Riding the South

The blog of Scott and Jenny Morris

​Like Balaam's ass

By Jenny Morris

Years ago when I was going through a trying time I realized it’s not the burdens we have in life that define who we are, but how we carry them.

Lately, I’ve been doing a pretty good impersonation of Balaam’s ass, complaining at life for wielding the stick.

I don’t know why I keep expecting the “on earth” to be as it will be “in Heaven” — Jesus was pretty clear about the odds of us having a stress-free life while we wait for the coming of His Kingdom. But I figure I’m like the rest of us — I talk a good talk about knowing heaven on earth isn’t an option, all the while trying to construct my version of it anyway, and secretly thinking our side of the Mason-Dixon Line is the perfect location for it.

It’s hard to imagine a religion-soaked South being anything but good. But lately I’ve been wondering if our obsession with our neighbors’ souls might be what keeps holding the South back — at least my little corner of it. We forget that people are responsible for their own souls, and the thoughts and actions that lead to their souls’ well-being. Our responsibility, soul-wise, ends with being a light they can see by.

Conversely, we don’t recognize that we are jointly responsible for our neighbors’ physical well-being, something that is more easily measured. After all, when God confronted Cain, the question was of Abel’s physical condition and whereabouts, not his spiritual status.

Around here we talk about the Bible, and pray publically to the God of the Bible (if your prayer life is anemic, just attend any local ceremony or sporting event to get a jump-start), and we pass countless churches every time we drive anywhere.  

But on the way to all those churches, we also drive through streets full of hungry children who won’t have the benefit of a school lunch now that summer has come. In the face of children without enough food to eat, we reason that their parents are responsible for their physical needs. We fall back on that old Southern staple “I didn’t take them to raise,” and turn away.

But not all of us are turning a blind eye to the physical needs around us. Kudos, hats-off, props and shout-outs to our local A.M.E. whose ladies have decided to feed any neighborhood child who shows up for church on Sunday mornings this summer. From what my friend tells me, the only criterion for a meal is an open mouth. Every child I’ve known could pass that vetting process.

Our local African-American community carries a heavier economic burden than many of our citizens who have enjoyed the benefits of generations of middle-class status. Maybe that’s why when a need arises they step out on faith and say they’ll meet it. They know burdens don’t carry themselves.

It’s enough to inspire an old donkey like me to make a donation. If nothing else, I’d be contributing to one group of kids whose rumbling stomachs won’t override the voices telling them the Good News. And maybe I’ll quit paying attention to my own first-world problems in helping to meet someone else’s basic needs.