But there they were: a man (early- to mid-fifties I would guess, with a winning smile a a beautiful head of salt-and-pepper hair) and what I presume were his two children. The daughter was probably 13 or 14, with a blonde ponytail and a forced smile; the son was perhaps 11, totally distracted, a little funny-looking in that way that pre-teens are, but with a perfectly-frayed St. Louis Cardinals cap that he wore a bit too far down over his brow. Dad did all the talking-- quick, amiable prose with an inviting tenor to it-- and Son and Daughter dutiful stood by, waiting for their cue to hand me one of the dozens of pre-printed cards in their hands.
They were Baptists, from a huge church around the corner that, I happen to know, my neighbors across the street attend. We get all kinds of door-to-door evangelists here, not just Jehovah's Witnesses like a lot of places. (We do get JW's, too.) One thing that I like about the Baptists' visits is that they are always brief, really friendly, and the people are usually relatively wholesome in appearance, even good-looking. Dad told me that if I didn't already have a worship home, they would love to have me come join them at theirs. Son and Daughter smiled and nodded, as if they just realized that Dad had made a really good suggestion like "I think we should order in pizza tonight." I thanked them for stopping by and told them to stay cool, because even at 10:30 am it was already pushing over 100 degrees. The card they gave me, which I didn't look at until after they left, read:
"The purpose of Union Avenue Baptist Church is to GLORIFY GOD by becoming an AUTHENTIC BIBLICAL COMMUNITY that KNOWS CHRIST and MAKES HIM KNOWN."
I wondered how many people were on the committee that constructed that copy. Then I imagined an older woman on the committee who had just been introduced to computers and who believed that writing things in CAPS was the best way to indicate importance and not, as her grandchildren insisted, the graphic equivalent of yelling. I think everyone else on the committee probably knew she was wrong on that one, but maybe she had been in the church for a long time and made a large contribution to the newly constructed Recreation and Outreach Center in the name of her late husband, who was a retired pastor. I wondered how an AUTHENTIC BIBLICAL COMMUNITY might define itself, and whether or not there was secretly a Heideggerean on the committee. Then I laughed at the idea of a Southern Baptist Heideggearean, though I knew in my heart that there must be one somewhere, perhaps even a lot of them, but probably not enough to make a community.
My father was a preacher and sometimes, near the end of his sermons, as the clock was quickly approaching noon and the congregation was getting restless, he used to say something like: "And this is my last point, because I know we need to get out of here in order to beat the Baptists to the white meat." I always thought that was hilarious. But I realized at some point in my life that I subconsciouly associated all Baptists with the breast and wing parts of fried chicken. And I wondered if, in the mysterious operations of their church services, they secretly plotted to get out a few minutes early in order to beat the rest of us to the good stuff. Of course, if that was true, they would suffer no consequences for this vice, as we all know that Southern Baptists believe "once saved, always saved." I think I resented Baptists for that.
So, I want to say to my visitors this morning that I must respectively decline your invitation. You're nice folks, really, and I'm sure you are doing your best to become an AUTHENTIC BIBLICAL COMMUNITY... but the thing is, sadly, fried chicken is a limited resource. We're all doing our best to get ours.