Category Archives: community

Unliked, But Respected (a repost)

It’s going to be a busy day, today, so I was scrolling through the past and came across this post from 2017. I thought it would be good to repost it. Why? Because it shows how one person can make a difference in his/her community. It shows how just one person can affect even the direction of the government, if only temporarily.

You may feel like you are a nobody, but God made you a “somebody,” and all it takes is somebody to make a difference. And in the process, even if it doesn’t make people like you, it will earn you some respect.


A Bad Law

Not long ago a tragedy occurred in my town of Chattanooga, a tragedy that was felt across the nation, even around the world. Back in November of last year (2016) a school bus transporting children from Woodmore Elementary School crashed, ultimately being nearly cut in half by a tree, resulting in many injuries and 6 deaths.

Almost immediately people familiar with the story, and especially the affected families and friends within the Woodmore community, began calling out for seat belts on school buses. Actually, it was at Erlanger Hospital, where many of the wounded children were taken, that I heard grieving parents scream in anger, “That bus driver was wearing a seat belt, and he’s still alive! Why did he get to wear a seat belt and my baby didn’t?!!” When I heard those words I knew what was coming.

It wasn’t long before Tennessee State House Representative JoAnne Favors (D) of the 29th District put forth a bill that would require all school buses in the state to have seatbelts. The argument was that if the children from Woodmore had been wearing seatbelts, many would not have been hurt, and some may not have died. “How many more children have to die,” they would ask, “until we make seatbelts mandatory?”

The problem, however, was that the only ones arguing for requiring seatbelts on all school buses were those who never drove a school bus or had to deal with all that takes place on one. When bus drivers were given the opportunity over social media to express their opinion, the overwhelming consensus was that seatbelts on a school bus was a bad, bad idea.

I  Had to Act

The bill calling for requiring seatbelts on buses began to work its way through committee after committee, and it began to appear there was no stopping it. As a school bus driver I desperately wanted to state my case in front of one of these committees in Nashville, but how could I? Every time they had a meeting where the public could voice their opinions, we bus drivers were actually on the job. About the only thing I could do was resort to social media.

Early on, way back in December of 2016, I posted to Facebook a short video giving reasons why the seatbelt bill would be a bad law. That video got a little response, but nothing came of it.

Then, on April 28, on WRCB (Channel 3) I saw David Karnes interview Rep. JoAnne Favors and the attorney for the Woodmore families, C. Mark Warren. What they said ticked me off so much I had to do something right then, so I went directly to Facebook Live and recorded the following rant 😉

Click on the screenshot from my phone to watch the video.

The above Facebook Live video was quickly shared among the bus-driving community, and several suggested that I do more, even take off work and go to Nashville. The overwhelming proof that bus drivers do not want belts, and why, became evident in the thousands of views and hundreds of comments which continue to accumulate.

Taking It to the News Media

It is now the evening of May 5th, and David Karnes has yet to return my requests to counter Rep. Favors’ claims on his April 28th television program. Needless to say, especially with the urging of others, I made calls to other news stations in our area, expressing my belief that bus drivers were not getting a fair deal – we were not being able to share our side of this issue… and WE were the ones who were going to have to deal with the results of its implementation!

At first, I called the newsroom of WDEF (Channel 12). The gentleman I spoke with there assured me that nothing would come of Favor’s bill, so there was no need for me to share my thoughts. Well, then… la ti da.

Then, undeterred, I called WTVC (Channel 9). The lady I spoke with, unlike the gentleman at Channel 12, thought what I was saying sounded worth investigating. She told me that what I was saying was definitely interesting, and with the programming director listening in she informed me that a reporter would get back with me on Monday. She asked, “Would you have any problem talking on camera?”

“Heck, no!” I replied. “I’d be happy to talk on camera!” I mean, what kind of question was that? I then referred her to my Facebook page.

Monday came around, but no one called; I figured nothing would come of my call. Then on Tuesday morning, the very day on which another vote was to take place in another committee in Nashville, a reporter called me and set up an interview.

From around 10:30 to 11:30a.m. I sat in front of a TV camera and cameraman, a reporter, and a program director. For a whole hour, I was given the chance to respond to some very pointed questions and give my thoughts on the whole seatbelt issue.

The rest of the morning and afternoon, even until the evening, I felt sick. What worried me was the fact that I was an employee of the company that had been sued over the deaths and injuries resulting from the Woodmore crash. Going back to November of last year we had been instructed to avoid interviews with the media. But this was different, for I was acting as nothing more than a bus driver in Tennessee who was concerned about a possible bad law. I didn’t know how the news media would edit my interview, and all I could think of was how much trouble I could be in on Wednesday.

