March 26, 1993
AUSTIN, Tex. – You will be pleased, I am sure, to learn the Snider family father-and-sons safari is over. It ended where it began, in the New Orleans airport. I delivered Steve and Kurt for dawn flights home, and we had a final cup of coffee, resisting the feeling the occasion called for a farewell milk punch or Ramos gin fizz.
We spent our last two nights together in New Orleans, after visiting Natchez and Vicksburg. We finally got our fill of oysters and blackened this and blackened that, better known as napalm cooking. No wonder the natives are called Ragin’ Cajuns.
While Steve and Kurt flew home, I headed for Texas to join my annual golf outing. I left the Deep South the same way I entered, motoring along in my elegant Edsel II and listening to radio evangelists.
It wasn’t that after a spell in New Orleans I felt the need to repent. It’s simply the fact I like to listen to radio preachers, and in the South you can find them all over the dial, day or night. They are entertaining, and a few have a sense of humor.
For example, there was a preacher named Chuck who said, “Jesus was asked if he was the Prophet, and he said no, he was not the Prophet. He could have added he was not the Jolly Green Giant, either.”
When Chuck began his pitch for money to keep his radio ministry on the air, I was tempted to send a modest contribution, but he quickly made it clear he wasn’t interested so much in one shot donations as in monthly payments. He was for salvation on the installment plan.
While humor may work for Chuck, the Reverend Thaine Ford believes speed is the thing when you’re trying to lure the flock into your church and keep them there until the service is over. In his Baptist Church in Lafayette, La., he offers what he calls “the works” in just 22 minutes.
His service of sermon, hymn singing, scripture reading and prayers is so fast they call it “McChurch” because he dishes out religion like McDonald’s deals hamburgers.
He may have something, because a survey I read in the Vicksburg newspaper said the two main reasons people don’t attend church are “more interest in nonchurch organizations” and “no time for church.” The third reason may shock the clergy because it says, “dislike pastor. Other reasons given sound more like excuses. They include gripes that church people are hypocritical, there are too many financial appeals, loss of faith in the church, and lack of social involvement by the church.
One man in the Deep South has a secondhand vision that could stir up some interest, particularly if it comes true. Clayton Sullivan, a professor of philosophy and religion at the University of southern Mississippi, has written a book called “Jesus and the Sweet Pilgrim Baptist Church.”
It is a fable about the second coming of Christ, and it is a little unusual because Jesus returns as a Jewish woman to visit the Sweet Pilgrim Baptist Church. She brings along one of her disciples, Simon Peter, also a woman.
Sullivan got the idea from a dream his wife had. Don’t laugh. Doubleday published the book, and a movie deal is in the making.
And in New Orleans, there is another twist on religion. Residents of Italian and Sicilian heritage celebrated Saint Joseph’s day on March 19 with a parade and with altars set up all over the city where the public is invited to worship and enjoy food and wine.
Many of the altars are in homes, and they are advertised in the classified section of the newspaper. A typical ad reads, “Saint Joseph altar given by Frank and Charlotta Simoncioni, blessing 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thurs. Fri 12 noon til? 4136 Indiana, Kenner.”
There were more than 100 such ads in one edition of the paper and it appears that on March 19 nobody had to go home hungry or thirsty.
One Mississippi man is almost a religion by himself. He is John Grisham, who has become, almost overnight, the world’s most popular novelist. He has done that despite being two things the world likes least, a lawyer and a state legislator.
While in the legislature, he started his first novel on a yellow legal pad. “A Time to Kill” became fairly popular, but his second book, “The Firm” was a runaway bestseller. Then came “The Pelican Brief” and now his newest, “The Client.”
“The Firm” spent 47 weeks on the bestseller list, and already his first three books have sold 16 million copies in paperback alone. A movie of “The Firm” with Tom Cruise, is due out in July.
In Jackson, Miss., recently, Grisham signed 3,500 books for waiting buyers in just seven hours. Success is a tough deal.