Many of you may know that Garrison Keillor is one of my favorite authors. Here he speaks of church factions, doctrinal divisions, an absence of peacemakers, and an abundance of “self-righteous pissery” (his words, not mine):
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It’s been a quiet week in Lake Snow-be-gone,* my hometown, just under the edge of the earth.
It’s summer here in the abyss, and I’m beginning to think it always will be. The scorching sun isn’t showing any sign of letting up. She’s beating down on the residents of Lake Snow-be-gone like an angry mother kneads dough. Everyone knows good women vanquish sorry days and suppress rage by making buttermilk biscuits. It’s Mother Nature’s way of making all things right at the end of a day — for mother and child. The result is a plate of warm biscuits presented by a mother who has once again successfully overcome the displeasure of a poorly run PTA meeting or the bad-mannered remarks of Sabrina, the teenage supermarket cashier.
It was the smell of momma’s buttermilk biscuits that got me through long school days when I was young, and later through long days of work. Not that I could actually smell the biscuits from Mrs. Watson’s 3rd grade classroom, but I imagined them — almost as much as I imagined yanking one of Penny Moore’s pigtails. Penny’s pigtails were long and brown — like the curtains in my granny’s parlor — and I felt as if those beautiful bundles of hair were calling out, pleading me to pay them attention by yanking just a little. And I did a time or two. Little girls all over the world are taught that boys pull hair when they’re in love. Asian girls, Russian girls, even little Lake Snow-be-gone girls. I suppose I did have a certain affection for Penny Moore in Mrs. Watson’s class. There was more to like than just her pigtails, though; she could run as fast as any boy and climbed on the monkey bars like a — well, like a monkey.
I have to wonder today if Penny makes biscuits for her 3rd grade boy at the end of long days. I can see her now, in her red-checkered dress that compliments so well her freckled face, turning to offer a plate of warm biscuits to her son, her pigtails hanging all glorious like two braided chandeliers, still waiting to be grasped or maybe even climbed like monkey bars. I wonder if her son has a particular affection for pigtails and freckles. I wonder whatever happened to Mrs. Watson — no doubt she’s down here somewhere, torturing school-aged children with her big wooden paddle. I took many a beating from Big Red. That was the name of Mrs. Watson’s paddle.
But it’s the sun and the heat that beats a boy here in hell. And we’re not given the aroma, nor the promise, that biscuits await us at the end of the day. And there sure as heck won’t be a tall glass of cold milk from the fridge. The only milk I’ve seen here was what those Stalin boys stole from the rich man’s farm. You know the rich man. He’s done here just like he did in Luke 13 — he built himself up some big barns to store all of his most prized possessions. He’s got a milking cow named Bessie and enough corn meal to last an eternity — ironic, isn’t it. But there’s worms in that corn meal… and the milk turns before you can even put a stool up to ol’ Bessie. For sure those Stalin boys must have known that stolen milk wouldn’t be good for drinking — but it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. And it’s even harder to teach evil souls to use reason.
Reason and logic don’t seem to be as common as they once were, and I think any wisdom any of us had was checked at the door. It’s been replaced with intelligence — or it never was wisdom, and was always just intelligence. There’s a big difference between the two, you know. Wisdom isn’t just knowing something, but it’s trying that something on for size, and finding a good fit. For instance, I can know the Hades Infernos are down three games in the race for the penant. But that knowledge doesn’t become wisdom until I trade our nervous southpaw pitcher for someone who can hit 3rd in a lineup. Or better yet, wisdom is when I finally quit paying current ticket prices to watch Infernos’ games — it’s a whole lot hotter watching baseball at the ballpark than it is watching a film in this movie theater we’ve got. All that ever shows here are Jim Carrey movies, but the popcorn’s not bad. At least the butter’s melted.
Oh, for a big plate of buttermilk biscuits with melted butter and a little maple syrup.
Well, that’s the news from Lake Snow-be-gone, where all the women are hot, all the men are mid-cooking, and all the children are burned from amperage.
* Full credit for inspiration needs to be given to Garrison Keillor and “Lake Wobegon Days.” For those of you who don’t know, Keillor is one of my heroes of storytelling. Any likeness this post has with his writings are intentional and out of admiration; this is not a satirical stab at Minnesota or strong women or above average children.
“remorse” - oil on canvas by peter lloyd (to purchase or browse, view his gallery)
Whatever happened to being sorry for what you’ve done?
Remorse, regret, responsibility, and repentance…
have been exchanged for excuses, explanations, exemptions, and exonerations.
- “Well, I didn’t mean it that way. So I’m sorry if that’s how you took it.”
- “I hate that you were hurt by what I did.” [Not "I hate what I did."]
- “Well, that’s just the way I am. I can’t help it.”
- “I really had no choice in the matter.”
- “I think it all goes back to my upbringing. My parents weren’t around and…”
- “Hey, who are you to judge me?! The Bible says not to judge.”
- “Well, maybe it would be wrong for you, but it’s not for me. My conscience is clean.”
- “Everyone else does it.”
- “It was only a small lie.”
- “Seriously, you’re going to hold me responsible for that. I was drunk!”
Garrison Keillor writes (in jest):
In 1976, a major Protestant denomination narrowly defeated an attempt to destigmatize the Prayer of Confession by removing from it all guilt or guilt-oriented references: “Lord, we approach Thy Throne of Grace, having committed acts which, we do heartily acknowledge, must be very difficult for Thee to understand. Nevertheless, we do beseech Thee to postpone judgment and to give Thy faithful servants the benefit of the doubt until such time as we are able to answer all Thy questions fully and clear our reputations in Heaven.”
The apostle Paul writes (not in jest):
Even if the things I said made you sad, I don’t regret them. It was really difficult to see you hurt like that, but because was your sadness was short-lived, I know it was for the better. I’m really happy now — not because you were heartbroken — but because your sorrow prompted you to change your lives. That’s because you were sorry just as God intended. Godly sorrow brings a change in your heart, mind, and actions; and this is the path to salvation and true life. Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to depression and, eventually, death. – 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (my paraphrase)
And I write (not sure whether in jest or not):
I’m not sure Christianity the way we’ve done it is going to work anymore.
A few thoughts:
- As Christians, I don’t believe it’s within our job description — or within our power — to change the worldview of a nation. So we ought not complain about the loss of remorse in modern-day America. Rather we should focus on this next point….
- While we can’t put a stop to postmodernity, the loss of remorse in the church is a completely different story. There is a sorrow that is Godly. And without it, I fear we cannot have salvation. Some of us are just playing games.
- We also might do well to consider another way of first presenting the gospel to non-Christians in our communities. I don’t know for how much longer the old “you-have-guilt-and-need-to-be-forgiven-through-the-blood-of-Jesus-Christ” thing is going to work as an introduction. [I'd argue it probably already isn't.] Perhaps we should think about some other portion of the good news with which to begin. It just doesn’t make sense for us to have to convince people of their guilt, so that we can sell them our religion. I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t know for sure that there exists a whole lot more good news than the forgiveness of sins spiel alone. [For my idea of a more complete definition of the gospel, see this post and those preceding it: the full and complete gospel.]
What do you think?