Thursday, March 15, 2018

Billy Graham and Dad

Graham in a suit with his fist clenchedBilly Graham died last month. He was 99, born back in 1918—the same year as my dad.
For me, there’s another connection between Billy Graham and my dad. Back when I was an impressionable youth in the suburbs of Winnipeg. . . it wasn’t the Hitler Jugend influencing my outlook on life, (as it did my dad’s), it was the Church. And I took it all very seriously.
As I young girl I prayed fervently for my father—a Lutheran—seen by my fellow Baptists as needing redemption.  I decided to take it to Billy Graham and wrote him an impassioned letter where I shared my fear that my wonderful dad would not make it to heaven with me. 
Someone in Billy Graham’s company wrote back:  yes, they would pray for my father. I saved that letter for years, trusting that my dad would be taken care of. Eventually, that prayer came true. But by then, I’d found my own—faltering, but empowering—way outside of the narrow-minded Baptist faith.
I was in grade six when I attended a Billy Graham Crusade at the old arena by Polo Park during Canada’s Centennial year. I remember the hymn, “Just as I am,” sung at a crucial time, as thousands streamed to the front to be ‘converted.’  And then the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  No doubt it was a well-choreographed script.
Music performed during the Crusades was often heard at our house. (I even used a recording of “How Great Thou Art” by George Beverly Shea at my mom’s funeral only a few years ago.) Maybe it was because Billy Graham endorsed Johnny Cash that we got to hear his songs on our record player. (Beatle’s music or top ten hits were not permitted.)
The families of my church and youth came together like a beautiful choir during the Billy Graham fever—united by an evangelical fervour. Considering these families were recent immigrants from a Hitler-dominated Europe, was there perhaps a kind of nostalgia for mass rallies which promised something bigger than the individual?
 Billy Graham’s legacy is huge. He held rallies throughout the world—East and West Germany (including Nuremberg), Soviet Union, Great Britain, Africa, India, Korea, Japan, and Winnipeg. Attending a crusade was often life-changing—creating, at the very least—a life-long impression.
He was a powerful orator and had an impact our family. But today I squirm uncomfortably in the church pews of his influence.


4 comments:

Larry Verstraete said...

An evocative post, Gabe. The past has a powerful hold on all of us, often in unseen and unpredictable ways.

Gabriele Goldstone said...

It's the compost of our future, I guess. :) Thanks for stopping by.

MaryLou Driedger said...

Wow I could relate to this Gabe. I too attended crusades as a kid. And I also had a close friend whose father was married to a Lutheran woman he had converted to his more 'evangelical' faith and he was constantly trying to convert her Lutheran relatives. Ironically he has died and his wife now 90 was 'relieved' of her membership in her husband's evangelical church because she was no longer contributing financially. Her son invited the pastor of her old Lutheran Church to pay her a visit and she has now rejoined there.
Another Graham family connection concerns my son. As a young college student he and his friends stood outside the MTS Centre when Franklin Graham was speaking there. Franklin had just endorsed President Bush's proposal to attack Iraq. My son was handing out pamphlets about peace and pacifism and a different approach with Syria to people going into the crusade. When the rally was about to begin he and his friends wanted to go in to hear what Graham had to say but the crusade security detail told them they were troublemakers and couldn't go inside. They had not said or done anything disruptive just handed out their pamphlets. Franklin Graham and his support of Trump makes my skin crawl and is almost enough to make me want to disavow any connection I have to the word 'Christian.'
When Dave and I were visiting some of our Hong Kong students at Wheaton College near Chicago we discovered the Billy Graham museum. It is a huge place devoted to telling the story of Graham's life and ministry. This kind of glorification seems the very antithesis of the BIblical message. But then all these opulent cathedrals I have been visiting in Portugal would probably have Jesus in tears. What a distortion of the simple life he talked about.
Thanks for such a great post Gabe!

Gabriele Goldstone said...

Interesting. I read an interview with Billy Graham, where he said he regretted getting involved with politics. His son's views, might not reflect his own. Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences.