Grace the Governor of South Carolina

Grace and the Governor of South Carolina
By Leander S. Harding

A while back I wrote a little piece on my blog about how important Bluegrass and Gospel songs were to me. One of my friends read the piece. My friend summers in a community with a famous Christian retreat center and can hear the hymns every day, which my friend deeply enjoys except for Amazing Grace which is not a favorite because of the line, “saved a wretch like me.” My friend says this line ” is kind of a downer.” It is a common reaction and especially among many of us who have been manipulated as children by parents and religious leaders who know how to give guilt, the gift that keeps on giving. Particularly in the mainline churches there has been for several decades a move away from phrases such as “a wretch like me,” or the words from the old Book of Common Prayer, “we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.”

I understand the allergy to these expressions of guilt and self abnegation. I had that allergy but I am getting over it. The older I get the more content I feel with the language about wretches with no health in them. I used to think I wasn’t that bad. I went to Al Anon meetings for a good long while. Al Anon is the twelve step group for the friends and relatives of alcoholics. I went because I grew up with an alcoholic. At one of the meetings somebody in the group said something like, “One day I was driving the Exxon Valdez around and I hit some rocks and spilled a lot of oil and now I tend to cut others a break.” It was a metaphor that stuck with me. I have always wanted to be a good person and tried pretty hard and by God’s grace have done some good and nonetheless, from time to time, hit the rocks and spilled my share of oil. Johnny Cash has a song about where the train goes slow, as in where hobos can catch the train because it is going slow. It is the gospel train of course.

Here is one verse I like.

There’s a golden moon that shines up through the mist.
And I know that your name can be on that list.
There’s no eye for an eye, there’s no tooth for a tooth.
I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth.
He was down there by the train,
Down there by the train,
Down there by the train,
Down there by the train,
He was down there where the train goes slow.

So I like these songs about grace for wretches and places where the train goes slow. They speak to me. They give me hope.

I have been watching the governor of South Carolina on TV. The betrayal seems like a combination of murder and suicide. Society confuses infatuation with love, and as well there is confusion between happiness and joy. Happiness and infatuation are fleeting. Love and Joy open unto eternity and they come at a price and can’t be had without enduring commitment.

Now if I were that man’s pastor I would have to be able to assure him that there is grace for wretches, for he is genuinely one, and that there is a place where the train goes slow and even he can get on. That is not the same thing as cheap grace. That ought to be a pretty humble team, Judas and JWB and it has got to be a pretty tough thing to hobble down there to where you can catch the train. But that there is a place where the train goes slow is my hope.

The Rev. Leander S. Harding is an Episcopal priest and Dean of Church Relations and Seminary Advancement at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge PA.

3 thoughts on “Grace the Governor of South Carolina

  1. My sojourn on the gulf coast introduced me to Mississippi Public Radio and their Saturday night lineup of bluegrass and blues 8-10pm, and now that I’m in Pennsylvania I still tune in via mpbonline.org (I’m listening now). Most times, like right now, I’m treated to a few of the oldtime bluegrass gospel songs.

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