A Far Way On To Dawn

The winter solstice is upon us, and tonight will officially be the longest night of the year. And, brother, if there ever was a year that demanded a dark night, 2016 is it. I won’t belabor the point by listing many of the challenging and disheartening things that have taken place since this January 1st, and I won’t try to ameliorate them by pointing out the many bright spots the year offered either. To do that is to dwell in the temporal, and relying on the things of this world for our emotional equilibrium is foolish at best.

However, as I stand on the edge of 40, I must admit that the darkness is a little harder to shake off than it used to be. It’s not because I’m growing cynical (though that has happened to some degree) or because I feel lost. On the contrary, I understand myself and my purpose in this life better than ever before.

I think it has something to do with perspective. With a few decades behind me, it’s easier to see things as they are. In middle age, we recognize that time (for us at least) isn’t infinite, some endless skein of hours that spools itself out into perpetuity. The scissors come, the thread is severed, and there is an end to things as we know them. Losing my grandfather to Alzheimer’s Disease, praying for a friend who, though only 42 and the mother of two young girls, learned she has lymphoma, watching marriages end in divorce and death all impressed the same inescapable fact on me—nothing in this life is guaranteed.

In this hard year of bitterness and animosity, with thoughts of mortality in mind, I came across this page in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and it stopped me cold.

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The character having these heavy thoughts, Charles Holloway, is a 54-year-old amateur philosopher and library janitor who bemoans the loss of his youth and potential. (Though — slight spoiler alert — there’s a great moment of redemption for him in the book.) As someone who has been awake at 3:00 AM several times this year, I concur that it is a hard hour, a sharp and lonely sliver of time. With the house sleeping around you and the world outside the window quiet and still, it’s easy to believe you’re the only soul left and that all else is darkness.

But unlike Mr. Bradbury, who considered himself a “delicatessen religionist,” I believe in “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes. Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days.” I take comfort in the words of Paul who tells us, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

This year, our family used an Advent wreath at home for the first time, and I have found that the intentional lighting of candles, of discussing what they mean, and allowing them to focus my attention on Jesus has been restorative. Yes, there is darkness, but there is also hope. There is love. There is joy. There is peace. Why? Because there is Christ, the center of our celebration. He is where our hearts must dwell, and he is the only source of true comfort in a world that seems to have skidded sideways.

On this, the longest night of the year, and every night of my life, I will not stare at the darkness. Instead, I look to the white candle in the center of that wreath, the one that represents Jesus—the God-man who came to redeem and will return to rescue. I sing the last three verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in expectation, knowing that my waiting will not be in vain, for the Dayspring is coming.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

And You Will Have Done Enough

It’s been two weeks since Donald J. Trump was declared president-elect of the United States, and while things have calmed down slightly, we’re still a far piece from that “perfect union” our Founding Fathers envisioned.

The night after the election, the hubs and I went on a date. (Yes, on a Wednesday. And we paid for it the next day. Oh brother, did we pay for it.) Why put ourselves in such a spot? Because when Madeleine Peyroux is playing City Winery, you go regardless of what day it is. (If you’ve never heard of her, are you in for a treat. I’ve included one of my favorites below to get you started. You can thank me later.)

During the fifth or sixth song in her opening set, the woman sitting in front of me—a striking older beauty in a cream colored sweater and smart cloche hat—nearly knocked her glass of merlot over. Without thinking, I reached over and caught it. (Old waitress reflexes never die apparently.) Smiling, she whispered her thanks, and I leaned in to tell her it was my pleasure. I suppose that little act of kindness unlocked something in her because, without warning, she turned to me and said in a much louder voice, “I don’t know what to do about this election. I don’t understand it! I’m worried about our safety and the economy and immigrants….”

I tried for the better part of sixteen bars to get her to speak more softly, all to no avail. People began looking at us, shooting very polite darts in our direction. The more she talked, the more overwrought she became, so I went for the obvious. “Darlin,” I told her, “there are worries out there to be sure. But for now, you have lovely music, the company of friends, and a glass of wine in your hand. Leave the rest outside for an hour or so.”

