The man and his little boy were playing on the other end of the field. They seemed far enough away. But after just a few minutes, that little boy made his presence felt. And it felt bad.
My son and I were early for his soccer game so we were killing time on the opposite end of the field as the other little boy and his father. Not content to keep his ball on his side of the field, that little boy decided to kick his ball over to our side. Now normally I wouldn’t have a problem with that. The field was big enough for the four of us. But it got real small, real quick.
While the soccer ball that had just bolted from that boy’s foot soared through the air, I turned around, ignorant of what was about to happen to me. When the ball met my body, I didn’t know what had hit me. All I could do was fall to the ground. My son asked if I was okay. I told him that I was. I lied. I was in Old Testament style pain. It was bad.
The boy who kicked the ball sheepishly walked by me to say that he was sorry. And almost as quickly as his ball flew through the air, he was gone. I was still rolling on the ground with my son standing over me wondering what was wrong with his dad. I finally recovered enough to look up and investigate what kind of punishment that father would be giving to his son for assaulting a nice stranger like myself. The father had been sitting in a chair on his side of the field. As soon as we made eye contact he stood up. And he turned his back to me. And he walked away without saying a word.
The south is known for a lot of things. Sweet tea. College football. Humidity. Hospitality.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that southern hospitality is a myth.
Here’s another southern myth. The Bible Belt.
The Bible Belt is that region of our country that includes the southern states and much of the midwest. It’s the part of the country where there is a church on every corner, people still pray at football games and restaurants give you 20% discounts on Sunday afternoons if you bring your church bulletin.
While all of that is certainly a reality, the idea of this particular region having anything to do with the Bible is misleading.
Quick question. For all of our churches on every corner, what has that done to race relations in the south and midwest? Are they any better than they are in other parts of the country? And have our religious traditions done anything to curb gossip or extra-marital affairs? Not hardly.
Some will be quick to point out that this shows the inability of Christianity to change a culture. I look at it differently. It shows the inability of the Bible Belt to save a soul. That’s because true Christianity is a heart issue, not a geographical one.
I’ve been in church my whole life. Some of the most racist comments I’ve ever heard were in a church setting. I’ve seen arguments in church that make the GOP debates look like a newborn babe laughing at his grandpa. I’ve been to quite a few sporting events where things turned ugly and it looked like World War III was right around the corner. But none of that compares to the tension I’ve seen between two fellow church members when one of them had hurt feelings because the other one forgot to shake hands one Sunday morning.
Some politicians run on the platform of making the Bible Belt bigger. Preachers talk about getting back to the good old days when the Bible Belt was stronger and shinier. All the while, Jesus could not possibly care less about our Bible Belt.
If we really want to make a difference in our culture, we need to forget about the Bible Belt and get back to the Bible. All of it. Event the parts that are hard to live out. We need to remember that Christianity is not geographical or political. It’s cardiovascular.
A few days ago, a friend sent me the audio of Paul Harvey’s famous speech, If I Were the Devil. Harvey’s words are both prophetic and enlightening. And they made me think. What if I were the devil?
If I were the devil, I’d be okay with a church on every corner, just as long as those churches preached more about the Bible Belt than from the actual Bible.
If I were the devil, I wouldn’t mind all of the laws that keep people from drinking certain alcoholic beverages in certain places on Sundays, just as long as I could convince the non-drinkers that they’re less in need of grace than the drunks are.
If I were the devil, I’d even be okay with preachers who proclaim the grace of God but only if by grace, those preachers meant doing whatever you want whenever you want and asking for forgiveness later.
And If I were the devil, ten commandments on courthouse walls and prayers before football games would be fine with me. I’d even do all that I could to keep those words on the wall and those prayers on the lips of student athletes as long as the commandments weren’t actually followed and the prayers were only muttered on Friday nights and the occasional Sunday morning.
If I were the devil, I’d feel quite at home in the Bible Belt.