I am a non-believer. My philosophy is an insignificant spec on a mud ball theory. I respect those who believe, it must be a great comfort, especially in old age. You won’t find me in church on Sundays, except when Jimmy Carter is teaching Sunday School.
Several years ago, President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer, and I pledged I wanted to hear him teach Sunday school at his Plains, GA Maranatha Baptist Church.
A single digit on my bucket list. CHECK.
President Carter teaches one or two Sundays each month, the schedule is posted on the National Park Service website. In order to attend on a first-come-first-serve basis, lining up in the parking lot at 4:00 a.m. is required. YES, that is 4 in the MORNING!
I was fortunate to be accompanied by Leslie, who camped out overnight in the pecan groove behind the church. Leslie got the #1 spot, so we were in the front row. At 7:30 a.m. lining up by number to enter the sanctuary after Secret Service scans. The only thing you can bring inside is a cell phone or camera. No purses, keys, nothing. Be sure to bring cash for the collection plates. Note to self, wear clothes with pockets.
Once inside Jill, President Carter’s personal assistance reads you the riot act. The Do’s and the Don’ts. If you want pictures with the President and Rosalynn, you must stay for the service, and then have your camera ready for the shot. You hand your camera to Jill and she snaps you standing next to the Carters. Jill moved 350 people in military fashion.
President Carter said he and Rosalynn would “be happy” to get pictures taken with everyone who wishes to stay for the main service, then he corrected himself. Rosalynn and I are “willing” to have our pictures taken. He has a wonderful sense of humor.
Thanks to Leslie, on Sunday May 6, I was in the front row to hear President Jimmy speak about the Holly Spirit. I was a few minutes late (because you all know I am never on time, especially in the morning), so yes, I walked in front of 350 people standing in line. Glad I am not a Christian. I will never see any of those people again, I hope.
Unlike the current occupant of the Oval Office, Jimmy Carter is a man of great faith, dignity and humility.
His Sunday lesson was about the meaning of the Holly Spirit. He began by expressing hope for peace coming to the Korean peninsula and ending a painful conflict of 65 years. He spoke about the Holly Spirit being a force of equity, that no person is superior to another, that love of one another is what we all should strive to achieve, without judgement. His message was one of love and acceptance. The lesson was truly inspiring. Jimmy Carter, our 39th President, is 93 and still working one day a week at Habitat for Humanity, writing 37 books, traveling, fishing and teaching Sunday school.
The night before he signed copies of his new book “Faith”. We were especially lucky to see Rosslynn and Jimmy visiting his childhood home with their weekend house guests, Rosalynn’s surgeon from Emory University. Roselyn has recently undergone surgery and this was her first outing. It was especially touching to see President Carter escorting the surgeon’s Indian parents to view the out-house and chicken coop. At the Sunday service Carter introduced the parents as immigrants from India and their daughter who was born in Texas and is now a surgeon and life-saver. A beautiful tribute to our nation of immigrants.
President Carter believes in diplomacy, love and dignity. During his Presidency he never bragged about military force. He worked diligently to bring peace to the Middle-East and protected public lands. I was living in Alaska during his Presidency, and Alaskan burned him in effigy because he signed Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, that designated 79.53 million acres (124,281 square miles; 321,900 km2) of public lands as wilderness area in Alaska. If you haven’t watched the Ken Burns series on the National Parks, you really should. President Carter and Rosalynn returned to Alaska years later and my brother-in-law took them bird watching. Buzz is one a very few pre-eminent Alaskan bird watchers.
What a weekend. I felt all weekend I was in a better time and place. It was hard to return, read or listen to the news of the day.
Thank you, President Jimmy Carter, you will always be my President.