She smiled at me—soothed by those words—patted my hand, and turned back to the music. We didn’t speak again until the end of the show, but before I left, I put a hand on her shoulder and gave her the only truth I knew: “The person in the White House, whoever it is, doesn’t impact you all that much really. You can still love your neighbor. You can still show kindness to others. Nothing can stop you from trying to impact your world for the better.” I could tell it helped her to hear someone say it, and truth be told, it lightened my spirits to give the thought voice. It’s been hard for me to deal with this election, even knowing what I know as a Christian—that this world doesn’t get the final say and that, praise God, there’s a better one coming. As believers, we play the long game. But that doesn’t stop us from losing sight of the truth…or from losing our good sense once in awhile.

I’m sure this is somehow a steal from Wendell Berry (who has already said most of the good things worth saying), but I’m of the belief that we aren’t meant to solve all the world’s problems. It’s our job to faithfully tend the little corner of earth assigned to us and nothing more. We are to love and aid those around us, to care for the parts of the world we call home, and if we all pitch in and do our bit, all the little corners will get tended. That’s what I was trying to tell her—the woman who was my neighbor for the briefest of moments—that it’s all going to be okay.

In Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for [God] the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”

Read that last bit again, “Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.” Mercy, I can do that. I can try. That gives me a little room to breathe and puts things back in the right perspective. From that point of view, the world doesn’t seem quite so dire. A thought like that pushes the bleakness back.

The next morning as I drove to work, bleary-eyed and droopy from a night spent gadding around like a college kid, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that gave me even greater cause for hope. It was dark, so I couldn’t be quite sure of what I saw. But it gave me something to think on and daydream about all day. That afternoon, I beat the same worth path home, excited to find out if what I’d seen had been real or some kind of mirage, one created by wishful thinking rather than thirst. And much to my surprise and delight, I saw it was real.

 

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Some lovely soul took the time to make a sign that simply said “Love People and Be Kind” in chunky black marker. Someone else had thought the matter over, come to the same conclusion as I, and had taken the first step by posting this advice on a busy Atlanta road. I look for it every day now, and it never fails to bring me joy.

There is a way to not just to survive the hot mess that is 2016 but to thrive in it. And the solution has nothing to do with a non-profit initiative, a protest march, or a government program. Each of us is called to do those two simple things. If we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, there’s precious little else that needs doing because, well, we will have done enough.

Selah.

 

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Sticker Shock

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At first glance, this magnet on the back of my car is nothing special. It’s hardly as cool as my “Team Oxford Comma” sticker or the logo of my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Heck, even my Valdosta State University alumnae badge of honor is more unique.


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Like hundreds of other folks in the place a call home, it indicates that I have a curtain climber or two involved in an afterschool activity known as, you guessed it, “Kid Chess.”

Each Tuesday, our dastardly duo finishes their school day and heads for the cafeteria to learn about “the immortal game,” beloved by commonspun philosophers, kings, and titans of industry. For ninety minutes, they learn strategy and play a game or two with classmates on the same skill level as they. Some weeks, the boys sprint out, their faces flushed with the thrill of conquest. Other times, they more closely resemble Eeyore, the beloved sad sack of the Hundred Acre Woods because they’ve been beaten like a tied up goat. But I’m happy either way because they’re learning how to think critically, to be good sports, and to take risks.

But that’s not what makes that goofy blue knight sporting the Def Leppard do so special.

When we were going through the adoption process—filling out mountains of paperwork, taking IMPACT training classes, and meeting with advocates and case managers, every so often, I would think to myself, Do we REALLY want to do this? Are we sure that we’re sure about this life-changing choice?

Most times, the answer was yes. But there were days (more than I care to admit) when I backpedaled from the entire thing. Days when I heard adoption horror stories in the news or from the mouths of well-meaning friends. Days when I came home exhausted and realized just how difficult life could be for a working mother. Days when my selfishness overruled my willingness to obey.

I prayed for peace about what sometimes seemed like an altogether foolhardy endeavor. I asked for confirmation from God, some grand symbol like the ones he gave Moses in the wilderness or during Belshazzar’s feast. Heck, I decided I’d settle for a little dew on some fleece. But the Lord, as we all know, is not in the earthquake, fire, or whirlwind. It’s the still, small voice we should be listening for, the gentle question that comes to us from just outside the safety of our caves.

