Tag Archives: Christianity

– – You don’t know what you’ve got ’til – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

I consider myself lucky for having had a comfortable and relatively untroubled life. A happy childhood unmarred by any obvious parental disputes, although I’m sure there were some. An adolescence troubled by the usual small matters of growing into oneself and not getting anyone pregnant, but nothing more.

Wendy’s latest book ‘Fall or Fly’ is about fostering and adoption in Appalachia and got me to thinking about the contrast between my life, growing up, and the stories she unearthed during her many interviews that informed the final draft. As usual I was her initial ‘reviewer’ and I have to admit I was by turns shocked and inspired.

There’s a real problem around here with prescription drugs and that’s mainly down to one company that makes a painkiller they swore wasn’t habit-forming but is now proven so. It is also widely available both above and below the counter. Big profits for them of course – – –

I never had any exposure to drugs growing up and never had any interest in them. Once I tried marijuana but it had no effect whatsoever. I even listened carefully to the lyrics of ‘Mellow Yellow’ and like many others tried everything with bananas—which I loathed then and loath now–to no effect!

So, I think of myself as one of these balls that drops down through a game machine and just keeps going in the right direction, although I’ve little doubt there’s always the equal chance it can go the other way (I once studied probability factors).

I’m telling you this on behalf of the young people we come across who haven’t been as lucky as me or maybe even you. One of them is close to breaking my heart right now, and I don’t know if I can do anything for the child.

So, what can I say? This lovely young person, so intelligent, so competent, so lost. What to do, how to help, where the line between enabling and assistance?

Who to blame for taking away what never got used? The drug companies, the high school seller, the “friend” at the party who said, “C’mon, just try it?”

What to say, what to do? With other friends, we make sure the Temporarily Misplaced Youth has enough to eat, and eventually the wherewithal to see through the fog to the Light. And we pray, and we wait and, perhaps, sometimes, we weep.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

All the Condiments of the Seasoning

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

This is not going to be a rant, believe me – I’m a Quaker and we don’t do that!

As we approach ‘The Season’ I’m seeing lots of messages on Twitter and Facebook suggesting that there is some kind of ban on wishing people Merry Christmas. I have no idea where it originates and have never seen any evidence that it exists anywhere.

But it worries me that some people believe that – not only that, but that they should believe it’s necessary to repeat and promote it!

I find it hard to accept that a country that has always prided itself in welcoming the downtrodden and the dispossessed, no matter their religion, could end up here. It depresses me – – –

Wendy and I have friends from many branches of Christianity – Quaker, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist. We also have Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist friends. All of these friends wish us whatever seems appropriate at this time and we both accept their good wishes and reciprocate as we see fit.

As a Quaker I believe that everyone (yes- everyone) has ‘a piece of God within them’ – we call it ‘The Light’. Personally I think we have both light and dark within us. Regardless of your particular belief I also believe that you look to whatever example or Prophet or Savior can lead you towards that light.

I will soon be seventy five years old and I’ve experienced far too much of this stuff – enough, already!

I believe we are entering a dark time in this world and we will be severely tested over the next few years – here in the US, but certainly in Europe and elsewhere as well.

So I continue to struggle towards that elusive light and I wish all my friends and Friends the condiments of the seasoning (as I believe John Lennon once said).

Did I say this wouldn’t be a rant?

PS – Our annual Celtic Christmas event will be here at the bookstore on Saturday Dec 17th starting at 6.30. Please phone or email ahead to book your place as it always fills up fast! $15 charge for food an entertainment.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

How soon unaccountable

starsLast night Jack and I sang for the St. Patrick’s Day event at the Fox House, home of another author who lived in Big Stone Gap. I wandered into his study before the event, feeling for a vibe. Didn’t really get one, but the house was full of people drinking green beer, so contemplation might not have been a good goal at that moment. But it was a lovely gig, a strong community pulling together, singing harmonies to the choruses, all sweetness and Picardy Thirds.

Walking home afterward, I realized how clear the night sky was–no moon, no clouds, every star hanging as if 12 feet above our heads. Back at the bookstore I dropped off my harp and hopped into our car to make for the reservoir, where there are no city lights whatsoever.

It was a strange drive. That’s not a road I’m very familiar with and it is full of hairpin curves up a wooded mountain. In the headlights, trees, a passing deer, even the road itself, were all monochrome pale black against the dark. The headlights barely cut into the next curve, and every time I swung the car I saw another row of those ghostly grey trees, hedging me in. A bit eerie. One starts to think about motor trouble and men with knives and rabid things in the woods…..

