Monday, February 19, 2007

Church and Carter Yesterday

As I indicated in my teaser yesterday, I went on a roadtrip/pilgrimage over the weekend, to Plains, GA, home of former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter. I went with a couple of friends, one of whom hatched up the idea for the trip while she watched the coverage of Gerald Ford's funeral(s). Carter teaches a Sunday School class whenever he's in town, and the Maranatha Baptist Church publishes the schedule on their web site. It was an opportunity to meet a former president and great activist, in his element.

We drove down (it's a four and half hour drive from Chattanooga to Plains) on Saturday afternoon and spent the night in Americus, GA.

We got up at 6:30 Sunday morning and drove over to Plains after grabbing a quick breakfast. We knew that the church wouldn't open until 8:30, and that we'd face the tight security that is typical of the Secret Service once we got there. When we first arrived, we were alarmed to see that a long line had already formed at the door of the church. It's a very small church, so were were afraid we might not make it in before they had to start turning people away. Fortunately, the line moved through security pretty quickly once the doors opened. It was very cold (which is very unusual in South Georgia!), so we were doubly grateful to make into the church.

Once inside, we sat through an hour of indoctrination -- what to expect, how to behave, what the rules are regarding cameras, photos with the Carters, and where and when to go to the bathroom. It was a bit over the top, but it also kept us entertained while we waited until Sunday School started at 10am. Carter and his wife arrived promptly at 10, and he opened with a question: "Do we have any visitors today?" That got a big laugh from the crowd. There were a lot more visitors there than there were church members. People reported they had come from Canada, Moscow, Korea, and from all over the United States.

Once he was past the smalltalk, Carter spent some time talking about his recent trip to Africa, during which he studied the diseases of the Third World. He described many people he encountered who suffered from guinea worm disease, which is a particularly horrifying infection that can cause a lot of suffering during its long recovery period. (Also, Carter shared a bit of trivia: the snake entwined around a stick in the familiar AMA logo is a actually a guinea worm.)

Then we got to the substance of Carter's Sunday School lesson, which was dictated somewhat by the Uniform Series Study Guide that the church uses for Sunday School. Yesterday's verse was John 14:6: Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. Carter spoke some about Lazarus and about the aversion we people have to talking about death -- we even go so far as to avoid using the word, preferring phrases like "passed on" to "died." He shared with us a poem he wrote called "A Committee of Scholars Describe the Future Without Me," which was inspired by his observations while members of the Carter Center board struggled to make plans to move forward after he is gone. He nearly brought the house down with the poem's final line.*

Once Sunday School was over, church began. It runs from 11 to 12. We enjoyed the service and stuck around long enough afterwards for a picture with the Carters, which didn't turn out all that well (oh, well). Then we took in a few of the historical sites and had some lunch at the Windsor Hotel in Americus before heading back to Chattanooga.

It was a whirlwind roadtrip, but it all went beautifully and I was thrilled to find both Carters looking very well. They move with ease and appear to be quite healthy and strong. Happily, they should be able to continue their work for quite some time to come.

*the full text of the poem follows after the jump:

From Always a Reckoning and Other Poems
A Committee of Scholars Describe
the Future Without Me

Some shy professors, forced to write
about a time that's bound to come
when my earthly life is done
described my ultimate demise
in lovely euphemistic words
invoking pleasant visions of
burial rites, with undertakers,
friends, kinfolks, and pious pastors
gathered round my flowery casket
eyes uplifted
breaking new semantic ground
by not just saying
I have passed on
joined my maker
or gone to the Promised Land
but stating the lamented fact
in the best and gentlest terms
that I, now dead, have recently
                   reduced my level of particpation.


joe lance said...

Bolo tie - that's pretty cool.

smijer said...

Mosty O/T, but I love euphemisms for death. Most are religious - and you know how I feel about religion...but...

There are elements of religion that are admirable. Euphemisms for death don't rightly fall into that category, but I think they might be off-shoots of something that does.

There are also elements of religion that are just loveable. For me, that usually comes from "down-home" religion. One of my favorite down-home religious expressions is that someone who has died has been "called away" or "called home" by the Lord.

I don't know why that makes me feel kindly toward the person uttering it, but it does.

Anyway - just a little autobiography to bore the hell out of you with.

Keera said...

"Transitioned" is another one. I just say "died". In Norwegian a common euphemism is "slept in", as in went to sleep, with "went quietly to sleep" very common in obituaries. "Called home to Jesus" is another. I find such euphemisms to be a bit informative (peaceful death, Christian). And I find something comforting about the religious references. I understand that they are there to relieve the fear of death. We all need that relief.

Anyway, thanks, Alice, for bringing us along to Sunday school with Carter!