Days before our paperwork was approved, I was still wrestling with adoption and with all the worries and expectations that are part and parcel with becoming a new parent. But driving home from work one afternoon, I saw a car with one of those silly magnets on the back, and I found myself saying, It might be fun to raise a kid who plays chess.

Wham.

Just like that, I went from worrying about all sorts of things (most of which have not come to pass) to thinking, It might be nice.

And now—one year after children were placed in our home—that magnet is proudly on display on the back hatch of my filthy yellow car. Evidence that God is indeed at work in the details.

 

The Wonder of Words

Of all the wise aphorisms and sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanack, my favorite is, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” These days, I don’t have much time to squander, so I make the most of the free minutes I do have. If I’m not slaving away over a laptop, helping with homework, doing chores, or cheering at a little league game, I’m reading or trying my best to come up with an idea for an article.

But one of the few things I do allow myself is a glance at Prufrock News, which shows up in my inbox each weekday morning. It is a newsletter on books, arts, and philosophy. Usually, it contains 10 to 14 links to various topics, and more often than not, I read (or at least scan) them all. (By the way, it’s free. You can sign up here.) Well, a week or three back, I came across a book review that sounded interesting, so I clicked on through to the other side and started to read.

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To my delight, I discovered something so much better than a simple review.  The author–who I will not name for reasons you will see later–wrote sharp and witty prose. The sentence structure was fresh and engaging, the opinion honest and fair. It had me laughing and nodding along in agreement throughout. And this wasn’t an essay, a poem, or even a short story. It was a book review! There are hundreds of thousands of them on the internet, and that number is growing by the second. However, most of them are, shall we say, lacking. Go check your average review on Goodreads, and you’ll see something like this:

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Not so with the review I read. It was erudite and entertaining from beginning to end. So much so, in fact, that I did a little digging, found out where the author worked, and wrote him/her an email to say thanks and to gush briefly about how much I enjoyed the piece. Believe you me, I hesitated a bit before doing so. I mean, I’m not the type to hang around backstage doors (except for that one time I waited for Paul Simon), and I’m not an autograph hound (despite what the pyramid of signed baseballs on my bookshelves say). But I felt duty-bound as a fellow wordsmith to contact this author, compelled even. So I screwed my courage to the sticking place, wrote the email, and after about nineteen rounds of editing, took a deep breath and hit “Send.”

Imagine my surprise when a reply showed up in my inbox five hours later.

The author thanked me for my kind and encouraging words, and then he/she hit me with this:

I particularly appreciate your comments as this has been a difficult week—my mother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly on Monday, aged only 68. At such times, a friendly email from a reader is like a gentle hand on one’s back, reminding one that life goes on and that laughter is an important part of it.

Flabbergasted, I re-read the brief note several times and sent back a reply to let the author know that I also experienced a loss recently and to say that he/she was in my prayers. That’s where it stopped. I’ve heard nothing back since, and I don’t need to.

However, weeks later, I’m still thinking about that exchange and what we both would have missed out on had it not occurred.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2). And, in some strange way, I feel like this is exactly what happened in our brief sharing of words. Despite my need to squeeze time dry and use every precious minute to keep up with my hectic workaday life, that day, something in me said, “Don’t be afraid. And whatever you do, don’t waste this moment.”

I could have used the fifteen minutes it took for me to write, edit, and send my message some other way. Knocking some tiny item off my to-do list perhaps or getting ahead on a monthly task for the magazine. But time that’s spent prudently isn’t always spent wisely. That’s why I’m glad to have used that quarter of an hour the way I did. Those minutes weren’t wasted because they were spent helping someone. And while the author and I might not be close in the traditional sense, for those few moments, we were. I was able to help him/her at a difficult time, and it’s humbling and astonishing to be used by God in such a way.

Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” I’m inclined to believe that’s true—for the hearer as well as the speaker. 

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever felt something tugging at you, telling you to do something that made little sense at the time? I’d love to hear about your moment in the comment section below!

Save Yourselfies

There’s a popular adage that reminds humans the best course of action when interacting with nature is to “Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. Kill only time.” But apparently, we can’t even manage that anymore.

