I just wanted to take time today to recognize our little blog has turned three! Fellow progressive redneck folk, on April 19th we marked three years of having this blog. Thanks all of you who follow, comment, share, and add so much!
To celebrate, I am going to share the first blog post I had. Y’all will notice a lot has changed. I now work as a chaplain not a pastor. I’ve been widowed. We’ve made a lot of progress too here in the south-land since then on so many fronts. Yet we still struggle to live out our deepest values — of hospitality, neighborliness, closeness to this good earth. Let our third year bring us to deeper connection with all of these values.
Let’s celebrate being out of the terrible twos!
Still your progressive redneck preacher,
Re-Tuning the Song of the South
“Song, Song of the south
Sweet potato pie, and I shut my mouth
Gone, gone with the wind
There ain’t no body looking back again” — Alabama, “Song of the South”
So, why am I writing Progressive Redneck Preacher?
I’m a long lost child of the South. When I hear the words of the following song, my heart leaps. Fishing by a Carolina fishing hole with my daddy growing up, running through Grandma Myrtie’s tobacco fields as a kid, and hiking the Appalachian trail are some of my fondest memories.
Yet I also have come to see the downside to our Southern culture.
We often call ourselves the Bible-belt, sometimes as if it is a compliment and sometimes like it is a problem. Usually that phrase is used not to talk about our proverbial hospitality, the joy of fishing, the refreshing sip of sweet iced tea, or momma’s sweet potato pie. It is used most often to describe why here in my home state in my childhood a couple walking in the downtown of my hometown was mugged because the man was one skin color and the woman another. We use it to explain why in so many of our churches women can’t preach, and even today too often they are told to be seen and not heard. We use it to explain why this state I am proud of, North Carolina, only a short time ago voted to write into our Constitution that gay people have to be second class citizens.
For some reason the Lord led me, a southern preacher at heart, on a strange journey. He led me to serve for a number of years outside the south and to experience the Bible being preached and Christianity being lived elsewhere. What I learned is that these things we often call “the Bible” really aren’t the Bible. They are Dixie — leftovers of the culture my great-great-great-great granddaddies had back when the big dream in the south was for a white man to have a good farm, good land, and alot of slaves. And to justify putting others down like that so we white men could get ahead they started to change how they read the Bible. They justified treating Native Americans as barely human, and black men and women as property.
After we fought a bloody war and lost, that sentiment behind slave-holder Christianity continued, like an infection corrupting the lovely southern hospitality, neighborliness, and church-going ways of we southerners.
In a real way using the Bible to justify prejudice replaced the real song of Dixie, replacing hospitality, neighborliness, living close to the earth, and loving your family for some as the song of the south.
And so now though slavery is long gone, when I was coming up I can still remember friends talking about what would happen if their daddy caught them dating a black girl or boy. I still recall the Bible sometimes being used to justify that. I still recall as a young preacher being taught why the Bible said women had a second-class status. And even now the Bible is used here in the south to justify discrimination toward gay people and hatred toward people from other cultures & faiths.
The problem is not the Bible — it remains a book of freedom, the book founded on the story of the Israelites experiencing God as the one who sets the captives free. It is the song of the south we bring to it. We bring with us the expectation that it has to say that for us to be free and happy, others have to be on the outside and hurting.
I think it is time we re-tune the song of the south. I think we can embrace the best of this community and our rich history, a history that includes a southern preacher named Martin standing against prejudice and sparking the civil rights movement, while abandoning the slaveholder mentality that has poisoned us.
I invite you to join me in this blog, join me in discovering how to retune our song. Join me in exploring how to be progressive and southern, Christian and compassionate, welcoming of all people and Biblical.
I ain’t just whistling dixie!
A Progressive Redneck Preacher