Lake Nixon Reflections
In a legal opinion published almost exactly 51 years ago (June 2, 1969), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo J. Black wrote these words:
Petitioners did not offer evidence to show whether Lake Nixon is a natural lake, or whether it is simply a small body of water obtained by building a dam across a little creek in a narrow hollow between the hills. . . .
If the facts here are to be left to such “iffy” conjectures, one familiar with country life and traveling would, it seems to me, far more likely conclude that travelers on interstate journeys would . . . not go miles off them by way of what, for all this record shows, may well be dusty, unpaved, “country”’ roads to go to a purely local swimming hole where the only food they could buy was hamburgers, hot dogs, milk, and soft drinks (but not beer). . . .
While it is the duty of courts to enforce this important Act, we are not called on to hold nor should we hold subject to that Act this country people’s recreation center, lying in what may be, so far as we know, a little “sleepy hollow” between Arkansas hills miles away from any interstate highway. . . .
Justice Black (no relation to me so far as I’m aware) was the lone dissenting vote in a 7-1 decision in the case, Daniel v. Paul. And as most if not all of you know, this case is the reason that our Lake Nixon is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (here is a link to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry about Lake Nixon).
Black based his opinion on what seems to be an irrelevant or abstruse legal point: that the federal government could not apply the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to places like the Lake Nixon Club using its specific authority to regulate interstate commerce. It’s natural to read all of this and think immediately of Jesus’ accusation against the Pharisees: that they were majoring in the minors and neglecting “the weightier matters of the law.” In Jesus’ vivid description, they were straining to avoid drinking a gnat, while at the same time swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24).
Why is this an absolutely natural response? Because the only reason this case existed in the first place is because in the summer of 1966 Doris Daniel and Roslyn Kyles were denied admission to Lake Nixon because they were black.
* * * * * * * * * *
I want to return to these weightier matters, but I first want to say that Justice Black’s words have stuck with me during my first year here, as I’ve come to know this “small body of water obtained by building a dam across a creek in a narrow hollow between the hills” and the area around it. (It’s also a place that still, today, does not sell beer 🙂 ). What he wanted to establish for legal purposes as an insignificant little backwater has become a sacred space for the members of 2BC, and to thousands of others who have spent time here.
This will be sent to you on Friday, May 29. Until just recently, I was expecting that to be a very busy day. We would be wrapping up staff training for Lake Nixon Summer Day Camp, and preparing to welcome hundreds of families to the lake the next day for an open house. And this Sunday, May 31, would have also been a time for blessing and commissioning all of the Lake Nixon summer staff, as well as others being “sent out” by 2BC to serve this summer.
Just as so many other threads in the fabric of normal life have unraveled lately, the same is true for Lake Nixon. Last week we made the difficult decision to cancel summer day camp for the entire summer, after carefully reviewing the latest health guidelines and concluding that we could not safely offer our regular programs. (You can read the full announcement by clicking this link). I feel the difficulty of this decision for parents, and especially for parents who were planning to rely on Lake Nixon for child care this summer.
Please join me in praying for all of the families affected by this decision, as they look for alternatives and deal with more disruption. Join me as well in praying for all who were planning to work at Lake Nixon this summer (counselors, lifeguards, bus drivers, kitchen staff, etc.), that they will be able to find the resources and opportunities they need. Your contributions to the “Here for Hope” fund, as part of regular tithes and offerings, will be providing some help in this particular area.
Next week we will begin work on a newsletter to share more news and updates from Lake Nixon. Since March we have welcomed more than a hundred different groups (individuals or families) to Lake Nixon for time outdoors. The vast majority of them have not been 2BC members, and it’s been a privilege to share the gift of this place with them.
In early Spring I gathered a bunch of recent photos from around Lake Nixon and set them to music, a song praising the God of creation. You can watch and listen to it here. You might want to save it for Sunday, or for a time set aside for even five minutes of “Sabbath” rest.
* * * * * * * * * *
I never grow tired of watching the lake, the ever-changing play of the light and reflections on its surface, the palpable images of stillness and depth. This is a place for everyone to experience renewal and sanctuary.
But this week– as we lament, as (some of us) repent, as we mourn and wrestle with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and what it reinforces about the state of this country and the state of so many of our souls–I’m reminded that the God in whom we find rest and the only real restoration of our souls, is also the God who said,
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
. . . .
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24).
This is a famous and familiar passage. It’s one I’ve heard so many times that it’s hard to hear. But having lived at Lake Nixon for a year–and a pretty eventful year at that–I think I can hear it in a new way.
I’m used to envisioning “justice rolling down like waters” as a beautiful stream cascading down and through rocks, like our own little “Crawdad Creek” at Lake Nixon. And there are surely some valid comparisons that could be made.
But now when I hear and see in my mind’s eye the flowing waters of justice, I see and hear the bursting of a dam, like the dam that created and maintains Lake Nixon. The breaking of long-imposed bonds. And although God is the God of creation and surely has no role in destruction for destruction’s sake, the flow of justice–especially after it has been restrained for so long–brings major disruption to an unjust status quo. And it’s hard for me to accept just how much of a stake I have in the status quo.
Lake Nixon is a beautiful, serene place; a gift to be shared with many. Despite current challenges, it’s exciting to dream about sharing it with many more in the future. But the story of Lake Nixon is intertwined in a particularly notable way with the story of dehumanizing racism in this country. It’s challenging to hold these two emphases together, but certainly no more challenging than remembering that gentle Jesus, “meek and mild” was also the one who proclaimed that he had not come to bring peace but a sword (a sword to cut the bonds of injustice). Or bearing in mind that still, reflective waters can suddenly become a mighty flood.
It took vision and courage for Dr. Cowling and the members of Second Baptist to purchase Lake Nixon in 1969. But we were in many ways the passive beneficiaries of legal justice that had already been provided. The story of Lake Nixon’s role in the struggle for civil rights and racial justice does not provide a set of laurels for 2BC to rest upon, but a legacy to carry forward. I don’t begin to know all that it will involve as we continue Lake Nixon’s mission to provide opportunities for “education, recreation, and sanctuary” and heed the call for justice, but I hope that you will join me in listening for God’s word for this seemingly insignificant place (to some) that we know holds such sacred significance and potential.