Saturday, March 05, 2005

I was in town the other day at the library and I saw this car parked at the Food City. For some reason, the above was my first thought. My second thought was to wonder if this particular vehicle had been souped up in some way to make it capable of successfully fleeing the wrath of God. I'm not sure which thought was more irreverent. This isn't unusual. Most of my close friends know of my gift for the irreverent. It can go over the line into the wildly inappropriate, but by that time I'm snickering incoherently. Hopefully I'm alone when this happens.

But I go back to these and think about them later. Perhaps it is some sense of existential guilt. As a Southerner, I excel in feeling guilty for things I find delightful.

I have to wonder what sort of amazing experience or spiritual awakening would suddenly possess one to take white latex house paint and paint, "Prepare to Flee the Wrath of God!" on both sides of their otherwise conservative navy blue sedan. You can tell it was a sudden sort of thing because they ran out of room at "the Wrath" and had to tag "of God" underneath it. I mean, if you really wanted to do it up right, you could have it professionally lettered. Or you could at least figure out that you were going to need more room.

No, this was done in a fit of passion. Quickly, and without much thought. I remember studying in my medieval art classes that the reason we didn't have any stone churches from the early Christian church, was that those churches were built of wood. The permanency of stone was not needed since the second coming was about to happen. There is something about that tangible expression of faith...painting your car with wall paint or building things not to last...that is hard for me to wrap my brain around.

I've been reading about the ties between religion and Appalachia. There seems to be a way of looking at God here that is foreign to me. A deep darkness...a dichotomy of love and hatred...all mixed together like a sweet ugly pudding. On one hand is the loveliness, the amazing generosity of spirit of the people I know here. They are smart and funny and have more heart than any group of people I have known. I know much of this comes from the deep faith of the mountains. On the other side is a sense of hopelessness so profound that it could only come from a dark chasm in the spirit.

This place is so amazingly beautiful that God is up in your face most of the time. But like most beautiful things, there is an unpleasant undercurrent lurking there. Like the mud. Like the rain. Like the kudzu. Like the pessimism. I am the queen of pessimism. My theory is that if you expect the worse, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. These folks put me to shame.

They often speak of just "rolling over and dyin". It's not figurative like when my mother used say such things. Suicide is often the first thought when someone just seems to flash briefly over the community's consciousness..."Did he kill hisself?". Success just seems like an impossibility. Life is hard and just gets harder.

This sort of despair leads me to believe that this is more the root of fundamentalism in Appalachia. If the only thing to look forward to is the afterlife, then one tends to get excited about the second coming.

I remember an awkward family dinner when an inlaw's aunt suddenly....apropo of absolutely nothing...exclaimed over her green bean casserole, "I'm so excited about the second coming, I can hardly stand it!" We Episcopalians smiled politely and stiffened our spines slightly, wondering what could possibly be offered in reply. I think we wisely chose nothing since "Oh, tell us more!" had too many unpredictable results ranging from speaking in tongues to just plain longwindedness.

The Fundamentalism here is driven, like fundamentalism in most places by the want and misery of everyday life. I'm not cut out for this since I find the want and misery of everyday life to be highly I actually died once and that puts a damper on feeling that awful about things. Good things do come out of it, like the amazing music of the mountains and people with good hearts and intentions. But I'm saddened that it robs the people who follow this path the ability to see God in the moment; in the commonplace. I'm saddened that it robs them of feeling empathy with people following the exact same path thousands of miles away in hot desert lands. For they are exactly the same people living in misery and wanting paradise.

My wish is that we could all just stop preparing to flee whatever wrath we have in our lives and face it head on...bravely and directly. Because you sure as hell can't outrun it.

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