However, I wasn’t fired! The following video will show that the resulting editing was not only fair but quite favorable to my position.

The Point of This Post

Wednesday morning I went into work, not knowing what to expect. What I got were “high fives” and multiple joking requests for my autograph. After a few humorous requests, I held up the sign-in sheet where all drivers are to sign their names each morning and said, “Now that I’m famous, all of these sign-in sheets will be worth money, so don’t throw them away.” Ha!

Then, as I was standing there, an older woman, a driver of a special needs school bus (a small bus), walked up to me and began to talk.

“Mr. Baker, I need to tell you something.”

“OK,” I said. Now, keep in mind I had never, not once, spoken with this woman ever before.

“This is me…” she pointed to herself, “…so this is me talking…”

“OK,” was my response, again.

“You know,” she began, “I have never really cared very much for you…”

What was I supposed to say? How was I supposed to respond? Like I said, I had never even spoken with this lady, so what had I done to offend her? Anyway, she continued…

“But I want you to know that I respect what you did…what you said on TV. What you did was courageous, and what you said on our behalf as drivers is very much appreciated.”

Well, now! I got smacked in the face and complimented all at the same time!

Then, in regard to my concern that the management of the company could fire me for being interviewed on television, she matter-of-factly assured me, “And if those people in the office have a problem with what you’ve done, then I will go down there with you and tell them to their face they can kiss your a**, and my a**, too!”

With raised eyebrows and a nod of my head, all I could say in response was, “”Well, uh, thanks…I appreciate it.”

When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7

All I could think about was how that when we stand up for what is right, even those who hate us may find some reason to respect us. That was the only way I could explain why this older woman who “never really cared much” for me would put her own “a**” on the line.

The Aftermath

Believe it or not, JoAnne Favors pulled the bill! CLICK HERE for the story.

Did my actions have anything to do with it? Honestly, I’d like to think so.

This afternoon, the lady who I mentioned earlier stopped by my car window as I was leaving work. She asked, “So, are you proud of yourself?”

“Well, to be honest,” I began, “I’d like to think I had a part in what happened.”

“I’m sure you did,” she said.

So, yeah, it feels good to have accomplished something…maybe. But it feels better to be respected, 

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Pastors and Politics

I just want to take a quick moment to blog. By that I mean that I want to do what blogging used to be meant for: a web log of thoughts; a diary of sorts.

What thoughts do I want to record and share with the world? Politics. Specifically, pastors and the subject of politics.

The reason I want to simply “blog” is because I have not done any research, sourcing, or anything like that in order to craft a professional opinion piece. This is not meant to be an article worth publishing in a news paper or magazine. I have no links to news stories or pictures to share.

No, all this is meant to be is me sharing my thoughts off the cuff, unprepared, and dangerous.

You see, I have political opinions. I have my opinions about our President. I have strong opinions about the government and the direction we should be going as a country. Yet, as a pastor, my thoughts on these issues are considered taboo, off limits, no matter if they are spoken from the pulpit or elsewhere (and I’m speaking generically, not specifically about my current congregation).

It’s a strange situation to be in, actually. I mean, here we are, pillars in the community, men tasked with preaching truth without compromise, yet if we mention anything about conservative policies we think might better the community, we’re in danger of alienating people and running the risk of splitting a congregation!

It’s pretty sad, isn’t it? Shouldn’t the gospel apply to every area of life? Shouldn’t the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles find application in the voting booth? It would seem so. However, I could preach about anything, even against same-sex marriage, and aside from the vitriolic response I might get from friends of the rainbow, the average church member would support me in my pastoral, prophetic role. Yet, talk about anything political that might hint of my personal persuasions and I’d likely be censured.

Do you ever wonder why this is? Do you ever wonder why it is that a pastor cannot talk about politics that same way he can about adultery, lying, anger, murder, hate, hypocrisy, abuse, weighted scales, and bigotry?

Think about it… there are people in Christian media and print, along with nationally-known religious personalities, who are taking full advantage of their platforms to say anything negative about our President, even to the point of calling for his impeachment. Yet, if the average pastor stood behind the pulpit and said, “I think we ought to pray for Donald Trump, that he should succeed and become a great President, for our country and the world’s sake,” he’d likely be labeled a fascist, racist, evil Nazi sympathizer.

Oh, I forgot. It’s OK to admit you pray for the President, but only if you’re Nancy Pelosi and your ultimate goal is his imprisonment.

