I am reminded of column once written by Lewis Grizzard. Lewis was a gifted columnist who once wrote for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He parlayed that into a successful comedy speaking tour and even more successful series of books, all of which helped to endear any entire generation of southerners. To be certain, at times he could be more than a little irreverent. But he could also speak truth in a way that was quite convicting.
I wanted to post a favorite piece he once wrote here today. I hope it speaks to you.
No Spot Is So Dear...
On a cold day last week, I stood outside the church in my hometown of Moreland, Georgia, that is so dear to my childhood and tried to remember how long it had been since I was in-side. Ten years? At least that long. But if there weren't still roots here, would I come back so often in my mind?
Church was about all we had. Sunday school was at ten, but preaching was only twice a month. We shared sermons and the preacher with another flock down the road.
What did they call it on Sunday night? MYF? We had a couple of rowdy brothers in town who broke into a store. They were juvenile first offenders. Their punishment was to attend Methodist Youth Fellowship for six months. First night they were there, they beat up two fifth-graders and threw a Cokesbury hymnal at the lady who met with us and always brought cookies.
She ducked in time and then looked them squarely in their devilish eyes. Soft as the angel she was, she said, "I don't approve of what you boys did here tonight, and neither does Jesus. But if He can forgive you, I guess I'll have to."
She handed them a plate of cookies, and last I heard, both are daddies with steady jobs and rarely miss a Sunday. That was the first miracle I ever saw.
Revivals at the church were the highlight of the summer. I remember a young visiting preacher talking about the night he was converted.
"I was drunk in an Atlanta bar," he said, "and I was lost. But Jesus walked in and sat down beside me. Praise His name, because that's the reason I'm with you here tonight."
That frightened me. If Jesus could find that fellow in an Atlanta bar, he certainly wouldn't have any trouble walking up on me smoking behind the pump house in Moreland. I always took an extra look around before lighting up after that.
Workers were smoking one day in the attic of our church. They left a cigarette. It took less than an hour for flames to destroy that old building. I didn't cry, but grown men did.
We built it back—of brick this time. Country folks will dig deep in the name of the Lord.
The best fried chicken I ever ate, the best iced tea I ever drank were the fried chicken and the iced tea on Homecoming Day at the church. Dinner on the grounds, we called it. The chickens had been walking in someone's backyard earlier in the morning. The tea went into a galvanized washtub. A piece of block ice kept it cold.
The day Red Murphy died, they announced it in the church. The congregation wept as one. Everyone loved Red Murphy. He ran the little post office and took children on pony rides.
Maxine Estes taught my Sunday school class. In rural Georgia in the fifties, she was big on being kind to your neighbor no matter the color of his skin. I learned to sing Hymn No. 153, "Love, Mercy and Grace," in that church. And "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." And the one I still break into occasionally today, "Precious Memories." They do linger.
My mother married my stepfather inside that church. And one hot Saturday afternoon a long time ago, a pretty nineteen-year-old girl married me at the same altar. I told her I would never forget her, and I haven't.
It's easy to fall away from the church, no matter the closeness to it in times past. I have done it. So have you. Grown people can do as they please. The 10:30 Sunday morning movie is even an excuse I use. So are Saturday nights that should have ended a lot earlier.
I never could bring myself to walk inside my old church last week. But some Sunday morning soon, maybe I will. And maybe I'll put a ten in the collection plate, and maybe they'll have chicken and iced tea, and maybe afterward I'll make a habit of it.
There is a new country song out. An old man is singing to a group of fellow derelicts. "Lean on Jesus," goes the chorus, "before He leans on you."
I'm not one to panic, but it's something to think about.*
Yes, it is. Sadly, Lewis suffered from an ailing heart and left this world much too soon. He passed away after complications from his from his fourth heart surgery at the tender young age of 47. My suspicion is that even as the doctors were working to fix his physical heart, the Lord was working to fix his spiritual heart as well. Too many of his writings, such as the one above, testify to this.
A friend of mine down in Georgia keeps a famous Atlanta Journal and Constitution cartoon, titled Lewis at the Pearly Gates by Mike Luckovich, framed and hanging on his wall. It shows Lewis stepping up to Heaven’s gates, and having his beloved Black Labrador Retriever, “Catfish”, who preceded him in death by five months, running out to meet him.
If the reception was that great outside of Heaven’s gates, imagine what it must have been like inside them!!
*SOURCE: Lewis Grizzard, Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You (New York: Warner books, 1984), pp. 8-11.
Lewis Grizzard’s estate runs a web site at: http://www.lewisgrizzard.com/. Many of his writings and recordings can be obtained here.
You can read more about Lewis’ life, death, and accomplishments at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/atlanta/obituary.aspx?pid=2021037.
Also, you read about Lewis' Labrador Retriever dog, old “Catfish”, here: http://onlineathens.com/stories/042105/fea_20050421039.shtml#.VTUg2NrD
And lastly, the Lewis Grizzard article posted here has the actual cartoon: http://www.peachpundit.com/2011/10/20/lewis-grizzard-gone-but-not-forgot