When I first moved to the South, it freaked me out that complete strangers would talk to me.
It’s not that my home state of Massachusetts was rude. I defy the stereotype that Yankees are jerks. Except during the winter, during the winter, we will cut you. It’s just that we haven’t seen the sun for three months and everywhere you look in that frozen wasteland you see snow drifts that are entrusted with gross beards of sand and salt and your car is actually disintegrating before your very eyes and you’re trapped inside, trapped inside, trapped inside and all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
So maybe we are a little rude, but in the South, strangers will just ask you how you are doing. They’ll pass you on the sidewalk and say, “Good afternoon, how is your day going?” They say that to you in the grocery store, right to your face! It was all very shocking to this Northerner.
But now that I’ve lived in Georgia for six years I’ve gotten used to Southernplayilistsic Hospitality. And now, having just returned from a short trip to Massachusetts, I was reminded how the North is different from the South when it comes to church and faith.
There are four differences that jump out at me:
1. In the North, you can’t ask a coworker where they go to church.
In the South, that is a perfectly polite, normal question to ask. In Atlanta, when you start a new job, you ask your coworkers how their commute is, if they’ve always lived in the Dirty South and then where they attend church. I tried that once in Framingham, Massachusetts and an HR rep rappelled down the face of our building and broke through the window like a SWAT team member to arrest me. Slight exaggeration. But I think in the North, it’s considered more of a personal question to ask that.
2. In the North, fewer people use the phrase “I grew up in the church.”
Even if all my Catholic friends from the all boys high school I attended grew up going to Mass every weekend, they never used the phrase, “I grew up in the church.” The first time I heard that phrase I assumed the person had lived in the church like the guy from the movie Mannequin staring Hollywood’s Kim Catrall. I envisioned him swimming in the baptismal, sleeping on a pew using some sort of banner with a dove on it as a blanket and needing to hide in the basement every Sunday so he was not discovered. Turns out that’s not accurate.
3. In the South, we will hurt you if you impede our progress to Sunday lunch.
Southern kindness does not apply to the lunch hour after church is over. If you slowly drag your feet, causing dozens, if not hundreds, of others to get in front of us in line at a local fried chicken joint it is on like Donkey Kong my friend. I will yell “bless your heart” as I pummel you about the head and back with a rotisserie chicken drumstick. The North doesn’t seem to get that crazy about Sunday lunch.
4. In the North, it’s harder to throw the “God card.”
Yesterday morning, when we went to get our rental car in the Alewife transit station, the battery was dead. A mere 2 hours before I was supposed to preach at a church an hour away, we were stuck. I called a towing company, and I want to be honest, I threw the “God card.” I told the lady on the phone, “I really need some help, because I’m preaching at a church in a few hours.” If I said that in the south, the woman on the phone probably would have jumped out a one story window and sprinted all the way to the train station to help me. Instead, there was dead air. My “God card” went nowhere. Then when the tow driver got there, he said, “Ahhh I hate these @!#@ cars, they suck! I would rather walk. And these ^%**ing kids always come over here and mess ^&% up with the cars here. What did they quote you on the phone for the jump? $40? Yeah, they’re *&*^@# up too.” I hesitated to reply to that with, “I’ve got to preach on Nehemiah in a little while. He was incredibly kind and again, as a Yankee I don’t believe we’re rude, but when a friend in the south got caught speeding at 140mph he got off without a ticket because he was headed to church. Different atmosphere.
Those are four differences I’ve noticed having lived in two different regions, but in a lot of ways the church is alive and big and crazy in both areas. But how about you? Midwest folks, what do you think? West Coast, I’m assuming you’re difference has something to do with avocado? I swear every meal I have ever eaten in California had avocado in it. The plate was made of an avocado husk most times. International folks, how is Europe different? How is Asia unique in the way they express church and faith?
What’s different about church and the place you live?