If for some reason you should ever drive through Enterprise, Alabama, a small town in the SE part of the state, you’ll notice something pretty unusual. In the center of town there’s a classic Greek marble statue of a woman, her white arms stretched high above her head. In the woman’s hands is a round bowl, atop which sits … a great big bug. It’s a boll weevil, to be precise: in real life smaller than a pinkie fingernail, but the one atop the statue weighs about 50 pounds.
Built beginning in 1919, the woman originally held a fountain above her head. The insect was added about 30 years later. The plaque in front of it reads: “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”
Why in the world would anyone build a monument to a bug? I’m glad you asked.
A “wave of evil”
A brief history: The boll weevil first invaded the United States in 1892, crossing from Mexico into Texas. They spread rapidly, and their path of destruction did as well. Within five years cotton production in the region declined by about 50 percent. As local economies crashed, so did land values. In 1903, the USDA chief in the Bureau of Plant Industry deemed the boll weevil invasion a “wave of evil.” To this day it remains the most destructive cotton pest in North America.
Cotton farmers declared war on the little pests. They experimented with arsenic sprays and powders, and burned their cotton stalks after harvesting. Teddy Roosevelt suggested bringing in a predatory ant from Guatemala to attack the weevil. At one point, one-third of all pesticides used in the entire U.S. were targeted at killing boll weevils.
But the story took a different turn in Enterprise. By 1909, the weevil had reached nearby Mobile. In and around Enterprise cotton was king, and with the weevils attacking their crops, farmers were getting devastated economically.
They began switching to other crops that the boll weevil didn’t find as much to its liking. Peanuts were one of the few that could thrive in the sandy, well-drained land where cotton was grown … and thus began a great agricultural diversification that would eventually save the economy of Enterprise and the entire region. In addition to peanuts, farmers began growing potatoes, sorghum, sugar cane and yes, tobacco. (I know. But that’s for another blog.) Thanks to the boll weevil and the resulting forced diversification, prosperity returned … and thus the town of Enterprise erected a statue in its honor.
What does that have to do with me, you ask? You ask really good questions.
Different strokes, different … bugs
The U.S. got hit by the worst pandemic in a century starting back in late February-early March. Miami has been one of the hardest hit places. We have been in various states of lockdown and quarantine ever since. I hate it. I hate everything about it – the lives lost, people sickened, medical personnel and other first responders (and others) pushed to the very limits of endurance physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, the economic devastation, the social isolation, etc. I especially hate the impact it has had on the people in my church in particular, and churches in general. We have not met together as a whole congregation since March 15 – five months and counting.
Did I mention that I hate it? I despise the little virus that caused this, this invisible-to-the-naked-eye little creep that has caused so much damage and destruction.
Sure wouldn’t have been my way
And yet … there is the very real possibility that this novel coronavirus, this blasted COVID-19, may turn out to be our boll weevil. Because we haven’t been able to meet together as a church family since this began, KPC has had to get much more techno-savvy in numerous ways. I had never, ever posted a video on Instagram nor any other social media platform before the lockdown – nor had I ever wanted to.
Likewise, I had never done a class or anything else on Facebook Live. (I am apparently the last carbon-based life form in the western hemisphere not on Facebook.) Before the lockdown, our Sunday morning worship services had been recorded by a helpful member and made available on Facebook, but we had not given much thought or put much effort into production or audio quality beyond what an iPhone could provide.
All that has changed. We are now making our worship services, Bible studies, etc. all available on multiple platforms. Even when we are able to gather again we’ll keep utilizing those resources for the benefit of those who either cannot attend services in person or just don’t feel safe doing so – which, again, is something we might not have done for a long, long time, if ever, if we hadn’t been more or less forced to do so.
The prophet Isaiah writes:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
It sure wouldn’t have been my way … but I’m not in charge.
And the Apostle Paul adds: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
All things. Even a destructive little pest we’re working 24/7 to kill.
So COVID-19 may turn out to be, at least in some ways, a blessing in disguise – our boll weevil. God may well use it for his glory, our good and the advance of his kingdom.
But it will be a cold, cold day in a hot, hot place before I build a statue to it.