When I was a little boy (about five or six), I used to love to visit one of my father’s best friends and a Sears store manager like my dad. His name was Neil Gately, and he was the manager of the Sears, Roebuck store in Waco, Texas, (the home of Baylor University). Neil called me “Schmoo” from a character in an Al Capp cartoon strip in the funny papers. I always remember him fixing breakfast in his plaid bathrobe wearing his cowboy boots (he never wore anything else on his feet). Many years later, his wife, Mae Pearl, decided that since she had never gone to college she wanted a college degree. She was sixty years old at the time. I was there (much older by that time) when they were talking about it. Neil just looked at her as if she had lost all her marbles. “Mae Pearl,” he said, “I am astonished. You will be sixty-four years old when you finish.” Mae Pearl just shook her head as if she was explaining something to a child and said, “Neil, I’m going to be sixty-fours old anyway, but this way, I will have something I’ve always wanted.” Neil had nothing to say and four years later, Mae Pearl graduated from Baylor the oldest and probably happiest graduate in that graduating class.
So often, we shy away from things because of the length of time it will take to finish them. And yet, if we never begin them, and don’t continue to work on them, they will never be finished. How many buildings, roads, bridges, monuments, and great projects all over the world throughout history would never have been finished if they had listened to my friend Neil? The country of South Africa is far from perfect, but it is light years away from the horror that it was while Nelson Mandela was wasting away in prison for twenty-seven years. About 2,000 years ago, our world was far from perfect and still is, but the son of a carpenter, talking to people, teaching people, and demonstrating with his life and death and resurrection what life could and should be—changed the entire world forever. It didn’t happen quickly, and is still going on, very slowly in many parts of the world, but it is still happening because we who know the joy, the peace, the hope, the strength, the comfort, and the healing that it brings with it refuse to stop sharing it. We can do no other, although some (far too many actually) try to share it with words alone, but that almost never works because their own lives so often expose that they are living lives of hypocrisy compared to what they are telling others to do. The world changes not by loud, fiery or angry words, but by simple, humble acts of love, kindness, gentleness in the face of anger, compassion instead of resentment, and by the examples set by the Mae Pearl Gately’s of this world, who refuse to let age or infirmity prevent them from accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.
Where would Christianity be without the dogged determination, persistence, and downright courage of a former Christian persecutor named Saul who became the great missionary, Paul? He was only one man with a mighty task, but he believed in it. I believe in the Bible and live it, but not because someone told me it was important or special. I believe in the Bible because I have seen it lived in the lives of famous people like Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who freely admit their own flaws, but more importantly, because I have seen it lived in the lives of my parents, my wife, my family, my friends, and some very common, very poor, almost perfect strangers who lived and are living as holy and living testaments to the example of Christ. I suspect that you know some of these special, holy people, too. Faith based only on words is pretty shaky, but faith based on seeing it lived in people you know and even in those you don’t—changes you, hopefully forever, and then you change others and before long, the world is a better place, a place where there is peace on Earth and goodwill to all living souls. A place where a man will give his own shoes to someone he doesn’t know because the other person has no shoes. That kind of a place. That’s the kind of place where I want to live and where I want my children and grandchildren to grow up knowing.