Yesterday I walked across the street and had a Sunday afternoon visit with our next door neighbor Homer Paine and his wife Frona. Most fans of Oklahoma Sooner football know Homer Paine, now 86 years old. Homer is part of what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation," and what we are experiencing as a dying generation. Homer is a World War II veteran and Battle of the Bulge participant, a two-time all Big-Seven tackle (the Big Seven was the forerunner to the old Big Eight Conference) for the Oklahoma Sooners football team (1946, 1948), a football player that Barry Switzer and Jim Dent profiled in their book The Undefeated, and only one of 338 Oklahomans ever to be drafted to play professional football (Philadelphia Eagles).
Homer is a modest man and has been married to his wife Frona for fifty-eight years. He met Frona while at the University of Oklahoma and after marriage and a brief stint in the National Football League, Homer and Frona moved to Enid where Homer worked for Johnston Grain until his retirement twenty years ago. They have lived across the street from our home since 1968. Both Homer and Frona are a treasure trove of facts regarding Oklahoma Sooner football, Oklahoma politics and Oklahoma history. They know what church everyone attends on our street and they have informed me quite clearly that they like me personally, even though I'm a Baptist pastor. They will discuss anything and everything with me - until I ever try to "make them a Baptist." Then, Frona has informed me, our conversation will always end.
Frona told me yesterday that she shivers every time she hears the word "Baptist." When I asked her why she holds such disdain for Baptists, she told me this story. When she was dating Homer while attending the University of Oklahoma, she was part of a female quartet that sang in all the churches around the Norman area. One Sunday the quartet had been invited by the famous and beloved Southern Baptist pastor, Dr. E.F. Hallock (affectionately known as "Preacher Hallock), pastor of First Baptist Church, Norman Oklahoma, to sing at the services there.
Frona said that in the morning service, just before they were to sing, communion was served. As the plate was being passed to the four guests who were seated on the front row, Frona took the plate and reached for the communion bread. Frona said she was startled to experience a "slap on the hand" by the woman seated next to her. The woman, a member of First Baptist Church who knew Frona, said, "Frona, you can't take that here. It's only for us who are members."
Frona told me that from her Christian tradition (Methodist), communion was for all believers. Frona said what bothered her the most was not the fact she didn't know "Baptist" tradition, but that this Southern Baptist woman felt the freedom to slap her on the hand and tell her what she could not do in the middle of a worship service that Frona had been invited to attend.
From that Sunday morning sixty five years ago in Norman, Oklahoma until this day, Frona said she gets a sick feeling in her stomach when she hears the word "Baptist." Her story has made me pause to consider if we who are Southern Baptists have spent far too much time telling people what it is what we are against, emphasizing those things that differentiate us from them, and slapping the hands of every person who is not like us that we have lost sight of the greatest commandment to love one another.
If I could articulate a simple reason why I continue to blog it is to convince the Fronas of this world that though there may be a few Southern Baptists who wish to continually slap other Christians on the hand, there are far more of us Southern Baptists who wish to emphasize those things we have in common with other evangelicals and we accept the differences without any slapping. I wish to help the Fronas of this world to see that most Southern Baptists view our identity as Christian first, and if our Baptist identity ever causes us to slap people who disagree, then it's time for us to take a fresh look at whether or not we have lost sight of who we are in Christ.
That, in short, is why I blog.
In His Grace,