Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Church Planting in the Christ-Haunted South

Believe it or not, I am excited to be here, in Columbia. I love the University, the Capital, the growing arts scene, the mix of business and academia, of local politics and open-mic poetry, the lush landscape and red clay, the influx of northerners and mid-westerners, and the new South that is emerging. I love the new age, eco-hippie left-wingers, and I love the Limbaugh-listening, seer-sucker suit, bow-tie wearing Republicans – young and old. I love it.

I am not a Southerner, by birth or upbringing, but I really enjoy the South. I love the landscape - the varied forests (sand scrub, spruce, and loblolly pines; mountain holly, pond cypress, river birch, and swamp laurel; shumard, spanish red and white oak; southern sugar maples and carolina hemlock), the blue ridge mountains, the green foothills, the muddy rivers, and lazy lakes, the eastern beaches, the rolling hills and valleys, the humid floodplains and steaming marshes, the endless pastures and veins of dirt road. I love the weather (strangely, perversely, even the sweltering, sultry heat of Columbia in July). I love the oasis of fall, the shy winters, and vengance of spring and summer. I love the food. Greasy, home-cooked, and plenty of portions.

I love the culture, its obvious flaws and inconsistencies notwithstanding. There is a distinct decency and dignity about the South, despite the occasional accuracy of the “ign’ant redneck” stereotypes. There is something gracious and humane, which, like ancient bedrock, is primal and pervasive - southern hospitality in an historic, but delapitating house of faith, and grave piety. Beyond that, there is a fervent, at times violent, ferocity, a fiery, religious zeal - often apart from, or even against "that old time religion" - that betrays a vital and vigorous spirituality (and what other kind can there be?) - or, rather, the memory of a such a spirit. It is indeed a Christ-haunted landscape. And I love it. We live in a place that is now, to be sure, over-churched, but under gospel-ed. I am eager and thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of reconnecting the gospel to the new South.

5 comments:

greg said...

James, what a wonderfully written reflection. Honest and loving, smart and funny. It makes me want to love it, too.

James said...

Thanks Greg. Let's definitely try to catch up soon...

Caroline Parker said...

Joel and I got in our first fight over the South...I wish I had, had your very thought provoking post at the time;) I will probably share with him tonight. Loved it!

T. Azimuth Schwitters said...

This is a lovely passage...but how can you steal "Christ-haunted" from Flannery O'Connor with absolutely no citation? Or is this one of those references that needs no citation, if the reader is 'cultured' enough to 'get it'? ...And if that's the case, why am I complaining? Wouldn't that reading suggest that I am, in fact, 'cool'?

Complaint retracted.

James said...

Yes, it simply assumed that any cultured browser of the blog would know the famous O'Connery quote. If not, then I am glad to take the credit. Either way, I look pretty cool...