It began to feel foolish, this solo drive up a mountain on a fool’s errand. I pulled into the reservoir, hoping for enough clear space to see the night sky, turned off the headlights, cut the motor–

–and the stars came flooding in, past the windscreen, right past my eyes as though they wanted inside of me. Thousands of them. Constellations I’ve known since a child and many more I didn’t, all dancing together the instant the lights went out. Just like that.

It’s amazing how quickly some things change. All the turns in the road, the guardians at the gate, the grey washed-out things, they disappear. And there you are with all that glorious hidden brilliance suddenly in front of you, so bold and bright and beautiful you’re amazed you didn’t see it before. That you doubted it was there.

I love watching the night sky. It gives that combined feeling of confidence in the hands of a God who knows you, and humility at being a very small part of a Big Thing. You’re not the center of the dance, but you get to be in it. And whether you see a thing–the night sky, a pattern, a plan–or not doesn’t change its being there.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Wendy Welch

Onward Christian Snowmen – Let It Go!

We’ve been snowed in for 11 days now in Wise County, with a couple of breaks wherein 4WD vehicles went ‘round gathering everyone’s grocery lists to make a provisions dash down the mountain and back. We no longer think snow days are fun.

You have to remember the above fact as the story I’m about to tell accumulates its layers, or you’ll miss the joy of it. And don’t get off the path; the sh—er, snow is deep in some places.

During the first week of snow–or, as we now call it, the light dusting–a nice man named Alex and his friends built a giant snowman: 15 feet! They’re tall guys and they used ladders and put a cross on its chest and a “God’s Got This” t-shirt (from a fundraising and support campaign for local kids with cancer) where its breast pocket would be, like an old-fashioned gentleman’s hankie. Orange solo cups for eyes, a wide stick smile, arms raised to heaven: they surveyed their giant snowman and called it good.

So did the rest of us, when the clouds lifted Saturday and we were able to walk or skid or dogsled to various stores. My friends Elizabeth, Elissa, and I walked to Food City to get a few things, and posed with the snowman along the way. And I blogged the Monday Snowstorm instead of a Monday book.

Barbara, a regular blog reader, sent the photo to the TV station in Roanoke, who displayed it along with a fairly magnificent kangaroo someone else made, and a Marilyn Monroe somewhat the worse for sun.

All fun and games until someone has a weather eye out….

By the time Roanoke News began circulating the photo, we’d been snowed in AGAIN, a whopping 27 inches in just one day. Buildings literally collapsed (including the Wise County Food Pantry for Norton City, with $25K in inventory inside it. The building is a total loss.)

So I don’t blame TCL (The Christian Lady) for being surly. On Tuesday, she reposted the picture Elissa took of Elizabeth and I with this message:

Carolyn

Small towns are amazing places. Kelley and I spent most of yesterday afternoon trying to find houses people had called in to the café, where those who couldn’t get out would appreciate hot soup and a sandwich. Nobody in a small town uses numeric addresses. (“Turn where the old Family Dollar used to be” one lady told me.) Kelley was donated the money to make two vats of soup after she started doing this on her own the day before, and walking it to houses in the neighborhood because no one could drive. With the aid of our 4WD supertruck, we made it all the way to East Stone Gap and back, trudging through sludge and up roads we didn’t know existed. And everywhere we were met with smiling people with snow shovels who helped us get through, drivers who waited patiently in their cars for us to back up after realizing what we were doing, a guy who stuck his head out the window and said, “Y’all need any money to help do this?” and other kind souls.

But we also saw people who were tired—of snow, of trying to stay warm, of being afraid that something in the house would run out, of being alone.

We’re all on edge, pretty much trying not to murder each other with axes at this point. So when TCL posted her “intent-to-shame,” other people jumped her. Understandably, TCL did not like being jumped, and said many things, including that God had told her to post.

As Christians, we are called to be Salt of the Earth. Which would melt the snowman, I guess. Maybe we should just take TCL’s whole approach with a grain of salt.

I contacted the snowman maker to ask if the accumulating flakes of Snowmangate were associated with him. He was unaware until then, but assured me he didn’t have a problem with our picture. In fact, he was proud to know that his Snow Preacher had circulated so widely.

And I felt I had to come clean. Because, far worse than re-enacting an ugly scene from the Bible, Elizabeth, Elissa and I had thought the snowman was a vampire. His smile was down when we came by, no t-shirt. Glowing orange eyes, claw hands raised in menace to the sky, crucifix sunk into his chest (the sun had been our friend that day) – what’s a bookstore owner who sells six paranormal romances per week to think?

