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Understanding The South

My priest, who will before too much longer finish his first year in the South, passes this recent Patheos essay [1]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. [1]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:

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56 Comments To "Understanding The South"

#1 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

Re: past attempts by government to fix poverty show what a poor job it does.

I have to push back on this. Does anyone think our poor have a lower standard of living today than before the welfare state?

Come on, starvation is rare as hen’s teeth in the US (excepting people with severe addiction issues). Instead our poor suffer an obesity epidemic! Looks like the welfare state has been something of a success (and I could cite other facts too). Sure,the poor have not all turned into virtuous saints, but no one ever advertized that they would.

#2 Comment By M_Young On September 14, 2013 @ 10:47 am

“Come on, starvation is rare as hen’s teeth in the US (excepting people with severe addiction issues). Instead our poor suffer an obesity epidemic!”

It is a rare pleasure to be able to agree with JonF on that one.

#3 Comment By Erin Manning On September 14, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

Charlieford, I just now read this comment thread. I’m not a Southerner, but if there’s an account set up to help your brother-in-law with his hospital bill please do share the information (if you’re comfortable doing so, of course). I bet most of us here know what it’s like to be helped out in a time of need and would welcome the opportunity to do the same for someone else.

#4 Comment By James Kabala On September 14, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

Everyone is this story acted strangely. First the Northerner claims that his very unusual attempt to haggle over the price was “typical[ly] Yankee” when it is actually more characteristic of the Middle East, and then two Southerners in completely separate conversations use an expression that numerous Southerners in this thread agree they have never heard. A strange story.

#5 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On September 15, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

Re: how the South doesn’t like government welfare because it “steals our blessing.”

I think this is a pretty good summary of the differences in worldviews between how the left thinks, and how the (American) right thinks. It’s hard for me even to get into that mindset.

That being said, of course, what he really means by ‘the South’ is *white* Southerners, and not even all of them.

#6 Comment By JonF On September 15, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

m_young, we should mark yesterday on our calendars 🙂