Faulkner and I

…I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it… William Faulkner, 1956

As everyone at White’s Chapel is by now weary of hearing, William Faulkner, of Oxford, Mississippi and now deceased, is by far my favorite secular author.  This is in part because he is a master teller of tales and in part because I can identify with so much of what he wrote about from my childhood,  lived 90 miles from Faulkner’s Oxford and fictional Jefferson, county seat of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

Many think William Faulkner was the best American novelist of the 20th century.  Hemingway and Fitzgerald would complete the triumvirate – but Faulkner is Caesar.  Conrad, Tolkien and Rowling (if you consider Harry Potter serious work) are all British.

Encouraged by his friend, Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner decided to focus his writing on what he knew best – his “own little postage stamp of native soil.”  Most of his work is set in Yoknapatawpha County which is patterned after his home county of Lafayette.  The county seat of Lafayette is Oxford, which basically becomes Jefferson in Faulkner’s stories.  If you have ever read Faulkner, you know those two words: Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha.

Now to the lecture at hand.

I spend some time (probably too much) thinking about things I can’t change.  I can get upset, and even emotional about them.  A photo, with accompanying story, in a newspaper I read online sent me off again a couple of days ago.  As I pondered things, I decided I needed to do with my life what Faulkner decided to do with his writing.  I need to concentrate on what I know best, my own little postage stamp.  I need to work to change the things I can actually change.  So, I wrote this:

I Cannot

I cannot stop all the wars.  I cannot end all the dying and suffering.  I cannot stop the hurting of the injured and the suffering of the families of the injured and the dead.  I cannot look at the photograph in the newspaper of a young fallen soldier, who reminds me in his physical appearance of my own sons so much there even seems to be a physical resemblance – and wish him back to life.  I have no words for his parents to make his death somehow “worth it,” to explain to them how it is better that he is now dead rather than alive.  If I had those words, I would speak them.  If I knew where the button was that would end the suffering and death, I would push it.  But, I cannot do it.  I am powerless over events in the big picture.

I cannot make people live like they are supposed to live.  I cannot force people to give like they are supposed to, to keep themselves sexually pure, to show mercy and forgiveness, to stop getting their feelings hurt over trivia.  I cannot make people compare their suffering to what Jesus endured and understand how easy their life is.  I cannot put an end to greed, selfishness, and arrogance.  I cannot make people really put Jesus first in their lives.  I just can’t.

I Can

I can live in personal peace with my neighbor.  I can be easy to get along with.  I can turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and freely give to those who would forcibly take from me.  I can believe the Beatitudes – and actually try to live them.  I can seek and pursue peace in my own life, my own family, and my own congregation/church.

I can do my best to set a good Christian example before my fellow man.  I can teach others by my life that there is a better way to live than to follow the crowd.  I can try to make my personal world a better place for all in it – because I am in it.

I can do the best I can.  You do the best you can.


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