1: Lamar Alexander

1: Lamar Alexander

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 1 •

U.S. Senator (Tennessee), former Secretary of Education and former Governor of Tennessee

I’ve known Billy Graham a long time. It goes back to 1979 when the Billy Graham Crusade came to Nashville. I was in my first year as governor then, and I was asked to play the piano for the singing. There was a crowd of about 35,000 people at Vanderbilt Stadium, and Cliff Barrows, Billy Graham’s song leader, was warming them up. They invited me over the night before to prepare for it, and I found out later that they were really trying to find out whether I could actually play the piano or not! But I did, and it was a lot of fun.

Afterwards, Cliff Barrows asked me if I was any relation to Charles M. Alexander. I told him yes, he was my dad’s older cousin, and he’d grown up on a nearby farm in East Tennessee. Cliff’s face brightened, saying that he was the world’s greatest song leader in the early 1900s. “He did what I do today, and no one has inspired me more.” He told me how Charles Alexander had traveled the world with famous evangelists, including R.A. Torrey and J. Wilbur Chapman, and how he had roused crowds across England, Australia, China, and Japan.

A month later, Cliff sent me one of two books that he had about Charles Alexander’s life. When I opened the book, I found a signature on the front page. It said, Charles M. Alexander, Timothy 2:15. I opened our family Bible to that verse when I’d been sworn in as governor a few months earlier, knowing it was my father’s favorite verse, but I never knew the reason. So when I opened the book Cliff Barrows sent me, I found out why my father loved that verse.

I’d seen Billy Graham at meetings over the years, but that crusade in Nashville in 1979 was when I spent the most time with him. I’ve always been impressed with his lack of pomp and circumstance, and with his sincerity. About twenty years ago, I got on the elevator at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington and somebody said, “Hello, Lamar.” I turned around, and it was Billy Graham. It was such a simple greeting. He was just pleasant and friendly, never putting on airs. That is a characteristic of his that I’ve always admired.

You can’t try to be yourself. You have to be yourself. When you’re not, people can see through that pretty quickly, particularly in the television era. Television has its good and bad sides, but one thing television does is permit you to size up people pretty quickly — their personality and their sincerity, or lack of it. And so Billy Graham’s naturalness has always helped him on television, even with people who haven’t believed in his message.

TV is a very intense medium, and it reveals a lot about anyone who’s there. That’s why presidential debates are so important on television. I’ve seen them firsthand, and I know that it’s not so much what the candidates say, it’s how they conduct themselves. It gives viewers a chance to size them up. So to be able to survive for fifty years using such an intense medium is really a great compliment to Billy Graham’s sincerity. On television, it’s hard to fool people for fifty seconds. I’ve rarely known anyone who doubted Billy Graham’s sincerity — agnostics, atheists, intellectuals at Harvard University, where I taught before being elected to the Senate, even people who disagree with him. Everyone respects his sincerity and authenticity. He may not always have changed their minds, but he earned their respect.

I remember the time someone asked him: “What has been the most remarkable thing about your life?” Billy’s answer was that it goes by so quickly. It’s as if he’s always known this, since there’s always been a sense of urgency about his teaching, and this has inspired people to act on his message. Throughout his many decades of preaching, people were able to see Billy’s integrity and unwavering sincerity, which reflect the teachings of that verse cherished by my father, his cousin, and myself: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (Timothy 2:15).

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