting an override, but no matter. Haslam, a fellow Republican who claims great admiration for Peterson and Yancey, said no to the bill because he "recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in long run."
What he said, in essence, is that the Bible is a great deal more than someone's favorite book.
I know Peterson and Yancey well enough to believe that both of them would smile. If they had anything to do with Gov. Bill Haslam's way of thinking, I know they'd consider themselves blessed.
Because the Governor is right.