Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seeing the Best in People: An Illustration From Baylor Unversity's Diamond Jubilee

There are some hidden, historical gems available to all Southern Baptists on the Internet. A Record of the Diamond Jubilee (75th Anniversary) of the Founding of Baylor University makes for some very interesting reading. It is one of the first occasions among Southern Baptists where proceedings were recorded by a modern stenoytpe machine (patented in Ireland in 1913).

During June of 1920, educators from around the country (Yale, Harvard, etc...), national and state politicans, and Southern Baptist leaders gathered on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas to celebrate the school's Diamond Jubilee. Among the speakers at this event were the iconic George W. Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas; my distant cousin Sydney Albert Burleson, the Postmaster General of the United States and special envoy from President Woodrow Wilson; and Dr. George McDaniel, Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia. All three men were graduates of Baylor University. The event also happened to be one of the last major public appearances of Georgia Burleson, affectionately called in the proceedings "Aunt Georgia" by Dr. Truett. Georgia was the elderly wife of educator and former Baylor President Rufus S. Burleson (1823-1901), and the woman for whom Burleson Dormitory is named. The proceedings make for some great historical reading. I will highlight one anecdote which will of benefit to all of us who teach or lead others.

Dr. George W. McDaniel, D.D., LL.D. the eloquent and the beloved pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia spoke on the opening day of the Diamond Jubilee. Dr. McDaniel's text was from the gospel of John where Jesus said of Nathaniel, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile." Dr. McDaniel points out that these words of Jesus come immediately after Nathaniel had prejudicely said, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" McDaniel says that some people can never think well, nor speak kindly, of one who has ventured to criticise them adversely. Yet Jesus, even after hearing the words of Nathaniel about people from Jesus' hometown, speaks kindly of Nathaniel. Dr. McDaniel encouraged his listeners to model the character of Christ and see the best in people. He then tells the following story to illustrate how this kind of character applies itself in real life.

"Several years ago a young man whose class standing was high went on his final examination in history. His distinguished father was to deliver the commencement address four days later. Just before entering the examination room the son received a telegram:

"Wire me result of your last examination. Should you fail I shall not fill my engagement. Your Father."

The telegram unnerved the splendid student. His father's apprehension seized him. For the first time in four years he was "rattled" on examination. For one hour his mind was blank. For the second hour it was a confused mass of incoherent, unrelated knowledge. Two hours and a half passed before he began to write. One hour remained for the long examination. Time was up.

Most of his classmates had handed in their papers and gone. He asked for more time. The considerate professor granted thirty minutes. As his less accurate and less scholarly roommate handed in his paper and left the room the professor followed him out.

"What is the trouble with M — ? He knows this subject and should have no difficulty with this examination."

The young man replied, "Yes, he knows it better than any man in the class," and then told the professor about the telegram.

Five minutes before the extra time had expired the professor stepped to M — 's desk. "Mr. M — , wire your father that you have made this subject with distinction."

"No, Professor, I have made a wretched failure and you will never pass me on this paper."

"Pass you! You have already passed. I tell you, wire your father."

We all should be like that teacher. He had a heart and he knew. A few years later the brilliant young man died of tuberculosis in the mountains of the West. He had broken his health in the pursuit of knowledge. But for the intervention of a Christ-like teacher he would have died sooner of a broken heart."


Bob Cleveland said...


It's a fascinating thing that we can profess to look to Jesus for salvation, trusting Him with our eternal soul, yet be so quick to disagree with Him in His assessment, and opinion, of others.

We know how we want Him to see us, but it too often seems we don't want Him to see others the same way.

God help us all (but I think we have to let Him).

Rex Ray said...

I’ve never heard of “sneak kindly” before. I thought “huh” before I realized the typo which made me smile.

McDaniel makes a great statement: “Some people can never think well, nor speak kindly, of one who has ventured to criticize them adversely.”

Thesaurus says ‘adversely’ means: unfavorably, hostile, harmfully, and negatively.

Preachers sometimes come up with a good statement and then have a hard time finding a reference from the Bible.

Look at the response Jesus had for those who criticized him “adversely” for not washing his hands:

“Fools!...How terrible it will be for you Pharisees! forget about justice and the love of God…you are the hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.” (Luke 11:40-44 NLT)

McDaniel sure couldn’t use that Scripture for a reference could he? Was Jesus being wish-e-washy for not jumping on Nathaniel? Not at all.

