While reading Robert Goolrick’s novel, Heading Out to Wonderful, I had to remind myself that the characters were not real, that the events were fictional. My blood pressure spiked after becoming acquainted with a town full of people practically re-writing the Gospels for their own convenience. Their smug stupidity about what constitutes culpability, sin, and their mirroring of Christians as a whole, drove me to madness.
Now their idiocy does come by honestly. After climbing the 463 steps of the Duomo, the signature cathedral in Florence, Italy, this summer, the misinformation that has been passed down the chains of Christianity was painted as a huge billboard in the dome of the main sanctuary. A twenty foot devil devoured naked, lustful sinners: what a sight for illiterate parishioners seeking salvation. The only problem with this horrifying warning of the consequences of carnal sin is that it is an illustration of fiction. Presumably Dante’s visions, emblazoned on the ceiling by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, are nowhere in the Bible. As I traveled from Rome, then Florence and finally Venice, I could see through the paintings, the sculpture and general iconography that the birthplace of the Church was gilded with false depictions of God. Is there a church on the planet that has shed itself from this errant path? I do not know.
We, as Christians, spend a lot of time talking about sex. Church leaders across denominations deliberate on sexual sins: what’s OK, what’s not, with whom and when. Jesus does have some strong words about adultery in Matthew 5:27-32, but I’m going to say that sex was not his main issue. What was? Money. Forget the kum-ba-ya Jesus you were taught in Sunday School. The real deal threw tantrums and flipped tables – Jesus had a clearly defined who-what-when-where-how platform on how to handle finances.
So when the characters of Heading Out to Wonderful shun Charlie for seducing a young, unfortunately married young woman, I became physically ill. Here is a young woman, a child, who was by all accounts bought into slavery by the repulsive Boaty, and all the town does is snicker. When she dabbles outside this sham marriage (both questionably legal and definitely immoral) union, the town shakes a finger, then later abandons her lover when her situation and immaturity take over her reason. The townspeople fail to recognize that they are collectively responsible for a much greater sin: turning a blind eye to the evils of misspent money.
Now I’m sure Goolrick wasn’t intending to write a novel indicting Christian judgment. Rather, his purpose was probably more to take an idyllic small town and juxtapose its simple beauty against the horrific ugliness of human behavior – and this he accomplishes with artistic mastery. Nonetheless, my first reaction was to pause and reflect on what we all know already: much more harm is possible with money than could ever be done by touch.
Heading Out to Wonderful
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill