COLUMN: Separating the sacred from the sugar water

This is my Sunday column for the Oct. 21, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I’m also sharing some “online exclusive” pictures from my trip to Atlanta earlier this month.

Separating the sacred from the sugar water
By Aaron J. Brown

We recently traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for a blogging conference my wife attended. I was there for two reasons: 1) to assure Christina on her first airplane trip that the plane would not crash (even though, heck, who knows? It *could*); and 2) to gather as much history and culture as I could, so long as it was close to public transportation and reasonably priced.

Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola. A small town pharmacist cooked up the original formula back in the 1800s and sold it to a marketer who loved it after just one taste. It got to be kind of a big deal in the years that followed.

Visitors to the World of Coca-Cola museum in downtown Atlanta are greeted with big screen TVs, each showing flowing, bubbling, splashing Coca-Cola cascading in and around a shiny lobby bigger than the concentrator plant at HibTac. After an hour of learning about Coke’s history, Coke’s impact and Coke’s secret recipe, they drop you in a tasting room where they flood you with the flavors of popular pop from around the world. Some of the flavors are delightful. Some are mildly sweetened versions of the water you left soaking in a greasy dinner pan because it wouldn’t come clean.

When they finally have you burping rainbows, you find yourself in a room with a giant spigot of Coca-Cola. You get to drink and drink and drink more and more and more Coke. And let me tell you something, after all that you feel normal again. Like the world is going to be OK. This is precisely the psychological effect they’re going for and it’s brilliant. You know, in a diabetes sort of way.

It took some time for the fizz to wear off. I had it in my head that this trip would be a lovely distraction.

The next morning I took the train down to Five Points and got on a bus for the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. A short walk past a vacant lot over cracked sidewalk stood an unassuming brick structure, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. This was the building where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized, first preached and served for a number of years as co-pastor under his father. It was also the site of his funeral after he was assassinated in 1968.

Martin Luther King, Jr., felt called to the ministry, to follow in his father’s footsteps which were practically worn into the red carpet of the sanctuary. Only five pastors have ever served Ebenezer since its founding in 1886, the longest serving among them were King’s grandfather and father. King was a competitive student, compelled to do well. And as young pastors-in-training go, he was widely recognized as a hot prospect. But he did not anticipate how his gift could help, how his words could bring peace and justice to a situation on Earth. He would never become senior pastor of Ebenezer, but he would help usher about justice for people facing injustice all over the world.

Walking past his childhood home, seeing his family’s church beautifully restored to its glory, yet fundamentally modest, you realize that Dr. King was not a mythical being. He was merely a man called to service of particular importance in his time. His words carried political and social meaning, but they were then and remain now of even greater spiritual significance.

Some things matter and some things don’t. Some people understand this and some people don’t. Sometimes you can do something, and when you can you should. At Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta I was overwhelmed with the reality that this power exists in all of us. And with this power comes great hope that simply cannot be bottled, labeled and sold. It must come from our actions.

Sure, I’d like to buy the world a Coke, but visiting the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was free. Our purpose might come from a church or it might come from somewhere else. “There is no religion higher than truth and righteousness,” reads the Ghandi quote at the King Center across the street. Telling the truth and opening our hearts to what purpose might find us, why, that might just go a bit farther than sugar water.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.


  1. Those are some very profound words.


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