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Tom Chaney R733: On the Other Side of Oddville

Tom Chaney, Of Writers and Their Books. R733, On the Other Side of Oddville, first appeared in the Hart County News-Herald on Sunday, 22 October 2006
The next earlier Tom Chaney Of Writers and Their Books column, Tom Chaney: R732: Finding One's Moira

By Tom Chaney

On The Other Side of Oddville

Dwight A. Moody, Dean of the Chapel at Georgetown College, has collected ten dozen delightful "Stories on American Religion and Everyday Life" to quote the subtitle of his collection published this year [2006] by Mercer University Press.


More than a little wary of Baptist preachers who write essays, I am on guard. Haunted by dozens of verses of "Just As I Am" as the finale of hundreds of sermons, I expect to be confronted with an altar call at every corner. If On The Other Side of Oddville were that sort of book, I would not have finished it in two days -- or even finished it at all.

But Moody's essays or stories or sometimes meditations are such sensible reflections on life, religion, politics, and family that they are irresistible even to skeptical old reprobates such as I.Don't get me wrong. This is not pabulum. Moody's points require him and therefore the reader to take sometimes fierce looks into the soul. He jumps into controversial issues with both feet and a hot pen. Even if one disagrees with his take on a particular issue -- as I do from time to time -- he cannot be ignored.

Moody discussed the posting of the ten commandments in a high school baccalaureate address dealing with the place of religion in American life. He notes that "the Bible itself, while silent about courthouses and schoolhouses names three places where the commandments ought to be -- three places out of the reach of any district magistrate or federal judge."

"Write them on the doorpost of your house and on your gates," Deuteronomy chapter 6. A private residence is not a public building, and the commandments on the wall might be a good idea.

In the same scripture the injunction is to "bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead." Carry them with you out into the world.

In Psalm 119, the psalmist avers "I will hide the word in my heart that I might not sin against God." Embed them in human memory.

"For it is from the memory that these precious words can be drawn when, far from the schoolhouse, the courthouse, and even the church house, we find ourselves in desperate need of a word from the Lord."

Moody gently ridicules the divisions which plague Christianity. "I grew up in west Kentucky where there were plenty of Baptists. We believed those who attended the Church of Christ were destined for hell.... The Church of Christ folk, on the other hand believed all Baptist were bound for hell.... Both ... discouraged intermarriage. One side or the other ended up losing somebody to hell.... We never even talked to Catholics."

And always the stories:

Moody describes a baptism at which the inductee failed to inform the baptizing minister that she wore a wig. The wig refused the sacrament, floating away in the pool revealing an extremely bald head attached to a most embarrassed woman -- who never came to church again.

"Then there was my uncle, who testified to a teenage conversion while sitting in a homemade tree fort. Overcome with emotion, he fell headlong into the waist-deep creek below, from which he ran dripping wet to the nearby church to inquire of the minister if his accidental (or providential) dunking constituted Christian baptism."

From that Moody turns to a funeral home where he has enquired of a mother and a sister about the life of the deceased. That three-way conversation "turned quickly into a classic storytelling event, with four generations standing, sitting, listening, laughing, all the while learning things they had never known."

The molten core of Moody's book are the family stories -- especially those about his second son Isaac. The story entitled "How Isaac Met Amy and What Became of It," tells how Ike first met the pregnant Amy when he robbed a Lexington, Kentucky, bank on her birthday -- a, needless to say, shattering, tormenting experience for the young mother-to-be.

At Ike's sentencing he asked Amy's forgiveness. The prosecutor then read aloud a letter from Amy to Isaac.

"I have no sympathy for you. You ruined my birthday and endangered my baby. You traumatized my life and do not deserve a reduced sentence. I have recurring nightmares and have had to seek professional help. I hate you."

Moody continues. "In those moments and in the hours since, I have reflected on the demons that haunt the soul of the young man, keeping him from being the person he wants to be. I have thought also about the bitter memories that plague the spirit of the young woman, pushing her life in directions she does not want to go.

"I may never see Amy again. I pray for her, that she might receive healing and grant forgiveness.

"I will see Isaac again. I will be waiting at the prison gate when, years hence, he walks away from the cell that now confines him. I pray for him, that he might be free of the dark, powerful, and mysterious forces that framed his first meeting with Amy nine months ago.

"It is a father's task, is it not, to keep hope alive?"

And hope is alive. Isaac has become a self-taught artist with much promise in his six years of durance vile. He provided the illustrations for On The Other Side of Oddville. His art has received acclaim at exhibits and in galleries around the country.

Presently [October 2006] a selection of Ike's work is on view at The Bookstore -- side by side with his father's most hopeful book.

Editorial Note. Moody has since left the Deanship of the Chapel and is now Founder and President of The Academy of Preachers, an ecumenical initiative launched in 2009 through a grant from the Lilly Endowment. -RHS

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
THE BOOKSTORE
Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
270-786-3084
Email: Tom Chaney
The Bookstore


This story was posted on 2011-10-23 07:25:18
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