In last Friday's post, I wrote about how Maggie must deal with controversy in The Good Community. Her anger at Josiah Norton bothers her. Normally, she is a loving, tolerant person. However, not only does she feel bullied and demeaned by Josiah, but she interprets his behavior to mean that he takes the same approach to others whom he deems as “less.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Maggie has had to stand up for her beliefs. The first occurs in Saint Maggie, when she is attacked for showing love and forgiveness to a man accused of murder. Up until this point, she has suffered whispers behind her back and the cold shoulders of some of Blaineton’s citizens because 1) she owns and runs a boarding house and has the nerve to do so on the town square, 2) she has “ungenteel” and nearly-penniless men as renters, and 3) is best friends with the Johnsons, who are people of color. But when members of her church claim to be Christian but do not follow the way of Jesus (which Maggie understands to be the Rule of Love), she pushes back to the point that she breaks with the congregation. Ah, there’s no fight like a church fight. I ought to know.
In the excerpt below, Maggie takes on Tryphena Moore, the most powerful woman in town, and other members Blaineton Methodist Episcopal Church's congregation. In a way, she is a bit like David standing up to Goliath. However, it is important to note that Frankie shows her mother the way in this first excerpt. And this gives Maggie courage.
Maggie could hold her tongue no longer. “I cannot believe that. One cannot stop loving someone because he has done wrong.”
Tryphena glared over her shoulder at her. “Oh, what do you know? You’re making a fool of yourself by visiting him! The papers are saying that you and the others have been taken in by the man.”
“The Gazette does not say that.”
“Only because it is owned by your husband.”
“Neither has the Easton Express-Times criticized us.”
“Well, all the other papers say so.” Tryphena leveled her glare at Mr. McGregor once again. “We cannot afford to have the world think of us as naïve bumpkins, sir. We must take a stand!”
The minister mopped his face once again. “Brothers and sisters, please. Have you forgotten mercy?”
“The man deserves no mercy!” Mr. Kendall snapped.
At this Frankie elbowed her way past her mother. Maggie watched, open-mouthed, as the girl blurted, “Everyone deserves mercy! And forgiveness! Is it right to pick and choose whom we will forgive? How is that being like Jesus?”
Tryphena glowered at Maggie. “Oh, do make that child be quiet. You’re her mother, for pity’s sake.”
Stunned, Maggie paused only for the briefest of moments, and then straightened her back as she said, “You’re absolutely right. I am her mother, and as such I believe that she is absolutely correct. You all may do as you wish, but as for me and my house, we choose the path of compassion and mercy. Good day.” With that, Maggie took her daughter by the arm and steered her down the aisle and out the door.
A few short days later, Maggie runs into the Moore sisters while she is out shopping for Eli’s Christmas gift. The two women try to humiliate her into returning to the church, but Maggie’s response shows her honesty, strength of character, and spirit.
“Do not be a fool,” the older woman hissed. “Would you cut yourself off from the church over a murderer?”
Maggie drew herself up, eyes flashing. “[He] is accused of murder. The trial has not yet begun and, therefore, he has neither been found guilty nor has he been sentenced to death. As for cutting myself off from your fine fellowship, I find that I need time to think and pray. The air in our church these days feels most unhealthy.”
“Well!” both ladies said in unison.
“No, it is most unwell, if you ask me! I have suffered great losses. My niece is dead, my brother and his family distraught. I became ill and lost my baby. I discovered that my ... friend is accused of murder and attempted murder. I know this crime all too well. You may wish to wallow in anger and hatred, but I no longer can afford that luxury. I cannot – nay, will not – allow such emotions to eat me alive, to darken my soul! The only thing that keeps me from sinking into that black mire is God’s grace. The only thing that moves me to visit [him] is Christ’s command, ‘I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ I have not healed yet, I have not rid myself of my own demons, but, dear ladies, I am hoping for a miracle in my soul, as should we all! Good evening!” And with that, Maggie swept around the two gape-mouthed sisters and strode off toward the square.
Obviously, this isn’t the end of Maggie's need to stand up and speak out to defend the way she lives and what she believes. Personally, I hope to be like Maggie, but doubt I could stand up for myself as eloquently and in such a self-aware manner. (After all, she is a fictional character. All her dialog is thought out, something we are not afforded in real-time.)
We'll see how she handles other controversies and dangers on Friday.