Kurt Vonnegut

I didn’t read one book in school. Usually, my grades were based on the accuracy of Cliffs’ Notes or a generous fellow student, who would attempt to give me a complete synopsis in the 3 minutes between classes, on the way to the test. My knowledge of Lord Of The Flies or 1984 was paper-thin and wouldn’t hold up to discussion, but was often good enough for a C-, which was more than good enough for me.
Everything changed when I withdrew from my second semester of college. I couldn’t tell you why I picked it up, (probably a girl) but the uninspired monotony of my rudderless existence was disrupted by Kurt Vonnegut, and Slaughterhouse-Five. At the time, it was impossible to know if I fell in love with books, that book, or the man that wrote it (as it turned out, it was all three), but I was certainly in love. I read everything he wrote, several times each, and of all the things I lost in the flood, that collection is mourned more than anything else.
Anyway, why do I tell you this? Because I’m reading the library’s copy of Slaughterhouse-Five now, and there’s this quote I wanted to share with you: (on human beings) “They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”
Of course, this is a reference to a line from Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mountains of sermons exist on loving our neighbor, yet we all-too-often don’t. The news is full of the many ways we do the opposite, our lives jammed with more examples of our failure to love our neighbors. So, why? Why don’t we love each other? Why do we judge and discriminate and ostracize and tear down and gossip and belittle and resent and withhold and control and wound?
I’m more convinced now than I was when I read it for the first time, that Kurt Vonnegut was absolutely right. The sermons we heard as kids when our parents forced us to sit in church, or from TV evangelists, was from 2 genres. First, way deep down, your primary identity is a filthy sinner. And second, straighten up and follow the rules, of which loving your neighbor was a big one. Is it any wonder we couldn’t (and can’t) love each other? We are trying to give away something we don’t have, instead of ‘out of the overflow of our heart.’ We are trying to put the oxygen masks on others before wearing our own.
Now, I do not shy from the subject of sin – grace is only truly understood with a knowledge of sin. But the story of us doesn’t start with sin, its first mention is in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. I didn’t start reading Slaughterhouse-Five at page 27, I don’t start Wonder Woman 20 minutes in, why do we do that with something as vital as the Scriptures?
Lately, our conversations in Nehemiah have focused on the promises, the gifts, the grace of God, hope and expectation, and living into our divine design (well, I suppose it’s not just ‘lately’). I don’t think the biggest problem for most of us is that we love ourselves too much, it’s quite the opposite – and the masks we wear of arrogance and self-obsession do little to conceal this fact.
Kurt Vonnegut’s books are wonderful, but they’re works of fiction. The Bible is the truth, and every word of it speaks to our worth, value, and identity. If we would only see ourselves as our Creator does, we could finally understand what it is to be loved, without reason or limit, and then, anything is possible. Everything is possible. Even loving one another.