Ah. I love the South.
The sizzle of hot, juicy yet crispy fatback in a cast iron skillet is one of my favorite sounds and always reminds me of South Carolina. Since my grandmother's passing, I haven't had any, and I can't bring myself to ask for it in these hipster California grocery stores. Soul food isn't all I miss about living in the South. It's also the traditional style of Southern Baptist churches. My home church had a strong, vibrant membership but was small enough that if I wasn't there, it was noticed. The hymns I sang there and the motherly love I received was enough to have me humming joyously on my way home.
If the reassuring faith traditions and delectable food hadn't done it, the gracious hospitality, the neighborly love, the "it takes a village" upbringing, the lack of traffic (or need to parallel park), and the rich Southern accents that make you believe it's impossible for a guy like John Edwards to be a bad guy were enough to make me embrace my Southern roots.
Unfortunately, this is not all the South is known for.
The kindness represented in Southern ladies and gentlemen that warms the hearts and souls of both tourists and longtime residents alike, often grows cold when they enter the voting booth... or a discussion about what to do about the poor or the Obama administration's morally bankrupt drone policy that has killed civilians overseas. (Yes, sometimes I disagree with President Obama!)
Like many of my conservative friends, I do believe that a politician's faith has a strong influence on who I vote for. It would seem that we'd be voting for the same candidates right? Not so. I care little about how often a candidate attends a church service or how often she mentions God on the stump. If a Congress member attends worship services every Sunday, but on Monday votes to push forth a budget that drastically cuts resources to the "least of these" *cough Paul Ryan cough*, I struggle to truly see how God's love, grace, and mercy is represented when it truly matters. Faith without works is dead. Loving the poor in your personal life but ignoring them in the voting booth seem like what the Bible would call lukewarm. And God is pretty clear on how much he hates that.
I recently read a sermon where a minister quipped "Nobody gets into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor." This minister was surely inspired by Jesus' statement in Matthew 25:40 that "whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to Me."
So what does it mean to be a Christian from the South? Does it mean you offer sweet tea with a serving of marriage inequality on the side?
Does it mean you cherish family values, so long as the family we're talking about looks like yours and came from where you came from?
Does it mean that we Christian Southerners meticulously care for our lawns and backyards, but not the environment that our Creator endowed us to take care of?
I certainly hope not.
I leave you with one of my favorite Bible stories. King Solomon, often regarded as the wisest man who ever lived, was presented with quite a conundrum a few thousand years ago. Two women brought forth a baby child, both claiming to be the mother. They wanted King Solomon to assert custody to the rightful mother. So he recommended what any wise King would recommend: "Cut the baby in half! That way, you'll each have a piece!" The lying woman agreed to this plan, but the rightful mother of the child realized that her child's safety was much more important than the right to a dead remnant of a child. She yelled out "No! Let the other woman have her; just don't kill my child!" And that was how King Solomon was able to decipher the true mother of the child. The one who chose safety for her child, even when it meant sacrifice.
Why did I tell this story? Because I have the joy of seeing men and women I grew up with now rearing their own beautiful children. I must admit, my Southern friends vastly outpace my other friends in the family-making department and the love I see in their eyes as they hold the hands of their toddlers is priceless. Yet, while statistics repeatedly show that loose gun control policies at a national (not just state wide) level lead to less homicides and accidental deaths, many folks, particularly my friends in the South, elect to hold onto to their dangerous interpretation of the Second Amendment, versus adopting legislation that may mean sacrificing the right to say... purchase a gun without a background check. See the parallels? Can my fellow Southerners choose life when it is coupled with a sacrifice like universal background checks to save our nieces, nephews, grandkids, and children? Or will we risk another Newtown while holding onto our unchecked right to bear arms?
I'm proud to be from the land of Bojangle's biscuits, spirited high school football, and traditional Baptist services with rich gospel music and Word that feeds the soul.
I'm so proud of the land I'm from that I hold it to a high standard. Only time will tell whether we live up to it.
I hope that whether you are a proud Yankee, a tofu-eating Californian, or my favorite, a Southern gentleman with a baritone drawl, that you hear the respect I strove to infuse in my thoughts. I welcome your opinions, dissenting or approving (or somewhere in between).