I advise you not to be carried away with the ways of the world. The Bible says, “Love God, and love your neighbor.” That’s the commandment that Jesus gave: Love God and love your neighbor. In order to do that, you’ve got to study the Bible a whole lot, and you’ve got to go to church and hear the Gospel preached. You’ve got to mix and mingle with Christian people, and you’ve got to worship your Maker. We were put here for a purpose. This world was made for man’s enjoyment—for man’s use. Man was put in charge of the world and everything that’s in it. We don’t realize it, but the Spirit of the Lord is present at any time. You can call on It any time. If you call on It in faith, you’ll get an answer.
So-called modern folks have faith. We have faith in the sun: When we awaken in the morning, the sun’s rays will be warming the earth. We have faith in gravity: We can step with assurance, for we do not believe we will float away into space. We even have faith that the chair over which we are hovering will hold us if we sit in it. Some have faith in the almighty dollar, in other people, in science. Others even have faith in faith. This faith, however, is not the “faith of our fathers, living still.”
Why do so many people in our crowded, modern, technologically advanced world today feel isolated and alienated, depressed, empty, and afraid? Our world seems full of danger: The “nice” man next door is a child molester, robbers and rapists break into our homes, terrorists attack our homeland. The news media reports random acts of violence; the film industry depicts catastrophic forces threatening the very existence of Earth and its inhabitants: Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds, and so many others. Nuclear weapons, toxic waste, and global warming threaten our habitat. The future looks bleak. Robert Burns wrote about man’s perspective in his poem “To a Mouse”: “And forward though I cannot see, I guess and fear.” Many are indeed fearful of what tomorrow holds for mankind.
In the midst of such seeming chaos, many in society today search for some meaning and purpose for their lives. They wonder if the quest for meaning and purpose is realizable. Viktor Frankl, in his work Man’s Search for Meaning, purported a truism applicable to society today: “[P]eople have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning” (142). For some, God is a myth. Atheists, for example, do not believe in what they see as an unprovable deity; therefore, Epicurus reigns: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.” Some ascribe to Nietzsche’s philosophy: God is dead. Perhaps God did exist, but He died. Others espouse existentialism or nihilism: Life is a meaningless accident. Still others believe in the concept of naturalism: Cosmic forces conspire against humanity; environmental and biological determinism ensure our failure, no matter how mightily we struggle. To others God is a laissez-faire deity, some nebulous being somewhere who set the earth spinning and now watches to see how the creatures formed from dust fare. Furthermore, an afterlife is also “unprovable”: Heaven is a fantasy; hell hath no fury. Dust to dust, and it’s over.
In contrast, folks whom we interviewed did not seem to harbor any such philosophies and fears. They are people whose sustaining faith enables them to live with calm assurance, for they believe in the reality of the resurrection. These elders talked to us about being raised in the church, about being saved, about some specific practices of their religion, about spiritual gifts, and even about heaven, hell, and the last days. They are people of faith—the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1)—a deep, abiding faith in a Maker Who is actively involved in their lives, a triune God Who cares for them. Because of Him, they can face tomorrow. They have a purpose: to glorify God. They believe Jeremiah 29:11: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ ” The belief that God has a plan for them gives their lives meaning and hope. Their hope, however, is not in the things of this world but in the reality of the next: the unseen, eternal world of the spirit.
All scripture used in the “Faith” section is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
I think how thankful people ought to be that they’re living in this beautiful world, and I wonder how they can ever think that there is not a higher power.
—Aunt Addie Norton
When I was in college at Georgia Southern University, a Christian college professor (I am aware that, to many, “Christian” and “college professor” seem oxymoronic) talked to us about his beliefs. He began by telling a story: Out in space aimlessly floated steel, Plexiglas, aluminum, vinyl, copper . . . you get the picture. Anyway, all these materials were minding their own business when, for some unknown reason or provocation, they came together—hard! Out of the aftershock of that huge wham of a consummation flew a 747! The professor used that analogy to explain to us that such an event made as much sense to him as the Big Bang theory. Even after all this time—years!—that analogy has stuck with me, and I have used it myself.
