Journal Week 2: Burned Clean By Flannery

Regular and perceptive readers will have noticed that I changed the Thomas Merton quote in my blog header to two quotes, one from Flannery O'Connor and one from Johnny Cash.

All of us, I'm guessing, can tell a story of the significant theological influences upon us. George MacDonald was the big influence upon me during my college years. Since MacDonald, there was William Stringfellow, Arthur McGill, Dorothy Day, and Thérèse of Lisieux.

And now Flannery O'Connor.

I have to confess, Flannery O'Connor has wrecked me. Over the last two years, I've read all her short stories and have read her two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, twice. And I don't read fiction.

Reading Flannery O'Connor has been a profound and destabilizing experience that I'm only just starting to reckon with. I'm still exploring the contours and jagged edges of the changes O'Connor has wrought within me. What have I rejected and turned my back on? What have I changed my mind about? How have my theological biases and prejudices been altered?

Am I still the same person, theologically and spiritually speaking, or have I changed in some significant way? Has my spiritual pilgrimage been enriched, or knocked off course?

I think I'll use some of these Friday journal entries to try to figure some of this out.

I guess the first thing I'd say is that Flannery O'Connor beat the liberal Christianity clean out of me. To speak as Flannery speaks, it might be more appropriate to say that Flannery burned the liberal Christianity clean out of me.

The acid bath, if you're interested in undergoing it, was mainly a mixture of Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, and the story "The Lame Shall Enter First." Speaking only for myself, the liberal, enlightened humanism that informs and guides much within liberal Christianity just withered in these stories. I saw way too much of progressive Christianity in Hazel Motes' "Church of Christ Without Christ" (Wise Blood), and in the enlightened humanism of the characters Rayber (The Violent Bear It Away) and Sheppard ("The Lame Shall Enter First").

Because of Flannery O'Connor, I struggle to think of myself as a liberal, progressive Christian anymore. No doubt, I'll continue to use that label to describe myself when it's helpful to draw quick, rough contrasts between my views and conservative, evangelical views. I haven't shifted toward conservatism in the religious, culture and political wars.

The only way I can describe what's happened is this.

I'm not liberal or conservative, progressive or evangelical.

I am something stranger.

Figuring out just how strange, and it what ways, is now the adventure that I'm on.

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