When we first moved to southwest Virginia 18 years ago, nothing here was familiar to us except the hearts of our friends; RC and Denise Sproul.
The grocery stores had different names, cell phone reception depended on what road you were on and, unless you told them different, every sandwich you ordered at any of the Mom & Pop grills around here came with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.
We arrived with our two little girls, ages 2 & 3, our newborn son, a modest debt and no job. All we had was a vision and a prayer.
I remembered an old Time Magazine article on city-dwellers moving to the country. What they found was that in some of the small towns the locals resented the influx of wannabe farmers and culture shifting ideologues. Thankfully, that was not the case here in Bristol. The natives are just curious about where you are from and a little suspicious of why you would want to move here. The only problem associated with that is sometimes you get into long conversations that are hard to politely get out of. “Hey, thanks for the directions…and the coffee, no, really gotta run, thanks again, bye now!”
So, we found the land good for farming and raising a few animals. Unlike our last residence in Florida, there are actually four seasons here and all are usually very moderate. The entire area of Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas have more hiking trails, rivers, trout streams, mountains, and wild raspberries than we can ever get to.
When our children got old enough we started home-schooling and discovered that there were families indigenous to this area that had been doing that here for years. The local attitude toward home-schooling runs from indifference to admiration.
We came here to begin a new life, a life that could be shared by others; and more families and individuals have come and are still coming.
Over the years, I have visited the areas where I have lived before. The rural road of my early childhood is now a congested neighborhood. I drove by the homes where my friends use to dwell; all the mail boxes have different last names now. The sleepy little beach community where I moved to when I was in my 20’s is all neon and sprawl. And the town where I lived in Texas has lost all of its definition, being swallowed up by larger cities.
When I am there and not here my spirit is disturbed and troubled. I fight the tears that want to flow…and sometimes lose. But the anguish isn’t caused by the loss of what was once familiar; it is a remembrance of how things were.
What a difference the Gospel would have made. What if my parents had known what living in a covenant community was like? I think of my precious little cousins, girls whose beauty at the earliest age was gloriously undeniable—now disfigured by the use and abuse of a life outside of Christ. Friendships, the strongest of them were weak without the bond formed by vows and the keeping of oaths.
No heroes lived on our street. Life was dark even in the daytime.
And so very many of those with whom I attended church with after my conversion at 17; they have never known what a sacred community was like. The paradigm for covenant living has been shape-shifted from the security and joy of being tribal and organic into something industrial and disposable, and their lives reflect the loss.
I moved to Virginia to start something marvelous, to share in something potent. And I was so not the right person for the job. Being a refugee and a vagabond, a thief, a liar, and a taker of life; who was I to hope and pray for something so special and so undeserved?
I realize now that I came from a long line of villains, bad guys and dumb guys, that end up converted, living by word and sacrament. The grace of God does amazing things. You stumble and fall backwards into aspects of true life that others credit you for discovering!
This world is wicked and fallen. Though in ruins, that is not to say that it lies in dormant. The world is plagued and diseased and all of us have been infected. The only cure is Christ. This world is under siege by a heartless demon bent on destroying all who are made in the image of God. Most of his victims are deceived into existing rather than living. The only shelter and protection from him is Christ.
But what if your “cure” is watered down? What if your “shelter” is papier-mâché? What if what you really have is different than what you think that you have?
Have you noticed that anytime a group of Christians “got real” that amazing things happened. Campouts, ski retreats, road trips all facilitated this. Really; just time, the Word, a few songs and a little honesty often combine to transport people into a dimension of spiritual life that was always there but rarely entered into. Ask someone and they will tell you the last “experience” that they had
So, what if times like that could be perpetuated? What if that way of life could be the norm? Instead of all the evangelism, quiet-times, discipleship, bible study, church services, and camp fires just being so many compartmentalized attachments to a busy, worldly life; the effects of the world allowing only glimpses and shadows of a glorious reality of a kingdom and a King.
I needed a place to belong. My family needed a place where the landscape may change but where the eyes of the people say—‘you are mine and I am yours’. I looked for a church where there were no peripheral people and where the desire of one and all was to fervently live for Christ.
Am I selfish, idealistic or just a lunatic? Yes, I am a crazy enough to believe that this is possible. And I have found asylum.
And though I’m crazy, I am not stupid. The village isn’t sinless. When we came, we all brought enough sin with us to destroy the universe many times over. So, when others think that we think of ourselves as perfect or having arrived well, that idea is hilarious.
And lest we deceive ourselves, let it be known that we confess the truth that we are not the best of Christians. There will always be those who shame us, and for that we are grateful. Anything and anyone that humbles us is a boon, for it helps us strive to be better for our Lord.
And in this, what we have found is that a little goes a long way. Speaking communally, regular increments of family worship, singing the songs that we have, teaching our children at home, maintaining the primary relational standard that we will love one another, dancing and feasting, these and other facets of the sacred community; of kingdom life, gives us joy and gladness.
We, by God’s grace, are living the cure.