In his book Grendel (Beowulf told from the monster’s point of view), author John Gardner depicts a wounded Grendel’s speaking his final words as he sits on the edge of the bottomless chasm and prepares to hurl himself into the abyss: “Poor Grendel’s had an accident . . . so may you all” (174). Grendel’s search for meaning led this human-like monster to aver that life’s events are mere accidents, that the only meaning for our lives is the meaning we ourselves ascribe to our existence. Is our existence accidental? The answer to that question is one each of us must discover for himself/herself.
We all desperately desire to discover the whys of life’s triumphs and tragedies. Where is God when we need Him? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the wicked seem to prosper? Why, why, why? Our whys lead us to question God. We realize we know about Him, but we don’t know Him. We are “Oh, Best Beloved,” like Rudyard Kipling’s “Elephant’s Child,” “full of ‘satiable curiosity’ ”:
I know a person small— She keeps ten million serving-men, Who get no rest at all: She sends ’em abroad on her own affairs, From the second she opens her eyes— One million Hows, two million Wheres And seven million Whys.
We search for meaning. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, author, and psychoanalyst, in his work Man’s Search for Meaning, among the most influential works of psychiatric literature, maintains that we choose our own way; that even though everything we have can disappear, we can choose our own attitude in any given set of circumstances. After being imprisoned in Auschwitz—“the very name stood for all that was horrible” (Frankl, 22)—and then in other concentration camps for a period of over five years during World War II, Frankl wrote the following: “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life . . . it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us” (85).
Many in today’s world, those who do believe in a supernatural creator, have a “vending machine” mentality concerning God. We say, “I’ve put in my quarter. I’ve prayed. Now give me what I want. Bless my will.” We’re concerned with only that perpendicular pronoun I. We fail to ask God what He expects of us.
As you meet our Foxfire contacts, you will become aware of their deep desire to discover what God expects from them. They pray fervently. You will hear their deep convictions about their God, a God Who is alive and well, and about His mighty power, a saving power not only for tomorrow but for today. He, to them, is Savior, Sustainer, Comforter, Counselor, Friend. They seem not to question His will or His way. They trust and obey and thus live with the joy and peace of the Spirit.
“I sit here and study by myself when I have a lot of time, and I think about things. I’ve got so I can’t read my Bible much because I can’t see to read for long at a time. I think how thankful people ought to be that they’re living in this beautiful world, and I wonder how they can ever think that there is not a higher power. Who makes all these pretty flowers? We can make artificial flowers, but they don’t smell and are not as pretty as the flowers that we pick out there. We can’t make flowers like the Almighty.
“You’ve got to have faith to believe in God. You’ve got to have faith to know that He’ll do what you’ve asked Him to do if it’s in His will. When we pray, we’ve got to say, ‘If it’s Your will, God, do so and so.’ If you don’t have faith enough in God, you can’t live a very good Christian life.
“I think that asking God for things is healthy. I think that God will grant what I ask for if it is His will. Sometimes we ask for things that’s not God’s will. And we sometimes don’t have any faith in our prayers. You know, we forget the faith; and we think, I don’t know if God will do that for me or not.”
—Aunt Addie Norton, Summer 1979
“Well, it’s right here b’fore your eyes. You can see things a- happenin’ ever’ day. Different things. I was sittin’ here th’ other day, and a ol’ hen was comin’ through here that had chicks. She’d go a little piece. Then she’d cluck. Now what caused her t’ do that? I studied about that—just sat here and watched. She’d go a little piece; then she’d cluck again. Now what makes her do that? ’At’s Mother Nature. . . .
“Why, you know that there’s a higher power if y’ just look out. Now they talk about goin’ t’ th’ moon, and they may’ve went. I don’t know. But that moon . . . is it standin’ still or movin’, or what about it? Rises here [points], and th’ mornin’ it’s here—plumb across th’ world. What d’ y’ think about that, now? And when it goes, it’s dark nights. And when it starts up, it’s a bright light thing. It’s little and gets bigger and bigger. What changes that? They’s somebody, somethin’, behind it.” —Kenny Runion, Fall 1971
“There’s just a few times in my life that I’ve ever been afraid. My dad taught me not to be afraid. Now, he was quite religious. He grew up in the Methodist church. He was superintendent of the Sunday school, and he had this incredible faith.
