Monday Muse: Pancho and Lefty

Sometimes it’s lonely being the only country music listener at the table. During a lull in last nights D&D game we indulged in a philosophical digression whilst the DM scanned the module we were battling, like you do. We were discussing religion, specifically the more toxic forms of Christianity and their doctrine of Hell. And I pointed out that my favorite liberal Christian blogger Fred Clarke had a great blog post about how he doesn’t believe in that kind of hell, and explained it using the classic tune Pancho and Lefty,  the signature song of late but legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

But still there was a stretch of several hours there where, willingly or not, I found myself thinking about the lyrics of “Pancho and Lefty” and especially about the lyrics of the final verse, the only one I remembered well:
The poets tell how Pancho fell

Lefty’s livin’ in a cheap hotel

The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold

So the story ends we’re told

Pancho needs your prayers it’s true,

But save a few for Lefty too

He just did what he had to do

Now he’s growing old

This verse suggests something of the scandal of grace. The singer is willing to extend that grace to Lefty, to forgive him his greed, cowardice and betrayal. But what gives the singer the right to do this? It was Pancho who was betrayed, after all, so it seems that only Pancho should have the right to forgive that betrayal. By usurping that right, the singer seems to be claiming something like the divine prerogative.
This is, after all, what God is like. God is willing to forgive our enemies for wrongs they have committed against us, to extend mercy where we are unwilling or unable to grant it. That hardly seems fair. Not only that, but God is always going on about how we have to be willing to join in this prodigal grace, to join in the party for our prodigal brothers, to join the Ninevites in celebrating that the capital of Babylon itself can be spared. And if we insist on simple justice and responsibly refuse to join in this wanton confetti-showering of forgiveness, God has the nerve to suggest that we’re cutting ourselves off from that very same grace.
Some people, of course, don’t think that this is an accurate picture of what God is like. They believe that God is not as merciful as Townes Van Zandt. That seems to me to be a theologically precarious proposition, which is, I guess, my point here: If there is a God, then God must be, by definition, bigger and more merciful than Townes Van Zandt.

When I got to the end of the anecdote I was surrounded by quizzical faces looking at me as if I had begun speaking in tongues. They’d never heard one of my favorite songs. We do this a lot, my friends and I. Despite having so many crossover’s in our various cultural tastes, there are acres of territory where we are still strangers in the other’s landscape.

I do think Fred makes a very good point. As an ex-Catholic it’s a take on God that is too generous by far. In Dante’s Inferno betrayal is the worst of sins. The wretched souls condemned to the 9th circle of Hell are trapped in the frozen lake Cocytus, forever bound as far from Gods love as can be. One can certainly see the appeal of a God who welcomes even Lefty into his grace in the end.

Ah well, The song’s been recorded by some of the greats, Emmylou Harris, Willie and Waylon, or Willie and Dylan. I’m partial Steve Earle’s take on the tune, from his album Townes, a tribute to his old friend and mentor. Enjoy…


Welcome to the Derby

Hi there everyone. I’m Lou and this is my new blog! I know starting a new blog in 2019 is kind of anticlimactic. I’m sure kids these days are doing a a thing where they just share thoughts with each other directly through the brainstem or something we never imagined. Well when I was little the something I never imagined was the ability to send your thoughts out into the world to share with the universe on the magic device in their pocket so I’ll take what I can get.

Discounting aborted attempts at photo and RPG blogs this will be my second solo blog. I started Raising Hellions in the Fall of 2009. A classic Dad Blog, Raising Hellions started as a way to process being a Stay at Home Dad taking care of three little ones while The Girl pursued her career. I met some great folks through the Dad Bloggers community and the National Stay at Home Dad Network.

But even before that blogging has been a part of my internet experience since practically the beginning. I have been lucky to be welcomed into the comment sections of some great communities, Freethought Blogs, Patheos Nonreligious, The Orbit, Slacktivist (the smartest Christian blogger I know,)  but most especially Rebecca Watson and The Skepchick Network. When the network launched it’s secular parenting wing at Grounded Parents in 2013 I was ready. My elevation tom D-List Atheist Celebrity was complete.

I’m not leaving Grounded Parents, but I’m simply not as immersed in that aspect of parenting anymore. The Hellions are turning into teens and a lot of the Secular Parenting issues I’ve written about in the past aren’t part of my daily internet life anymore.

Dawkins being memed

I started writing the Internet Meme Demolition Derby as a reaction to the way terrible parenting advice or news was reported and shared on social media. It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done so when I decided that I wanted a new blog, the name just felt right. I plan to do similar meme related teardowns here, just on a much broader range of topics.

So welcome to the my new front door on the internet. Check out The Rules before commenting please and I hope you enjoy what I have to offer.

Thanks, Lou.