Counting the Cost of Faith

Years ago, more than 40 to be precise, I was reading The Habit of Being, the collection of selected letters by Flannery O’Connor that had been recently published. Checking now, I see that my copy was from the third printing. And the book in various forms is still available on Amazon.

It’s a marvelous book, filled with so many great quotations and observations that they’re difficult to keep track of. One that I memorized, and sometimes used in Sunday School classes, was something she said about faith:

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

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The Road is Long, and the Call is Loud

The road ahead was not a literal road. But it felt like one. A very long one.

My organization had just done what organizations are famous for doing: internal politics. A spectacularly successful initiative had been rewarded by the wrong person getting a promotion, someone not even involved in the success. The team went from celebration to devastation in 24 hours. I spent a few days considering what to do. I’d poured life and soul into what became a success, and I’d been slapped, hard. Overnight, gold had become rust and tarnish. I decided to leave. Go to another part of the company.

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The Teacher in the Turban: The Year I Discovered the Realists

My junior year in high school (1967-68) was, perhaps like all years, a crazy time to be 16 years old. Those nine months included starvation in the Biafran region of Nigeria; the deaths of three astronauts in a test launch at Cape Kennedy; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. We went to see movies like “The Graduate,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “In the Heat of the Night,” and the Beatles were upended their own music and rock music in general with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

This was the high school year for American history and American literature. American history included a mandatory six-week section on communism; the required text was Masters of Deceit by J. Edgar Hoover. My history teacher was a maverick; rather than read what others said communism was, somehow she got grudging approval for my class to read a large chunk of Das Kapital by Karl Marx. It was actually a brilliant move; we learned that, if Marx was any indication, communism was flat-out boring. Who wanted that?

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Finding Faulkner via Mexico and Peru

I was born and raised in the South. I attended an SEC university. I passed a small apartment house in Pirate’s Alley hundreds of times, and I barely noticed the plaque about the author who had lived there. I proofread hundreds of papers about “Barn Burning” and “The Bear” for fellow fraternity members, which convinced me I never wanted to read their author again.

I didn’t read William Faulkner until I was 35 years old. And when I found him, it was by way of Mexico and Peru.

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On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior

It was my great blessing to have had excellent English teachers from seventh grade through college. They each had a gift of teaching, but they each also had a passion for what they were teaching. They took me behind the story so that I could see it was a story, yes, but it was also a lesson about life, an inspiration, a pathway of imagination, a structure through which poured ideas, beliefs, assertions, and principles.

And this was fiction I’m talking about.

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The Surprise of “The Scarlet Letter”

It’s been 50 years since I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in my high school American literature class. What I vaguely remembered was a story about a woman named Hester Prynne in Puritan New England, with a baby born out of wedlock, and the narrowminded colonists who took great pride in displaying their superiority over the sinful, fallen woman.


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