Recently, I’ve spent some time explaining why it’s important for my people (Southerners) to consider their ancestry. I began a couple of weeks ago by making a distinction between Southern greetings like “Where are you from” and other less meaningful introductions like “where do you work”. I raised this distinction to show how Southerners generally try to get to know a person from the get-go and how we intuitively attempt to understand a person from the roots up. But, I have been made aware of how that strength can weaken another Southern virtue. I’d like to share my recent convictions about Southern hospitality.
When a culture places a premium upon its ancestry it may result in a kind of exclusivity that ought not be. If a person places great deal of value on his or her people, outsiders sometimes lose value in their estimation. This devaluation of “others” manifests itself in indifference and even cruelty. When we stop looking for true virtue in Southern culture and replace that search with merely besting other cultures, we devalue other cultures and by definition their people. Rather than promote what is good about our own people we endanger our reputation as arrogant.. If we automatically consider other cultures to have little or no value then we cheat ourselves as well as others.
It seems like there would be little harm in this cultural competition except for how it effects individuals.
In a recent sermon my pastor made a comment that required some serious self-examination. He shared how tough it had been for him to be accepted here in the South coming from Ohio. Our self-interest and vindictiveness toward “Yankees” had bled onto an innocent man whose interest was relational. There was tension in his voice and my heart broke for him and I felt sorry for my people’s sin. We had betrayed one of the very virtues in which we so pridefully self-identify. Because of our cultural exclusivity, we had been inhospitable.
““When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.” (Leviticus 19:33, ESV)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not backing down from the observations I’ve made about the virtues aligned with being Southern. There’s little doubt that much of what defines Southern culture is a direct product of Christianity. In fact, the South may be the last vestige of Christian culture remaining in the United States. I might go so far as to say that it is the only region that actually has a culture connected with a geographically located people. The rest of the US seems to have as much of a psychological bent as it does any real culture.
“You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.”” (Leviticus 24:22, ESV)
Those things are not the point though.
It seems that it’s so easy to be proud of who we are that we forget or even contradict who we ought to be. If we take pride in our heritage that’s great! Part of that heritage is embodied in a hospitality that is second to none. But, if we become so prideful of our heritage that we become inhospitable to strangers then we have defeated ourselves. We have become the epitome of hypocrisy!
I know. We have our reasons to dislike Yankees. It’s true that many of them think of themselves as superior to us. Yes, they were the brokers of Reconstruction. Okay, they constantly move to our land because they “love it down here” and immediately embark on a crusade to change it. I, along with you, have been the recipient of discourteous comments, unmannerly gestures, and even insulting sermons (former pastor). Those things ought not cause us to betray ourselves. We must remain hospitable.
God has commanded his people to practice hospitality. As Southerners we have taken that seriously. We are known for that virtue more than any other. We model that virtue to the rest of the world. I for one am unwilling to extinguish that virtue in favor of Southern purity or utopia. I’d rather teach the “sojourner” to assimilate and display his or her own hospitality.
Southern heritage is rich. We have preserved and perpetuated many things that are good and true about being American. Brion McClannahan likes to say that “the South is America”. There is a lot of truth to that. He also admits that the South is not and has never been monolithic. Both statements are accurate and we would do well to remember them.
We are more than a stereotype! The South is ethnically diverse and our black culture has a rich and virtually untapped heritage. The South is diverse in worship as well. There are more churches per Southerner than Carter has pills.The South is rich with musical talent of various genre and its literary traditions are as wide as its imaginations. And yes, the South is politically diverse . True liberalism incubates in Southern minds growing creative ideas to foster freedom like those festering thoughts of a young boy on a cold and rainy midwinter Saturday.
We are homogeneous only to the extent that each of us self-identity as Southern. Being Southern is more than being hospitable to all people, but it is never less than that.
Passing the inheritance
The evidence of God’s providence is displayed in our ancestry, but there is no guarantee that the next generation of Southerners will continue in our father’s and grandfather’s honorable footsteps. It is up to us to extend our prosperity to our people and beyond. One way to do that is by extending our hospitality to the folks who are irresistibly drawn to our home, permanently or not.
It’s important that we instill manners in our children. We must exemplify honor to them as well. Both are meaningless unless accompanied by hospitality. Simply put, let’s give people a chance and offer them the best of what we have.