give just about anything for the returnnof the innocent good old days when Inwould have had the luxury of talking tonmy children about self-respect and responsibilitynand mere propriety. Now Inhave death always at the back of mynmind. Shall I let them be innocent anlittle longer? Will it kill them? There isngoing to be Hell to pay.nJane Greer edits Plains Poetry Journalnand doesn’t have enough time alonenwith her husband.nLetter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednOra Pro NobisnLast summer, on the 10th anniversarynof Elvis’ death, a reporter called to asknthe usual question: What does it allnmean? Ah, that took me back.nTo be precise, it took me back tonAugust of 1977. We were living innEngland when Elvis died, and I noticednat the time that the BBC didn’t ring upnthe local sociologists for foolish observationsnabout the meaning of it all; theynturned instead to South London vicars.nWhen it comes to ancient, expensivenhavens for shabby-genteel idlers (usuallynleft-wing) who will bloviate about thenlarger significance of any subject whatsoever,nuniversities don’t have a patchnon the Church of England. But sincenlazy American journalists have no underemployednEstablishment clergymennat hand, they have to turn to—well, tonpeople like me, which strikes me as onenof the many arguments for rethinkingnthe establishment clause, but nevernmind.nIn a single day recently I had two ofnthese callers. One wanted to know whynFriday the 13th, Part 6 was doing sonwell at the box office; the other askednwhat the doubling of vanity licensenplate sales tells us about life in NorthnCarolina today. I should have said thatnboth phenomena suggest that NorthnCarolinians have more money than isngood for them, but I merely referrednthese seekers to younger colleaguesnwho haven’t learned yet how silly younlook in print when you answer questionsnlike these off the cuff.nThe call about Elvis shouldn’t havensurprised me, but I wasn’t ready for it.nI couldn’t even remember what thosenparsons had said back in ’77 — justnsomething about “bringing us together,”nand I think “Lord of the Dance”nwas mentioned — so I referred the reporternto my buddy Charles, an OldnMiss historian, who once wrote a wonderfulnpiece on Bear Bryant’s funeraln(q.v.: South Atlantic Quarterly, Summern1987). Charles also keeps a vial ofnElvis’ sweat in his office, so I thoughtnhe’d do.nAfter the reporter rang off, I got tonthinking about that sweat. I alsonthought about another friend, a Memphisnpathologist who told me oncenafter a couple of drinks that he has anfragment of liver. Relics.nAt Graceland, in the garden wherenElvis is buried with his parents, candlesnburn, pilgrims pray, tears flow. On thenwall of the public men’s room, therenare (I swear it) messages to Elvis.nVotives, honest.nOn my wall is a picture of Elvis,nascending a golden staircase to a heavenlynCraceland where his mother waitsnfor him and Hank Williams extends anhand in greeting. An icon of thenapotheosis.nAnd — are you ready for this? — anbook published last summer catalogsnthe apparitions since 1977.nListen, if this were the Middle Ages,nthere’d be a cult. Heck, there is a cult:nwhat more does it take?nThe license plates in the Gracelandnparking lot suggest that this craziness isnnot exclusively or even mostly a Southernnphenomenon. When I was there,nat least. Southern plates were a decidednminority. Lots of us down here arenfond of Elvis, but he’s a home boy —none of us — and certainly no saint. Wenfind Elvisolatry amusing and try tonfigure a way to make some money offnof it, as I’m doing right now. (One ofnmy favorite efforts is an amazing songnby a former North Carolina Biblecollegenstudent named Mojo Nixon;ncall your local radio station and requestn”Elvis Is Everywhere,” because I can’tneven begin to summarize it.)nBesides, Evangelical Protestantism isnrather stern in these matters. Somentime ago, the Gallup Poll showed thatnSoutherners are less likely than othernAmericans to believe that it’s possiblento communicate with the dead, despitennnthe fact that we’re more likely to believenin an afterlife in the first place.nPilgrimages, relics, shrines, apparitions—nno, this isn’t really our kindnof thing.nBut orthodox Catholics (if there arenany left) probably aren’t heavily representednamong Elvis’ more extremendevotees either. With the mellow wisdomnof the ages, their church takes allnthis stuff in stride, but Rome has routinizednit, organized it, introduced somenquality control.nA few years ago, a group of us,nEpiscopalians and Roman Catholics,ngot together to read and discuss anhighly touted book called A CommonnCatechism, written by an ecumenicalngroup of Continental theologians. Itnquickly became clear that the importantndistinction in our group was notnbetween Protestants and Catholics butnbetween those who were orthodox andnproud of it, or unorthodox andnashamed of it, or who-knows-howorthodoxnbut committed to the propositionnthat orthodoxy exists and thenchurch should teach it, and those (callnthem “liberals”) who felt that truth isnin the seeking, or is whatever works fornyou, or is something we all have anpiece of—those, in other words, whonfound the concept of orthodoxynquaint, if not alarming.nNow the interesting thing is thatnthese liberals have far less reason thanntraditionalists to make fun of the credulous.nWhen Tennessee country folknsee the Holy Face on the side of anfreezer, or a mother tells the tabloidnStar that “Rock Hudson’s GhostnCured My Son of AIDS,” or somenpoor soul thinks Elvis answers prayersnwritten on a men’s room wall, liberalsnhave no basis for ridicule othernthan intellectual snobbery. On whatngrounds can they say these people arennot just tacky, but wrong? How donthey know? If it’s every man for himselfnin matters of belief, why shouldn’tnsome Middle-Americans beatify ansmall-town Southern boy who likednpeanut butter and banana sandwiches?nHey, it works for them.nWe’ll be seeing a lot more of thisnkind of thing. As Flannery O’Connorntactfully implied from time to time, thenabsence of ecclesiastical authoritynmeans the efflorescence of creedal andndevotional extravagance, not its absence.nAnd someone, probably Ches-nAPRIL 1988/41n