Memorial Day 2016, 1:53 AM

“Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
–Ecclesiastes 7:9-10

“Can you not advance in your concept of God’s dealing with man to that level where you recognize that the watchword of the universe is progress? Through long ages the human race has struggled to reach its present position. Throughout all these millenniums Providence has been working out the plan of progressive evolution. The two thoughts are not opposed in practice, only in man’s mistaken concepts. Divine providence is never arrayed in opposition to true human progress, either temporal or spiritual. Providence is always consistent with the unchanging and perfect nature of the supreme Lawmaker.”
–The Urania Book

A few thoughts that have been on my heart tonight.

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time mourning, grieving. The loss of a parent is never easy, and as I approach thirty, I feel like I’m also mourning the last vestiges of my youth and hurling into middle age more quickly than I’d like.

As such, I’ve been revisiting a lot of places and memories that I held dear in my childhood. I will also be able to return to these places when need be, but no one can or should live in the past. It isn’t helpful for one’s present state of mind, nor is it wise. In fact, too much dwelling on the past can inspire anger. It can make us begin to question, “Why aren’t things as they were? Why are things so messy now? Why can’t it be simple again?”

But as children of God (and we are all children of God, divine creations of one Great Architect, whether we know it or not), we are not called to glorify the past but to live fully now in the present in hopeful and active expectation of a better future to come. That is God’s promise. That is the supreme reality of the universe man inhabits.

Yes, we will face calamity. Yes, there will be bad times. And yes, the future is uncertain. But faith calls us to recognize that ultimately, all will be made right, that through trusting God to call us into the fullness of our own humanity, all things will be brought under God’s Providence. To recognize that even if the moral arc is long, it bends toward justice, as Dr. King famously wrote.

I see much of this yearning for “simpler” “better” times in the American spirit as well, especially here in the mountains. We want to retreat to a golden age that never was. We want to “bring back jobs” and “make America great again.” But these are empty words, devoid of meaning. They are blatant nonsense.

The challenges we face as individuals and collectively as a species can not be answered by looking to the past. No politician or businessman can save us, and anyone who says that they can is lying. Don’t be fooled. And don’t fool yourself into believing their “tickling of ears.”

The future is uncertain, yes, but it is ultimately in the hands of God. We must each walk our own path and pick each other up when we fall. Our hope lies in the love and compassion we build for one another.

As this election season approaches and heats, I remind both my conservative and liberal friends not to let our differences of political opinion keep us, all of us, from seeing each other as what we truly are: brothers and sisters, children of God.

And I remind myself not to fall into the trap of looking so fondly on the past that I forget that I have a bright future ahead of me.

Love you guys. Peace.

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Gravy and Biscuits and the Garden of Eden

When I was a little boy, after church my mother and I would visit the farm where she had spent her entire childhood to visit her family. That farm is an eighty-eight acre tract of land that lies on the mountain between Woodway and Stickleyville down in Lee County, Virginia. My mother lives there now, much as my grandmother did when I was a boy. To this day, whenever I visit it, I am filled with an intense array of emotions, most notably longing. This place, with its muddy creeks rushing down the mountain and its barnyard smell of cow manure and its lush trees which canopy the whole area around the house, is not only a part of my identity as an Appalachian, it is a part of the daily context in which I live my life as a human being, as a person. When I think of the home I want to return to, I think of my mother, and I think of this beautiful stretch of land.

When my parents divorced, my mother and I moved onto the farm. I would spend my weekend with my father and my father’s relatives, but through the week, the farm was my home. My uncles, who had never left there, were farmers: tobacco, cattle, corn, apples, cherries. Mostly tobacco. And cattle. The old farmhouse was heated by a wood burning stove in the Basement. Family photographs covered so much of the walls that you couldn’t see the bare plywood underneath. Most of the photos were black and white, or had once been in color but had aged into that sepia technicolor hue that we associate with the 1970s. The parts of the walls that weren’t lined with photographs were lined with bookshelves and books. Some people might suspect that a pair of bearded mountain farmers would be unread men, and they would be quite wrong, blinded by stereotypes and prejudice. My grandmother, who wasn’t afraid to use a curse word or four when the occasion called for it, which was apparently often, would sit in her rocking chair and listen to the sounds of bluegrass gospel. The Christianaires and the Good Shepherd Quartet are two of the ones that spring immediately to mind.

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My grandmother refused to cook on anything but a wood burning stove, and so there was a second wood burning stove in the kitchen. One for heat. One for meat. My mother and her sisters had offered to buy her an electric stove. She always refused. And so every morning, at 5 AM, I would be brought from sleep, still groggy, by the sound of the morning fire being lit. Keep in mind, I am only twenty-eight as of this writing. It sounds very well as if I am speaking of a time long ago, but in truth, this was the mid-1990s, the age of the dawn of the internet, which, of course, we didn’t have. In fact, we didn’t have cable, either. We could pick up two stations on the television in the living room, which was the only one in the house. Channel eleven, out of Johnson City, channel five, though I’m not sure where it was out of, and a PBS station that you had to click the dial to the UHF setting to get to.

Soon after the fire was lit, I would begin to hear the crackle of bacon, its smell drifting into the bedroom where I slept. The air would still be cold on the winter mornings and the blankets would nestle me like a loving embrace. My grandmother cooked gravy and biscuits every morning on a wood burning stove, and that’s what I woke up to most days. Slowly, I would come around and wake up. I would get out of bed and feel the cool, linoleum floor beneath my feet. I would get ready for school and eat gravy and biscuits and rush off to the bus stop way down at the end of the driveway.

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I didn’t know it then, but that was a sort of paradise in and of itself, living in the slow paced way of life of my childhood. These days, my first instinct in the morning is to check my emails, then drink coffee, then check Facebook, then make sure that I haven’t neglected to reply to anyone. The great irony of humanity’s technological advancements is that even as we have grown more digitally connected, this digital connectedness has in many ways isolated us from some of life’s simpler pleasures, and from parts of ourselves: the smell of bacon cooking slowly on a wood burning stove, the unhurried rising of the sun through the homemade curtains, accompanied by the rooster’s crow out in the barnyard. These are things that were a part of my daily existence in childhood, and I confess that I often wish they were a part of my existence now. I’m sure I’m not the only one, young, old, or in-between, raised in the hills of Appalachia, who feels the same way. It seems at times as if the world has moved on, but in our hearts, we have not.

There are still some of us who remember what the Garden of Eden was like.

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