Attn: Myspace Flannery O’Connor Haters

This blurb is written in response to remarks made by some students of mine on one of my students’ Myspace pages about Flannery O’Connor, one of the greatest writers America has ever produced, in my opinion. My Myspace page, in case you were wondering, can be accessed by clicking here.

What’s depressing, what’s very saddening, is that so many people in this world, even many who say they are Christian, go through this life totally unaware of God and God’s miraculous work that occurs every day around us. These people are totally unaware of that Reality that could actually give them purpose. All too often, it does not even occur to them that there is something very important missing, because they do not even possess the faculties for self-examination. If they did, they would realize there was something gravely wrong about their lives.

O’Connor once wrote about the idea that writers are expected to be generically “nice,” or, to use the more common misnomer, “compassionate”:

It’s considered an absolute necessity these days for writers to have compassion. Compassion is a word that sounds good in anybody’s mouth and which no book jacket can do without. It is a quality which no one can put his finger on in any exact critical sense, so it is always safe for anybody to use. Usually I think what is meant by it is that the writer excuses all human weakness because human weakness is human. The kind of hazy compassion demanded of the writer now makes it difficult to be anti-anything.

What is cool is that O’Connor actually is compassionate to her characters (but in a biblical, as opposed to a “hazy,” sense), which is a shocking idea to us if we have only given her stories a cursory reading. They are populated with the kinds of people I described above (think of Ruby in “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” for instance). The compassion on O’Connor’s part is the imparting of what she calls “grace” to these characters. This “grace” is the destruction of these false selves that most of us erect. It reminds me very much of Paul’s quite violent image of our redemption: crucifying the old person, dying to the flesh, and arising to new life (cf. Rom. 6.3–6 and Gal. 5.24, among many others).

In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother is the recipient of grace at the end. Before, she was not only annoying and selfish, she was also dishonest to others and even to herself. After shooting her, the Misfit makes a very telling remark: “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” There are people who are like that!

Flannery O’Connor considered her work to be concerned with “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil,” as she put it. I love it, because even though it’s grotesque and exaggerated, it’s real! This world is violently twisted and distorted. People, created in the image of God, have become mere mockeries of that original image. They do not even have an awareness of the Deity that permeates every part of their being, to the last strand of DNA. God’s grace is something that goes far beyond our mushy conceptions of “the conversion experience.” It is a powerful and irresistable force. If the Kingdom of God were just lovey-dovey, it could easily be written off, and so the devil wishes to make it. And so do many Christians believe it to be.

O’Connor had a true vision of what is at stake here in this world. She looked unflinchingly at those who populate it, and saw that indeed we are in “territory held largely by the devil” (cf. Eph. 2.1–3). So give her some grace, yeah? There’s way more to her than is at first apparent. The hope that we have, in O’Connor’s fiction and in our existence vis-a-vis the Divine (every human being, regardless of who they are), is that God is powerful enough to redeem us. The violence to who we have made ourselves to be that we experience is scary and often ugly, but it’s necessary, and (dare I say it?) a good thing! Ask any former coke addict who has experienced God’s deliverance. It’s not pretty, but it is beautiful

Check out this essay. It’s really good, and I got some of the quotes I used here off of it.

Swear to Me!!!

I’ve just returned from seeing Batman Begins for the second time. (That’s why I didn’t answer your call, Steffany!) An excellent movie.

After talking a little bit about it with my parents as we returned to the car, I think why I like it, and perhaps even what makes it unique among all the Batman movies (not just the last two crappy ones), is its faithfulness to the central ideas of the Batman mythology: righteousness as opposed to falsehood, justice as opposed to vengeance, protecting life rather than exploiting it, and of course the idea that good guys can be freaking awesome and freaking scary!

It’s popped into my head that it might be fun to just write a Batman story and maybe turn it into a graphic novel, just for fun. (Not to sell, DC Comics lawyers!!) There are so many great ideas to play with…

Selections from the Wish List

Straight from the newer half of the middle section of the 800 items on my Amazon wishlist. I kind of use it as a list of things I don’t want to forget about, and I rarely buy stuff off of it. I still feel guilty about its… largeness, though. I haven’t met anyone with more items on theirs…

Anyways, these are books that I have found interesting enough to throw on the list.

