Really Walking Tall

bufordBuford Pusser was born and raised in Adamsville, Tennessee. As a young man he moved to Chicago and began an aspiring career as a wrestler. He was known as “Buford the Bull” in the ring, and somehow the Bull gained the attention of Ms. Pauline Mullins, another small-town immigrant from the hills of West Virginia.

The two fell in love and were married, and Buford traded in his wrestling tights for something that better paid the bills. He and his family moved back to Adamsville, Tennessee where he took his first job as a law enforcement officer.

Finding that the profession suited him, Buford entered the race for Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, and in 1964 and he was duly elected. He then went to work cleaning up the illegal operations on the Tennessee-Mississippi state line which included gambling, prostitution, moonshine whiskey, and extortion.

Buford the Bull stormed into the fray, “Walking Tall” as the movie made recounting his life told it, fearlessly hauling in moonshiners, closing down brothels, and jailing prominent members of the Dixie Mafia and State Line Mob in his county jail.

His enemies were none too pleased with this new sheriff and tried to get rid of him dozens of times. In August 1967 on his way to the State Line there in McNairy County, Buford and his wife Pauline were ambushed near New Hope Methodist Church in a hail of gunfire.

Pauline was killed at the scene and Buford, seriously wounded, was left for dead. But dead, he was not. He recovered his health and within a few years three of his wife’s alleged assassins were dead under questionable circumstances, and the fourth was locked up at Angola.

In the movies Buford Pusser leaves his hospital bed, still covered in bandages and his own blood, and with a big stick and a bad attitude metes out vengeance on those who killed his wife. His is the iconic image of a two-by-four welding man in a Tennessee road house, kicking tail and knocking heads. And it seems some theologians want to paint Jesus the same way.

One particular leader in today’s church likes to portray Jesus as a cage-fighter. He says, “Jesus has been recast as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair, who drank decaf…while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes…[But] Jesus did not have Elton John or the Spice Girls on his iPod, The View on his TiVo, or a lemon-yellow Volkswagen Beetle in his garage. Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

But we, in fact, worship a God who was beat up. He was stepped on and bullied. He was as a sheep before his shearer is dumb; he did not open his mouth in protest. God, at his very best, at his holiest, when he most deserves the adoration of his followers and of his church, was when he was dying, weak and powerless on a cross, when he was in the violent hands of men and religious and political systems that had crushed him in their grip.

God, in Jesus, comes to the world, not with a big stick in his hand meting out vengeance, but with his hands nailed to that stick, exposed, bleeding and vulnerable. The Apostle Paul recorded one of the earliest hymns the church sang about Jesus. It goes like this: “Though he was God, he made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”