And a fairly magnificent vampire at that, waiting for midnight to rise from his frozen bed and take to the streets, looking for the only people out in those conditions: salt truck drivers, EMTs, and police, poor souls. We couldn’t have him picking off the very county workers we needed most, so we prepared to drive a stake through his heart. But he was too tall, and–as Elissa pointed out– already leaning precariously, so we went on to the store.

Alex laughed hysterically online Tuesday night. TCL, however, was not amused. Words that included “fess up and apologize to all her Christian customers and to the people who took the time to build that lovely snowman for all of us to enjoy” finally clued me in.

There’s not much clear here in Big Stone Gap, as we all brace for yet another snowstorm tonight, and everything that can be closed remains so for the eighth day running, but I give you two fundamental principles on which to lay your firm foundation:

1) TCL is probably out of medication because her road is snowed in.

2) Getting hot over a snowman is one of the funniest things this town has seen in a lonnnnnng time – and that’s saying something, because we have collectively survived the scandal over where to put the Farmers Market, the unification of high schools, and updating our ancient town water pipes (causing old houses everywhere to pop their u-joints like champagne corks).

We can weather a little storm on a snow shovel. Onward, Christian Snowman. Let It Go…….

 

BTW if you want to send a donation to help the Food Bank, it’s

The Food Bank of Wise County P.O. Box 2977, Wise, VA 24293.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE MAN WHO QUIT MONEY by Mark Sundeen

Jack handed me this book, said it had wafted into the bookstore, and that I would like it.

He was right. Daniel Suelo, the title character, grew up in a Christian household where, as he put it in an interview, he was at university before he realized “You could be a Christian and a Democrat at the same time.”

How this guy wound up living, not just off the grid, but out of the system, is a wonderful timeline in and of itself, but I admit freely I loved the book because he set up milemarkers at some of my favorite intellectual curiosity points.

Switching from pre-med to anthropology, he worked on a book about the sacred feminine, started thinking about social justice mixed with theology, joined the Peace Corps and watched what “missionary” meant when money turned into salvation, and pretty much decided “Nah.”

Sundeen is a sensitive writer, his telling of the story digging deep into roots but leaving blooms untouched. He handles very spiritual discussion with what can only be called pragmatic respect.

But his analysis isn’t limited to the big ideas. He also explains, in head-swimming detail, how to conduct a successful dumpster dive, one of the many ways in which Suelo eats. And eats well.

He sleeps in a cave, uses wifi at the library, will not beg or use social services, but does trade labor for stuff. Suelo volunteers at a women’s shelter. Sundeen takes care to paint a picture of a man who is not surviving, but thriving. And having fun thinking it through.

The discussions, the ideas, and the practical hints for people who may not want to get off the road entirely, but would like to travel more lightly, made this a lovely read for me. (Not that the book is a how-to; it’s a “what he did,” and Suelo takes pains to explain to Sundeen, and by proxy those reading about him, that there is no way to “sort of” live this lifestyle. If you use a little bit of money or trade or social services, you wind up using all of it.

And for all that the concepts are huge and thought-provoking, Sundeen’s writing style makes the words slide past your eyes so fast, you’re surprised later at how much you remember, how much time you’ve spent thinking about them. When Jack handed me the book, I was busy and started reading just to see if I’d like the writing. Sixty pages later, I glanced up, still standing up by the dining room table. Jack had just left me there when he couldn’t gain my attention.

This is Suelo’s Facebook page if you want to visit: https://www.facebook.com/themanwhoquitmoney.

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Filed under book reviews, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: SAFFRON CROSS by J. Dana Trent

saffron corssDana and I made Twitter-friends (is that a noun?) a couple of weeks before the Movable Feast of Authors run by Bookmarks, a very active lit-lovers group in North Carolina. The Feast entailed twenty tables of eight people, with authors moving in ten-minute intervals between them–a wild ride covered with online publicity, so Dana and I were in a lot of tweets together. One day I clicked on her icon and found her book was about being an ordained Baptist minister married to a Hindu who used to be a monk.

Well, that sounded intriguing….

Dana and I got a chance to chat after the event, and we traded books. (Don’t tell our publishers, ‘kay? Thanks.) She and Fred had gone on bookstore dates, and I’m fascinated by interfaith connections, so it seemed pretty natural.

