Let’s be honest. There is a lot wrong with the Bible Belt. A lot of confusion, a lot of self-righteousness, a lot of mess. Flannery O’Connor was right in saying that the South is haunted by Christ–His name is easy to find, but His essence not so much. We’re gonna talk about a lot of that.
But there is also a lot of good, and we’re gonna talk about that too.
I thought it would be remiss to start a blog like this without first acknowledging my deep and lasting gratitude for what the Lord has done in and through the Bible Belt.
Can I share with you a quote that stops my breath every time I read it?
“I want to tell you a growing conviction with me, and that is that as we obey the leading of the Spirit of God, we enable God to answer the prayers of other people. I mean that our lives, my life, is the answer to someone’s prayer, prayed perhaps centuries ago.”
Our lives, my life, might be the answer to someone’s persistent prayer from centuries ago?
Let’s not take it back that far yet. That makes my head hurt.
I think about my Mema. My mom’s mom, my next-door neighbor growing up, my babysitter, my neighborhood & family haven Mema. She is, without a doubt, one of my favorite people on God’s green earth. (She’d be one of your favorites too if you met her.)
Her parents were unable to properly care for her when she was young, so she was moved from Georgia and raised by family members right down the street from the sprawling hilltop ranch she has lived in the rest of her life. A young teenage girl met a hard-working young teenage boy and the rest was history.
Like any orphan, she had no easy life. She and my late Grandaddy started a family and tried to figure out how to do life. Part of that, years later through the Lord’s pursuit, included her and my mother deciding that a young boy should be raised in church, which started a chain reaction in our family.
I see her sitting there in her house on one of the many nights I stayed with her, rocking my little blonde-haired self to sleep beside the fireplace, praying over me. “Lord, make him yours. Make him yours. Use him. Help us pass down grace and not generational pain.”
And that. Straight up. Gives me chills.
Especially this–who prayed for her?
Fast forward 15 years, and I am in high school. I’m leading in my youth group, Bible studies at school, and sensing a call to be in ministry. I’m also growing in cynicism about all things southern and religious. I’m beginning to scoff at old hymns in favor of Chris Tomlin (remember him?). I’m thinking church should be cool, hip and relevant.
And then one night after dinner I’m standing there in the living room holding my little sister. My dad’s laying on the couch and suddenly he starts shaking like he’s having an earthquake inside himself. He flips off the couch, lands hard, and breaks a couple vertebrae in his back before continuing to seize.
I call the ambulance and for a while think he’s gonna die. I pace in the yard, waiting for them to show up, and would you guess what rises up from my terrified soul to my lips?
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” the old saying goes.
There are, within these invisible walls of the South, hordes of young, culturally-savvy, Jesus-loving Christians who scoff at some of the things that have come before, who shake their heads at denominational politics, who try to distance themselves from a lot of the less-than-desirable baggage from our religious past.
I know this because I am one of them.
And we are, all of us, very likely answers to prayers of faithful believers that were prayed generations ago.
That hand–imperfect may it be–it has fed.
And for that, I am eternally grateful. Genuinely. Without a hint of twenty-something dripping sarcasm.
I’m grateful for old hymns that are still stuck deep in my soul. (Of course I have come full circle and now adore many of them.)
Though I would lead a church differently, I’m grateful for Sunday School.
(And don’t forget Discipleship Training and RA’s…)
I’m grateful for the people who poured into me and my family at our little country church.
I’m grateful for pastors David Shirley and Ray Longnecker who preached the Scriptures over me faithfully for years upon years.
I’m grateful for my youth pastor Jared Roper who fought like crazy to make kids with wandering souls love Jesus.
And most of all, I’m grateful for a God who answers the imperfect prayers of imperfect saints. Who passes down grace instead of generational pain, by no merit of our own.
Every generation has its idiosyncrasies and idols. Every generation has wanted something more than meeting the living God.
I have no doubt that my grandkids, Lord-willing that they exist and become Jesus-loving people, will think I’m an idiot at least in some regard. They will look back on the things I wrote and preached and led, and they’ll think, “Boy he sure missed the boat there…and there.”
And that’s okay.
That’s how it works, I think.
Make them yours. Use them. Pass down grace and not my messed up junk.
Make them yours. Please.
If you grew up in the Bible Belt and love Jesus–what or who are you thankful for?