That’s Just Common

white trash jesus IIIn “Brother to a Dragonfly“, Will Campbell tells a story about a preacher he knew named Thad Garner. Campbell said Garner was the most profane and profound man he ever knew.  Garner always referred to himself as his church’s mascot, saying “They feed me well. They even love me. They pat me on the head and brag about me. They show me off before the other teams. There’s just one thing wrong with being a mascot. Just one little inconvenience. They keep you on a leash. Otherwise, it’s a great life.” On occasion, Garner would relate the story of a college whose mascot was a fine pedigreed dog. A neighboring school stole him and bred him to a mongrel female. They kept him until the pups were born, then returned him along with his new family. Campbell said Garner never explained the story, but the way he would shrug and wink his eye, you got the idea he meant that even a mascot can’t be completely controlled and that, every once in a while, God will steal him away, get him involved with what the world calls common and use him to screw up the system. That may be one of the best descriptions of what being a Christian is all about.

What the world calls common. If you’re not a southern American, you may be wondering “What’s so bad about common?” Garner was a southerner, so his use of the word needs to be read in a southern context. Here in the south, words mean more than their dictionary definition. The closest you can come to the southern meaning is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary which say common means “lacking refinement : coarse” and ” falling below ordinary standards : second-rate”. But, to a southerner, it means so much more. To us, common equals trashy (another good southern term. Strangely, the Urban dictionary has the best definition), worthless and no good. So, why would the Christian faith be tied up with something like that? Because common has nothing left to lose and can go after the system full bore. “What’s so bad about the system, you ask? The system holds people down because of the color of their skin. The system tells you it’s okay to live like a king while two blocks away, a veteran who served his country honorably sleeps outside. The system reduces the Christian faith to tedious legalism and uses it to marginalize LGBT folks. The system works to keep women barefoot and pregnant so they stay out of the way of the menfolk while they take care of the important stuff. The system works to preserve the privilege and power of a select group and doesn’t give a damn about the needs of those without that power and privilege. The system is exactly what Jesus came to abolish.

As you can see, getting involved in something common (and believe me, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and subsequent life meet the southern definition of common) and screwing up the system (Jesus’ ministry was dedicated to screwing up the system) has long and rich tradition and is what being a Christian (i.e. a follower of Christ) is really all about.