Sunday, June 1, 2014

Softer Phrases


Having just spent the better part of four days in a place known as the “Holy City,” I feel especially obliged to attend church today.

Charleston’s skyline is dotted by a series of magnificent steeples. In the early days of the city, the construction of some of these churches was funded with a tax on liquor. Judging by the size, intricate detail and expense of these spires, perhaps “Holy City” is a bit generous. Our tour guide, a lifelong resident put it best. “Down here, we like to clean things up and make them sound better, so we change names of things a lot. For example, graveyards become, “Church gardens.”  But, I’ve got to hand it to the early preachers of Charleston who had the good business sense to schedule their Sunday morning services according to the tide charts, so the rich rice planters would arrive in town at the precise time that services were about to begin! Today, you can arrange to have your tithes and offerings automatically deducted from your checking account. That’s progress, I’m told.

I’m not so sure. Accosting a bunch of insanely rich oligarchs as they disembark from their ships at high tide on Sunday in front of God and Man seems like a pretty cool deal to me. From the looks of it in Charleston today, it worked out pretty well for the churches. Some might call it religious extortion, but Charlestonians might refer to it in a more gentle way with one of their softer phrases, “spiritual persuasion.”

So, off to church I go, confident that no public humiliation awaits me. Of course, I’m no rich rice planter and certainly no oligarch, and besides, the tide is out.