Fleming Rutledge is a preacher and teacher known throughout the US, Canada, and parts of the UK. She is the author of eight books, all from Eerdmans Publishing. Her most recent book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, is the product of the work of a lifetime and is being described as a new classic on the subject.
One of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, she served for fourteen years on the clergy staff at Grace Church on Lower Broadway at Tenth Street, New York City.
Fleming and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009 and have two daughters and two grandchildren. She is a native of Franklin, Virginia.
Ruminations: The redemptive themes of Richard Price
Friday, April 18, 2008
The redemptive themes of Richard PriceRichard Price's novel, Freedomland, is rich with hints of Christianity (as I noted in an earlier Rumination). I took up his highly praised new police-procedural book, Lush Life, with hopes of more of the same. For 432 pages I thought I had found nothing of the sort, and therefore was somewhat disappointed (though gripped by the book itself). I was on the verge of deciding that the black detective of Freedomland, having perhaps been brought up in the black church, was the missing ingredient. Matty Clark, the white detective in Lush Life, evinced no such turn of mind. However, after 432 pages, something suddenly happened. I hope I am not giving away too much of the plot by commenting on it.
The main character in the book, besides Matty the detective, is a screwed-up self-deluded 30-something man named Eric Cash. It is not necessary to know of his misadventures and misfortunes in order to grasp the point on page 432. Because the work I am currently doing has driven me to wonder if the contemporary American is capable of understanding sin in any form, I was electrified by a scene near the very end of the book. Eric, who manages a restaurant, confesses to his boss, Harry Steele, that he has been raking off large sums from the tip pool. The boss startles him by saying, essentially, that he'd suspected it all along. Eric is dumbfounded, not expecting this. He says he wants to pay back the money. The boss says that's ridiculous, how are they going to find every vanished busboy and waitress for the last five years? It isn't possible to make reparations.
Eric sank into a hopeless silence.
"You know why you're telling me? Because you feel bad about yourself…and you want somebody to punish you or forgive you or who the hell knows…You're a good guy, Eric, I've always known that….and you're my guy…As I am yours, right?."
Eric balked a tic, then, "Yeah," then just let go in a gush of gratitude, "Yes."
"You come to my home for some kind of exoneration or, or validation, and I can't even begin to give you enough…Years together, you and I. You're like family. You are family."
Harry gives him a new job at his new restaurant, trusting him, saying "It'll be a new start for you."
Steele rose, made the sign of the cross, Ego te absolvo, then disappeared behind a door.
Eric sat there, wondering what just happened.
There are problems here, of course—Harry is obviously no sterling character himself. He had no business allowing the lowly workers to go without their tips. Yet his action is a parable. It is reminiscent of the defining scene in Les Misérables (the book) when the bishop, knowing that Jean Valjean has stolen his candlesticks, tells the policeman that they were a gift, whereupon Valjean's life is changed. In the New Testament, it's logizomai (reckoned as righteous) and dikaiosune (being rectified, made righteous).
One more clue to what Price may be up to is on page 422. I missed it the first time. Eric, having been cleared of a crime but unstrung by all that has happened to him, begins to open up to Yolonda (that's the way it's spelled), the Puerto Rican detective who plays good cop to Matty's bad cop (she is an absolutely wonderful character). Eric reminds her of something she said early in their interrogation of him that turned him into "a bug" who cared nothing about his companion who had been shot:
…all it took was a few hours with you two and I turned into a bug. But I turned, you see what I'm saying? You couldn't have done it without me. You just brought it to the surface. I mean, what the shooter started, you finished, but it was in me, you see?"
…Yolonda turned to Eric and touched his arm. "I want to write this book when I retire, When Good Things Happen to Bad People," then reared back to get in his eyes. "Know what I mean?"
"Thank you," said Eric, barely able to get the words out.
Maybe you missed the key point here as I did the first time. If so, go back and read the title of Yolonda's book again.
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