|You Can't Make This Stuff Up!|
|Issue: 81 Page No: 25 Updated: 02/04/2011 02:19 PM|
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!
Someday, I want to write a book about South Carolina with the title, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!” Where would I start? With South Carolina Senator “Honest John” Patterson who served as a Senator in the 1870’s? He was called “Honest John” because when he promised you a bribe, he always paid it.
We have the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp in Lee County. Of course, the fact that the Lizard Man was first seen by a 17 year old boy at 2 a.m. may make some people wonder.
We have a Grits Festival in St. George, an Okra Strut in Irmo, a Watermelon Parade in Pageland, and a Chitlin Strut Pageant in Salley. I’m not sure why Okra and Chitlins get to strut while Watermelons and Grits are merely parades.
A year or so ago, in Allendale, the Cave Funeral Home could not fit a corpse into the casket, so they sawed off the legs. Then, the corpse fit. I’m not making this stuff up!
But there are also much deeper mysteries in South Carolina. I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, just this side of the Savannah River. Why did South Carolina Baptists have enough money, in those days, to send millions of dollars to missionaries in Africa, but were unable to scrape up the money to go down the dirt roads next to our churches and make sure the African-Americans who lived there had clean drinking water? Or, adequate health care?
Our missionaries to India came home and told us about the caste system in India, which appalled us. There were people there who were considered “Untouchables.” Yet neither these missionaries, nor our pastors, nor our Sunday school teachers, nor our parents ever mentioned that we had an entire social structure of “Untouchables” in our small town. It was weirder than that: We couldn’t even touch what they touched. We had to have separate drinking fountains and separate rest rooms. If you were rich enough to have a maid and a gardener, you built them their own toilet out in the garage.
You know I’m not making this stuff up!
In the Deep South, I have sometimes thought it must be a badge of honor to act dumb. We will tell people who seem to be growing in compassion and grace and thinking new thoughts, “We don’t do it that way around here,” and “Don’t get too big for your britches.” That is our Southern way of smashing creativity. No reasons given. We will resist change to our own detriment. The first day I was on the campus of Clemson University in the Fall of 1965, I was a brand new Freshman trainer for the Tiger football team. Coach Frank Howard was on the sideline talking to this big young black man. “Who is that?” I asked. It was George Webster, from Anderson, South Carolina, an All-American at Michigan State University. He was an All-American there because he couldn’t play football at Clemson. His skin apparently had the wrong pigmentation. That made me mad. That’s stupid.
Welcome to South Carolina.
I love South Carolina, but it was a strange place to grow up. In our church and denomination, for instance, the Great Commission was emphasized, Jesus’ command to Go and Tell the Good News. But we pretty much ignored the Great Commandments. Yet Jesus was unconfused about what is important. When he was asked, plainly, bluntly, “Which is the most important commandment?” he answered that there are two: Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Our denominational leadership functioned like a Magician, using smoke and mirrors to deceive us, holding up the Great Commission—Goand Tell, Go and Tell, Go and Tell—so everyone saw it. Meanwhile, over here, we were hiding the Great Commandments and our response to them because we weren’t actually doing such a good job of loving our neighbors. We could evangelize. We could market. We could put on Revival meetings. We could sing glorious gospel songs. But, apparently, based on our actions, we did not think so highly of compassion or justice or mercy.
In South Carolina, the buckle of the Bible belt, we said we loved Holy Scripture. But we loved it closed up and contained, not out there in the world making a difference.
These days, churches do better with missions, sending teenagers and adults on mission trips, sometimes close by and sometimes far away. But when I was growing up, I remember a grand total of ONE work day when church members were asked to DO something for Jesus. We were good at talking, good at preaching. Think of all our hymns:
We could talk a good faith, but action? We thought attending meetings made us good Christians. The ONE day in my childhood and youth when I was asked to DO anything for Jesus was when our church built a new parsonage for OUR preacher. We were asked to come up on a Saturday morning and plant shrubbery at OUR new church parsonage. Apparently it never occurred to anyone that there might be some poor people in the community, some widows or orphans who needed their plumbing fixed or their leaky roof shingled or food in their pantry to feed hungry children.
It was a strange time in this state, when all the words of Jesus were read week after week, year after year, yet we never listened to them. How do you miss these Bible texts?
How many times have I sat in Sunday school classes and had the teacher or members of the class say, “It can’t mean that!” But it does.
In South Carolina, a black baby is more than twice as likely to die before his or her first birthday as a white baby. That is a terrible statistic. An African-American woman is 4 times more likely to die than a white woman from complications in pregnancy. An African-American is more than twice as likely to have diabetes as his or her Caucasian counterpart. African-Americans with diabetes experience kidney failure about four times more often than diabetic whites. This kind of hard data can hardly be ignored by loving Christians who care about all of God’s people. The overall death rate from cardiovascular disease in South Carolina is 354 per 100,000 population, but rises to 402 for African-American women and 526 for African-American men! Almost double. That is a dreadful discrepancy.
We are here today to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Like no other person in the history of our great country, Dr. King got our attention. People had to listen. He got out attention by being the primary point person, early in his career, for a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, when he and others said, “It is not fulfilling the Great Commandment of Jesus to love your neighbor by making certain people sit in the back of the bus.” He got attention—even the grudging respect of his enemies—by living out the gospel. Rather than encouraging violent retaliation when treated badly, the way of the world, the way of Bull Conner, Dr. King preached the way of Jesus, peacemaking, offering a non-violent response to those who hate you.
We would not be here today if it were not for Dr. King. The United States of America would not exist as it exists today had it not been for the people—black and white— who understood that Dr. King was re-introducing us to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s hear Dr. King’s own words from one of his sermons, as he reminds us of Christ’s words:
“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. February 4, 1968, Atlanta, Georgia from the sermon “Drum Major Instinct”)
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
These remarks were given by CBF of South Carolina Coordinator Marion Aldridge at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast in Anderson, S.C., Jan. 17, 2011
Cite This Page:
Aldridge, Marion. "You Can`t Make This Stuff Up!" ChristianEthicsToday.
The Christian Ethics Today Foundation. Winter 2011 (Issue 81 Page 25)