Brother Gene, Jesus and the Piggly Wiggly

by Jim Moody, CAE
CSA President

I had a lesson in indignation a couple of weeks ago. I was in a restroom in the Atlanta airport, and a guy was smoking in a stall. It was illegal, and it was rude. As he walked out I had a strong impulse to confront him in a holier-than-thou manner.

But in that moment, I flashed back to a memory from adolescence that stopped me in my tracks. It’s a lesson from church, but not exactly the kind you'd expect from a religious institution.

I grew up Baptist. Very Baptist. I’ve recovered somewhat from that, but some scars remain. I still love Jesus but in a kinder, gentler way.

During my teenage years, we had the kind of fire-and-brimstone pastor that you’d expect in a small-town Baptist church. His name was Brother Gene, and he seemed to be about 70, although I’m sure he was much younger. He was a very controlling kind of guy and ran the church with an iron fist.

He decided he wanted to do communion on Sunday night to drive attendance at the evening service, and he thought it would be great to do it by candlelight. We had windows all the way down the sides of the church, and they had extra wide sills – perfect for candles with nice big globes. Somebody mentioned to him that there could be a problem with that, but he didn’t want to hear it.

So, the candles were lit, the lights were turned down, and we were in the middle of passing out the grape juice. The air conditioner clicked on and about 10 seconds later the sound of shattering glass stopped the ceremony in its tracks. The window sills were extra wide because that’s where the A/C vents were. The cold air blowing on the outside of those hot globes made every one of them burst. And that was the last time we did communion by candlelight.

A couple of years later, we got word that the Piggly Wiggly was going to start opening on Sundays. To Brother Gene, this was a sign that the apocalypse was near. He could practically hear the hoofbeats of the four horsemen. He began a crusade to put a stop to this crazy sinfulness and enlisted our church to help with the cause. We were to send letters to corporate headquarters saying we would never shop in their store again. Of course, these were hollow threats given that there was not another grocery store in town, but that didn’t seem to matter. Jesus needed his people to make a stand! Brother Gene even made a trip to the corporate headquarters to make his case and pray over the offices.

Our church was the talk of the town, and not in a good way. The Methodists, in particular, found it amusing. They already felt superior to us because their pastor ended his sermons on time and they always beat us to Shoney’s for lunch. Knowing they were laughing at us only stoked the fire.

Finally the date arrived, and the Pig opened on Sunday for the first time. It just happened to coincide with the senior adult luncheon at our church. The service ended, and all the elderly moved toward the fellowship hall. To their astonishment, they realized that no one had been assigned to bring meat. Guess who the biggest customer was on the first Sunday that the Pig was open? You guessed it: First Baptist Church. Thank God for the deli. Never again did Brother Gene rail against being open on Sunday.

The Pig is long gone, and so is Brother Gene. But the church is still there, and Jesus apparently still has a sense of humor.

So the point of my story is not really about how I may or may not have been scarred for life growing up Baptist. Instead it’s about stopping and thinking about what makes you indignant and thinking about how you handle that. Sometimes even when we are in the right, how we handle ourselves puts us in such a bad light that it makes the original evil look benign in comparison.

Flash forward to my stop in the smoky bathroom at Hartsfield. I wanted to confront the guy, but I chose not to. Instead I ended up washing my hands in the sink next to him. While I was washing up, I didn't realize that my iPad had fallen out of my computer bag. It landed with the cover down, so I didn’t hear it. As I dried my hands, the smoker walked behind me, leaned down, picked up my iPad and handed it to me. Without his act of kindness, I would not have realized the iPad was missing until I got home.

The moral of the story is that sometimes when we soften our harsh edges, we end up better off than we would if we satisfied our urge to be indignant.

This had absolutely nothing to do with lumber or building materials, but sometimes you just have to write what’s on your heart.