Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Flannery O'Connor Short Stories for Summer Reading

Dear Misfits,

We read three of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories for our July meeting:  “Revelation”, “Parker’s Back”, and “Judgment Day”.  However, we were also encouraged to do extra-curricular reading, so a discussion of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" was almost inevitable.

“Revelation” was our starting point.  Like so many of O’Connor’s stories it includes a wonderful example of Grace offered in a completely unexpected way.  Misfits who have spent time in the south commented on how the vivid imagery painted an accurate portrait of sensibilities, both good and bad, that still seem to be prevalent today.  On one hand there is an emphasis put on southern hospitality and genteel behavior, but underneath there can be tendencies to view one’s self above other people or classes.  Mrs. Turpin responded positively to her opportunity for grace and O’Connor used the moment to impart a little Catholic perspective on the question of who will be first in the Kingdom.  The following is Mrs. Turpin’s vision of the Saved marching into Heaven:

“And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claude, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.  ….Accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior.  …  Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”

Grace was also found in “Parker’s Back”.  We had the sense that God was always looking out for Parker and realized that moments of grace don’t necessarily need to be religious experiences.  Who could have imagined that the change Parker felt when he first saw a tattooed man would lead him toward his salvation?  The other thing that impressed us was the amazing amount of symbolism throughout.  The tractor accident seemed reminiscent of the Burning Bush where Parker ended up shoeless on what he experienced as hallowed ground.  The Moses metaphor continued when Parker got the tattoo of Jesus on his back.  Just as Moses could not see God fully – only his back – the tattoo of Christ was the only one of his many tattoo’s that Parker couldn’t see.  But to me the most striking symbolism came in learning the meaning of O. E. Parker’s given name.  Obadiah means “Slave of God” and Elihue means “He is God”.  Parker responded to the grace offered to him, but to his great sorrow, his wife did not accept the grace offered to her.

Next we jumped to “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.  I have been pleased, perhaps even proud, to count myself among The Misfits for many years.  All this time I only knew The Misfits were named for a character in a Flannery O’Connor story and I was satisfied with that.  But after reading the story for the first time I was forced to ask why in the devil we ever named ourselves for such a loathsome character.

For the record, it happened very early on in the history of our reading group and some of the specific details may have been conveniently misremembered.  But it is believed that the genesis of the association came in considering a line spoken by The Misfit in the story.  From his twisted perspective it is possible to get a sense that as Christians and sinners our punishment does not fit our crimes because of Christ’s mercy.

“I call myself The Misfit because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

In fact and on reflection, the character of The Misfit has many profound spiritual insights.  He very well understands the central question offered by Christianity:  If you accept that Jesus is God, what are you going to do about it?  The Misfit certainly wrestled with Grace at some point in his life and rejected Him outright.  However, in the end is he expressing disappointment, regret, or something else when he concedes that there is no real pleasure in life?

There was not enough time to discuss “Judgment Day” as the sun was beginning to set beyond the gazebo at Claret Farm.

For our August meeting, The Misfits will read The Last Crusader by Louis de Wohl.  The novel is historical fiction about Don Juan of Austria.  Mistfits will recognize Don Juan of Austria as the hero of Lepanto from the G.K. Chesterton poem, Lepanto, we read many years ago.  The Last Crusader is slightly long, 500 pages, but it promises to be an exciting summer read.

For our September meeting, we will read Walker Percy’s very quirky novel, Love in the Ruins.  “Percy brilliantly describes and satirizes the competing elements in this novel as an American Apocalypse - the country club conservatives, the "groovy" priests, the religious Right and Left, the technocrats, the sexologists, the racists, the Black revolutionaries, the drop-outs, and the sinister but bungling government bureaucrats who have their own vision of a "Brave New World."  Written in the 1971, it has a very contemporary ring to it!

And finally, please don’t forget the challenge offered by Misfit Buzz last month.  After all these years we think it a good thing to have a standard opening prayer for our meetings.  I seem to recall there being some sort of contest or prize involved, but the details escape me now.  But if you have any ideas for an opening prayer, jot them down and send them to Buzz.  He will ensure that your work will be recognized and suitably rewarded.

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Steve Ward
Scribe to the Misfits

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