Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Just a couple of passages that I liked, from something I started reading last night:
Here we arrive at the reason why this here tale of American Puritans is more concerned with the ones shipping from Southampton for Massachusetts in the Arbella in 1630 than with the Pilgrims who sailed from Southampton toward Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620: because the Plymouth colonists were Separatists and the Massachusetts Bay colonists were not.

Before I explain that, I will say that the theological differences between the Purtians on the Mayflower and the Puritans on the Arbella were beyond small. Try negligible to the point of nitpicky. I will also say that readers who squirm at microscopic theological differences might be unsuited to read a book about seventeenth-century Christians. Or, for that matter, a newspaper. Secular readers who marvel every morning at the death toll in the Middle East ticking ever higher due to, say, the seemingly trifling Sunni-versus-Shia rift in Islam, might look deep into their own hearts and identify their own semantic lines in the sand. For instance, a devotion to The Godfather, Part II and equally intense disdain for The Godfather, Part III. Someday they might find themselves at a bar and realize they are friends with a woman who can't tell any of the Godfather movies apart and asks if Part II was the one that had "that guy in the boat." Them's fightin' words, right?"

---Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates

From the same:
Winthrop uses a word to describe such a calamity that must have been especially terrifying if he was delivering this sermon at sea: shipwreck.

"The only way to avoid this shipwreck," he says, is to be "knit together in this work as one man."

Winthrop then utters one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language:

"We must delight in each other, make other's conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body."

I am a reasonably happy-go-lucky person with a serviceable sense of humor and a nice-enough apartment in New York, the most exciting city in the world. Once I decided to devote years of my life in deciphering the thoughts and feelings of the dreary religious fanatics who founded New England nearly four hundred years ago, I was often asked at parties by my fellow New Yorkers the obvious question, "What are you working on?" When I would tell them a book about Puritans, they would often take a swig of the beer or bourbon in their hands and reply with either a sarcastic "Fun!" or a disdainful "Why?"

At which point, depending on my mood, I would either mumble something about my fondness for sermons as literature or mention taking my nephew to the Mayflower replica waterslide in a hotel pool in Plymouth. I would never answer with the honest truth. Namely, that in the weeks after two planes crashed into two skyscrapers here on the worst day of our lives, I found comfort in the words of Winthrop. When we were mourning together, when we were suffering together, I often thought of what he said, and finally understood what he meant."

---Sarah Vowell, the Wordy Shipmates


Blogger alice said...

I love Sarah Vowell. Thank you. I love Sarah Vowell.

9:13 PM  

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