excerpt from: The Gospel According to America

A brief excerpt from the David Dark book I mentioned yesterday:

Like many Americans, my father was haunted by the Bible. Figuring out what it said, what it all meant, and how to live a life somehow faithful to it was a lifelong obsession. The Bible was always in the back of his mind. Like a leather-bound black hole, it pulled on his thoughts, painted the matter-of-fact a different color, called into questions whatever anybody nearby described as common sense, and uproariously unsettled the agreed-upon obvious of every scenario. It was the measure of authenticity for all speech, and speech that presumed to have its backing (“It’s biblical,” “According to the Bible,” “God says…”) was to be viewed with particular scrutiny and suspicion, because the Bible belonged to everyone and no one. It was nobody’s property. Always dangerous, a double-edged sword. Like absolute truth, it’s out there, but anyone who presumed to own its copyright was criminally insane.
With this vibe at work throughout my growing up years, my father made it very difficult for anyone in our family to keep religion and politics in their assigned categories, because the Bible, as he read it, didn’t go for that kind of thing. He understood as well as anyone that there is a hard-won arrangement at work in America whereby we’re expected to keep our talk of the Lord, eternal salvation and a certain coming kingdom out of “the business world,” “politics,” and whatever the polity seems to agree on as “polite conversation.” But the demands of genuinely candid exchange, with all the hilarity and illumination that frank discussion can promise, would not allow such deluded misconceptions about what any of are really talking about. He spent too much time exchanging jokes and anecdotes at our near-by Waffle House and holding forth in conversation with Muslim gas station attendants for the public/private distinctions in political and religious matters to ever really hold absolute sway. And in the deepest sense, he didn’t think it polite or even friendly to pretend that certain elephants aren’t in the room; that Jesus of Nazareth has very little to say about a nation’s wars on terror or that the demands of Allah or Jehovah upon humankind can be conveniently sequestered with the “spirituality” section of the global market. Without a costly commitment to candor among family and potential friends, the possibility of truthful conversation (a preprequisite for the formation of more perfect unions) begins to tragically diminish, and responsible speech that communicates what we’re actually thinking and believing has become a lost art.

I wish I could type more…the opening pages continue on, telling of his father (a combination of Peter Falk’s Columbo with a dash of Atticus Finch) who I figure must have been a wonderfully fun man to be around; wise, with Biblical common sense and decent care for other’s opinions. His comments reminded me of my dad, and I miss him much. With Beth’s father also quite ill, I have been thinking about dads lately. This wonderful start to this important book—I blogged about it the other night—is a beaut.
Inspired partially by his father’s Waffle House laughter and truthfulness, he calls for a blue-collar kind of collegial conversation about important things. One more brief quote:

Our preferred pundits, who many of us consult throughout the day like shots of espresso, need not define the terms by which we speak with our co-workers, and if they’re making us less peaceable in the way we disagree, we might want to rethink our dependence upon them. The Biblical alternative is an enlarged sense of neighborliness that strives to maintain “neighbor” as an ever-widening category. The injunction to love the neighbor in the minute particulars of speech and action has never been an easy one, but it might be the nearest and most immediate form of patriotism available to any of us…

from: The Gospel According To America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea by David Dark (Westminister/John Knox) $14.95