Here’s the thing, though. In every congregation of believers in Christ there are going to be people who are members of different political factions, and that goes for everywhere. Yet, when it comes to issues of right and wrong, good and evil, and how we should live out our faith in the public arena, which includes the voting booth, if God’s sufficient Word cannot find application that should guide the Christian, if there are areas in life that cannot be addressed by Scripture for fear that it might offend the Christian or bruise his personal sacred cow, then is the revealed Word of God really all it claims to be?

Prudence soaked in love; wisdom granted by the Spirit; and a keen contextual awareness are key when considering when, where, and how we should address these topics. However, fear should never be the motivating factor that intimidates us into silence when God has a Word to say.

Those are my thoughts on this Friday afternoon.

God bless.

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Filed under America, blogging, Christian Unity, community, General Observations, politics, Preaching

Riding Buddies

The road of life is much more fun and more bearable when you have a friend to ride with you.

Be a friend.

My granddaughter, Emma, and George.

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Where’s the Coffee?

Preparing Sunday lunch in Zimbabwe, not Georgia 🙂

Food

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, food is a universal need, even here in the middle of Georgia. However, what people eat and drink when they are hungry can vary greatly between location and culture, and Georgia is no exception.

Consider the following observations…

In Romania:

When I was in Romania, I found out that ground pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (sarmale) was the national dish, and I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any food in Romania that I didn’t like.

…except that soup.

Once, when staying in an apartment, the host family made fish soup. When I looked into the bowl, several little fish glared back at me with glassy, broth-covered eyes. Considering that the fish had to have come from water that was heavily contaminated by industrial waste, I had to refuse it. Before I did, just to be sure I was doing the right thing in offending my hosts, I dipped a spoon into the broth and tasted it…I had a metallic taste in my mouth for a week after that.

At least there was coffee.

In Zimbabwe:

As opposed to Europe, food choices in Africa can be a little more adventurous, especially for an American. However, for the most part, the food I ate in Zimbabwe was pretty much the same as in the States. The only thing I was told NOT to eat was anything from the bush (i.e., monkey).

The reason for the similarity is that Zimbabwe’s food had a history of English influence, so finding familiar food was not a problem, just as long as you knew what to ask for. Don’t eat their “biscuits” with gravy, if you know what I mean.

The only thing I couldn’t stomach in Zimbabwe was a desert made of bananas, pinto beans, green onion, yogurt, and Thousand Island salad dressing. After one spoonful I was done. My American palate had met its match.

But, at least, there was coffee!

In Georgia:

Look, believe me, the food down here is great, and other than when they spring something new on me, like pineapple sandwiches, it’s pretty much like anywhere else in the South. However, I’ve come to learn that we have a completely different understanding of one key food group: Barbecue.

The best I can tell, once you’re exposed to raw kaolin (the clay mined from the ground), pine trees, and higher-than-average heat, what the rest of the South does with pork doesn’t matter. Somewhere in their rich, rich history, these folk evidently developed a subconscious hatred for the pig. They like to eat it, but first they must pulverize it then torture it with a light bath of BBQ-flavored vinegar.

But at least there’s coffee, right? Uh, well, sorta.

Beverages

Like with food, it doesn’t matter where you go – people have to drink. Of course, what they drink depends upon the quality of the water and whether or not the locals have an excess of potatoes.

But, regardless, everywhere I’ve been in the world, from North America to Europe to Africa, one drink has been there for me, waiting around every corner, offered at every function, even boiled in pots over an open fire …coffee.

That is, except in middle Georgia!

Seriously, in Romania I woke up to a big, cast-iron pot full of dark, fragrant, exceedingly rich coffee over an open fire. Yes, there was electricity where we were staying, but because there were more than a few of us, and since coffee was a must for breakfast, they broke out the pot, lit a fire, and poured in the grounds.

In Zimbabwe, coffee was offered everywhere I went, including homes that prepared their meals in a mud hut! Even in an Ethiopian airport, where few things were recognizable to a Westerner, there was a coffee shop serving that familiar, satisfying, nerve-calming, caffeinated friend.

But here? Coffee? What coffee?

No joke, I’ve been to multiple fellowships, dinners, meetings, you name it, and I can’t tell you one time – not once – where there was any coffee offered with the desserts! Where else, except maybe the Sahara, do you go to an important meeting and find only water and iced tea, but NO coffee?

I don’t understand it.

All I can figure is that the folk down here are so laid back, so calm, so chill, so full of the “peace of that passes all understanding,” that coffee isn’t needed. Sweet tea is the cure-all for everything.