“He always told me that there’s nothin’ in one place that’s not goin’ to be in another. He told me not to be afraid at night out at a camp because I would be in just as much danger there as I’d be sittin’ on my porch at home. He built up this immunity to fear in me at an early age, when I was four or five years old. Now, we lived about a fourth of a mile from the main store. All the men went there at night and gathered at the store. He’d let me go with them down there, and then, when I got tired, he let me walk home by myself. He always told me to just go on, that nothin’ was goin’ to bother me, and nothin’ ever has.
“Have faith in the universal life that you are connected to. Now they think of God as a man sittin’ up in a high throne with a long beard and white hair, but God is everywhere. It doesn’t make any difference what you call Him. You can call Him ‘Universal Mind,’ ‘Allah,’ ‘Jehovah,’ or anything you want to call Him, but He is still everywhere. I always think of it as electricity. You can’t see it, but you know it’s there. And you can always plug into this Universal Mind and have faith, and that will take care of you. It’s just like electricity. You can take an iron, and you can’t heat it unless you plug it in. You’ve got to be in connection, and if you’re in connection, there’s nothing in the world that you can’t do that your mind can conceive and dream.”
—Lyndall “Granny” Toothman, Fall/Winter 1991
“I’ve lived up here in the mountains, and I don’t see nobody or talk to nobody much, but I think the bigger majority of people this day and time put all their values on money and things money can buy. They put all their values on the world and the things of the world, and they’re leavin’ God out of it. . . .
“You know, I think the Almighty made the world, made the moon and stars and everything in the world. He made the sun, and all of it is His. He put it where He wanted it. Do we have any authority to go up there and bother with it?”
—Aunt Addie Norton, Fall 1976
“I don’t believe they went to the moon. I don’t know. But I just don’t believe they did. Why, the moon is a . . . I never studied science in my life. I never did go t’ school farther than th’ seventh grade, and I’m glad I got that much. Children, I’m eighty-three years old. And that’s the reason I never did care for science. And I read the Good Book, and the Good Book said that the moon was made to rule the earth and all the heavens therein, fishes of the sea an’ the fowls of th’ air and even man’s body. And the moon rules the vegetation. I don’t think they landed up there. You just know what they said. And how do y’ know but what they carried them rocks with ’em? Possibility’s that they did. And if it was made t’ fool with, it’d a-been put down in th’ reach of man. I believe that, too, ’cause we know that God created ever’thing.
“I think that the world has made great progress, but they’s a few things that I think is money spent foolish, and that is tryin’ to go t’ th’ moon! I don’t think that’s fair at all. God made everything. He made man t’ rule th’ earth and all the inhabitants therein. And He didn’t make th’ moon for man t’ play with. If He did, He’d put it down for man to reach. He’d put it, anyhow, where man could get on a stepladder and go up! I don’t think that it’s . . . well, it’s just no means! Th’ moon is th’ moon. Leave it alone! There’s not a thing in the world up there but just th’ moon. And if they read th’ first chapter of Genesis, they’ll find out what th’ moon is—first and second chapters, I believe it is—they’ll find out how God created the earth. And He made everything. Man was created. The earth was made. I’m not educated, of course, but it’s true. We had it in Sunday school yesterday about th’ Creation.”
—Annie Perry, Summer/Fall 1975
“It’s through God we have all of our enjoyments, all of our good things. It’s through Him that we get it. We know that for sure. We see some of His handiwork every time we look out and see somethin’ because He made everything on the earth, and He is the Creator of all the beauties everywhere.
“The first thing when I get up of a mornin’ that I want to do is get to a door or window and look out, and I stand there and look and thank the Lord for bein’ able to see that beauty one more time. It’s a wonderful thing to try to live a Christian life and to love the Lord. We have so much to be thankful for.”
—Beulah Perry, Summer 1974
“Who is it that can make that little bush now right there? Can man? Who is it that can make the fountain of water eternally flow down out there and never stop—flow day and night and never quit? You can go to bed and go to sleep and never wake up ’til in the mornin’. When you get up, the creek is still a-flowin’—a beautiful sight! Who makes the sun shine every day that we live? Who makes the beautiful flowers bloom you look upon? Can man do it? That’s why I know there’s a God . . . If you just look out there, you know that mankind never done that. Mankind can’t have a thing to do in that.”