First, Nathaniel was a good guy - unlike the Pharisees.
Second, what Nathaniel said from Scripture was true while Pharisees criticized Jesus for breaking their man-made rules which were false and bad.

I believe a better reference to back up McDaniel’s statement would be: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Rex Ray said...

I think McDaniel’s illustration for seeing the best in people was touching and educational, but it didn’t illustrate seeing the best in people.

The story of the son taking the test illustrates how the high cost of failure can cause a person to fail.

The son could easily walk on a sidewalk, but the father put the sidewalk over the Grand Canyon.

I agree the teacher saw the best in the son and passed him.

I relate to the story as I was told before taking a final exam, “You’re one of my “A” students, but you’re making an “F” because you always complete half the test.”

I replied I never had enough time.

As it worked out, I had a class and a half for the final, and either I did great or the teacher saw the best in me for my grade was a “B”.

Rex Ray said...

I believe McDaniel could have gone deeper into the word ‘criticism’
Under ‘censure’ Thesaurus says: “disapproval, condemnation, denigration – the opposite of praise.”

Under ‘analysis’ Thesaurus says: “assessment, evaluation, critique, review, and report.”

Also, and very important is the criticism from truth or from untruth?

Which hurts our pride more – truthful criticism or false criticism?

My brother argued the longest with his ‘evaluator’ that he accepted criticism. True story. :) said...


It was a typo in the original manuscript! Didn't catch it. I have gone back and changed it.


Rex Ray said...

Do you get the feeling we’ve done our part on what I thought was a good post, but are wondering what happened to the other ‘help’.

So often that’s what happens in churches. People get their feelings hurt because they’re the only ones working on what they consider a good project for the church.

If they do too much, resentment can build up and hurt their ‘Christianity’.

My uncle was the churches’ volunteer janitor for 27 years. When he stopped, they paid the janitor.

I think there was resentment because many times, my uncle referred to himself as “This old ex-custodian.”

On the flip side of criticism, churches have to be careful of the praise they give. Excuse me for this personal example, but this week I think our church bulletin should have read:

‘Thank you xxx for the great gift of our basketball backboards and goals. Thanks to Rex Ray for the structure that holds them in place and his work and others for the installation.”

Instead, the bulletin said: “A BIG thank you is due Rex Ray for single-handedly installing the permanent basketball posts in the gym. Thank you, Rex!”

The gift of the goals was over $2000. The church paid for most of the material for the structure that was 3’ x 4’ x 16’ that was fastened to the wall, a large I-beam, and a 22 foot ceiling.

Sure, where I had worked months, a couple had worked hours including the pastor, but a praise should not exclude any.

(I can hear it now - ‘Can’t even say thanks without you gripping.’) Hey! That may be my calling. :)

Bob, you said, “…yet be so quick to disagree with Him in His assessment, and opinion, of others.”

Could you give an example of what you mean? I’m having a hard time understanding.

Gene S said...


Your Baptist roots, like mine, go deep. Because of this I refuse to stay quiet as many valued traditions slip from our hands: Autonomy / primary interest in missions rather than theology / non-creedalism / separation of church and state / servant pastors, to name a few.

Between the Scarborough connection to L.R. Scarborough and my grandmother having been a Graham distantly related to Billy, no less--we both have a personal knowledge many newcomers do not have.

I can tell some of the most intelligent commentary on the foolishness of recent changes comes from those "who know"--not just by reading, but by experiencing our glory days from 1950-1979. If you want to designate an "era of growth" that was it in real terms.

There were large FBC churches with able preachers in the pulpit. There were NO mega churches having a glamor boy / king preacher at the helm.

The main concept was Preacher as Servant of his people. Larger churches started mission churches with no control of the new mission. There was no such thing as a Satellite Church counting people and giving under the statistics of the Mega Church.

Most important, there was trust and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism looking for improvement and efficiency. Leaders of Institutions and Agencies refused to be paid more than the average church pastor which supported them. Most pastors had the same income rule relative to the average church member's income.

There was a real sense of Cooperation!!!

The SBC I see today is more like the Pharisees at the Temple in Jerusalem. They were far different than that Prophet in sandals followed by 12 average guys whom he had invited to follow him among the people searching for Joy and Peace through religion.

In sum, I see it as a corrupting of servanthood in favor of political and financial power. In other words, not that different from contemporary corporate America.

I thought we were to transform society by example and witness. Right now, I think we are just reflecting it--and perpetuating brokeness one with another.