Nov 5, 2023
“I sought the Lord, who answered me and delivered me out of all my terror" (Ps. 34).
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 2D79
All Saint’s Day 11:00 a.m. Baptism
Sunday 5 November 2023
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Inspired by Charles Dicken’s novel David Copperfield, Barbara Kingsolver’s book Demon Copperhead won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year. In the book she describes rural poverty, the effects of the opioid crisis and a scene that is so upsetting that both my wife and I independently had to stop reading and look away.
The main character and narrator Demon is born in the aftermath of the collapse of coal-mining as an industry in his Virginia town. He longs to see the ocean but wonders if he will ever get there. His father died before he was even born. Demon’s mom marries an abusive step-father and herself dies of an OxyContin overdose on his 11th birthday.
Demon lives and works (without being paid) with foster children on a tobacco farm. For a brief while he is taken in by the McCobb family with four small children under the age of seven. They too take most of the pay check he earns sorting garbage at a local convenience store.
When their car gets repossessed and they have to move, the family abandons him. He takes to the road with his backpack and his life savings in a peanut butter jar and tries to find a distant grandmother he has never met. It is terrifying to read about a twelve year old hitching rides with strangers.
At a truck stop he tries to escape a prostitute by going into the men’s room. He doesn’t realize it but she follows him in and sees him sitting in the stall. When he comes out she accuses him of stealing her money. The store clerk searches his backpack and gives every cent he has to the woman. The boy runs out into the night with nothing.
Intense misery, injustice and cruelty make us want to look away. Think of the way we sometimes respond to people with horrifying sores who we encounter on the streets here in San Francisco, or the families whose loved ones were murdered or kidnapped by Hamas, or the near total destruction of Gaza. Suffering like this can feel like a threat to our innermost self because we know how vulnerable we are too (becoming a parent exposes us to a radically new vulnerability). When we see too much suffering we cannot look anymore.