“So by all means, for Christ’s sake, pilfer them as you please.”

January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

R. was greeted by S.’s judgment the moment he walked in the office the next day. —Lighten the load on the Right Reverend Taylor in your next one, boy. He asked a lot of his congregants back then, and they were an exceedingly more charitable lot than you’re apt to have today. You’re wise to have cut out the Latin. I didn’t learn that lesson until I was older than you. Different times. This being a Kraut Papist town, it was not as surprising to hear then.

—But the use of Taylor himself is fine?

—Himself? Oh, you mean his words. Of course, quite fine. “The Descending and Entailed Curse Cut off” is a wonderful choice. Fine selection. The same with the Fuller, though I’m not sure Barlow is making the point you seem to imagine. Or perhaps it was misdirection? More than anything, I trust your professor was stung, or perhaps he was simply sleeping, when you unsheathed dear Featley. “Let others go forward as they please. I will stay still at the Cross. I desire no other Pulpit,”—did you slap the wood here, boy—”then that tree. No other Preacher,”—you pointed at the lot of them, surely you did—”than thy crucified body. No other text,”—please tell me you weren’t reading at this point—”than thy death and passion.”

—”No other notes than thy marks. No other points than thy nails. No other book than they opened side.” No, I’ve committed that all to memory. You once said that climaxes should never be read.

—Good, boy. Good. Everything else, yes, may be by the book but that.

[. . .]

—You were concerned I would dislike it?

—The words, sir. Most of them aren’t mine.

—And you thought this would upset me?

—Yes, I suppose I did.

S.’s clinched eyes spread wide, revealing a glassy blue hung above darkness. He collected himself for a moment by collecting the loose leaf pages before him and tapping them straight. —It’s come to this, R. Do they not even teach the gospel at this institution? Is it time to give it back to the drug addicts? [. . .] The gospel is preached, not learned. You’ve heard me say this, but have you ever listened? It is about making words right, R. Can I possibly be more plain than that? [. . .] We haven’t much more time together. The steeple’s shadow hangs over us both. Hear me now if you never have before: the gospel is not a product, potential or potent, of the words. Ah, it is quite the opposite. As with the ones you pastiched at the pulpit the other day, the gospel marks the spot of their failure. [. . .] It cannot be plagiarized, neither kidnapped nor seduced. The gospel can take care of itself. Whether it’s preached by the poetry of Thomas Adams or the clumsy of you and me, it matters not. It works, if ever it does, by grace … not by craft or originality, but in spite of them both. And grace, R., doesn’t give a damn. Why? Are you listening? Because these beloved preachers of ours, S. stood to hand back the sermon, are as damned as we. So by all means, for Christ’s sake, pilfer them all as you please.

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