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.