What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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The Power and the Glory
by Graham Greene

Field-Tested by Matthew Linderman

in Rome and Lucca, Italy

I read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory while traveling around Italy in November of ’07. The book is about a whiskey priest who’s on the lam in Mexico. The authorities are hunting down and killing priests, and he must rely on the kindness of strangers to help him out. It’s a sweaty book that speaks with a slow drawl. It’s about a man questioning his faith and his soul. It’s dark and brooding.

Meanwhile, I was in Rome visiting the Vatican. What a contrast. It was so impressive, ornate, and full of pomp. This was the majestic side of religion. The beautiful veneer. Troops in elaborate outfits guarding beauty. A huge cathedral, brilliant art, and people with cameras crossing themselves.

The book showed another side of faith; a seedy world of toothless natives, corrupt officers, alcoholics, and sinners. People desperate for redemption and seeking it anywhere they can find it.

After Rome, we headed north. We spent a day in Lucca, a small fortress town that felt more like ‘real’ Italy. Wandering around, we stumbled into a church.

But this wasn’t a church like the Vatican. This was one that looked like it could have belonged in Greene’s novel. It was dark and shadowy. A cleaning lady slowly pulled a mop back and forth behind the giant cross at the front. The stark shadows enveloping her made the whole scene look like a film noir. I took a photo.

To me, this was the sort of place you could find religion. It wasn’t shiny or polished. It was humdrum. Ordinary. It wasn’t a brand new bible. It was one that was tattered and torn at the edges.

That church, and The Power and the Glory, seemed to say the same thing to me. That’s where holiness is found. At the edges. In the shadows. Lying in the weeds.

Matthew Linderman works at 37signals.

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