Ashley Smith made headlines, by cooking pancakes and reading to Brian Nichols, who had taken her hostage. Nichols, a fugitive, abducted Smith outside of her apartment in Atlanta. Of interest to me was Smith's text for her read-out-loud session, which has garnered her and the book's author, Rick Warren, a boatload of publicity--not that Warren needs any.
The Xian pastor and author, is another in a long line of hucksters for Jesus, who reduce Xianity down to a system of dos-and-don'ts, or a formula for living. Warren, part of the whole megachurch phenomenom, worships at the alter of mammon quite comfortably, which seems to be common for many who practice his profit-driven brand of spirituality.
Warren's The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?, has shot up Amazon's list of bestsellers. The book, successful from a numbers perspective, has received an even bigger bump from Smith's use of the book to quiet Nichols and soothe him during the time he held her hostage.
What I find most interesting about the entire event, is how conservatives have once again seized the incident and are now using it, as well as Smith, to strengthen their family values crusade.
While I think Smith showed tremendous bravery and exhibited calm during a potentially deadly situation, to assign divine intent and significance cheapens the entire incident.
It seems to me that too many Xians want to see God's hand in every incident, yet in reality, one could also ask "where was God?" in many other situations of death and carnage; Florida has the case of the abduction and murder of a nine-year-old girl who had been missing for two weeks. Her picture is seen on handbills all over the area and the local news stations have had her picture and stories about her disappearance on every broadcast. A longtime sex offender with numerous convictions just came forward and confessed to her murder. Obviously, God provided no happy ending in this case.
Florida (and much of the south) seems to live in a dreamworld that attributes divine purpose to many events. It's a land of Bibles and Baptist Churches, a place of pro-life sentiments and Republican family values. It's also a place of strip malls, overdevelopment and a dwindling population of many native species, from the Manatee to the Florida Panther. It's easy enough to see that the driving force behind most of the culture of development and real estate speculation is greed and the quest for the almighty dollar, rather than living a life in the "center of God's purpose." Walking the sands of Clearwater Beach, I could observe how the large hotels and now, the condominiums, are driving the Mom and Pop operations off the beach. Despite the glitz and glamour of some of the ritzy beachfront properties, homeless men and women still sleep on the beaches and panhandle for change.
While the sunshine and warmer temperatures are attractive, there is an ugliness about Florida that's hard for me to put my finger on. The hypocrisy that I have written about on many occasions over the past year, seems to be present in abundance here; a place where the practice of one's faith begins on Sunday morning and ends when most walk out of church an hour later, set to go back to the pursuit of profit with an even greater gusto.
If God is present in Florida, I haven't seen much of his hand, unless of course, God favors condo development and environmental despoilment, of which the Tampa Bay area has an abundance of.