Books & Essays
An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God
Erik Reece’s grandfather was a Bible-thumping, fire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher. He loved to hunt and fish and explore the Kentucky woods, but for him, existence on this earth was about denying the pleasures of this life in preparation for the next. Erik’s father was a Baptist minister, too. But at the age of thirty-three—not coincidentally, Jesus’ age when he was crucified— Erik’s father violently took his own life, and Erik ended up spending much of his childhood in the care of his grandparents.
So, while Erik grew up with a conflicted relationship with Christianity, he also grew up with an acute awareness of a part of the country suffering ongoing economic, environmental, and even spiritual collapse. When he himself neared age thirty-three, he found unexpected comfort and guidance in his intellectual hero Thomas Jefferson’s famous Jefferson Bible, especially when he began to track similarities between it and the Zen-like message of the Gospel of Thomas. Inspired, he undertook what would become a spiritual and literary quest—to identify an “American gospel” coursing through the work of both great and forgotten American geniuses, from William Byrd to Walt Whitman to William James to Lynn Margulis. In synthesizing that gospel—one that prizes the pleasures and glories of this earth—Reece began to find a way to a spiritual and intellectual peace with his own American soul.
The result of Reece’s journey is a deeply personal but also deeply thought out, inspiring, and stirring book, delivered almost like a secular sermon, about personal, political, and historical demons—and the geniuses we can and must call on to combat them.
Book Review #1:
From Publishers WeeklySometimes religious inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. Reece, author of the award-winning Lost Mountain, is the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. His own religious world-view, however, comes not from traditional Protestant Christianity, but from American thinkers such as Walt Whitman, Thomas Jefferson, William James and the lesser-known scientist Lynn Margulis. The author intercalates his personal story, which is one of great tragedy, with those of these great historical figures. His goal is not quite clear from the outset, but that is the point. He is searching for a form of Christianity that he can live with, since he believes that the usual sources are unhelpfully dogmatic. The primary tension is a classic one: the struggle between the material and spiritual worlds. Reece is unconvinced by his stern grandfather's brand of Christianity, based more on the punitive teachings of Paul, he believes, than those of Jesus. The kingdom of God can be found, at least partly, right nowâ€”no need to slog through life in order to celebrate one's reward in the hereafter. There are disjointed moments in the narrative, but the overall project is commendable.
Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia