The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Praise of Oral Roberts

Anybody who knows anything about my theology or my politics will be a bit surprised to see me offering my own words of praise for Oral Roberts who died this past week at age 91. On the other hand, anyone who knows about my heritage and scholarship as a pentecostal will think it perfectly appropriate for me to write in celebration of one of the most remarkable and accomplished religious leaders of the previous century.

I remember Oral Roberts's television show from my early childhood and such guests on the show as Mahalia Jackson. I remember the theme music "Something Good is Going to Happen to You" as the soundtrack to my getting dressed for church on Sundays when I was still in patent leather shoes. And yes I remember when Oral Roberts's fundraising tactics drew the scorn of the media and caused the disappointment of many others when he said that God has threatened to "call me home" if his supporters did not show up with the money.

None of those memories, though, prompts my writing about Roberts. In 2001, I traveled to Tulsa for the first time, to attend a meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, which was being hosted at Oral Roberts University. I knew, of course, that Roberts had founded an accredited institution of higher learning and that at one time that institution even housed a medical school. My college roommate's father was a professor at ORU. And I had seen their sports teams play on ESPN. But when I actually saw the buildings (corny and reminiscent of the 1970s as they were) and actually entered the prayer tower, I gained new respect for a man who was both a visionary and a person who accomplished what he set out to do.

Having begun his ministry as person with a gift for healing and having decided that the spiritual arts and medical science were not incompatible, Roberts did something that few religious or secular people have done - created an institution. His legacy as the founder and chancellor of ORU outdistances almost any of his critics'. I know that ORU has had its issues, particularly when Richard Roberts was at the helm, but none of that diminishes the accomplishments of Oral Roberts. He was a preacher, evangelist, pentecostal, and visionary. May he rest in peace from his labors and his works follow him.

39 was a mighty good year

Just as the clock struck midnight last night, in the midst of a record-breaking, historic snowstorm that threatened and eventually did cancel my plans to celebrate my birthday with my church family, I had to pause and give thanks. I need to say again that I was feeling a little disappointed that I was not going to be having my first day at 40 exactly as I wanted it. But even so, I had to admit that I had a blast at 39.

Last year, I turned 39 with a whimper. I spent the first week of my 40th year lamenting all that I had not yet accomplished. I remembered so well when I turned 30 and rejoiced that my adulthood was really secure. I couldn't believe how quickly the decade had passed. Yes, there were accomplishments, including the completion of my Ph.D. and the securing of gainful employment, but none of the milestones of my 30s up to that time included the things I had most hoped for, a husband and children. When I turned 39, I didn't even have a church. I was feeling a little blessed but a little cursed too.

I don't have the time or the energy for all of the details, but let me say this: Even though I still don't have a husband or a child, 39 was the year when I could no longer sustain the fiction that I am cursed. It no longer is logically sustainable. I have felt more loved, supported, and chosen in this past year than ever before in my life. The process that brought me to St. Paul's, including the respect that the search committee accorded me, blessed me more than I can say. The commitment and investment of friends who rejoiced on my first Sunday and at my installation as if it were their own new life, so many events this year have pointed to the love of God and the love of many friends. I have been celebrated and feted. I have been taken care of and comforted. Friends, old and new, have shown me how loved I am. Family have shown up and beamed with pride.

Women over 40 tell me that I am going to love this new season I am in. I hope so. I also hope to have a family of my own. But if none of that is true, if that doesn't happen, then I have had at least one marvelous year. Thank God for 39.