“It is virtually impossible to convince me that any man is a Christian if he is not first and foremost a gentleman.”
“My devout Southern Baptist mother taught me to be honest and to be a gentleman; she just never taught me how to do both at the same time. (I can trace all of my failures in life—and they are legion—to a failure to be a gentleman.)”
In this post, the first after my “retirement” from blogging at the end of December, I was inspired to write about gentlemen—and gentlemanly manners and behavior—by two factors.
The second was the January 4 entry in the daily devotional Forward Day by Day on the tendency in our modern Christian worship services to replace dignity, reverence, and awe with casualness, informality, and familiarity.
In the case of Elvis Presley, in an earlier post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music” I quoted the mother of one of my female high school classmates in McGehee, Arkansas, who in 1955 welcomed a young Elvis into her home. Later after he had left she remarked that “he was one of the nicest young men she had ever met.” That description of Elvis as a true Southern Gentleman was repeated often by those who knew him best, especially during his early career.
Of course, everyone is aware that the Revered Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his insistence on nonviolence and civility in the pursuit of civil rights for African-Americans even in the face of violence from many whites who feared and hated him and opposition from some of his own race who felt that his methods were too soft and ineffective.
Finally, in another earlier post published on January 18, 2011, and titled “Some Southern Stuff I: Self-quotes and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday,” I used tongue-in-cheek humor to call attention to the gentlemanly attitude and demeanor of Confederate general Robert E. Lee who refused to vilify his enemies. In so doing, General Lee became the Southern icon of such gracious manners and behavior when, even in the face of utter defeat, he refused to allow his troops to scatter and carry on a war of terrorism against the Union after their surrender at Appomattox in April 1865.
The January 4 Forward Day by Day entry that also inspired this post brought to my mind the need for a return to the dignity, reverence, and awe—in essence, the gentlemanly (and ladylike) attitude and behavior—that should be the hallmark of Christian worship of a gracious and benevolent, but awesome and fearsome Holy God.
I had previously referred to this theme in the opening self-quote to my Christmas post (“A Baptist Pastor in an Episcopal Christmas Service”) in which I noted that I have always admired the Episcopal Church because “being Anglicans, its parishioners know how to conduct themselves in the Presence of Royalty.” And part of that reverent conduct involves the proper attitude and attire—both physical and spiritual— when entering the Royal Court.
In expression of that theme, here is that entry with which Mari and I wholeheartedly agree and which I quote in full with permission of the publisher. (Note: Except for the opening scripture and the word “theophanies,” italics are mine and are inserted for emphasis.)
FRIDAY, January 4
Exodus 3:1-12. Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.
The story of Moses’ encounter with the Lord at the burning bush is one of the Bible’s classic theophanies, that is, a visible or audible manifestation of God. Theophanies are rare, even in the Bible; people more typically encounter God by other means—in another person, a book or sermon, an act of worship or service. But theophanies do occur to certain people, and those people are never the same afterwards.
Like many theophanies, the burning bush makes Moses feel unworthy, which he acknowledges by removing his shoes—normal attire and behavior are inappropriate in the presence of the Holy One.
This sense of awe has largely disappeared from many churches today, where a laid-back ambiance is prized—“Wear your jeans and sneakers, bring your coffee, be comfortable, don’t trouble yourself.” This is probably a reaction to the stiff formality once found in many churches, but if our deity becomes too comfortable, too chummy, it will no longer be the God of the Bible. The God of Moses and of Jesus loves us, yes, but also challenges and convicts us. As with a raging fire or wind, be careful in this presence.
Copyright 2013 Forward Movement (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Note: In regard to the subject of gentility and proper respect, here is a note about a Civil War figure who was most definitely NOT known as a courtly, chivalrous Southern Gentleman; namely, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman. Later to gain fame and notoriety for his famous (or infamous) devastating March through Georgia, earlier in the war Sherman was responsible for a similar devastating march down the Mississippi River from Memphis to Vicksburg, including East Arkansas, and the crushing defeat of badly outnumbered Confederates at Fort Hindman in Arkansas Post. A commemoration of the 150-year anniversary of the Battle of Arkansas Post will take place on January 19 (Robert E. Lee’s birthday) and 20 at the site, which is located near the place where the Arkansas River empties into the Mississippi River about thirty miles from my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas. To read more about Arkansas Post, the battle that took place there, and its commemoration and other such activities in Arkansas, click here and here.