Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

I Am an Appalachian-American

Yesterday, I was driving home from an ordination in Rockville Maryland, and I took a route that carried me through the Appalachian Mountains of Western Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania… and I felt at home. I felt at home in a way that is hard to describe. As I spent the night in a hotel in Cumberland Maryland, a thought came to me…

There is a part of my soul in those mountains.

Most of you all know that my family is from the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. That area is the ancestral home of the Cherokee in my lineage, and it became the home of the German, Scotch, and Irish immigrants that make up the rest of my heritage. I don’t know if it my Cherokee ancestry or the history of ancestors who found their freedom in the beauty and poverty of Appalachia, but there is something in those mountains that calls to me, and says “No matter where you go, how far you travel, or where ministry takes you… these rolling mountains are your home. Do not forget us”.

I know… dramatic. But it felt dramatic. And this is not the first time I have felt it. Each time I have gone back to the Smokey Mountain National Park and climbed those trails, I have felt it. However, when I was traipsing across trails that I grew up in, I thought that it was the memory of those childhood explorations that made those mountains feel like home.

Yet, the particular section of the Appalachian Mountains that I traveled through yesterday is one I have never been in before. This was my first time down the “National Freeway” that meanders through the area west of our nation’s capital. The mountains looked a bit different than the ones of my childhood… they were smaller, and a bit more rolling than those around Gatlinburg or even those mountains east of East Tennessee State University… my Alma Mater in my mountains.

Even though it was different, it still felt like home. Outside my skin I was driving down mountainsides with large semi-trucks at 65 miles and hour… inside, I felt a serene peace. A sense of return. A sense of wholeness. The paradox was amazing.

When I made one turn in the road, in West Virginia, and I saw an area where they were doing “mountain-top removal” mining, I felt a pain in my heart. Amid all the beauty of the mountains was this atrocity, this knife gouged deep enough into the mountain that it was as if I felt it in my own heart. If you do not know about the travesty of this form of mining that is destroying millions of years of earthly history and is devastating one of the world’s most amazing eco-systems, then I ask you to look it up. I give money every year to efforts that seek to lobby to make this mining illegal, and so far we have had trouble even getting public attention. Some people have likened it to sexual assault… but not me. To me, what this form of mining is doing to these mountains is no less than murder. The bible says that with faith you could move mountains. It did not say that with explosives, tractors, and bulldozers you could destroy them.

Ok, end of sermon…

Though I do not live there now, and will likely not live there in the coming years… those mountains are my home. My ancestors walked them, held rituals within them, bore their young in them, celebrated their joys in them… some for thousands of years. I will one day return to them, and I want my body to be buried in them after I die. Through the history and current reality of poverty, through the devastation of mining, through the blights and the fires, through the years of young people joining the military to escape, through all of the trials and challenges of life in Appalachia… it is and will always be home to me.

There is a part of my soul in those mountains.

Yours in faith,

Rev. David

2 Thoughts on “I Am an Appalachian-American

  1. Well said. In recent years I’ve worked with a scholar who teaches teachers and is a strong proponent of place-based education. Before working with him it was not something that I’d thought very much about; he in many ways may have woken me up to that way of seeing the world. And he, too, is centered in Appalachia. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

  2. My mother’s family is still in Norton, Virginia at the most western point, just above Tennessee. There is a part of my soul that wants to stay there forever. Flat-land has never felt like home. I’ll be going this summer to reconnect with my kinfolk. Maybe I won’t come back.

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