Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bill Clinton: Seeing through a glass darkly.

2/1, evening.

Now Michael and I are in the airplane hanger of a hall and await the closing speech to be delivered by Bill Clinton. The endurance contest begins with more embarrassingly bad white music playing as people fill the room.

Thankfully, this pain is alleviated by a powerful black preacher’s sermon on “setting the captives free” followed by the awesome Spellman men’s choir. They rouse with song after song. I am thinking they have been given instructions to be prepared to do something between one and thirty songs because Clinton is so notoriously late.

But here he is, after only six songs. I wonder, will it be bad Bill beating up Barack? Inappropriate-for-the-setting Bill giving a stump speech extolling his wife’s credentials for the presidency? Stem-winding Bill? Statesmanlike Bill? Brilliant Bill delivering a wonky fact-filled address?

He is none of those Bills. Subdued. Almost soft. He talks of the history of the break with the Southern Baptists and distinguishes the historical Baptist faith from that which its convention now demands.

Reminiscent of Lincoln in his Second Inaugural when he said, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other,” Clinton now says, “we all believe we are fulfilling God's will in our lives. The point that I want to make is, so do they. They read the obligations of the Scripture in a different way.”

He focuses on the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13 – but not verse 13 about love that he reminds us is always read at weddings, but 12, which speaks of seeing through a glass darkly. “For now I see through a glass darkly; but then face to face, now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.” It’s after that passage that we find “And now abideth faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love."

Clinton says we have to love because we may be wrong about everyone and everything because we see through a glass darkly. And that is his response to how these Baptists should relate to those who have exiled and reviled them for their liberalism and modernism – or traditionalism, if you take a historical view.

Like Dr. King, Clinton exhorts the crowd with the admonition that “we must approach those with which we disagree with an outstretched hand and not a clenched fist. . . no matter what condemnation is leveled at this movement - you must respond with the spirit of love.”

He is none of the Bills I had guessed he would be.

Jimmy Carter gets up again and speaks of his hope that this is a beginning, but we can tell nne knows how to make this stick. The week’s events have come to a close and my new friend.

Michael and I are going to have a drink and talk about this momentous occasion. He doesn’t like the white music any more than I and is eager to leave.

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