A fundamentalist, evangelical, or born-again Christian, I am not. Some people would tell you I’m not a Christian at all. But I do live in Asheville, NC, less than 15 miles from Billy Graham’s home in Montreat. Acquaintances, who are friends of Billy Graham’s daughter, Gigi, had tickets for Graham’s 95th birthday party. My husband and I eagerly accepted their invitation.
In many ways, the evening met my expectations. The celebrities in attendance were not particularly admirable to me. The state-level politicians working the room have never received my vote. There was plenty of talk about sinners, repentance, and Christ as the only way to salvation. We saw a preview of the video shown a few hours later on Fox News. By then, it was titled My Hope America; when we watched it at the birthday party, it was clearly called The Cross.
Despite all that, I came away with two valuable reminders about living a life connected to the divine. The first reminder permeated the evening as people remarked on how Billy Graham’s message had changed their lives. Woven throughout the personal narratives were the notions that God is love, that God’s love is for everyone, and that love can save both individuals and the world as a whole. This is the light that religions still offer the world. This is the home where spiritual visionaries reside. This is the ocean breeze that warms us at day’s end. For Billy Graham, the cross was a daily symbol of a love that should rule the world. And at some point, it doesn’t matter that my symbols are different. Perhaps that’s even the way it should be.
The second reminder came from, of all people, Pat McCrory, Governor of North Carolina. McCrory is the man most liberals in NC blame for our state becoming the butt of jokes on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. It’s not entirely his fault, as Republicans now control both houses in the state legislature, but McCrory hasn’t made much use of his veto pen, either. In the last year, our state legislature has cut unemployment benefits, refused to expand Medicaid, more strictly regulated abortion clinics, and passed a budget that effectively cut education funding. News outlets regularly report on our depressing (and possibly, unconstitutional) voter ID laws. And in our most recent let’s-add-insult-to-injury move, NC eagerly refused to cover various federally funded programs to the needy during the partial government shutdown. For some of us, the state of our state is simply stomach-churning. Yet, McCrory told the most enlightening Billy Graham story of the night.
McCrory was the mayor of Charlotte, NC when the Grahams moved their ministry back to Billy’s hometown. The Billy Graham library is in Charlotte, and supposedly there was a brief family spat about where Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife of 64 years, would be buried when she died in 2007 – Charlotte or the mountains of Western North Carolina. (Charlotte won.) The city of Charlotte fervently supported Billy Graham’s ministry whenever he came to town, and McCrory was mayor of the city for 14 years. Needless to say, Billy and Pat have attended a few events together. In this story, McCrory and Graham were on stage together. The crowds of people were waving their arms and cheering wildly. At some point, Graham looked at McCrory and said quietly, “I’m embarrassed. This is not about me.”
So that’s what I learned from Billy Graham – a man who said only a few words – and in a pre-taped video at that. Number One: Love can make the world a better place. Number Two: This is not about me. They are both such difficult messages to remember in the hustle and hassle of daily life, but they will be my morning mantra for at least the next week – maybe longer if I can manage it.