Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sounding Pious

It must have been in the fall of 1939 or 1940 when my mother and I, white folks, were sitting on the front porch of our house in Louisville, KY. That makes me about seven years old. And in the South. As we looked out toward the street, we saw a nice looking black woman walk past the house, wearing a servant’s dress and carrying a bag of groceries.

As the woman got in front of the house, her grocery bag split and her groceries fell to the ground. Cans and bags tumbled to the sidewalk. She was helpless to stop the flow.

“Wait a minute,” my mother called to her as she ran inside the house. She returned in a flash with a brown grocery bag. She got down on her knees and helped the woman collect her valuables and place them in the new bag. When everything was picked up, the servant thanked Mother and went on to her destination.

“Why did you help her?” I asked. “She was a servant.”

Mother, a Southern Baptist, responded with a grand summary of her theology when she said, “Her bag was broken.”

I learned two things that day, over sixty four years ago. One was obvious and the other took some time.

The first thing I learned was that broken bags transcend all social systems.

The second thing was that sounding pious is okay, but what really counts is where your feet take you.

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