The Gospel According to Swamp Yankees

Do you come from a long line of believers? A family with deep spiritual roots and a legacy of following Jesus, proudly passed on to you with the hope of blessing for another generation?

Yeah, me neither.

My family has passed some stuff down from generation to generation but it would not be classified as a legacy, more like “infectious” or “toxic.”

If you’d met my father’s parents, you’d find it no small twist of irony that he is an expert in putting out fires and containing hazardous materials. That my mother survived her parents, to be the amazing human and parent she is, is no small miracle, either. They are early settlers of faith on our family tree and my husband and I are pioneers.

As a Rhode Islander, I have a territorial spiritual legacy that leaves much to be desired. When the first English settlers were organizing into communities, anyone who was rebellious or who couldn’t manage to fit in with the other colonists was sent to live in Rhode Island.

Yup, the loon should be our state bird (instead, it’s a chicken. Seriously. A chicken.)

We’re special here in RI. The symbol of Rhode Island is the Independent Man. That’s what we’re known for – stubborn independence. There’s ornery in our DNA and we’re weirdly proud of that.

Back in elementary school, I used to stop by my grandfather’s corner store after school (he was the butcher.) When my teacher assigned us to find out our families’ heritage, I asked Gramp what we were.

“Swamp Yankees.” He confidently replied, pointing a raw hotdog at my worksheet. “You write that down. We’re Swamp Yankees.”

The next day, my teacher told me to go back home and be sure to ask my mother for the correct answer.

“Swamp Yankee is a colloquialism that has a variety of meanings. Generally, it refers to Yankees or WASPs (northeasterners with English colonial ancestry) from rural Rhode Island and nearby eastern Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts. The term “Yankee” connotes urbane industriousness, while the term “Swamp Yankee” signifies a more countrified, stubborn, independent, and less refined subtype.” *

Yup, that there’s mah legacy.

On the PBS special I watched last week, the producers excitedly informed the audience that, probably because of the strange characters who settled our state, we have the greatest amount of paranormal activity per capita in the country. Apparently, he believes even the dead of our state are reluctant to travel far from home. Stubborn territorial spirits – are you getting the picture?

All this is to say that if I’m an expert on anything, it’s on the power of Christ to overcome the most independent, stubborn, ornery humans that ever walked the earth. And that this powerful God emphasizes His character of abundant mercy.

Really, He comes at Swamp Yankees armed with mercy. Go figure.

I’ve said in another post that the guilty need mercy. If you’re clearly guilty, deserving of punishment, standing before the judge, you’re best hope is mercy.

But, there is another reason to cry out for mercy – when you can’t save yourself.

People facing trouble they’re helpless to change on their own need mercy.

Normally, we humans fight for complete independence – we cling to the gospel of the bootstrap and a “mind your own business” faith.

But when we face an enemy that is stronger than we are, whether that enemy is another nation, a terrorist, a disease, a disability, a situation, or a system in power over us, we need the mercy and help of someone with the power to defend, free, help, or heal us.

Too often, we think we can fix or change anything on our own. Too often, we think we’re in control of our world. Too often, we don’t recognize our need for God because we’re doing just fine without Him. Too many of us Swamp Yankees would rather go down alone than admit we need help.

But, if you read through any of the gospels, you’ll notice people crying out to Jesus for mercy. Blind men. Parents of sick children. The demon possessed. Foreigners with no right to Jesus. Widows. Paralytics. All crying out “Have mercy on me, Jesus. Mercy.”

In that day, these were people with no hope of help from others. Outcasts. Untouchables. Rejects.

But their unchangeable, helpless conditions placed them in the perfect situation to see what others couldn’t. They recognized the Messiah for who He was.

Those of us who face situations beyond our control would never choose to be where we are but we must be careful not to miss the gift and the opportunity that helplessness brings. When we are waylaid by the side of the road, watching others hurry past, absorbed in their next task – we know the true nature of our condition and of human limitations.

So when Jesus walks past – we recognize the One True Hope for humankind.

When we cry out for mercy, we receive it. Not only for ourselves but also as a guidepost for those who passed us by, so consumed with their own independent business, they didn’t stop for us or for the Lord.

For they are in need of mercy, too.

Are you harboring an inner Swamp Yankee?

Take a moment and think about where you are today. Are you stuck by the side of the road desperately aware of your helplessness against a situation greater than you? Cry out for mercy and the God of mercy will respond.

Or are you comfortably in control of your life, cruising along, confident that you have made the right choices and positioned yourself well to handle whatever comes along on your own? You should consider crying out for mercy, too. You may be at risk of being so busy managing your affairs that you miss Him as you hurry past.

The truth is, we’re all helpless to save ourselves. We all stand in the need of mercy. But we have a God who is merciful. We have a God who saves – even Swamp Yankees.

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