Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Power and The Glory

Bethany lent me The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. I'm really enjoying it, most especially the introduction, which contains the following intriguing note: "The Power and the Glory was born of a journey to Mexico in the winter of 1937-38 undertaken for quite other motives than a novel. It was not a very happy journey, clouded politically because England was about to break off diplomatic relations with Mexico and personally because a rather odd libel action had been brought against me by Miss Shirley Temple, the child film star." WHAT, I wonder, made Shirley Temple sue Graham Greene for libel? It might have something to do with one of his other books--this is the first one of his that I've read. The book is an interesting study of a piece of history I was completely unaware of. Apparently, during the late thirties, Catholicism was banned in Mexico (or in parts of it?). Priests were killed, and churches were converted to community centers. The book describes one church where the government painted over murals of saints, replacing them with images of priests feeling up little girls at a first communion party and getting drunk on the communion wine. I had no idea that Catholicism was ever illegal in Mexico; it runs contrary to everything I had ever thought or assumed about that country. Greene shows a country where the people are entirely desperate for God, but also very afraid--you could get thrown into prison for little things, like possessing a cross or a book about saints. In one touching scene, a rogue priest is talking to a man who very clearly plans to turn him in. The man tries to get the priest to hears his confession.

"He [the man who is confessing] had an immense self-importance: he was unable to picture a world of which he was only a typical part--a world of treachery, violence, and lust in which his shame was altogether insignificant. How often the priest had heard the same confession--Man was so limited: he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard around you, the greater glory lay around the death: it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization. It needed a God to die for the half-hearted and corrupt."

That section just really struck me. How true that last sentence is. I've been having a rough week, spiritually. I just can't seem to muster patience or compassion; I've hurt people I care about, and I've just generally been an idiot. I've felt completely unworthy of grace--and then this book comes along and reminds me that even at my best, I'm unworthy. "We're fallen people in a fallen world," JoEtta said the other night. "Even the best of us." And even us at our best.

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