Warriors of the Lord: The Military Orders of Christendom by Michael Walsh

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Ancient Greek Edition) by J. K. Rowling

Hacking Matter: Levitating Chairs, Quantum Mirages, and the Infinite Weirdness of Programmable Atoms by Wil McCarthy

The Books at the Wake: A Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake by James S. Atherton

Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle by Jad Adams

Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio

Mishima: A Biography by John Nathan

Christ the Eternal Tao by Damascene

Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers by Linda Perlstein

Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln by William A. Tidwell

Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren

A General History of Pyrates by Daniel Defoe

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright

Fountain Pens: History and Design by Giorgio Dragoni

The Japanese House: Architecture and Interiors by Alexandra Black

Post a comment if you have any thoughts, have read any of these books, or have a wish list that is more extensive than mine! I would be thrilled to meet such a being.

Biblical Curse Generator

Aside from being very cool in general, The Ship of Fools has an extremely awesome feature: its very own Biblical Curse Generator! Here’s what they say about it:

Lost for a smart remark to see off your enemies? Unable to deliver that killer insult? Put an end to “I was speechless!” misery with the amazing Biblical Curse Generator, which is pre-loaded with blistering put-downs as delivered by Elijah, Jeremiah and other monumentally angry saints. Simply click the button below, and get ready to smite your foes with a custom-made curse straight out of the Old Testament.

The curse I got when last I visited was

I pray thou shalt be as welcome as a fart in the queen’s bedchamber, O thou wayward winebibber!

Awesome. Check it out.
If you get any sweet curses that you’d like to share, post ‘em in a comment!

A True Experience of the Church

The primates of the Anglican Communion are currently meeting in Nottingham, discussing, among other things, the quandary the North American provinces have gotten them into. I’ve been following the whole Anglican thing for a while now, and sometimes it seems like things are in a pretty bad state, but there’s a lot of real Christianity going on in the mix, too.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave an opening sermon the other day. As I was reading it, I was really moved. He has an amazing way of putting things into perspective for the followers of Christ, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of resolving the differences we have with each other.

Titusonenine has the whole sermon here. Take a look! It’s lengthy, but well worth the read.

My mom came in the room while I was reading it and the first thing she said was, “How can you read all of that text??” and then she saw what it was and asked me if I was going to become an Anglican. My reply was, perhaps, if the diocese of Los Angeles didn’t have such a penchant for riding the heresy line so closely…

Here’s one part I liked, among many others:

Who are we talking to? What we have to say to the world – a world that is concentrating on what we too must address, the challenge to the world’s wealthy – what we have to say to the world is just this: God calls human persons to a life in which poverty is everyone’s poverty and wealth is everyone’s wealth. This is how St Paul in II Corinthians describes the Christian life. This is the life that makes the Church the way it is. This doesn’t mean that the Church is an agency or a movement for political change. It simply is new life, new creation. When human life is renewed in this way, so that poverty and wealth are re-imagined like this, the result is something like the Church; and Christians will insist that only through the act and call of God is any of this ever possible, and only in conscious relation with Jesus is it fully realised. When we celebrate the Holy Communion, we are not awarding each other points for good behaviour or orthodox teaching but we are showing what it will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven – Christ’s life given equally to all as all share in one bread; every communicant called by name to God’s table, so that we have to look at every other communicant as God’s beloved guest. Out of this flows the vision of a renewed world that keeps alive our hope and our anger at a system that treats so many as unwelcome in the world, nameless statistics, making no contribution to the life of others, dispensable.

It just got me thinking about how I view others. What people say and do can really affect me, not just my relationship with that person, but me in general. It can get pretty bad. In addition to this, I can also get caught up in my own dissatisfactions; this was a great jolt back to the reality of what the call of Christ truly means.