Ladies Who Lunch, A Baptist Minister, The Atheist and Rodney King

The ladies who lunch
Prefer no spice, no salt, just
Smooth, lump-free eating.


Last week I enjoyed a few days R&R in my hometown, Macon, Georgia. This time of year it is extraordinarily beautiful (see here for proof), being not only the springtime home to azaleas, dogwoods and wisteria but also to more Yoshino Cherry Trees than any other place in the US.

With that many cherry trees, there is, of course, a Cherry Blossom Festival, a very fun 10 days that has been happening annually for 30 years. Events range from snake and alligator shows to Frisbee dog contests to concerts to broadway musicals to food fairs.  While there I enjoyed an author’s lunch, headlined by Barbara Eden, who has written an autobiography entitled Jeannie Out of the Bottle.   There were two other authors featured as well, R. Kirby Godsey and Ed Grisamore.

As it was a Tuesday, the majority of the 200+ attendees at “The Club” were women, mostly dressed in some shade of pink.  The 20 or so men also wore pink – jackets or ties or dress shirts… It is quite a sight.  I took special notice of a table for 8 just in front of our table. All women, recent trips to the beauty parlor were evident, sensible shoes, most aged 60+. They appeared to be friends (tickets were sold by the table so a safe assumption), chatting freely during the salad and main meal, and now settling down for dessert and the speakers.

Let me share the speakers in reverse, starting with Barbara Eden. What a delightful woman. She looks fantastic! I didn’t get up close, but I’m pretty sure she’s had some work done — but it wasn’t Joan Rivers work, it was a freshening, well done. She was funny and her entire talk was done Q&A style; she easily moved from one topic to the next, telling stories and laughing openly at herself. This is exactly what an author’s lunch with a celebrity writer during a week of pink is supposed to be like. The table of 8 ladies who lunch beamed.

She was preceded by Ed Grisamore, a local newspaper columnist and humorist, whose latest book is called There Is More Than One Way to Spell Wiener: The Story of Nu-Way. Nu-way is a local restaurant that has been selling hot dogs/chili dogs since 1930-something. He was very, very funny, informative, and carefully warmed up the audience for the celebrity. Again, very pleasing and palative.

What I want to focus your attention on, however, was the first speaker, a very distinguished gentleman named R. Kirby Godsey, who spoke about his latest book. Dr. Godsey is the former CEO/President of Mercer University, a local Baptist college, and he has the look of a well polished ordained minister (which he is). His gray hair is smoothed back, the blue suit fits just right. When he speaks, you can easily imagine him in front of a large congregation – he has a well-practiced cadence and a warm, caressing voice that was made for radio or TV preaching. His unassuming presence only seems to amplify a powerfulness you can’t miss.

His book is entitled Is God a Christian?: Creating a Community of Conversation. Pause on that title for just a moment. Reflect on where he is and who he is talking to. Perhaps some more detail to help paint the picture is required: There are 7 churches within walking distance of the house I grew up in, all Christian, most Baptist. We all knew the Catholic families in town (they were the ones with more than 2.2 kids).  Despite how easy it would have been to get there, we didn’t go to church – my mom had rejected her religion of birth (Catholic) and my dad, well, let’s just say he wasn’t (isn’t) into god – as such, I was once told by a friend that she was taught in Sunday School I would go to hell. There is a joke in Georgia: In Atlanta they ask you “what does your family do”; in Savannah they ask “what do you drink” and in Macon they ask “where do you go to church”. Dr. Godsey ran a Baptist university for 27 years, and still serves as chancellor.

You get the picture. This is the bravest man on the face of the earth.

And here he is, surrounded by ladies who lunch, all wearing pink, all there precisely because they are keen to hear what Barbara Eden, a woman whose heyday was 45 years ago, has to say. And this man, this pioneer in a field which tends to discourage discovery, starts to talk about how religion can be evil and how wrong it is to “exercise religious bigotry in the name of God”.  He believes we need to start talking to one another and recognizing…” The world has grown too small and the stakes for mankind have grown too high for any of us to engage our faith as if our understanding of God represents the only way God’s presence may be known in the world.”

So let’s return to our table of 8, all church goers I guarantee it.  I watched them off and on during his speech. It was a study in discomfort.  They never once looked at each other. They didn’t look at the podium. Their eyes were fixed on the butter dish or salt shaker or some other item just below the horizon on their table. When Dr. Godsey said “Christians just need to get over it”, my table (at which sat my mom, dad, sister, a non-Christian friend and an openly gay friend) laughed quite loudly.   These 8 ladies who lunch decidedly did not laugh. When Dr. Godsey finished, they politely brought their fingers together for a few perfunctory smacks, but quickly dropped them into their lap or nervously drank some sweet tea. It was clear to me that this was not what they signed up for.

But I’m not a lady who lunches.  I was enraptured. Who knew that I, who believe in god but find it hard to handle religion because of its history of treachery and narrowness of beliefs, would now want to read a book written by a Baptist minister?  I also didn’t bank on realizing that to some degree, I’m as closed off as the ladies who lunch, making assumptions about those who practice religion based on old history, not new stories.

Then today I heard about the Reason Rally in Washington, DC, where atheists gathered to protest religion and talk about their belief system. I have no issue with atheists, I happen to love several, but I was deeply discouraged by the headliner encouraging others to “ridicule and show contempt for religious people”. I think if Dr. Godsey has the backbone to contend that religions of the world need to find what is common and be open to “all ways God’s presence may be known”, then I think the non-believers out there could find room for theirs being just another voice at the table, not the only voice.

It’s a big world out there… we all have to make space for each other. Sometimes Rodney King’s famous plea of “why can’t we all just get along” seems the most fitting doctrine of all; listening, our most universal sacrament.

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