My priest, who will before too much longer finish his first year in the South, passes this recent Patheos essay to me. It’s about a church youth trip from the Pacific Northwest to West Virginia. Excerpt:
At the end of our week we drove back to Nashville and went to a water park to cool off—a much-needed break! But in buying tickets I felt that we were being over-charged, and like a good Yankee I negotiated hard. I failed miserably and threatened not to buy the tickets. A man, standing nearby, turned to me and said, in a southern drawl, “Couldn’t help but overhear your dilemma. The Lord has put on my heart that I should make up the difference between what you thought you were going to pay and what you have to pay. I was a youth pastor once too.” And he then explained how his house had experienced water damage and in a payoff he had more than benefited and wanted to “pass on the blessing.” We demurred. But then he said, “Don’t steal my blessing.” And I knew this was serious. I backed down my fellow leader and lawyer friend, and this Southern Baptist pulled out $200 and put it in my hand. I said, “Hey, will you come pray with our youth group?” He said, “Sure.” And we walked over and I told our group what had happened and their jaws dropped. I asked our new friend to pray, and before you knew it he had prayed us into a revival, long, hard and loud. Needless to say, afterwards, our youth were dazzled and dumbfounded.
On the plane ride home I sat next to a stranger. Having long ago taken the oath not to talk to strangers on planes, I broke my promise and struck up a conversation. I argued, listened and loved talking to this man for the next five hours. He was a Nashville native, a Presbyterian of Scotch Irish heritage, a hunting and fishing guide and a delightful interlocutor. We talked fish, bears, religion, the South, and how he didn’t like Lincoln, and why this lovely Baptist man had given me the money, and how the South doesn’t like government welfare because it “steals our blessing.” “For us,” he said, “This is what we do in the South, we help each other out; what that guy did for you happens all the time. We’re Christians, we have to give and by giving we are blessed.” And suddenly, the push back against Obamacare and against “government handouts” made some sense, although I still don’t agree!
Read the whole thing. The author is James Wellman, who teaches religion at the University of Washington. Last night I went to a political forum at a black church in my town. I met the pastor, who is the husband of an old friend of mine. We spoke for only a few minutes — the event had ended, and everybody was headed home — but in that short time, I was instantly reminded, and was so grateful to have been reminded, how much religion means to so many of us in the South, black and white.
UPDATE: Or, this, from a Mississippi church preschool graduation. Watch to the end: