Points to Ponder/Bike Trip to Mayberry

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

I had just bicycled from Danville, Virginia into Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The last twenty miles of it was through pouring rain. Squishy socks and the cool air made hypothermia a real threat if I dared to stop for too long. But I was thankful. I had enjoyed three days of sunshine and low humidity. This relatively brief time of suffering was inconvenient, but not insurmountable. If I had avoided taking this trip for fear of rain and cold, I would have missed all the beauty and wonderful meditation time with the Lord. We live in a beautiful country, full of interesting people. It was a great time.
In Mt. Airy the lady at the Visitors Center was especially kind. Her warm welcome to this drenched guy in cycling gear was a nice way to end a chilly, wet afternoon. It is Andy Griffith’s hometown. Andy and “Barney” (Don Knotts) are the stars of this town, and this woman was proud to tell me all about it. Did you know that you can stay in Andy’s boyhood home? Yessiree! It is a bed and breakfast. There is also a little Main Street restaurant called ‘Barney’s’, where a life size cardboard Barney, in uniform, stands in the window. If you explore area businesses and streets, you can follow the list offered by the Visitors Center. It compares the names of actual places and people in Mt. Airy which are mentioned in the Andy Griffith Show. Mayberry was modeled after Mt. Airy. Now, Mt. Airy is modeling itself after Mayberry.
There is an interesting point to ponder in this. The name of the fictitious town of Mayberry appears here and there. At least one business is named after it. As I rode the streets, I pondered how a make-believe community and its characters were modeled after a real place and real people. It propelled a half hour television show into popularity and into the national memory. Now, that real community uses the image it inspired to market itself. Interesting.
It certainly says a lot about the power of television. It also says a lot about how we can take something that does not exist and give it value so that it does. Mayberry does exist. It is so real in the minds and hearts of people who grew up with the Andy Griffith Show that, I dare say, when they get into Mt. Airy they feel like they are in Mayberry. And they like it. This place they have never actually set foot in before feels familiar. The sights, the sounds and smells; the people with that endearing southern accent, have been part of their consciousness and yet for most tourists it is their first time there.
The real thing inspires the image; then the image inspires and encompasses the real thing. I thought about it and I wondered if our faith is sometimes like that.
Jesus Christ inspires Christianity, the religion. Then the religion encompasses and inspires within some an image of Jesus. But is your Jesus the image, or the ‘Real Thing’?
I do not watch much television all year, except for when I take my week away on the bicycle. I keep up with the Weather Channel, the news, and any decent preaching I might find. Because the tube is not constantly on in our house and I do not rely on it for “background noise”, I have become acutely aware of how powerful its influence has become in our culture. I find that a lot of people define their world and their belief system according to the images that screen and its talking heads portray. If it is on T.V. it must be true. Let’s face it, we decide who to elect to the most powerful office in the world based mostly on the images we receive through daily sound bites and opinion polls. We do not know for ourselves what is really true about some things, but if the right person says it the right way, we will buy it. In so many areas of life, we prefer visiting Mayberry rather than Mt. Airy. The image is already packaged and it feels familiar, and it feels good. To get to know the real thing requires a lot more work. You have to be willing to confess that the image is “based on a true story”, but it is not the true story.
In II Corinthians the words of Paul hit home; “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified.” (II Corinthians 13:5 NKJV)
I have sometimes counseled with people who say they are Christians. They have the religion. They were raised in the religion. They were baptized into this religion. They assume that because they have the image, and it feels familiar, that indeed they have the faith. Yet they do not.
They know Christianity, but they do not know Christ. They have the religion, but they never had the relationship.
Mt. Airy looks so much like Mayberry. But, once you have gotten to know the real place, you realize that Mayberry looks like Mt. Airy.
What does your religion look like?
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. Visit www.fumcl.org.