Tag Archives: culture

Billy Graham Library, A Mechanical Cow, and what unintentional prejudice looks like

Facepalm.

It was a total facepalm moment.

There I was, staring at the silly mechanical talking cow that was introducing me to the farming history of Billy Graham. It was a protestant chaplain field trip to the Billy Graham Museum, Charlotte NC. The opening exhibit is a full size talking cow that praises God and Billy Graham. Its four minutes of “halleluah-indnt-God-great-praise-Jesus-this-is-where-Billy-was-born” talk.

In the best stereotypical “Aunt Jemima” black woman voice I’ve heard… ever…

It’s the only distinctively black voice in the entire museum. The only one. Every other voice I heard was distinctively Caucasian. Mostly, who you hear speak are narrators and Billy Graham but they are all serious and they are all white.

The only levity in the whole place is the silly praising talking cow, in the barn, behind the fence. It’s meant to be funny, bring a smile, and appeal to the kiddos.

And it’s the only black voice.

In 2014.

Celebrating a man who worked diligently (at least that is certainly what the museum said in its various exhibits) at working toward reconciliation and bringing diversity to the world.

For what it’s worth, I seek to understand Billy Graham in the world in which he was raised, I give him great credit as a person who worked for and actually achieved reconciliation and diversity across the American religious landscape.

It’s what makes the decision to make the only person of color voice the silly, talking cow even worse.

And then there was the prayer.

Before we went in, an older man who works for the library wanted to pray for the large group of Army chaplains who was about the tour the museum. In his prayer, he passionately prayed for male chaplains who bring the gospel to male Soldiers. I know he didn’t mean to exclude the female chaplain who was there, I’m certain that he didn’t intend to exclude all the female Soldiers in the US Army – but he did.

This is why we, as Christians and certainly as chaplains have GOT to be more intentional about inclusive language. We need to name everyone.

I’m certain that the library didn’t intend to be prejudicial when they chose the black voice for the talking cow, I’m sure that when they respond to the letter I’m sending them, that they’ll talk about Billy’s dedication to diversity and reconciliation.

It just highlights how blind we white men tend to be when it comes to minorities. We are just unaware of who we leave out and what prejudice looks like.

We’re better than this.

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WWI and Hell

One my favorite take always from my Clinical Pastoral Education experience is the recognition that the Pastor/minister/spiritual person is expected to be, as Christ, a “person of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” I often use this line now as a recognition of one the functions of a chaplain – we are familiar with the journeys of suffering (or at least ought to be) and can help those that are traveling it as the wilderness guide helps those wandering through the unknowns of grief.

I am often asked about the afterlife. Of course, I only know what everyone knows – it’s a fog – no one really knows, they can just interpret the vague references in the Bible and other sacred literature.

I’ve started reading NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope which looks into the Christian orthodox view and seeks to help others understand.

He makes this observation:

“…the First World War produced not only a great deal of sudden death but also much reflection on its meaning. Some historians have suggested that belief in hell, already under attack from theologians in the nineteenth century, was one the the major casualties of the Great War. There had been so much hell on earth that people couldn’t believe that God would create such a place hereafter as well.”

Fascinating.

What a great example of life impacting theology. As they struggled to make sense of the idea that God would further punish someone who suffered so greatly in life impacted how they then thought about the afterlife.

I wonder if levels of suffering impact a person’s conclusions about things like “eternal conscience suffering.”

It also has me wondering about how Liberation Theology had concepts of Heaven rendered as liberation from the oppressor whereas the general American paradigm sees Heaven as a place to get the opulence denied in life. Streets of gold, mansions on a hillside…

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