Experience Billy Graham - Man, Method, Message ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Experience Billy Graham - Man, Method, Message

A meeting on the campus of the Billy Graham Association led me directly to a tour of the Billy Graham Library, the most central, up front facility on campus. The "library" is actually a "museum" that guides visitors through an immersive experience of Billy (everyone on campus calls him Billy) from his birth through today.

Billy Graham Library and GroundsImage via Wikipedia

The Billy Graham Library is located on Billy Graham Parkway, a multi-lane thoroughfare just a few miles from Billy's boyhood home and a few minutes from the Charlotte Douglas airport. It's about a 30 minute drive from anywhere in Charlotte.

The campus is primed for visitors. A large parking lot (with tour busses leading senior citizens, many of whom have been "blessed" by Billy's ministry), smooth landscaped lawns, a brick house which you later find is Billy's parent's original house moved from its original site, and a prominent "barn" with an unmistakable cross for an entrance.

To the right of the barn, Ruth Graham, Billy's famous wife, counselor, and companion, is buried. Billy will be beside her when he passes.

Entering the barn is an open area with a tall ceiling. Styled on a diary theme, the building houses a large cafe for simple meals, a bookstore area in the center, and an animatronic talking cow. Food, store, and cow help pass the time if there is a large crowd for going into the museum.

Hand your ticket to the attendant and be seated for the first short film.

The museum is patterned on a series of documentary presentations -- short films of testimonials, Billy's life and ministry, and historical events often placed in a re-created context. Vistors sit in the 1949 Los Angeles Revival tent where Billy's ministry achieved mass attention. The Graham family room is featured. A graffitied Berlin Wall introduces Billy's ministry to Russia and Eastern Europe . A radio station, tv studio, and movie theater provide focal points for the Billy Graham's Association involvement in creating media.

Billy Graham's love paradeImage by austrini via Flickr

All along the way, there is a mix of biography and gospel message. How Billy was converted; his first understanding of the gospel. How Ruth was raised in China; how Ruth's missionary parents lived the gospel. How Billy traveled the world; how Billy preached the gospel. It's person and gospel, a singular exposition Billy connecting people to God through Jesus.

Artifacts are dispersed later in the tour. Billy's preaching Bible (a large print, letherbound New Testament). Billy's combat boots when visiting troops. Letters from presidents Nixon and Bush. A poem written by Bono in his own hand as a gift to Billy. The symbol of knighthood bestowed on Billy by Queen Elizabeth and his acceptance speech. A leather case for carrying cases. Another of Billy's bibles. Books of Billy's crudely translated using carbon paper and typewriter in foreign language. The Congressional medal of honor. Yet another of Billy's bibles.

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 31: Evangelist Billy Graha...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Soon, Billy's life and history mingle together. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of Russia. The opening of China. The assination of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The civil rights movement. The national mourning after 9/11. Billy mingles with presidents, prime ministers, other prominent world leaders.

Visually, the man grows older. Orally, the message is the same.

A world congress of church leaders introduces an expansive mission of spreading the gospel. Evangelists sharing Billy's passion exist all over the world, even if they are isolated with little contact with other ministers. Their connection to Billy and seeing other leaders encourages them to see themselves as part of a broader movement.

More artifacts. More honors. More cards and letters. A "presentation" brings the experience full circle. Men and women talk about their experience of God's love. They reveal their experience of forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation. They had troubles, heartache, pain -- and God healed it.

The final film is Billy Graham preaching the gospel. Ordinary people of all ages and all colors are responding from crowds. Billy says to come down, to respond to the call of Christ now, to pray a prayer and connect to God. Visitors are given a card to fill in. To exit the room, everyone exits through a row of lighted crosses. Every person's life must go through the cross.

The Billy Graham Library is an attempt to assemble the life and ministry of Billy Graham himself, a routinization of his persona and ethos. By promoting revival and personalizing it at the end, the library asserts that the legacy of Billy is not his achievements or his experiences but his message.

1 comment:

David said...

this makes me proud that I once worked as a counselor at his San Francisco / Oakland rally. I want to go to Charlotte and see it for myself