“Blessed is the man. . .who does not. . .sit in the seat of mockers”--Psalm 1:2
The novelist John Gardner tells a story about coming on a car accident somewhere a long ways from anywhere. The car was actually a truck, as I remember, and the driver, a woman, was alive but incapable of getting out of what was left of her pick-up.
The story he tells is not about the heroic efforts of the ambulance squad or the final dramatic moments of the woman’s life. The story he tells is about himself, and what he confesses to is a certain species of intellectualism that is, I admit, pandemic among people who, like me, write. What makes him remember the whole event is his own sad realization that, for a moment at least, even while he was right there at the scene, he found himself more interested in the details of the dangerous situation—as material for his own writing—than he was in the woman and her condition.
His sin was of the head, but showed itself in a certain kind of heartlessness.
The older I become, the less “involved” I feel myself to be—what I mean is, the less passionate I am about most things. What fascinates me more than principles is the people who choose them. I’m drawn into intellectualizing, I guess, into trying to understand why things occur the way they do, why people choose the causes they fight for. With increasing age, I am less passionate about changing the world and more confident of our individual and collective ineffectiveness in the face of infinitely greater powers. It’s easier for me to sit back and watch what often seems the useless passions of others. I'm more cynical.
I’m not proud of that. I’ve got all the cool, murderous objectivity of Roger Chillingworth from
Scarlet Letter. I’m an observer, and, somewhat regrettably, I
even like it. Hawthorne
Whether it is a by-product of my own aging or a characteristic of all of those who, like me, write, I don’t know. But in some ways these days, in life itself, I often feel like Gardner at the scene of that accident, more of an oddly estranged bystander than an engaged participant—some kind of rubbernecking satirist, maybe.
Wouldn’t it be great if Psalm 1:1 described the sinners we should not be seated beside as scoundrels rather than scoffers (KJV), or murderers rather than mockers (NIV)? I mean, here in rural
where I live, staying out of a den of
murderers doesn’t require much vigilance.
Scoundrels are, for me at least, far easier to avoid than
I’m a college prof and a some time writer, and I’m aging, and it’s probably far too easy sometimes—in church especially—to be scoffer and a mocker, to ascend to some lonely point atop the vaunted rise of my own estimable intelligence and look down sneeringly the silliness we sometimes call life.
It’s amazing to me that King David picks out the scoffers and the mockers as those seemingly most unfit for the company of the righteous. I wish it weren’t so. I rather like poking fun of other people and their silly passions.