“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
– Matthew 7:1-5
“’Mississippi Blood is different. It’s got some river in it. Delta soil, turpentine, asbestos, cotton poison. But there’s strength in it too. Strength that’s been beat but not broke.’”
– Greg Iles, Mississippi Blood
I have debated a great deal about writing this post until God pointed me to the Scripture above. I finally had a focus for my remembrances.
I grew up in rural Mississippi during the time of the civil rights movement. When the National Guard went to Ole Miss in the wake of the riot in 1962, a convoy went right by the schoolyard where we were playing football. The game halted. We had seen the news on television. Now we were seeing the news unfold as it passed by. The schoolyard was only about twenty miles from the college campus.
My family had just moved from southern Mississippi back to my old home town in northern Mississippi about six months before the “Mississippi Burning Murders”. We took different routes each time we made that trek. Some of the routes took us through Philadelphia, where the murders occurred. In the aftermath of the murders of two New York civil rights workers and a local black activist, their subsequent trial in Federal court kept the perception of intolerance of the Mississippi people in the National news, especially following the riot at Ole Miss just two years before.
But, the Mississippi that I grew up in may have been segregated (going to school with black students in high school), but most people attended church on Sunday. Most people treated their fellow man, regardless of color, with respect.
Most people don’t like change, but what I heard the adults around me say as I was growing up was that they were more offended by outsiders stirring up trouble. Two of the murdered men were white men from New York. Murder is wrong. I am not defending the guilty here, but it was in line with the hurt expressed in the God-fearing people that just wanted the outsiders to leave them alone. The evil people took illegal action. They deserved their punishment.
Why were the Christians of Mississippi worried about the outsiders intruding in the affairs of the Southern states? The parents of my grandparents lived during the days of the carpet baggers. Injustice was the norm during reconstruction of the South. They feared a re-living of that injustice.
Would the civil rights movement have made such strides toward equality if there had not been outsiders coming in? I am sure that equal rights under the law would have happened slower, but it could also be that it would have happened without the underlying pain and hurt. That pain that boils up when violence between races is highlighted on the news today.
When the movie, Mississippi Burning, came out in 1988, I vowed to never see it. I was tired of the hurt. Reliving it would not make the hurt go away.
My personal history is that as black students entered high school as my classmates, I made friends with them, many of them. They were simply people. Some of them were very nice people. I married a woman of mixed race, a Eurasian. In my first job, I shared an office with someone from India and later a black engineer as people advanced or transferred. They were my friends. As an Army officer, my platoon was about half black soldiers. Most of them were excellent soldiers. I can only think of one who was a pain, and he had so many problems that had nothing to do with his race that it wasn’t a racial issue. After the military, I volunteered for a year as a soccer assistant coach. The head coach was a black engineer where I worked. I respected him and learned from him.
So what is this pain and hurt that I mention? I am white. I am from Mississippi. The broad stroke served by the media says, “Therefore, you are an uneducated, ignorant racist.” I am not, and many of the people that I know who live in Mississippi are not. But the media keep jamming it down our throats.
So, when the movie came on the silver screen, I hung my head. Mississippi has its problems, but when bussing occurred, it was in Flint, Michigan where the buses were fire bombed, and it was in Boston where they rioted. We simply integrated the schools in Mississippi. I thought why is it Mississippi? Again.
I am about 66 years old and I only spent 26 years in Mississippi, albeit the first 22. But Greg Iles is right. I will always have Mississippi Blood. I grew up near the Tombigbee River instead of the Mississippi delta and the Mississippi River, but there is some river blood in me and Mississippi soil. I can close my eyes and smell the cottonseed oil and the sap with all that turpentine from a fresh-cut pine. I’m not sure about the asbestos, but asbestos was not outlawed when I was growing up, so I am sure there was exposure there.
When Greg Iles’ first book in the trilogy came out, I bought it. The title, Natchez Burning, caused me to cringe, but something inside me said to get the book. I then discovered that it was the first part of a three-part story. In the printing that I purchased, the Natchez Burning Trilogy is almost 2,500 pages, but it was well worth the wait from year to year to get the next installment. Even though the violence is graphic and the subject matter is about things that polite society where I grew up did not talk about – but maybe that was part of the problem.
As background to reading the trilogy, I learned that Greg Iles nearly died from his injuries in a car wreck, including a ruptured aorta. During his three-year recovery from his injuries, he wrote the three books. He already had written a few books with Penn Cage as the protagonist, the fictional mayor of Natchez. I thought I knew what to expect, but Iles took me on a journey that I did not expect. Iles, who was born in Germany at a US Embassy Medical Clinic, grew up in Natchez where he still lives. He does not apologize for the secrets that he reveals. They are fictional secrets, but you can imagine there are true counterparts, or something similar.
But back to the Scripture above. Evil men killed three people in Philadelphia, MS, two of which were worried about the speck in another person’s eye. The Christians of Mississippi feared outsiders coming in like carpet baggers of old to worry about our specks, when they have logs.
I read an essay about the above Scripture over the weekend. The author described Jesus’ argument as argumentum ad absurdum without using the phrase. But is it an argument taken to the absurd to prove a point? Once we come to grips with our own sin, we have enough to worry about. Forget a log (or plank as is in the NIV), we could have ten trucks full of pulpwood jammed in our eyes. Worrying about someone else’s problems in that regard is what is truly absurd.
Lord, forgive me of my sins, and help me to love and help my neighbor instead of finding faults in him. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.