Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Jesus Is the Real Catcher in the Rye

Thinking about my earlier post concerning my defense of Holden Caulfield's bad language back when I was at Whooping Jesus Bible College where words were things (and don't you forget it), I realize I missed something. The memory was incomplete.

When I defended HC, I am proud to say I did not mention in passing, as a good WJBC student might, that Holden's real problem -- once we'd cleared away all the literary rubbish -- was that he had not accepted Jesus Christ into his heart. I certainly heard that kind of comment about all sorts of people, real and fictional, during my college days. Sometimes I think the bad students did it as way of distracting their teachers.

Even though I still had a kind of "half faith" early in my college days, I did understand that in J.D. Salinger's world there was no saving Jesus, that it would have ignored the implicit nature of his fictive universe to push Jesus into it. He just wasn't there, and it would have been stupid to bring him up.

I will give credit to English professor Herbert Lee, who liked my Catcher essay and who always respected the text and always approached the books we studied on their own terms. Nor did he ever step back from the works and suggest that their fictional universes were inauthentic in that they created from a flawed premise in that their writers were not (as they should be) fundamentalist Christians.Without ever saying so, he was pretty much telling us that there was more than one way to look at the world, and more than one way to deal with its problems or to despair at dealing with them. He did not allow us to condescend to the secular world. We did not smugly read.

He was, of course, an Episcopalian. I never risked asking him how he ended up at WJBC. I guess he needed the work.

He was somewhat short on charisma, and I hadn't thought of him in years, but I am reminded that he was no fool. He didn't play at being a teacher. He really was one. If 50 years from now one of my students remembers me with just such a momentary simmer of regard, that would be pretty good. You don't know. You just keep plugging. That's what Herb Lee did. That's what it looked like, anyway.
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