More natural than the eHarmony match Dana and Fred made. Her book is less about external pressures put on them by others than personal expectations and changes. That’s what I liked most about her writing. Dana left a lot of space for others to interpret or extrapolate, by holding her narrative to “This is what happened to us; this is what I learned; this is how I understand the contentious points.” Saffron Cross is an honest description of a wife reconciling her full-on belief in Jesus with her husband’s full-on devotion to Krishna.

Early in the marriage, they decided they couldn’t take an easy road and worship separately as each saw fit; they had to share seeking God as a foundation for their shared lives. That made for some very interesting theological points not easy to reduce in a review. If I say that Dana and Fred set up a Hindu-tradition altar in their homes and included Jesus and the Bible in its objects, you might get the idea that this was an easy compromise, rather than a parsed-apart and carefully considered decision about how the two faiths work. You might think about hair-splitting, mental gymnastics, and semantic end runs around scripture.

And that would be the wrong idea, because nothing comes easy in this pragmatic narrative. Back when Sue Monk Kidd wrote about her rejection of male-centered religion, my friends and I who read her memoir were frustrated. She avoided the central question: What about Jesus? If a guy says “I’m the son of God” and you relegate him to “I’m a son of God,” then you’re worshiping someone who belongs in a lunatic asylum. If Jesus isn’t God’s son, he’s a nut case. The “all religions lead to the real God” approach is facile if the only way to make that happen is reducing Jesus’ status.

Dana and Fred don’t take that route; she addresses both anecdotally and in theological observation that she believes Jesus is God’s son. Her meshing this with Fred’s approach, finding peace that they’re both on honest paths, proves less semantic than thought-provoking.

If you’re interested in Christianity because you are a Christian; if you’re anthropologically interested in faith communities; if you’re a Hindu frustrated with Western materialism; if you find marriage stories voyeuristically interesting; or if you like the idea of a woman Baptist hospice minister, you’ll find Saffron Cross a densely packed book that keeps you up late.

And I admit to giggling, thinking of how hard it was explaining Little Bookstore in ten minutes to eight strangers, and there’s Dana sitting down to her tables: “Hi, I’m a Southern Baptist married to this nice Hindu guy…” Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

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The Monday Book: STORY HOUR by Sarah Henderson Hay

pigI told them a thousand times if I told them once:
Stop fooling around, I said, with straw and sticks;
They won’t hold up; you’re taking an awful chance.
Brick is the stuff to build with, solid bricks.
You want to be impractical, go ahead.
But just remember, I told them; wait and see.
You’re making a big mistake. Awright, I said,
But when the wolf comes, don’t come running to me.
The funny thing is, they didn’t. There they sat,
One in his crummy yellow shack, and one
Under his roof of twigs, and the wolf ate
Them, hair and hide. Well, what is done is done.
But I’d been willing to help them, all along,
If only they’d once admitted they were wrong.”

This is from Story Hour, published in 1963 by Sarah Henderson Hay, the most popular and enduring of her six poetry works.

I love fractured fairy tales as much as I hate poetry. (There, now I’ve admitted it. Likely this diminishes me in your eyes, but usually I just don’t get the stuff.) But as my friend Teri can testify from yesterday’s blog, I love fiction that analyzes dysfunction. Hay calls Hansel and Gretel juvenile delinquents; Rapunzel chooses safety over love; the Goose Girl  princess hates court life and longs for the little farm boy back home, “who knew better games to play than Ring around a Rosy.”

Yeah, they’re kinda raw. And beautiful. My all time favorite line about storytelling is from Hay’s interpretation of Jack and the Beanstalk: “Was no one sorry for the murdered giant? How requisite to every fairy tale, a round-eyed listener who asks no questions.”

Hay has a way of revealing troublesome undercurrents, turning the unexplored but-how-did-the-minor-characters-feel moments into startling new ways of seeing. Mother Hubbard, told from the dog’s point of view, is gut-twisting, counterbalanced by the stepmother’s cheery prattle regarding Cinderella.

It used to be hard to find this book, but with reprints appearing across the academic spectrum, this little gem should be fairly easy to lay hands to. I highly recommend doing so.

https://libwebspace.library.cmu.edu/specialcollections/shhay.html has information about Hay’s life and literary collection, if you’re interested.

And although Story Hour is my favorite of her works, she wrote a lot about Christianity, too.

I tracked Him to the mind’s far rim.

The valiant Intellect went forth

To east and west and south and north,

And found no trace of Him.

We walked the world from sun to sun,

Logic and I, with little Faith,

But never came to Nazareth,

Or found the Holy One.

I sought in vain. And finally,

Back to the heart’s small house I crept,

And fell upon my knees, and wept;

And lo! — He came to me!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing