In his excellent, brief biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Korda argues that among Grant biographers there has been “a widespread failure to understand Grant’s character, which was admittedly complex and always, to some degree, secretive.” Korda continues by contrasting Grant with General Robert E. Lee: “With Lee what you saw was what you got–he was a proud, patrician officer, a beau sabreur, a born commander who expected to be obeyed. With Grant what you saw was what he wanted you to see–a plain, ordinary man with no pretensions to gentility or military glamour.”
So if “a plain, ordinary man” is what people saw, what were they missing? Korda explains:
“But in truth Grant never saw himself as ‘plain’ or ‘ordinary,’ and was always intensely conscious of his rank, his social position, and his gifts as a commander. Grant’s black slouch hat, his omnipresent cigar, and his muddy boots are not so much a pose, like Ike’s not wearing his medal ribbons on his uniform jacket, or Monty’s affecting a beret, baggy corduroy trousers, and a sweater even as a field marshal, but rather a simple lack of interest in military niceties, a fierce concentration on the business of war–which was winning–rather than the display of war, which seemed to him a waste of time and energy.”
I love this description of Grant and could not help applying it to contemporary evangelicalism. What I see far too much of in American religion today is the “display” of ministry rather than “a fierce concentration on the business of [ministry],” namely, the exaltation of the glory of God. In other words, it seems to me that many a minister today loves being dressed in the finest of fabrics, adorned with glossy reminders of his “rank,” and building ever-bigger command centers for his sprawling empire–all the while forgetting that the display of ministry is not the same as the business of ministry.
Longing (and working) for the show to end and for the church to be about our Father’s business.