Last week, an unfortunate baby dolphin, more specifically an endangered species known as a La Plata or Franciscana dolphin, was plucked out of the ocean and onto an Argentinian beach. The reason? People wanted to pet and take selfies with it.

Yes, selfies. With a dolphin. On land.

Video footage of the incident shows a ever-growing mob of people surrounding the poor little thing, cameras at the ready. According to Peter Holley at The Washington Times, “At no point in the footage does it appear that anyone in the crowd intervened or attempted to return the animal to the water,” and eventually, the dolphin died from dehydration. But it didn’t stop there. People kept on snapping pictures of its corpse and then left it to rot in the damp, trampled sand. How does something like this happen?

 

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We have all seen the reports that women spend somewhere around five hours a week taking, editing, and posting selfies on social media. But that doesn’t mean guys are blameless. Of the one million selfies—yes ONE MILLION selfies—taken each day, men are responsible for about half. And these snapshots do so add up. All told, according to a recent survey, the average millennial could take up to 25,700 selfies in his or her lifetime.

Think about that for a minute. 25,700 pictures of one person. Sweet heck.

Van Gogh only painted 30 or so self portraits. Rembrandt left us about 90. Frida created 55. If it was sufficient for three of the greatest artists in history to create fewer than 100 images each, you’d think we could survive with a couple thousand or so of ourselves. And by making the comparison, I’m not saying that the self-portrait and the selfie share much common ground. For Van Gogh and Frida, self portraits were a way of exploring their inner demons and giving voice to their pain. For us? We’ll take a selfie just to show how on fleek our eyebrows are or to give ourselves gravitas at serious places like Ground Zero, the Holocaust Memorial, or a funeral.

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944, Oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 40 x 30,7 cm, Museum Dolores Olmedo Patino, Mexico-City, Mexico.
Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944, Oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 40 x 30,7 cm, Museum Dolores Olmedo Patino, Mexico-City, Mexico.

Aldous Huxley said, “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” And I’d have to agree. We’d like to think we’re a cut above our ancestors, but I firmly believe that if the patrician class had had the means to take them, museums would be full of selfies with the Roman Colosseum in the background. (Along with necessary hashtags like #Lions4TheWin #ChristianItsWhatsForDinner #HailCaesar #BreadAndCircuses4Life) At least they took the time to watch the “entertainment” being provided. We can’t quite manage to stop taking pictures of ourselves long enough to watch nine innings of baseball. We’re too busy being the deities of our own 4.7 inch universes to be bothered to take in the beauty around us or *gasp* interact with people.

Now, rather than drink deeply and fully imbibe this thing called life, we frantically try to capture “the perfect moment” on phones. Why bother? There is no camera better than the human eye, no file more detailed than one stored in a human mind. Yet we keep scrambling for our devices, recording our lives rather than living them. How many of us have missed a gorgeous sunset because we were too busy trying to frame it up correctly to post on Instagram? How many fireworks shows have we only seen slivers of because we have to make sure we had something perfect for Vine? How long before we realize the hundreds of images we’re collecting of ourselves our limited worlds are keeping us from enjoying the greater (and much more interesting) places we inhabit? Maybe we don’t want to. Maybe we can’t bear the thought of not being the center of the universe.

The Swiss playwright and novelist Max Frisch, who was keen to explore once said that technology was nothing more than “the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” And for the life of me, I don’t know why we’re willing to make such a poor trade. I’d much rather be the elderly woman at the Black Mass premier than the other folks around her. She’ll have a memory of that red-carpet night that’s more exciting and detailed than anything captured on camera.

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But maybe that’s how moments like the one on that Argentinian beach happen. People get so absorbed in the egocentric crush to capture what makes them unique that they’re willing to sacrifice anything to make it happen. After all, it isn’t just a photograph they’re taking; it’s proof of life.

In Honor of a Great Man

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that my grandfather, Boyce Dale Lindley, fought a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. At 5:42 AM on Wednesday, August 5th, that fight finally drew to a close, and he went to be with the Lord.

