Children's, Coming of age, Family dynamics, Finding Your Self, Rylant-Cynthia, Social Commentary

#508 A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant

A Fine White Dust by Cynthia RylantA Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant

The revival is coming to town and everyone gets all stirred up. There’s savin’ and preachin’ and even some drinkin’ out behind the big tent, but it’s ok because everyone’s a sinner here.

Pete is thirteen years old and he loves church, which is strange because his parents never go and his best friend is an atheist. When the revival comes to town Pete is practically the first one there. He keeps his little ceramic crosses in his room and in his house. He goes to church each Sunday. He has a Bible, but nothing in his life has ever equaled the revival.

The unkempt preacher calls upon the people of the town to come up and get saved. Pete goes up. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and develops a quick friendship with the preacher. The preacher even tells him that he has the makings of a preacher himself. Pete is overjoyed at this, but also places himself on a higher plane than his family and his friend Rufus because he’s saved and they’re not.

Pete actually makes plans to run away with the traveling preacher and spread the word of God, but it turns out the preacher was more human than Pete had expected because he runs off with a young woman in the town. Pete waits hours for him to show, but he doesn’t. The person who waits with Pete, unbeknownst to him, was Rufus. Pete’s faith suffers in a way after this episode. He realizes he has to put more faith in the people around him and less faith in those who seem to be filled with God.

What I liked

This is the story of someone’s faith. Now, you may be one of those people who considers yourself educated and above all of that religion mumbo-jumbo. There are people like that and they look down on anyone who professes to have a faith in anything, be it God or the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster. Look here, you’re not better because you don’t believe in spirituality or religion. You’re just the same as the people who believe in something. They have their something to get through life and you have your something to get through life, just because those things don’t match up doesn’t mean that one of you are better than the other. This is also true in reverse. If you are a religious person, there is no need to look down upon people who don’t believe.

Pete finds himself in this judgmental position. He’s religious and others are not. He looks down on them, but in the end, those are the people who were actually there for him, not his traveling preacher. Pete realizes all of this. He realizes that there are tangible things he needs in his life.

That’s true for all of us. You can be a Baptist, a Catholic, a Buddhist or a member of any number of religions all over the world; while being one of these things may help your eternal soul, it doesn’t help your here and now. You need people in the here and now. You need food. You need shelter. While it is true that you could possibly get these things from another member of your faith, there is large chance those things do not come from your religion at all. There are times when you have to separate yourself from your religion to survive right now. Some people may argue with me on that. Some people get by this by saying that everything and anything was the will of God, maybe that’s true, but sometimes being able to pay the electric bill is just careful planning on your part.

What I didn’t like

People misplace their trust in so-called “religious officials” sometimes. They think that just because this person is a preacher/reverend/pope/archbishop/shaman/monk/nun/and so forth that this person should be above suspicion and without reproach. Just because someone goes around calling themselves a prophet of God doesn’t mean that they shed all of their human errors. Warren Jeffs called himself a prophet and there are multiple people who have accused him of rape. That doesn’t sound like something a prophet of God should be doing, but he was still human. He didn’t automatically turn into a saint when he claimed he was a prophet. Oh, and another thing, those saints everyone keeps talking about weren’t the most upstanding people either. St. Teresa’s story is dubious in nature to say the least.

Pete put his faith in this guy, this bum, he saw wandering around preaching at revivals. Was he actually even supposed to be there? Anybody can pretend to be a preacher. Pete thought this guy was above worldly temptations; he wasn’t.

To me, this seems like it should be common sense to everybody. As long as your religious leader is still human, you should not be surprised to hear of them doing lines of cocaine in a strip club. People screw up. It’s part of what makes us human, but if for someone reason you discover that your preacher is a bonified angel, then maybe you can expect them to be above suspicion, but also consider that a third part of the host of heaven left with Satan when he was cast out, so you can’t entirely trust angels either.

It’s ok to get yourself all fired up about religion, but it’s not ok to be putting exponential amounts of faith on a human being. We are human; we are going to screw up from time to time, but that’s ok, because that’s why we have the concept of repentance built into our religions. No one in their right minds expects us to be perfect 100% of the time.


Pete finish high school first, then maybe become a preacher.

Weigh in

Do you think Pete’s desire for religion says something about his maturity or his immaturity?

Rufus, the atheist, waited for Pete–do you think that says something about atheists, religious people, or just humanity in general?


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