With the beginning of this new Western Recorder series, a relaunch of the past “A Letter from the Laity” column, my son, Wesley, and I had a spirited discussion about a new title. I thought “A Letter from the Laity” sounded rather old, but then I am rather old. Wesley agreed.
Still, I pressed ahead, asking Wesley to make suggestions for a new title for the column. I thought maybe, “Notes from an ordinary Baptist,” but then I thought of C. S. Lewis’s famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” in which he argued that there were no ordinary people. So then, I said, “Alright, how about ‘Notes from an Extraordinary Baptist?'” Wesley just rolled his eyes. No; that simply wouldn’t do.
But, you know, there are no ordinary people in this world. I am reminded of this fact every day when I go to my favorite coffee shop, when I walk with Evelyn along Maple Street at Murray’s downtown Saturday farmer’s market, or when we go to church on Sunday morning. And I know this notion will be re-enforced even more when Murray State’s classes begin again for yet another fall semester.
Students arrive on campus from western Kentucky, but more and more young men and women come as well from St. Louis, Mo., from southern Indiana, from Louisville, and from China, Saudi Arabia, Regensburg, Germany, and Pakistan. Just like our world, our campus is splendid and rich in diversity.
C. S. Lewis preached his famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” during the middle of World War II on June 8, 1942, from the pulpit of Oxford’s Church of St. Mary the Virgin. This is a sermon I quote to my Murray State history students often. He said in the sermon, for example, “A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”
During both of my visits to Oxford, I sat in that church just off Oxford’s High Street at Radcliffe Square and tried to imagine Lewis giving that sermon. He began by pointing out that his contemporaries thought unselfishness to be the highest Christian virtue while Christian thinkers of the past—including New Testament writers—focused more on the virtue of love. Lewis argued that “self-denial is really a side effect, not the main point.” Love, he stated, is the greatest virtue.
As I sat in that great, great Oxford church, I could imagine Lewis warming to his subject. And this is what he said: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
“This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn,” Lewis assured his congregation. “We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
Lewis must have boomed out at this point: “To please God … to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
According to Lewis, “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
And so, when I meet someone, be it beggar or lord, that individual is no mere mortal, no ordinary person, whom I encounter. As a person of faith, I believe he or she is made in the image of God. That person is extraordinary, loved by the Almighty certainly, and loved by me as well.
Oh, Evelyn and I tend to sit toward the back of the sanctuary in Murray’s First Baptist Church. That is where our pastor, Keith Inman, looks for us. So, Wesley came up with “Notes from the Back Row.” Everyone knows a Back Row Baptist when they read one.
Duane Bolin teaches in the Department of History at Murray State University. Duane and Evelyn are members of Murray’s First Baptist Church.