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 6.00.12 PMI am beyond heartbroken for myself and my family, but I am thrilled for him. I know he stood in front of God’s throne and heard those words we all long for: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” The things we perceive through a glass darkly are clear to him now. Every mystery has been solved. Every tear has been wiped away by Jesus himself, and there is nothing left but joy eternal.

To me, there was no finer man on this earth. Patient, hardworking, loving, kind, giving, and gentle—he set the standard to which I hold all people. And it is likely none will ever measure up.

If you knew him and would like to sign his memorial page, you may do so here. Also, we are asking that in lieu of flowers, people would consider giving to the missionary fund at his church. Specifics can be found by visiting the link above.

I will be one of three people speaking at his memorial service this Sunday, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you here as well. It is my hope that they will give you some idea of the kind of wonderful man he was.

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Writing a eulogy is no small task. How do you even begin to explain how much a person meant to you or how his presence in your life changed everything for the better? As a writer who believes in the power of narrative, I thought it best to begin with short stories, snapshots that would give you all a sense of the man Boyce Lindley was.

I began recalling memories, scrambling to write them down, and then discarding them almost as rapidly as they came. One was too flippant. Another was a family joke that would take too long to explain. A few were much too sad for a “homegoing” like this one. There were moments I remembered vividly, but when I held them up to the light of others’ recollections, I realized I had embellished mine a bit—decorated it with prose-y flourishes that filled in the gaps and made it more satisfying.

But just because it’s satisfying doesn’t make it true. And if there is anything I hope to do for my grandfather today it is to speak truly of him because he deserves nothing less.

There are people I’ve lost after long battles with cancer—my great uncle James, my young friend Trevor Alexander, a bright and promising student named Catie Carter—and remember them well. For each, there are bright, concentrated moments, as golden and gilt as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But for all their brilliance, they are but a scant handful of memories. Bright drops of color on the canvas of my life.

But for my grandfather there are no standout moments, no highlight reel I can play, no bullet list to quickly go through to explain why he means so much to me. At first, this realization caused me no small amount of panic. What kind of granddaughter was I if I couldn’t remember my precious grandfather down to the most meticulous of details? And there was grief too, wedged between my ribs, thick and immovable, because I believed I had somehow lost something in my negligence. That somehow all the years of knowing Boyce Dale Lindley had been rubbed away and faded by time, never to be returned to me.11855673_10153577670751789_6362311139780261916_n

But then I thought about my grandfather and the kind of man he was. He was rarely front and center in our family. That was a task he left to my grandmother, his two bright and vivacious daughters, and his three gregarious grandchildren. No, he was happiest watching others, sitting or working quietly on the periphery—helping when and wherever he was needed. Always there, always in the moment, in a supporting role. You would always find him out front sweeping the sidewalk, whistling to himself, washing dishes in the kitchen, or taking out the endless bags of trash our family seems to create every time we’re together. Thankless but necessary jobs—ones that he happily completed for decades.

There was but one exception to this rule.

At the gaming table, he was a king. He was also our scorekeeper, arch nemesis, and teacher extraordinaire. He was never one to turn down a hand of dominoes or hearts, beloved games in our family. In fact, he played them both like a Vegas-level professional—with remarkable skill and style. No matter how many steps ahead you thought, he had already gone as step or two further. He was man who had no college degree to his name but could manage to complete complicated math problems in his head and remember years worth of sales figures on the spot. As I was fond of saying regarding his talent with the bones, “Papaw could make off a dead dog.” And though he beat you consistently, you couldn’t find it in yourself to get upset—because on those rare occasions the victory was yours, he’d celebrate like it was his own.

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I didn’t spend time with him sporadically, as I did with my beloved great uncle James, or know him for only a few short months, which was the case with Trevor and Catie. Boyce Lindley was there in the hospital when I was born. He swam with my brother and me for hours on end, long after he was waterlogged and ready to get out. He was a part of Sunday dinners, fish fries, church picnics, and cookouts. He was there for the big moments—recitals and holidays and graduations, family reunions, trips to Disney World, and days at the beach—and for all the run-of-the-mill days in between. For 30+ years, this man was an ever-present and influential participant in my life. That’s not the kind of exposure that leaves behind a few bright blobs. No, it’s the kind that saturates everything it touches.

