Someone asked me recently for a short bio. I didn’t realize how difficult it could be to put 84 years in a “short” bio. I’m working on it.
In the meantime I’ve begun to go through old files and bookshelves in an effort to discard and give away a few items, including dozens of books. I found some old notebooks where I had stashed magazine and newspaper articles that seemed, at the time, too good to be destroyed. Even found one notebook packed with cartoons and jokes. What was I thinking!
Sorting through all that mess has been enlightening. It’s a glimpse into the past, especially the file filled with political gems. I usually refrain from having my say on that subject in this space, but when I saw a 1984 piece with Bill Shipp’s byline, I couldn’t resist a return to that era. He and I are the same age, which means that we were around 50 at the time. He covered Georgia politics for over 50 years, much of that time for the Atlanta Constitution where this column, titled “Man Thinks, God Laughs”, appeared. In it, he addressed the hot issue of that day concerning the mix of religion with politics. He didn’t particularly take sides, but some comments jumped out at me as I realized that some things never change. He noted that mixing religion and politics is (in 1984) a Southern custom that most of us take for granted.
Politicians at the time routinely catered to their audiences’ views. They would be prepared to remove their shoes and socks if they were speaking to a congregation who considered such activity to be of vast importance. If a candidate couldn’t properly say Grace at a fundraiser barbecue, he might lose a few votes. But it has been proven that a profession of faith on the campaign trail — or even from the office itself — can be meaningless to voters.
Even before 1984, voters nationwide chose to unseat a leader whose faith was, and is, unquestionable in favor of a Hollywood actor who didn’t even attend church. Our nation’s history is a roller coaster of ups and downs where our differences often outweigh our similarities.
It sometimes seems ironic that we call ourselves “united.” A few years ago, the Woodstock Downtown Development Authority offered for sale a Christmas ornament which featured the historic Woodstock United Methodist Church building. We sold them in the Woodstock Visitors Center in Dean’s Store, and somehow managed a typo in the For Sale signage. The sign read: Woodstock UNTIED Methodist Church. It seemed funny at the time, but in today’s world it sounds almost ominous, not so much in connection with the church, but rather with our nation’s name. We are anything but united, and everything untied. There seems to be no “tie that binds” except for those ties that bind us directly with folks whose views exactly match our own. I refuse to rant and rave here, hurling words and phrases that have lost their meaning by overuse and abuse, often because their meaning was so obscure as to be buried beneath a lust for power and a bent toward hypocrisy. I can only confess to a hope that we can somehow manage to avoid the kind of conflict that our ancestors endured in the 19th century. We are a caring people. The tragedies that beset us — some unavoidable, others brought on by human frailty — bring us together. We grieve, we volunteer, we pray, and we struggle with our helplessness. I think we all want peace, but the very word has different meanings for different people. If our world is to become peaceful, if there is no sickness, no tragedy, no dissension, no hunger or poverty, it will be heaven on earth. But heaven was never meant to be on earth. All of which does not absolve us from seeking peace and prosperity, compassion and charity. If God-fearing, devoted Christians, and those of other faiths, lived according to their faith, there would be no need for government social programs. If everybody, and it would have to be everybody, practiced their faith (a faith that teaches hope and love) there would be jobs with decent wages, no bigotry or jealousy, no need for guns or prisons, and no political campaign fundraisers!
I love how Mr. Shipp ended his column. “In the main, getting worked up about a marriage of politics and religion is not worth the trouble. In this region, the pair have been living together comfortably for so long that divorce is out of the question.” He had noted that “trying to pry apart religion and politics is akin to getting steamed up about hot weather. There’s not much you can do about it, and getting excited about it just makes you sweat more.” He may have been right. But a mix is better than no religion at all. Worse still is the evolving situation where politics itself has become our religion. This quote from Stuttert Kennedy comes to mind. “Nobody worries about Christ as long as He can be kept shut up in churches. He is quite safe there. But there is always trouble if you try to let Him out.”