taking the words of Jesus seriously
EDITOR’S NOTE: In an effort to report on the prophetic witness of Christians in America today, RLC has run several posts in the past year on the Moral Movement, which began in North Carolina and has now spread to 14 other states. One of the key emphases of today’s Moral Movement, articulated often by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, is the need for state-based, state-government focused moral critique in America today. Today’s letter, while very much in the spirit of Mark Twain and Stephen Colbert, does just that.

Dear Tennessee,

Normally, I find the soaring rhetoric of naively self-important open letters tacked up on the Facebook walls of my co-workers and mom’s salon friends a bit ham-handed, if not overly simplistic and altogether unhelpful for those of us just trying to kill a little time on our phones before the dermatologist calls us back to finally take a look at that weird thing on our back.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

But, much like the mother of a 9 year-old avoiding eye contact from her fellow shoppers as her son looses it in the cereal aisle, I’ve been pushed to the breaking point by your unceasing and mostly incoherent screams. Because Tennessee–I mean this–I really do love you. I wouldn’t have intentionally moved back here if I didn’t, but I think if we’re going to make it as a pair, you and I, we’ve got a bit of work left to do.

For starters, you are, generally speaking: obese, uneducated, impoverished, fearful, addicted, and held together mostly with Mountain Dew and institutional racism.

Now, before you accuse me of grad-school snobbery here’s some terrifyingly hard data from SCIENCE!:

4th in the nation in obesity

1st in the nation in meth-lab incidents

4th worst in dental health

39th in general well being for children

44th in higher education enrollment

49th in terms of overall “state safety”

And, drum roll please

Dead last (50th) in financial commitment to all levels of education.

If you haven’t seen enough, here’s what a 2014 Gallup-Healthways Index rating had to say about the 7th most miserable state of the union, our very own Tennessee:

“Tennessee residents were among the most likely to have a variety of physical health problems in 2013, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and chronic pain. People living in Tennessee were also less likely to feel safe walking at night than residents of many other states. The state’s violent crime rate of 643.6 incidents per 100,000 residents was the highest in the nation in 2012 and may justify these fears. Economic confidence in the state was among the worst last year. This was despite the fact that the state’s economy grew by 3.3% in 2012, one of the largest growth rates that year.”

 Or, put another way: Eat your heart out Kentucky.

You might say, from a 30,000 foot view point, we aren’t necessarily NAILING IT as a state, but of course there are quite variegated and complex factors at play in determining the root of our communal struggles for health, education, and well being.

I get that.

I still don’t know how to shut-off the water to my house.

I guess you could say we all have blind spots.

However, I’d like to argue there’s a rather large difference between fear-based ignorance when it comes to home repair projects and, say, proposing-in the face of a legislative cycle that has already seen the rejection of our Republican governor’s health insurance roll-out by his very own Republican constituency in the house-that the official state book of Tennessee should, of course, be the Bible.

Because, democratically speaking, we’re trapped in a Cormac McCarthy novel that can only end WITH EVERYONE DYING.

Yes, I must admit, Representative Jerry Sexton sized up the inchoate needs of our great state quite well, as he noted that while Tennessee currently has a state fruit (the tomato), a state mineral (agate), and in a moment of PEAK Tennessee, a state wild animal (the Raccoon, thank you very much), we currently lack a state book.


Sadly, and here’s where I feel compelled to clear my throat awkwardly in an effort to gain your internet attention, I think Representative Sexton and the rest of the gang in Nashville have failed to notice is that while we lack a very many things here in Tennessee, one of them isn’t general respect for the B-I-B-L-E.

And all God’s people said: “STATE’S RIGHTS!!!!

As I’m sure Mark Twain probably would’ve said were he forced to live in the state with the 4th worst teeth:

“Aren’t prayer and unexpected gunshot wounds the pillars of healthcare in America or has that gone out of fashion now?

To conclude:

Tennessee, I love you.

I love your trees, your mountains, your sausage gravy, your people, and your rock-bottom home prices.

I love the way the dogwoods bloom on my street in late March, and how everyone calls me sweetie even if they’re meeting me for the first time.

I love that uttering the phrase “bless your heart” before verbally disemboweling someone makes everything okay.

I love that my family has lived in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains for generations.

And I love that I have the chance to introduce my soon-to-arrive son to the grandeur of Fall Saturdays in Neyland Stadium.

But, seriously, you’re eating and smoking and shooting and voting yourself to death and it’s terribly difficult to watch.

So, perhaps we could consider this letter an intervention of sorts.

Why else would I have corralled you and so many family and friends who care about you in the sagging conference room of the Cookeville Quality Inn (the one near the interstate not the one downtown, and now we’re off track) if not to let you know that if you continue to demonize oppositional viewpoints, orientations, and ethnicities, if you continue to prostitute and sacrifice the faith to which I’ve pledged my life, if you continue to commit yourselves to a legislative agenda that endlessly demeans and undermines the rites of women in our state, and if you continue to ignore the plight of so many of our uninsured brothers and sisters…

Then perhaps you should rethink your state book proposal. Because the ancient text you’ve selected doesn’t have incredibly favorable things to say about government officials who leverage religion for personal, financial, and political gain. And, as a matter of fact, it even baldly asserts that those who oppress or ignore the needs of the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant living in their midst will probably find themselves on the business end of that divine wrath they’ve been wielding like an angry toddler with a 9-iron all these years.

Por ejemplo:

“This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other. But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears…This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.” -Zechariah 7:9-14

Oh, that was just Zechariah. It only gets worse for you when Jesus grabs the mic.

All the best,


About The Author


Eric is a writer, pastor, and therapist in East Tennessee.

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