The way my mother told the story, in the depths of the Great Depression my grandfather abandoned a well-paid post repairing machines and engines to become a Baptist preacher because he was called by God to do so. For many years I thought this tale was one of my mother’s great revisionist history inventions. Then I heard my grandfather tell the tale himself, as he was explaining why, late in his life, he took to making fiddles from the wood of nearby Catawba trees. “The Lord has always told me what he wanted from me,” Granddaddy said.
So I was well prepared when we visited Horace Burgess’ treehouse in Crossville, TN. The treehouse, reportedly the largest in the world, is a work in progress that Mr. Burgess says is guided by God.
Walking around and through the structure is an indescribable experience. It’s a clumsy, messy collage of boards and objects wrapped around a central chapel. The sense of purpose is unmistakable. The sense of order completely absent. The sprawling grounds around the treehouse are the same.
Being there felt, to me, exactly like standing in of Granddaddy’s workshops: wild, fierce, immense, and embedded with a raw creativity bordering on madness.
You may know someone who reports being called into life’s work – as a doctor, teacher, counselor or artist. It is part of our modern vernacular and essential to the generations raised after “What Color is Your Parachute?” was published. Burgess’ outpouring, and my grandfather’s, differ entirely. No remuneration or recruitment is wanted or required here. The calling simply is what it is.
There’s no finish line for a calling such as this, other than the end of one’s natural days. Family or friends may take on the mechanics of the work from that point, but work product won’t be the same when separated from one called to do it. Will any of us be similarly called? Or, perhaps, we have already and just don’t recognize it yet.
Whatever your thoughts on that philosophical musing, if you’re driving through Crossville, TN, take exit 320 and see the work for yourself. It’s worth the detour, I promise.