—Garland Willis, Spring 1973
“God has richly blessed me, and I praise Him. God just helps me enjoy every day, and with Him I find something to laugh about every day.”
—Clara Mae Ramey, Fall/Winter 1996
“Heartfelt religion will make ye shed a few tears, become humble. We’ve got people that is full of pride today that they don’t want t’ shed a tear. It might mess up their makeup—ruins their looks. But our Lord cried; He shed tears. I can’t preach much ’til I get t’ cryin’; then I enjoy hit a sight in the world. You don’t see many tears shed in the pulpit today—honorin’ Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. There ain’t no way to be a Christian without some emotion. If they ain’t no emotion, they ain’t no love of God there.
“God is a-gonna have some praise. These people who are too stubborn and are too full of sin to praise Him here, they’ll praise Him in hell, but hit’ll be too late.
“My method of preachin’ is this: I don’t write out any sermons, don’t prepare any. I read that Book, and then I get on m’ knees. If God says, ‘Preach hell hot and heaven sweet,’ hit’ll just come.”
—Garland Willis, Spring 1973
“People don’t pay enough attention to the Lord this day and time. You’ve heard people say, ‘I’ve got so-and-so. I’ve got so many acres of land. I’ve got this; I’ve got that.’ Honey, let me tell you somethin’: We’ve not got a foot of land to our name. It all belongs to the Almighty God, and He just gives it to us, just to live on what time that we live here in this world, to do what we please with it. But it does not belong to us. We’ve not got anything, honey. What could we do? Can you tell me anything in the world that we can do if it wasn’t for the power of the Almighty God? We wouldn’t have ever breathed. We couldn’t have done anything.”
—Aunt Addie Norton, Fall 1976
“I’m not a monkey, and I’m not akin to a monkey. The Bible says man was created in the image of the Lord, so He wasn’t a monkey either.”
—Randy Grigsby, Fall 1988
“I’ve lost a husband and two children, and that’s the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life is givin’ up my children. Now my husband, that hurt—it hurt; I lost two of my children. That was about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve went through some mighty tough times, but God’s been good to me. He sure has been good to me. He took me through all of this. . . .
“Now, I’ve been through it, and I’ve had a lot of hardships and sufferin’, but I’m still hangin’ in there. I’m ready to see what’s gonna happen next!”
—Fannie Ruth Martin, Fall/Winter 2002
“Faith in God—the most important thing. I’ve always believed that we’d know one another in heaven. My boy, y’ know, he got killed when he was seventeen years old. After Mommy died, I’d come home. I was up there, an’ I’d been plowin’ that day. They was plenty o’ beds, but I had a urge t’ sleep where Mommy had slept. That was in the front room where the couch was a-settin’. An’ I slept there. I jest laid down, an’ I wasn’t asleep. I was awake. An’ I’d studied a lot over that, an’ I’d prayed over hit. An’ that night I’d laid down, an’ Mommy and Kenneth, my son, they appeared on the side o’ that couch, and they ’as the brightest, shiniest people. An’ they had their arms around one another a-talkin’. Now I couldn’t hear a thing they said. An’ I just lay there and watched, an’ they jest passed. An’ I know God sent them to show me that Mommy and Kenneth knowed one another in heaven th’ same as they had on Earth. An’ I have never worried another minute. An’ I live with that hope of all these loved ones and friends, ye know—when I’m out of this world, I’ll be with ’em, and I’ll know ’em. So I guess faith in God is the one thing I couldn’t live without.
“But it’s easy to backslide. I have done it in my life. I have backslid. But God’ll whup ye out when you do, an’ when God whups ye, that’s the worst whuppin’ you’ll ever get. Several years back when my younguns was awful small was the worst experience—I’ll never forget. I had backslid, an’ God brought me down sick on the bed. An’ He spoke t’ me and told me I’d either come back to Him or He’d take me away from my little younguns.
