southern heat

In Mississippi I spent one morning working in a local soup kitchen. It was satisfying, nothing too surprising or difficult. The hardest part actually had nothing to do with interacting with people we were serving or preparing the food, as I might have expected, but instead with having to deal with the woman who gave the devotion before the meal. Mississippi is saturated with Christianity.

As we were preparing to serve the food, this kid, who was maybe 19, came in and started fiddling with the piano. “Oh, you’re in for a treat,” says a blunt, somewhat overweight older white woman who was helping us. “He can’t carry a tune, but boy does he try.” She was right. The kid had a karaoke machine (his piano talents weren’t particularly impressive) that played this awful instrumental synth music, over which he sang equally awful (and totally off-key) contemporary Christian songs. It was absolutely terrible, almost laughable, but it would have been rude to laugh. He got up without a word, sang for a few minutes, and then sat back down, again without saying anything. Except for his singing, I didn’t hear him say a single thing the entire time.

The music was almost completely overshadowed, however, by his mother, who gave the devotion before we ate. This woman was white, in her mid-60’s, and so thoroughly imbued with the self-righteous love of God it made her look insane. After her son finished she got up and preached for ten minutes, spewing a fervent apocalyptic message. Hell is in the middle of the Earth and on the rise, and for evidence of this we need look only to the recent string of bad weather (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) The world is ending soon, and this woman was excited about it. It was a little hard to swallow. But we didn’t want to appear indignant or offend anyway, as we were guests and it was not our place to do so, so Hugh, Kinzie and I just sat there and listened. Kinzie and I went outside to get some air afterwards, wide-eyed and a little shocked by the vehemence of what we had just experienced.

People have a different sense of religion in the South. It is much more communal, especially in the black churches, and much more emotional. Coming from East Coast churches steeped in quiet, deferential tradition, this is still somewhat alien to me, although not unwelcome. I cannot help but be taken somewhat aback, however, at the zeal expressed at times. One thing that continually strikes me is the way in which a respected speaker is received. In decorous upper-middle class circles if you agree with an orator’s presentation you show it by keeping quiet and politely listening to what they have to say. You do not make loud exclamations of agreement, shouting Hallelujahs and Amens or even the occasional emphatic “mm-hmmm” when you feel the speaker made a particularly good point. It throws me every time, but I suppose that’s part of the point – it’s different, and strange, and I’m getting used to it.

3 Responses to “southern heat”

  1. davy Says:

    sounds very interesting tom, but how come you don’t ever mention brett “more hustles than muscles” clark?

    p.s. i saw pierre and amy(aaw12021) when i got my license on saturday and it was kinda awkward.

    peace out, t-wizzy

  2. Matthew Freeman Says:

    People in the south may seem to have more fervor and emotion but there’s actually a good amount of that up here, too. The difference is that noone in Uni circles would know anything about it and would avoid it like the plague if they found it. But to me that’s what real faith (not religion) is. An emotional connection, not necessarily always an intellectual one. People can’t understand that but I do because I was raised with it. I may not believe it anymore but I respect many Christians’ faith. I’ve never identified Christianity with religion.

  3. amirah Says:

    hmmmm…i remember going to church when I was little…it was kind of like that…except a little less evangelical, since my fam is catholic….

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