My former pastor posted an article on my Facebook today about how reading fiction can deepen spiritual (specifically Christian) practices and experiences. I commented that it was an interesting piece, and that i had had a recent discussion with a friend about the one book (besides the Bible) that has had the biggest impact on my spiritual life. That one book was The Things They Carried.
Well, Pastor got really excited and decided he had to check it out. He recommended another book to me (one about the Gospels), and then told me he had added The Things They Carried to his Amazon wish list.
Now, here's the thing: Those of you who haven't read The Things They Carried, shame on you. Read it now. In the meantime, i should tell you that it is not, explicitly, a spiritual book. It's a work of metafiction, focused on one man's experiences in the Vietnam War. And it is not delicate in its handling of the life of a soldier.
There is a lot of foul language, is what i'm saying. There is also a lot of violence, anger, depression, frank discussion of wounds and diseases and what would lead a man to shoot his own toe off just to escape the horror of it all.
This is not a beautiful redemption tale. Nor is it a metaphor for finding God everywhere, even in a (quite literal) field full of shit. It is not something that most people would see a whole lot of spirituality in, of any religion.
But i wasn't kidding when i talked about the huge spiritual impact this book has had on me. I've mentioned it before in reference to interpreting Scriptures. It really did help me approach the Bible in a whole new way. The Things They Carried, more than any other book except the Bible, has changed my life.
Here's where the "going-to-hell" part comes in: i didn't talk to my former pastor about any of this. I briefly considered warning him about the language, the coarseness, the vulgarity and grittiness and darkness and indelicacy and horror. I thought about letting him know that this is not like C. S. Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Joni Erickson Tada.
But then i imagined this very conservative, fairly uptight, appearances-oriented middle-aged pastor settling down in Starbucks with his coffee and his sermon notes and a shiny new copy of The Things They Carried, and i pictured his face somewhere around the sixth F-bomb.
And i said nothing.