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Thursday, November 25, 2010


shout lula: ralph stanley & the clinch mountain boys

Turkey day, driving home from Woodlawn, Virginia, after dark I was thinking about a delegation against calling it by slang terms like turkey day, like you need to be super patriotic and call it Thanksgiving Day, like the drive in the 60s, thereabouts, to abolish Xmas, which worked. You don't ever see Xmas now. Perhaps now that the last little bits of decency are being blown apart by irreverence as a way of life, it may come back, at first as a joke, and even perhaps as a reaction to fundamentalist noise. Social changes in words is an interesting field of study. It is something I'd have enjoyed studying in school. Don't know if I'd have patience for all the nitpicky research necessary all the time. But it's still interesting to note from time to time. Like when I wrote turkey day instead of Thanksgiving Day, it was with intent, because turkey day means the same thing. The turkey is the thanksgiving feast. It's a kind of national communion based in our national mythology, the early pilgrims.

It is kind of curious that our European rush to occupy the North American continent was begun by people who call themselves pilgrims. It means people on their pilgrim way. They were not of the official religion, because it was all pomp and meaninglessness to them. I see them very much as our elders in the Primitive Baptist churches. The sermon in the Gregory Peck film of Moby Dick delivered by Orson Welles was written by Herman Melville, and it was written with experience in the Old Baptist way, much experience. It's an old-time Baptist sermon that's the real deal, by Herman Melville, whose life before Moby Dick was involved in the first half of the 19th century. What the Old Baptists were like in early 19th century Boston would continue much longer in the mountains, and has, even now. The beliefs, the songs, the dogmas were the same then as now. There are changes according to how the culture has changed since electricity. We talk with very different accents now than then. We would have a hard time understanding somebody talking 200 years ago, in the mountains or Boston.

It seems significant to me that the first Europeans here to stay were looking for a place where they could practice as they believed. I've come to think of the Primitive Baptist as something on the order of the Zen of Christendom. By Zen, I mean trimmed down to the essential core. It is in the architecture of the churches in the old time way. No steeple, no advertising itself. No prettification with stained glass windows, no baptismals, no cushioned benches. Simple architecture that required no blueprint. Plain. Wooden benches the people sat on made by men in the church. The trees were cut in the day they used 2-man cross-cut saws and axes. You know those guys kept their axes sharp as razors too.

They sawmilled the timber and the carpenters made the benches. They are not uncomfortable. They were not about luxury. They were about the heart and lining up with God in very real ways. Some of the old people I've known of the old-time way, dead over 20 years now, have been lovers of God that live in God's light. They taught me the old-time religion was spirit-filled like can't even be imagined now, except in some dark hollers along the West Virginia / Kentucky line where some people continue to adhere to the old ways, in trailers, driving cars and pickups, so poor nobody knows they're there. If there are any such places left, that's all that's left of the old ways.

The Old Baptists are not ones to worry over whether somebody says Turkey day or Thanksgiving, Chirstmas or Xmas. I've found the people of the old-time way to allow other people to be themselves, go their own ways, have their own views, have their privacy. They are not about controlling other people. They are about loving God, hearing a good sermon that inspires your own reading, inspires to follow the train of thought running through the sermon, following where he goes from one sentence to the next. The sermons I've heard in the Regular and Primitive Baptist churches have all been inspiring to me. That's why I go to them, when I go.

Anyway, I find it interesting our nation was begun by lovers of God looking for a place to worship God at the very core of the matter, not the superficial God based in accumulating money. That didn't last long. By now the accumulation of money is the American Dream, the only reality, the motivation that keeps the world in motion. It's like money is the bloodstream of civilization. It needs to keep flowing and now the few are taking from the many and depositing it in Cayman Island accounts, giving back nothing.

The above is the Stanley picture. I asked Crystal Smith to make a good studio shot of it for my computer files. This is as good a likeness as can be done.

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