“Now I prayed all night long ’til early the next mornin’—that’s been several year ago—and God accepted me back in, an’ I said I’d have to be plumb crazy to ever turn my back on God again.” —Ethel Corn, Fall 1973
“Religion is everything to me.” —Eunice Hunter
“Religion is everything to me. That’s just life. If you don’t know the Lord, then you don’t know anything. To me, you just don’t have a life, because without Jesus Christ, I couldn’t do anything. I grew up in church. My grandmother used to take me to church when I was little, and she’d have handkerchiefs. She ironed every one of ’em, and they were real pretty handkerchiefs. She would tie my pennies up in a corner of a handkerchief to take to church with me. I was tiny, and I still remember that. I’ve just always gone to church. I was saved when I was twelve, and over the years I think I have grown more and more to realizing exactly what that means to me because when something comes up or anything, you know, we just can’t do anything on our own. Without Christ there’s no way. There’s just absolutely no way. So Philippians 4:13, that’s my favorite verse to go by because I can do all things through Christ. I may not do it like anybody else. I may not be perfect doin’ it. But I can do it . . . Acceptin’ the Lord and having Him as my Savior is the happiest and most important time of my life.”
—Eunice Hunter, Spring/Summer 2004
“While at Sister H.’s this afternoon, she told me of how a poor widow, a Mrs. N., made a coat for an idiotic brother of a rich man, a member of the church. He asked his wife what she thought it was worth; she replied, ‘Forty cents.’ He then sent the poor woman a bushel of corn, which was worth very little in payment for the coat. Not long afterwards, this man’s chimney, though seemingly secure, without any apparent cause, came crashing to the ground. This same woman sent to another man, a member of the church, too, her last dime to get some [corn] meal. He sent her word he could not sell her so small a quantity. In a short while afterwards, his mill was blown all to pieces. These casualties seem to have been the visitations of Divine Justice on these two men for their oppression of the poor.”
—Reverend R.O. Smith, Winter 1972
“We can’t see God. We can’t see th’ Holy Ghost. We can’t see Jesus. They’re all up yonder. But the Holy Ghost is here, but He’s somethin’ that you can’t see here on the earth . . . God is a person, but you can’t see Him. I believe that’s the reason so many people don’t believe in Him.”
—Reverend Browning, Spring 1973
“God didn’t put us here to stay. He didn’t give us children to keep either. It was hard to give up my youngest son, but I don’t question God why ’cause he would really have suffered if he had lived on . . . he had cancer. He told me one day, he said, ‘Mom, you’re not supposed to bury children. Children are supposed to bury their parents.’ I said, ‘No, God needs younguns the same as He needs olduns.’ It was hard, though. God knows best.”
—Frances Harbin, Fall/Winter 2004
“God answers your prayers. He showed Himself to me whenever I would pray and ask Him to do something like to help Doc, my husband, when he was sick. He always did help y’all because y’all are still livin’ today. I guess the most valuable thing I have ever had is God changin’ my life from a sinner to a Christian.”
—Estelle Chastain, Fall/Winter 2003
“Now you take old people. Why, don’t th’ Bible tell you ‘honor your father and mother’? Don’t make no difference when they get old. Why, don’t do anything agin’ [against] ’em. Young folks think they’re far ahead of their own parents because they’ve got a little education from man’s work—not from th’ work of God but from the work of mankind.”
—Hillard Green, Fall 1970
“My mother died on Sunday, she was buried on Tuesday, and the following weekend my father was remarried. He chose to live in the Atlanta area with his new wife. He left my brother and me in our little house in Youngcane [Georgia] to look after ourselves.
“The winters get sort of severe over there. I can remember waking up sometimes, and I’d have ice frozen across my face from the condensation of my breath. I think being cold was one of the things I remember most. It would be dark by the time the school bus got me home. Some mornings I didn’t properly cover the coals in the fireplace before I left for school. I would come in by myself in the evening; the fire would be completely out, and I’d not have kerosene to start a new fire.
Excerpted from The Foxfire 40th Anniversary Book by Edited by Angie Cheek, Lacy Hunter Nix, and Foxfire Students. Copyright © 2006 by Foxfire Fund, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.