15 February 2008


Growing up in a small town in western Kentucky in the 1950s and 1960s, I attended the worship services of the town's Southern Baptist church every time the door opened--Sunday mornings and nights and Wednesday nights. My mom, who grew up Presbyterian, had switched to Southern Baptist and was perhaps as devout as anybody I have ever known--not in a churchy or religiose way, but in self-absorbed quietism. She floated in a self-imposed monastic bubble.

Anyway, our church had a library that contained a long shelf of biographies--from Kit Carson to Dolly Madison to Abraham Lincoln--that I devoured during the worship services while the partially absorbed background homiletics were
condemning some souls to Hell.

My determined plan was to read the entire bookshelf of famous Americans before I had to consider seriously whether I, also, was headed to eternal perdition. Here was my soteriological, if immature, thought-process: If the likes of Ben Franklin were American icons and presumably flourished, albeit at different times, with sufficient rectitude to fulfill God's Plan (as I thought) to help construct the Divine City on the Hill (America), then I felt that I, too, was safe from the spiritual abyss. The American heroes were my Apostles.

After all,
those books--and in a felt sense the famous people immortalized in them--lived in The Church Library. That was sufficient ecclesiastical endorsement for me. I continued reading the lives of the heroic American pantheon, existentially secure in their ordained company.

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