“A Land More Kind Than Home”
By Wiley Cash
And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. Mark, Chapter 17/18
Apparently, a few Christian preachers still handle venomous snakes to prove their faith in the good Lord. Like this preacher man who died in West Virginia in May 2012. I guess that is better than guy in Florida who died after winning a cockroach eating contest. Thanks be to God that the bible is silent on the matter of testing your faith via cockroach diet.
Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home (New York Times book review here) centers on a secretive church were snake handling, among other things, is a normal Sunday experience. The church is smallish and the windows are covered in newspaper. The congregation never really did a background check on their pastor but an old church matriarch is smart enough to keep the kids away from the snake handling fun. Moral of this story: always do a background check.
The novel takes place in Cash’s home turf, the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina just over the border from Tennessee. It is a place that truly is not that kind. Marshall, North Carolina and surrounding areas are full of bored kids and broke down dreams. A place where a snake handling church with some suspicious activity is ignored instead of confronted and people mainly keep to themselves.
Problems fester until they become too big and a few too many sons die of easily avoidable accidents.
In A Land More Kind than Home, things go terribly wrong when a miracle really isn’t a miracle and the believers want to believe.
I go to church a lot. I know a lot of pastors and church people. I wanted to read this book as a bit of a warning, even though about everybody I know is scared of snakes and wouldn’t want them anywhere near their church or kids. I spent a good part of my late 20s and early 30s being part of a small church. This was a progressive place, on paper anyways. I started attending there on a Martin Luther King Day nearly seven years ago. The church bulletin read “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
There was a young pastor and we were going to turn this run down, forgotten church into a place full of life. Good art, fair trade coffee, and social justice galore. Skip ahead a few years and things were changing. The young pastor was gone–too many snakes–and most of the congregation. Anyway, we kept going, led by volunteers, and the snakes for the most part disappeared. We got voted the best church in Indianapolis by NUVO newsweekly, our film series got mentioned in Indianapolis Monthly. We had an event where probably 800 people showed up, and then it was not common for the church to be a beehive of activity.
Things started to change when people wanted to play the role of “pastor” and “executive director.” These became unaccountable positions. The (metaphorical) newspapers went up so nobody could see in. (Metaphorical) Dead bodies started to pile up . Nobody really talked to each other about the bodies. Instead of confronting problems and figuring out what was wrong, most people left, including myself and I had been a leader in this community.
When things look and feel wrong, they probably are. Do something about it. Demand answers. Talk to others. Don’t let your community be hijacked.