Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Timey Religion

Nowadays the word "religion" gets a bad rap. 

But add "old-timey" to it, and, well, it just doesn't feel so bad. It's a bit odd that, as a city/suburban girl, I'm often drawn to backwoods expressions of faith.

This morning, I was listening to a rendition of "Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland" by Hank Williams. Its twangy, foot-tapping beat resonate with my soul. I think of the old classics like "I'll Fly Away," "Power in the Blood," and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder"...

These gospel tunes make me want to attend a little church in the holler where they have wood floors, hard pews, and a preacher that yells a bit too much. I want a choir that is out of tune and a piano player that can hammer on those keys. I want to see the sunlight streaming in a window with just a little bit of dust floating in the air.

I used to watch Little House on the Prairie on television, and I loved when Pa and Ma would load Mary, Laura and little Carrie into the wagon and head to church in Walnut Grove - the church that also served as the schoolhouse. I think one time even grumpy old Mr. Edwards attended.

What is it about those plain, unvarnished days that seems so appealing?

Certainly, the church in those days was filled with characters. Have you seen the movie The Apostle with Robert Duvall? If not, you should. He is rough, messed up, a bit crazy, and totally sold out for God.

He's like a character right out of a Flannery O'Connor's southern short stories. And then, there's the true story a real-life character, Ed Stilley.

Ed lives in Hogscald Hollow, Arkansas (you can't even make a name like that up). He is 90-something years old and has pastored and homesteaded in the hollow all of his life.

But one day, after falling asleep with a gun across his lap, Ed heard the voice of God telling him to make instruments to give to little children. Ed had never made a guitar (pronounced gee-tar) in his life. But he couldn't ignore God, so he went out and cut some lumber and soaked it.

He bent it and began to form crudely shaped guitars. He used whatever he could find - a pork chop bone for a bridge - and carved words of faith on the front. He gave the guitars away for nothing, to children. And they made beautiful music - who says you can't make an instrument from rough wood.

Ed isn't pretty. He isn't polished. His Bible is as ruffled as a wet chicken's feathers after a rain storm. But that's because he's read it . . . a lot.

And maybe that's why Ed represents true religion to me. It is the best kind.

Pure and simple. Listening to God. Doing what He asks (no matter how crazy it may seem). Reading His Word. Being kind and generous . . . even musical.

I think we get it awfully messed up these days. We have made it fancier, more polished and appealing. We've tried hard to be less offensive. But we've also lost the charm and power of the gospel message. So when I hear a story like Ed's, it sticks with me and cuts to my soul.

Take me back to the holler. Give me that old time religion. As the song says, "it's good enough for me."

To read more of Ed's story, go here.

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