Or, it could be that they learned other ways to cope with stress way back when Union blockades stopped the shipment of coffee to Confederate troops. I don’t know.

Either way, I’ll survive. I’m tough. I’ll even grow to enjoy the way they do their BBQ.

It’s not like I have to have coffee with every meal and meeting, right? It’s not like God commanded locally-grown Georgia pecan pie be accompanied by a cup of dark roast, right?

I may need your prayers.

 

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Filed under baptist, Church, community, Food, General Observations, Humor, ministry, places, Southern Baptist, Struggles and Trials

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Dirt Roads

A portion of the unpaved southern half of the road where I live.

Georgia Red Clay

I’m sure you’ve either heard of it, or maybe you’ve even gotten your clothes stained by it, but Georgia is famous for “Georgia Red Clay.”

The reddish soil that covers much of the state of Georgia, along with areas in surrounding states, gets it’s color from iron oxide, the reddish-orange shades varying as much as any shade of red rust. It’s almost everywhere.

As a matter of fact, a good portion of the secondary roads in my area look just like the one above.

Georgia White Clay

On the other hand, especially around these parts (Washington County), there is another kind of clay: Kaolin.

4 oz. for $7 on Etsy!

As opposed to the common red clay, Kaolin (nicknamed “white gold” because of its color and its profitability) is mined, processed, and sold locally and around the world in various forms for use in products ranging from paper to lipstick. Actually, over 50% of it is used to give coated paper the “gloss” you might see in quality printer paper or magazines.

FYI, just click on the attached link and learn about one of the world’s largest producers of Kaolin located just 10 miles south of me in Sandersville, GA: Thiele Kaolin Company.

However, what I wanted to write about was not the types of clay that can be found in middle Georgia, but those red clay dirt roads…just like the one two houses down from me…right where the pavement ends.

It’s About the Dust

Two days ago, as I drove by one of these dirt roads, I sensed there was something profound…an important lesson…that I needed to learn then share. However, asking myself “What’s so spiritual about dirt roads?” over and over didn’t bring me any closer to a revelation. Then, as I was in the shower this morning, the truth of it all became clear (or clean, whichever):

It’s about the dust!

What do you get on your car after you travel down a paved road? Nothing. What do you get when you travel down a dirt road? Dust! It covers everything.

Think about it. You could drive a thousand miles down a nice, paved highway, and nobody would be any more the wiser of your long, hard journey. But travel down a dirt road and people will know you’ve been somewhere.

It’s About Serving

In a small, rural town like mine, the people have the tendency to care a little more about their neighbor. It’s not a firm and fast rule, but generally speaking, here you’re more likely to have someone lend you a helping hand than in the middle of a metropolis.

Yet, how do people know when you need a helping hand? How do people know you’ve traveled down a long, dirt road?

So often, in our “big cities,” we live such guarded, relationally-sanitized lives that we could be driven to near exhaustion and no one would be able to tell from the outside. In other words, our cars are clean.

But get down to a place where “everybody knows your business” and what do you find? A more openness about the road of life, a transparency that admits the road is dusty and dirty and has an affect on you.

Are bigger towns with the paved roads really all that better? Consider what the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery had to say about “streets” under the heading of  “A Window into the City’s Common Life”:

[The] street as a setting in the Bible represents what is commonly true of the mood, spirit and well-being of the city. Streets typically line the entirety of a city and serve as its reference points. Descriptions of what takes place “in the streets” therefore function as generalizations about what is going on in the city as a whole. – Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 820.

If the streets of this middle-Georgia pastorate are any inclination, there’s a lot of opportunity to be like Jesus…to be a servant. At least down in these parts people are a little more willing to admit the need to have their feet … or their tires … washed.

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. – John 13:12-16 

It’s easier to be a servant where the roads are dirt 🙂 

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A Final Sendoff from Chattanooga – by the Sheriff!

For the last three years, or so, I was honored to be able to serve the deputies and staff of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department (Chattanooga, TN) as a Police/Patrol Chaplain.

Now that I am living in middle Georgia, it’s pretty difficult to be a chaplain to police officers 250 miles away. Therefore, I had to resign, of course.

Well, as a final sendoff, I was asked if I could come back to Chattanooga to receive a special certificate of commendation from Sheriff Jim Hammond, along with a challenge coin, recognizing me for my service. Three years is not a long time to be recognized for, but possibly because of the nature of the position and the transitions within the department, a little more than a “thanks, see ya later” goodbye was in order.

