Billy Graham owes me a debt, so I’m hoping he’s reading this column.
In 1971, Graham preached a crusade in Oakland, Calif. Naturally, as a13-year-old boy who thought he’d follow in Graham’s footsteps (I’d already learned to say God with two syllables), I was anxious to help spread the word.
The opportunity came when our church, Alder Avenue Baptist Church in Fremont, Calif., sent teams throughout our neighborhood to distribute crusade flyers. We made quick work of our sector and were preparing to return home when someone noticed we’d missed a short block.
Anxious to wear myself out for God, I volunteered to finish the block. The cause was just, and my father quickly assented to my suggestion that I sprint the block and drop our remaining flyers.
My job was easy. It was an FBR — Fly By Religion. Under orders “not to engage” residents, I swept under the radar and laid the flyers on the doorstep or pinched them into screen doors.
This was perfect. Like the Blues Brothers, I was on a mission from God. Laced into the soles of my Keds High Top Flyers, I raced, leaping porches in a single bound.
Somewhere in the midst of jetting for Jesus, I lost my balance and fell spread-eagle across a porch. At that point I did two things.
First, like any healthy junior high boy, I sprang to my feet to make sure there were no witnesses.
Second, I examined my wrist and found it broken. No matter, I thought. I was determined to finish my grid for God. I immobilized my arm by sliding it inside my half-buttoned shirt, and looking a bit like a little Napoleon, I conquered the remainder of my territory.
According to the sermons I’d heard in church camp, this was the kind of thing that could add an extra star in my heavenly crown. In Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, I learned there would be a great reward for suffering. But, it wasn’t until years later that I realized my “suffering” really didn’t count for much.
The scripture actually says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The little word “because” gives a stipulation I hadn’t counted on. Yes, there is a blessing on those who suffer, but only when the suffering is “because of righteousness.”
It’s the kind of suffering that Martin Luther King and Gandhi endured. But it wasn’t the kind of suffering I had done.
I wasn’t suffering because of righteousness — unless I was a righteous fool. I was suffering because I had been a show-off. I was suffering because I’d been impatient with such a menial task.
I was suffering from a complex we all suffer from on occasion — a martyr complex. It’s a complex which will often cause us to attribute our sufferings with some good work we did.
Perhaps the “suffering” comes when we take the “moral high ground” at work or we turn our backs on someone who’s “sinned.” When we suddenly find ourselves being ostracized for our actions, we kid ourselves into thinking we are suffering for our faith.
Yet, the truth may lie in the fact that the suffering is really all about our personal pride or sanctimony.
When I returned to my group, arm in shirt, I proudly explained to my mother what I had done and how I had suffered.
All I really remember is her quoting a scripture she’d muttered all the years she’d raised me. She simply said, “Pride goes before the fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) Let’s go to the emergency room.”