Original Sin and the Warp Effect

Fleeing_bayeux_tapestryOne of the great writers—to my recollection, Flannery O’Connor—said something to the effect that everything we touch is warped by original sin, even our greatest virtues. If I am interpreting her correctly, this means that any display of a moral act is polluted somehow, flecked with impurity, however slight, simply by way of being performed by a human agent.

Of course, in a very simplified definition, original sin is the concept that a human being, through some primordial dissociation from God’s will—is by nature a creature morally flawed and faulted. This dissociation riddles his existence with tendencies, penchants, bents that are as innate to him as the desires of a lion to eat meat, a plant to seek sunshine.

More precise yet, they are as entwined with his makeup as a leopard is with his spots, a giraffe with her height, a gazelle with his speed. Indeed, the lower animals act by instinct and there is some rough barometer to their need. They may lay waste to field or to another population, but in doing so, there is a level of satiety that they are aiming for, and it is directly associated with their appetites.

Man, on the other hand, has no cap to his desires; they are boundless. Further, unlike animals, humans are not necessarily motivated by physical want. Pride is a metaphor applied to the lion; it is a deadly reality when applied to a human, as much a part of a man as his blood type. [Read more...]

My Only Begotten Sin

11087699415_16fe60c2bb_zBecause I remain restless and impatient even in middle age, I am often only halfway listening to important things spoken of in church. Therefore, I can mishear what the priest is saying, sometimes to comical effect.

Like Bart Simpson, “In the Garden of Eden” becomes “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” I have heard “sex” for “sects” and “possums” for “apostles.” When I was a boy, for the longest time I thought “Agnus Dei” was the name of the woman up front who played the choir organ: “Agnes Day.” [Read more...]

The Preacher’s Kid Returns

My sister my brother and I are right now, from three separate states, trying to put together a reception for our parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  In addition to the normal stress these things bring, we are feeling a dark ambivalence about the whole affair. It’s not the celebration itself that gives us pause. It’s where we are compelled to hold it.

We will be going back to the church of our childhood.

I think of the movie Junebug, in which our hapless protagonist, simply home for a visit, is called out to sing a hymn for everyone. The fact that we are the preacher’s kids, and expected to be involved every time we return is only part of the problem. That would be easy enough to deal with if there weren’t so many conflicted emotions going on under the surface.

We will go of course. And we will stand and sing. Church members will smile at us, tell us it’s good to see us, and wonder why the last time they saw us was seven years ago, at dad’s retirement from the pastorate there.

There are two related reasons. We were part of this family of hundreds of people who met three times a week, none of whom we knew intimately.

Dad took this church when I was one, my sister was three, and our little brother was just an infant. He stayed at that same ministry until his retirement, thirty-eight years later—something anyone familiar with fundamentalist Baptists knows is quite a feat. [Read more...]

Bible Thumping

I once saw a girl beaned in the head with a Bible.

Her attacker was a well-muscled star of our middle school football team, so his throw was hard, accurate, and had a bit of a spiral.

To be fair, the weapon wasn’t a full Bible, neither was it large. Someone in this guy’s group of cronies had procured a box of those miniature New Testaments kids are given in Sunday school, and brought them in his backpack with the intention of evangelizing—through force.

I noticed something was up that morning in the gymnasium, where the buses unloaded and students lounged in the bleachers waiting for the bell to ring so we could go to homeroom. With only one teacher—usually a distracted gym coach—on duty, it was easy to get away with mischief, and many of the students, hormonal and restless and facing another day of Algebra and cafeteria food, had mischief in their hearts. [Read more...]

The State of Things to Come

With relation to time, Walker Percy once compared the present to the tape head on a recorder. Into that receptacle, the pristine potentiality of the future is fed—a blank magnetic strip streaming across an apparatus that captures the clamor of the known world. In this way, the present is akin to the mouth of time.

For Percy’s Lancelot Lamar, musing about life from his insane asylum, the past’s consumption of the future was a horrible thought. For the process is one in which the freedom of all things is chewed, mangled, and suffocated by the crush of the one thing. Potential is transformed, and thereby corrupted, by actualization.

We are always in danger of the past’s banality—its boring predictability, its deadening muck of petty, moronic badness—swallowing up all possibility and converting it into the stale mess of exhausted routine. [Read more...]


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