So, there in the Command Staff conference room of the Hamilton County Courthouse – where every time the Sheriff gathers his top officers for weekly meetings and has a chaplain open in prayer, give a devotional, and close in prayer – Sheriff Hammond read aloud the commendation.

Many years ago my father volunteered to be a patrolman with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and served with distinction. Later, after my family was rocked by sickening crime, and in the middle of the nationwide protests against police officers, I decided to do more than say “I support the men in blue;” I decided to get involved.

Now, as I settle in as a pastor in a different state, I hope to find a way to continue serving those who put their lives on the line for us every day, year after year. I hope to be able to continue serving in the capacity of a Police Chaplain here in Washington County, GA. Unfortunately, anything official will have to wait until after the election of a new sheriff to replace the one who recently took his life.

One more thing…

Terri and Allen Lindon, along with Sheriff Hammond and Allen’s father.

I wasn’t the only one who got a commendation last Tuesday morning. Pastor Allen Lindon was also honored for his 7 years of service as he stepped down from his duties as Chaplain.

Allen was not only a Chaplain, but he was a reserve deputy – meaning he was a sworn officer and did everything a normal deputy would do, including carry a weapon and make arrests. We really got to know each other when we shared a room for a week at the ICPC training in Louiville, KY. Allen was as  fired up and sold out as they came, loving what he did with a passion. He was never afraid to scrap it out with the roughest of characters, even if he was a volunteer wearing a cross.

Unfortunately, while working on some signage at his church property, Allen fell 20ft from a ladder and landed on his head. The damage was severe, the recovery has been rough, and after literally dying three times, it’s time to take a break from chasing criminals and focus simply on souls in Cleveland, TN.

I may have gotten a commendation from the Sheriff, but Pastor/Chaplain/Deputy Allen Lindon really deserved all the honor that day.

Godspeed, my brother!

Below is a video I made after attending the ICPC conference last year in Louisville. We all had a great time! I’m really going to miss these guys.

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Listen to the Locals

“In the Middle Of…”

When I first traveled down to this part of Georgia, having no knowledge of what was around, I used a common term to describe the area. I told others it was “in the middle of nowhere.”

Since then, I have felt bad about saying that. First, unless Warthen was in the middle of nowhere – like some outpost in the middle of Antarctica – the term could be considered derogatory. Coming across as bigoted isn’t helpful.

Secondly, nowhere is actually nowhere; everywhere is somewhere because God is there. In reality, I’m right in the middle of where I’m supposed to be.

So, there’s that.

Listen to the Locals

But when it comes to getting around and finding what you need, the somewhere might not be “nowhere,” but finding anywhere when you’re there can prove difficult, if not leave you stranded with an empty gas tank and no filling station for miles. That is why before you start exploring, listen to the locals!

One of the first things that bothered me (and, I know, this is more of a first-world problem) was that there seemed to be no restaurants. My wife and I had pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be no nice place to go on a date. But what we came to find out was that if we were only willing to drive a few minutes, and if we were willing to trust our local guides, we would find exactly what we were looking for.

For example, last week a couple from our church invited us to join them for a movie and dinner. After the movie, they took us to a steak house. But if we had not trusted the suggestion of our new friends, we wouldn’t have even given the place a chance. I mean this place was the quintessential example of “hole in the wall.” It was literally a steak house.

In front of Tumpies, the “Best little steakhouse this side of Texas.” It’s not too far away in Dublin, GA. It was a house built in the 1880s, but now a great place to eat!

But the food was some of the best I have ever had – ever. It will be a destination when we host friends from out of town.

Another thing that bothered me was that I didn’t think there were any coffee shops around. Again, when I listened to the locals I found out about a great coffee place not far away from where I will be meeting a new preacher friend every week to talk shop.

So, no, my place in the middle of Georgia might not be Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, or the like, but it has everything I thought I was going to miss and everything I need. I mean, come on, it’s got steak and coffee!

Been Where We’re Going

You know, the children of Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, were faced with a similar situation when they were about to cross over the Jordan River. In chapter 3, the Lord told Joshua to send the Levites and the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people. The reason was pretty clear.

“But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.” – Joshua 3:4 (CSB)

If there is there anyone we should listen to, it’s the Lord. Do you realize there is not a place He has never walked? Do you know there is not a place, not a situation, not a wilderness, where He has not already worn the straight and narrow path?

Think how much time and effort I saved after listening to the locals who’ve lived in this little town for years and years! How much more would all of us benefit if we’d just trust the One who’s already been where we’re going?

If you can trust the locals, you can certainly trust the Lord – He knows where everything is.

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Filed under Christianity, Church, community, Faith, Food, God, ministry