Boyce Lindley is in my DNA yes, but that’s just simple genealogy. What matters more is what he did in this life. That has sticking power. And it’s tucked deeply into the marrow and bone of me.

I am patient because I never once saw him lose his temper. I give of my finances and time because he showed me how important it was to do so. When I am kind, the person on the receiving end has Boyce Lindley to thank for it. I know what it means to be a Christ follower because I watched him do it without fail for 37 years.

Each moment with him was like a drip of bright blue that fell into the clear pool of my heart, gradually turning it from sky to cornflower, cobalt to navy. That’s why I have no standout memories that feature him alone in the starring role. Simply put, there is no dividing line between us, no moment where he ends and I begin. I am thoroughly infused with him—each member of my family and every person who ever had the privilege to know him is too. And in that way, he will live on in and through and even beyond us. So yes, today we’re all blue, but not only with sadness. And that’s a very good thing.

My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less

I used to half-jokingly tell my students, “When everything feels upended in your life, there are three people whose goodness you can count on: Captain America, Shirley Temple, and Atticus Finch.”

But now it seems one of those three has been knocked down into the dirt with the rest of us.

With all the sturm and drang surrounding the release of Go Set a Watchman todayit’s easy to forget this book is basically an “outtake reel”—a first draft of one of the most beloved novels of all time. Like millions of other readers, I have long cherished Harper Lee’s book because of its lovely prose, its crisp characterizations, and above all for Atticus Finch. He was the character who inspired millions to be better than themselves, to love justice and seek kindness. And I am unable and unwilling to give him up.

Albert Burneko has best expressed what I’ve been feeling on the subject. He writes:

If the idea that Atticus is a secret racist strikes you as jarringly inconsistent with the character you encountered in To Kill a Mockingbird, do not feel as though you must read this new book to figure out what’s right. The Atticus you have known belongs to you; you created him. Some of your raw materials—just some of them—came from Harper Lee’s words, some of them came from your own life and experiences, and some of them (probably, let’s be real) came from Gregory Peck’s performance in the wonderful 1962 film adaptation. You combined them in your head and made an Atticus, and you know what he’s like.

That’s dang right, sir.

go-set-a-watchmanI’m with the French literary critic Roland Barthes on this one. In his 1967 essay “Death of the Author” he posited that literary works are “eternally written” with each re-reading because the “origin” of meaning lies exclusively in “language itself” and the impressions it makes on those who interact with it. Hence, what the author meant doesn’t matter—only what the reader draws from it does.

Atticus Finch left a deep and indelible mark on my life, and it doesn’t matter what Harper Lee intended. It doesn’t matter what the cash-grabbing lawyers and publishers do. Atticus can and will always be what I believe him to be. And in my mind he is just, loving, wise, and ever full of grace, all qualities that are still sorely lacking in this tired old world of ours.

I’ve also been brought low by the undercover video that was released today by the Center for Medical Progress. It features Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, blithely discussing the sale of fetal tissue harvested during abortions while she enjoys a delicious salad and glass of red wine.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but at one point during the video she states, “A lot of people want liver,” for medical research, “and for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps.” She continues, “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”

In my mind, this apathetic dismissal of human life is no different than the white jury deciding to hang Tom Robinson in order to preserve the racist status quo. In both cases, life is being squandered and wasted, chewed up and spit out by a cruel world that is no respecter of persons be they black or white, born or unborn. Atticus Finch couldn’t change hearts and minds when it came to race, and I doubt that video will change public opinion regarding abortion. The world is still dark, and there is no evidence that the light will dawn any time soon.

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But thankfully my hope is not in Atticus Finch. And it is not in the Center for Medical Progress. It is in Jesus Christ and him alone.

Like David, I can say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Ps. 62:1-2). Like the hymnodist Edward Mote, I can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” 

So no, I will not read Go Set a Watchman. Instead, I will re-read my dogeared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and treasure the version of Atticus Finch I have come to know and love, the one I have admired since I first read the book—when I was barely older than Scout myself. But I will not worship him.

Thankfully, my joy is not contingent upon the stature of a fictional character. Its source is the Savior—one far greater, more just and loving and full of amazing grace than I could ever imagine.