Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Mountains Run Through Them...

I grew up in the foothills of the Bliue Ridge Mountains. But my father's family came from the Blue Ridge. And we spent a lot of time "up home." That is what we called the place where our branch of the Atkins family lived. The technical name for that place tucked between the mountains in that particular part of Rappahanock County is a "cove." But everybody knows it's really a hollow. And they also know it's pronounced "holler."

Uncle Charlie and Aunt Ethel and Aunt Nellie lived in a small, 2 story house with low ceilings and a wood cookstove that had a fire in it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It only went cold once in a while so that my great-aunts could get the ashes out of it and start a new fire. My great uncle and great aunts kept a few cows and milked them. They raised a few hogs. They had chickens and plenty of eggs. They had a garden and canned their food. An apple orchard produced a little income as did Uncle Charlie with his handmade black walnut furniture.

All of my fondest memories are of "up home." So in the same way that a river ran through Norman Mclean's memories of growing up in Montana, all of my fondest memories have mountains runing through them. The Blue Ridge Mountains are the one place in the world where I feel most at home and most at peace. When I was working at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Diana and I would ride over into Arkansas on Saturdays just so we could ride around in the Ozarks and visit the towns and villages there. It was predicatble. It was a home away from home.

That makes the Mossy Creek Chronicles almost predictable, too. The people I know and love come from the Appalachian South and other places like it. There is something special about those rural places. And the mountains make it even better, almost magical. When I was growing up, life in the mountains was simple and basic. People worked hard, enjoyed what they did, and celebrated simple things like having food to eat and a front porch with a glider. It was a simple, slow-paced life. It still is, I think.

I can imagine people saying that I have romanticized a region with real problems that are stubborn and won't go away. I am familiar with those limitations personally and professionally (as a student of Southern history and culture). But life went on from week to week. And each week started on Sunday. And Sunday started in worship. The best meal of the week was Sunday dinner. There were two or three kinds of meat, vegetables, biscuits, cornbread, and all kinds of pies and cakes for dessert. That table was magical for a child like me.

Maybe it was a romanticized life. Maybe I found what I was looking for there. Maybe it was peace and peace of mind. But I know that my extended family lived on a faith that God would provide and that the worst problems could be solved by appealing to scripture and making time for prayer. It was, in retrospect, a solid, simple faith that trusted God for everything. The people I know from the mountains worked hard and waited on the Lord.

"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31 I have found that scripture to be as true as the day is long. I learned it from my family. I learned it at home and at my home away from home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a matter of faith with me even now.

And so are the Mossy Creek Chronicles. I'm actually inviting you into my family and my past. It means so much to me I can't help but share it. I want you to see and experince the world I grew up in and my extended family and their neighbors. Are the people of the Apalachian South  better than anyone or everyone else? No, of course not. They are just faithful, hardworking people. And I have always believed that if you met them you would love them. I do, and I hope you do, too.

And so the mountains run through my memories and my dreams. They are the place I remember with great affection and could never forget. Faith, family, hard work, the passage of time, and a world that was almost timeless. The Mossy Creek Chronicles are the stories of people I have known and loved and admired. I hope you come to feel the same way over time. Maybe, just maybe, you will find your strength renewed and find yourself on the wings of eagles from time to time as you join me in the mountains I love so much. I hope so.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Beauty of Buggies...

When I was growing up, Saturday mornings were a marvel.   If I went "uptown," I was sure to encounter some old-school Mennonites.  They spoke German in the stores where they did their business.  That was a marvel.  And so were the horse-drawn buggies some of them used to come to town.  It was amazing, and it wasn't.  I knew there were even more Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley.  They were part of the cultural scenery there and where I grew up.  The Mennonites were different in an interesting and appealing way.

And I think the American church has become a little bit odd, too.  The church in the United States increasingly finds itself on the margins of American society.  It doesn't have the same influence it had in the 1950's.  The church is still alive and well.  But it is also struggling.  How will it be relevant in a culture where there are lots of spiritual options and competing faith claims?  Will the church tell its story or just try to survive?

I have tried to answer that question and others like it with the Mossy Creek Chronicles.  I discovered the church and community that was the inspiration for the Chronicles while I was doing a seminary internship in the Shenandoah Valley.  The community and church were small.  But the folks who lived and worshipped there were committed to a "peculiar" way of life that made perfect sense to them.  It was their way of enacting the Gospel.  It was their everyday story.

Folks in that commuity and church were committed to the task of following God in the way of Jesus.  They were His disciples.  They used the Bible as their guide for what to believe and how to live.  It wasn't unsual for them to appeal to scripture as a way of deciding what to do.  The Bible was their "book," and they used it to write their own life-stories.  It was a story-based community and community of faith.

So the Mossy Creek Chronicles are a way of telling their story.  I think they understood that they weren't going to transform American culture or society by themselves.  But I also think they were committed to the hard work of being a particular kind of community and church.  So what they were doing was their lived story.  And by the 1990's they may have seemed as odd in some ways as my Saturday-morning Mennonites who spoke in German and drove horse-pulled buggies.  But they were OK with that.  The Presbyterians in that church and community understood themselves to be a "city on the hill."

Jesus said to His disciples, "You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14)  That is how the Puritans in Massachusetts saw themselves.  That is how the old-school Mennonites and the Amish see themselves.  They aren't concerned with their survival.  They are committed to a particular and visible way of life.  They do that for the community and world they live in. Then they leave the folks who see that life to figure out what that means for them and how it might change what they believe and how they live.

In Mossy Creek, the members of Our Savior Presbyterian Church are a story-based community of faith.  They represent Christians who make their decisions in their churches and then live out their choices in their communities.  I am persuaded that kind of life increasingly looks a like a horse-and-buggy life in a community that drives cars.  Their neighbors have to decide what to do about the story they are seeing and hearing.

And that is why I like horses and buggies.  When I was growing up they were a visible witness to a different way of life.  It wan't about what was practical.  It was just the Mennonites' story.  The Mossy Creek Chronicles are also about a story-based community that reads the Bible as their way of explaining and understanding the world they live in.  It is also how they write their own story.  Who knows?  Maybe people will find that story interesting and appealing.  I hope so.

So in the Chronicles, you hear words, phrases, and accents many of you are unfamiliar with.  I am hoping you will read the Chronicles and use them to interpret your own lives and write your own story.  And I do hope that story will increasingly sound like Jesus' story.  I admit to being a Presbyterian pastor who isn't a "company man."  I owe a lot to the Mennonites and Amish.  I like their story.  I like the way they tell it.  It's all about being strange in an interesting and appealing way.  That is what I'm shooting for in the Mossy Creek Chronicles.  Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

it's a beautiful day...

sunny and cold in Nebraska...