In a few weeks I'll be flying into Jackson, Mississippi. Once there I'll be whisked off further south to places like Laurel and Soso and Hattiesburg. A friend is being ordained as a minister down there and he's asked me to do the ordination message. After that, I'm doing a series of evening messages based on chapters from my book STREAMS - this is kind of like a "deeper life" series of gatherings. And yes, I have thought about what I'm going to say, especially on the first evening which is the ordination: Jesus as healer, lover, warrior, God. Something like that.
I am a student of history so I'm not ignorant of Mississippi or the South's history. I know about the slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow and segregation, I know that Medgar Evers was killed in Jackson, I know about the murder of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County in 1964.
I also know that the pain of Jim Crow and sharecropping and emancipation delayed brought the world the musical form known as the blues just as slavery brought the world black spirituals. I know that rock and pop music and probably a lot more came out of the blues. I know that Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and that he was heavily influenced by gospel music and the blues.
The Mississippi Delta, that is, the culture and reality and blues music that is the Mississippi Delta, begins on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I may not get to Memphis on this trip but I will get to Vicksburg. And I will not only be looking at the Civil War battlefield but hunting out whatever's left, if anything, of Catfish Row.
I know that Highway 61 South will take me through the heart of the Delta and I intend to drive on that road, suh.
But the biggest thing, really, is the friends I've made in Mississippi and Louisiana over the past five years. Church groups have come up three times to help us with youth work at our church of Heartland in Alberta (someone else got a hold of the name Graceland first). The cool thing is, all three times it was my pleasure to work with Bucky, the genial and energetic young man whose ordination I am going to preach in a few weeks.
First time he was newly married and they were living and serving people and God in Franklin, Louisiana. Second time too. Third time he was coming up from Britney Spear's hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana where he served in a church. He's in Mississippi now but on the way to the Delta he helped us make a lot of great friends with Southern accents. So yes, blues and Mississippi's dramatic history aside, I am a fortunate man because I am not taking Highway 61 South as a tourist but as someone who is visiting with friends. And not only visiting, but getting to do God and soul stuff with those friends as well.
I don't know if anyone from Mississippi reads my blogs, but if you do, hey, maybe we'll get a chance to meet. Drop me a line.
I'm looking forward to this. A lot. I remain grateful, oh yes, grateful is the word.