Monday, November 07, 2005

My Head's In Mississippi

Ah, but it's good to be back, though I will miss the more temperate autumn weather in Mississippi. A few quick thoughts on the trip:

1. The country looks very different from 45,000 feet, as does the sunset.

2. If flying in a passenger jet is like riding a flying bus, then flying in a Learjet is like riding a flying minivan.

3. I had no idea that folks in the South still called people from the North "yankees".

4. Southern hospitality is real and wonderful.

5. Even after having been to Mississippi before, I still find the preponderance of Confederate flags startling.

6. For a "red" state, the folks in Mississippi that I spoke with sure do revile Haley Barbour. Bush isn't doing so well either, though Trent Lott is still quite well-respected.

7. Finally, everyone hears in the news about how poor Mississippi is, but the ways in which it manifests are quite strange. Particularly around Tupelo, I could see many new brick "McMansions", surrounded by some of the most tumble-down shacks imaginable (the locals call them "shade and shelter's" for their unreliability in adverse weather). I passed through several small towns that looked like the set for To Kill A Mockingbird, and several others that had every modern chain store and restaurant imaginable. Mississippi has a somewhat unsettled look about it, as though the towns and cities are only barely keeping the fir and kudzu from taking over.

It's also hard not to notice the religious difference between here and there. In Mississippi, it was just assumed that I was a Protestant Christian like everyone else. Folks chatted at me about Sunday school and how Jesus had blessed them, without any reserve or hesitancy. And I think that's a wonderful thing; that religious freedom in the U.S. is so pervasive that, in some areas, it's just a given. No other country on earth has such a high degree of religiosity among its people, coupled with such relatively peaceful co-existence. This reality gets lost sometimes in the combative religion-infused politics of some right-wing idealogues.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm going soft on sanctimonious blowhards like Dobson, Robertson, etc. Anything but! But I feel it's worth noting that their interpretation of Christianity really isn't the same Christianity as the everyday people that believe in the Golden Rule and the Beattitudes. For the folks I met in Mississippi, faith was an everyday part of life; a comfort and a tie that binds them to each other. Not the political war machine of the Far Right.

No comments: