Mama said it was shame about Billie Joe, anyhow.
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge,
And now Billie Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe”
Years ago, I was a pretty devout Christian fundamentalist. Lest you have doubts about that, here I am (standing, on the right with my head just over the head of the pianist), singing in a trio at church in the early nineties. Calvary Memorial Church, Southern Pines, NC, which I refer to fondly as “The Fundy Church From Hell.”
And, while I don’t have a photo handy of anyone preaching, here’s a newer picture of the same church.
You can see the pulpit clearly to the left of the picture, so you can imagine the hours and hours I spent sitting in that place, listening to preaching and hearing not only stories from the Bible, but all sorts of stories about people. Little moral lessons.
Some were warning stories, like the veiled references in the song above, “Ode to Billie Joe.”
But others were these feel-good, sappy stories designed to draw tears and bring out Kleenexes and soften “hearts” for “the Holy Spirit.”
I was well into adulthood before I began to understand that these little stories were mostly composites and in many instances, totally fake. Preachers used them as “illustrations” and somehow thought it was okay to tell fables like this in order to make a point. And it is. From the time of Aesop, people having been telling stories to communicate larger ideas.
Hell, they even sell books of “sermon illustrations” – in other words, maybe true but probably fake stories that preachers can use to sprinkle around on an otherwise very boring sermon to make it more palatable.
Once the internet arrived, we started getting forwarded email. Remember? With the five-deep “>>>>>” signs all down the part that was forwarded, where you had to hunt to find the actual message buried inside. And they were mostly fake too.
So somebody brilliant came up with the idea of Snopes. They began to check out these stories, so that now you can find out that the story of the adulterous couple is a legend, and is told in various ways, or that the story of the car thief who was smashed in an earthquake is just plain false.
But some of these stories are heartwarming, and who cares if they’re fake? After all, they make us feel all warm and fuzzy, and maybe something sort of like that really did happen, and besides, I happen to like fiction.
Of course, when I buy fiction and read it, I know I’m reading fiction.
This is from Mark Moore’s blog. It’s an old page, from December of 2011, but he’s dragged it out and dusted it off and thinks it’s appropriate.
It is, because it nicely illustrates my point.
Mark is supposedly a real person (a point of some controversy, but he does seem to be real) who is a moderator on the Truth Seeking Graduates of Bob Jones Facebook page. I’m linking to it, but I don’t recommend it, unless you like your truth mixed with all sorts of fabrication and creative stories.
This heartwarming little story is about an immigrant couple who tragically had their child snatched away from them. He goes on to compare that couple with Joseph and Mary, and it’s all so lovely and such wonderful things come of “obscure beginnings.”
There’s a teensy problem, of course. The story of “Ed and Liz” is, like the sermon illustrations of my youth, fake. Mark is referring to the very imaginary Ed and Elizabeth Tozar, the supposed Ukranian parents of Cathy Harris, who was tragically abducted from them and then prostituted for years and years.
I honestly do not know why Mark is recycling this mythology. Does he not know that we proved the whole thing fake months ago? Cathy has never refuted any of this, and in fact, went completely silent about these fictitious parents when we showed that it was all untrue.
But I suppose that’s par for the course. Mark has given us a two-for in this little story.
The Jesus myth is fake, too. Even if there was a Jesus, there wasn’t any census, nor any tax, nor any trip to Bethlehem, nor any miraculous virgin birth, nor any special star, nor any wise men, nor any angels. There may or may not have been a Joseph and a Mary, and a baby Jesus. Maybe.
Does the fact that these folks listen to “sermon illustrations” which are the equivalent of those silly stories that float about now on social media instead of email make them more gullible? I guess believing in one myth makes it easier to swallow the other one.
Telling the story over and over again, even for 2000 years, doesn’t make it true.