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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

South Carolina

We landed late last night in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the states in our union that I had yet to visit. We were immediately immersed in the open and zealous openness of evangelicalism that dots this landscape through the kind and sincere young man who helped us rent our car. It became clear early on in our conversation that he was a conservative evangelical, eager to let "his faith shine" through, seeking to give even subtle witness to his faith with these two strangers who had just arrived from their long journey across the pond. I really thought he was going to share the 4 spiritual laws with us before he gave us the keys! But he was truly kind and sincere and it made me realize that even though we are likely theologically miles apart, I had to admire his sincerity. When he asked what our occupation was, Doug said that we worked in a church and he looked him (and only him (; )straight in the eye and asked if he was the pastor. Doug simply answered yes and I decided that rather than give him a coronary by telling him that I too was ordained and one of the pastors, I would simply stand by my man and play the dutiful pastor's wife. It was fine. We realized that Bob Jones University stood in the shadows of the rental agency and the overt evangelicalism that we were experiencing began to make some sense. It was warm...seriously, 90 degrees (31 C) at 10.00 p.m. We loved being outside in the warm evening and dreaming about the warmth and sunshine that we knew would greet us upon waking.

We woke up to blooming trees, bright sunshine and piles of pollen! It was 80 degrees F at 9.00 a.m. and we were thrilled to be wearing shorts instead of scarves! It made some sense that our first stop should be Bob Jones University since it was only 5 minutes down the road. It was interesting to consider this strand of our faith. Christianity is so interesting in that it envelopes such a broad range of attitude and opinion. The conservative viewpoint that this university is famous for could not be further from where Doug and I land in ours. And yet, we considered that the folks that were involved in this university are likely lovely people just trying to live life in the way that they most fully understand it. We were out of place in our shorts as the men on campus all wore slacks, shirts and ties and the women were in skirts and modest tops. The campus itself wasn't anything special...but it was fun to stop by.
We made our way into downtown Greenville and were greatly impressed by this quaint little town. The River falls walk is spectacular and we really enjoyed the downtown area.We needed to get to Clinton where our friends live to pick up tickets and get information, etc. so we decided to take some back roads and try to discover a few things about the area. We knew this was the Bible belt and we knew that churches abounded, but at a rate of about one per half mile, we were still astonished. Even more fascinating were the names of the churches along with their mottos...many who included the word fundamental on their signs. Again, this is so far from where I am theologically, but it was great to soak it in and consider what this slice of America is about.
We stopped in a little town called Laurens and got a bit more flavor. Highlights included the civil war monument and this little shop: The World Famous Redneck Shop. We didn't go in.You just never know what you are going to discover on a South Carolinian back road!
We arrived in Clinton, the home of our friends as well as Presbyterian College where my friend works. This campus was beautiful. It was so fun to be back on a small college campus and this one has a special charm about it. After a fun lunch getting caught up with my friend, and picking up the treasured tickets to the Masters, we made our way to Columbia. The drive was beautiful and relaxing and the afternoon jet lag lull was hitting us. We got in in time to catch the end of the par 3 tournament at the Masters which is great fun because the players are relaxed and they let their kids play part of the round and caddy for them. It's very cool.
It was still very hot...88 F (30C) and we were loving it! We headed into Columbia for the evening. The State House there is beautiful and the history that oozes from this area is impressive. It was great to walk around such a historically significant area. Even so, the confederate stuff is hard to understand. A confederate flag is flown in front of the state house even while off to one side is an amazing monument to the history of African Americans that depicts their journey from being sold as slaves, working as slaves, fighting in the civil war, gaining freedom but still being subjected to racist behaviors and laws, the civil rights movement and finally some statues of African Americans who have made significant contributions to various professions in the US. I said to Doug, "Now they can add President."

It was moving and beautiful. (Wow, as I write, I'm listening to CNN report on how the governor of Virginia has now declared that the month of April should be Confederate History Month. More on this later, but it's staggering, especially as he overlooked the issue of slavery in his entire reasoning.)
From the we wandered around the University of South Carolina. Again, what a lovely place. We wandered through the "Horseshoe" that adorns a large central green space and read up on the history embedded within this university.
Many thoughts raced through my head today. I am no expert on the civil war, but I do have an eagerness now to bone up on that part of our nation's history. I'd love a great historical fiction book that could guide me through some of the issues while giving me characters with whom I could interact. I wonder about why some Southerners still want to fly that confederate flag when it seems to be such a racist symbol. But I don't judge because I don't know. I need to understand what that flag means to those who want to fly it...and hope and pray it isn't because of oppressive issues.
South Carolina is gorgeous. And hot! A renewed desire to learn more about this place has been awakened and for this I am so thankful. What a great day full of so many thoughts and a feast of visuals never before seen by me.I'm tired tonight and need to sleep. Augusta awaits us!