Sunday, October 28, 2018
Swamp Witch

Mark 10:46-52: Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again. “Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

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Below are the lyrics to a 1970’s Jim Stafford “talking” song, called Swamp Witch. I’m going to act it out for the kids on Sunday morning for a little bit of a spooky Halloween, but as you will see after the lyrics, this song surprisingly has much to say to us today and ever can connect to the Gospel reading.

 

Black water Hattie lived back in the swamp; where the strange green reptiles crawl
Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees; like sausage on a smokehouse wall
Where the swamp is alive with a thousand eyes; an’ all of them watching you
Stay off the track to Hattie’s Shack in the back of the Black Bayou

Way up the road from Hattie’s Shack; lies a sleepy little Okeechobee town
Talk of swamp witch Hattie lock you in when the sun go down
Rumours of what she’d done, rumours of what she’d do
Kept folks off the track of Hattie’s shack; in the back of the Black Bayou

One day brought the rain and the rain stayed on; and the swamp water overflowed
‘skeeters and the fever grabbed the town like a fist; Doc Jackson was the first to go
Some say the plague was brought by Hattie; there was talk of a hang’n too
But the talk got shackled by the howls and the cackles; from the bowels of the Black bayou

Early one morn ‘tween dark and dawn when shadows fill the sky
There came an unseen caller on a town where hope had run dry
In the square there was found a big black round; vat full of gurgling brew
Whispering sounds as the folk gathered round; “It came from the Black Bayou”

 

There ain’t much pride when you’re trapped inside; a slowly sink’n ship
They Scooped up the liquid deep and green; and the whole town took a sip
Fever went away and the very next day the skies again were blue
Let’s thank old Hattie for saving our town; we’ll fetch her from the Black Bayou

Party of ten of the town’s best men headed for Hattie’s shack;
Said Swamp Witch magic was useful and good; and they’re gonna bring Hattie back
Never found Hattie and they never found the shack; never made the trip back in
There was a parchment note they found tacked to a stump; said, “Don’t come look’n again”

While the song has that scary Halloween feel to it, there is also a very strong message. Hattie is different and so the people immediately judge her. She lives alone, a different lifestyle, and so, in the absence of facts, people make up their own cruel understandings and immediately make her into an outsider and someone to be feared.

We can see this in our world all the time. People who are “different” aren’t welcomed quickly, there actions are judged by our standards. It is the stuff that bullying is made of. As the story unfolds, we see what happens to the dominant culture when they are put into an uncomfortable situation. When fear bubbles up, their bravado goes away and when the outcast Hattie comes to help, they are only to eager to say yes to someone who previously they wanted to do harm to.

And suddenly, Hattie is the hero. Do we say thanks? Do we ask her to teach us her ways? No, we try to make her into one of us. Suddenly she is an important person and we want to bring her into our group, where we can give her all the good things we have. But we make no opening for what she might like. She must fit our parameters.

And so, when the town’s best men are frightened out of their skins by a note that says “don’t come lookin’ again.” Hatty suddenly is to be left alone. How long do you think it would be before she was once again made a villain by the dominant culture?

This flippant, scary and fun song, has much to say to our children and to us as well. Inclusion, acceptance, being different, letting people be who they are. All things that we perhaps aren’t nearly as good at as we think we are.

Oh, and the connection to the Gospel. Being blind, Bartimaeus was immediately an outcast. Being less than perfect, in that society, meant that you couldn’t hold an office, or a position of authority. It was suggested that it was either your sin or the sin of your family that resulted in the punishment of God, making a person disabled. It’s got Hatty written all over it.

So the reason for the song today, is that Halloween comes up this week. Like much in our world, it isn’t nearly as straight forward as you might think. Halloween comes from the celebration of All Hallows Eve. That won’t make much sense to you until I share that what we celebrate as All Saints, now on November 1st (or the Sunday closest) originally was known as All Hallows.  All Saints/Hallows is the celebration of those whose faith and indeed miracles have helped to build our faith, to motivate us to belief. On November 2nd, we mark All Souls Day, a remembrance of all who have gone before us and are treasured in our memories.

Given that we are dealing with two days or marking the lives of people who are dead, and given that means grave yards and cemeteries and the like, and taking into account that evil spirits and ghosts and superstition was much greater in our earlier history: it shouldn’t be much of a shock that it found its way into All Hallows Eve.

Now, how the traditions of today’s Halloween have come about, isn’t nearly as clear in our history. However, it is worth noting that at its root, Halloween is about giving something, and a free gift is a good thing to base a tradition on. As long as we remember that everyone should receive a similar gift and all should say a proper thank you.

A Halloween that revolves around who can get the most candy, who can frighten people and who can pull the most dastardly and damaging tricks, doesn’t bear any semblance to the eve of a day to celebrate the lives of people who have made a tremendous difference in our world. A Halloween full of treats, sharing, having some good, yet controlled fun with being a bit spooky, would seem to me a good place to start a true celebration.  It’s trying to keep our “human” side out of it that seems to cause the problems.

Rev. Keith Nethery