a land more kind than home

Ulmann Man Holding Bible.tif

Doris Ulmann, Man Holding a Bible, circa 1927-1932.
Courtesy of University of Oregon Libraries.

Excerpt from a land more kind than home
by Wiley Cash

“He couldn’t get nothing out of Chambliss that would explain why they were carrying on like that, but one of his followers told him that it was in the Bible, that Jesus told the disciples that after he was gone they’d be able to do all kinds of dangerous things without getting hurt, he said it would be a sign of their righteousness. I didn’t believe him until I got home and opened up my own Bible and did a little searching, and there it was, right there in Mark. Just like they said it would be.” I heard his desk chair squeak, and I imagined Sheriff Nicks leaning all the way back, his boots up on the desk, crossed at the ankle, his hat resting in his lap.

When he mentioned the book of Mark, my mind suddenly recalled the new sign out by the front of Chambliss’s church. I recalled the exact verses on it: Mark 16:17-18. I hung up with Nicks, and when I got home that night I took Sheila’s Bible out of her nightstand and flipped through the pages until I found the verses and whispered as I read them out loud: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will place their hands on the sick, and they will get well.”

Things became clearer to me once I read that. A bad burn from a meth house explosion in north Georgia becomes a sign of holiness and power in western North Carolina. It was all in who told the story, even if that story involved a dead young girl from Mississippi. I suddenly understood the kind of mind that could convince Gillum to set his barn on fire, and I suddenly understood why a group of folks would hide behind newspaper-covered windows while they worshipped, and I finally realized what was in those little crates they carried in and out of that church on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. But other than suspicion, what did I have? What could I do? Arrest a man for exercising his religious freedom? None of it was a reason to knock on church doors, interrupt meetings and services. But now, this time, it wasn’t a sixteen-year-old runaway but a thirteen-year-old mute boy who was dead, a boy who couldn’t have told Chambliss “yes” or “no” or “stop” even if he’d wanted to. This time, I knew it was different.

     William Morrow
     An imprint of HarperCollins Publisher, 2012

a land more kind than home