Friday, May 06, 2011

from the book pile, 2011: Michelle Hoover, N.T. Wright


I'm wondering how long I'll be able to keep up my current method of reading: about 8 books at a time, one or two chapters at a time, rotating through methodically. It's not quite as enjoyable as just falling into an interesting book, but it does seem to keep me more honest to my commitments with them. Otherwise I'm a kind of rainy-day friend showing up on some title's doorstep for a few days until my heart wanders to someone else, leaving a trail of half-read books throughout the house. 

Like I said, we'll see how long this method lasts. For now: Enjoy!


The Quickening
13The Quickening
Author: Michelle Hoover
Genre: Fiction
Published: Other Press, New York (2010)

General Impression: If Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead married and had a baby, it'd read a lot like Michelle Hoover's The Quickening. (I seriously considered saying, instead: "If Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly had an evil step-sister, but that wasn't quite the feel I was going for). Told as a letter to an unknown grandson in the late 1930's midwest prairie land, two women alternate chapters telling the tale of their  often-tragic, sometimes-soft friendship making a living in the unbroken farmlands.  They meet first as young brides and leave each other as women, aged and broken by the fate so many pioneers endured:  illness, bad crops, loneliness, harsh conditions, the Depression.  

Thankfully, Ms. Hoover includes some moments of light and beauty (see the excerpts I chose below), but mostly the narratives were as hard as the prairie drought that bankrupted a farming nation.  Still, she wrote characters that I cared about, wanted redemption and every good thing.  Even the mostly-broken cast of men trying to make a living from hogs and cornfields;  I cared even for them.  

In the end, I much prefer Berry and Robinson's tales for allowing us to see more redemption and grace, even in the loneliness, separation, unreconciled relationships, life and death of their early to mid-century American families.  Somehow the hope for life and grace glimmers a bit more true from the sagging church spires and Bible-toting Reverends. 

Still, I cared deeply... 

An Excerpt: 
[a bright scene filled only with the sound a man humming]  "...Those cows smelled good and warm, the smell of hay and something sharp enough it makes your eyes water. Some might call it a stink, but that smell has always been home to me. It's the same as the smell of my skirts after a good day's work, the heat of my lap. As I  milked, I talked to the animal hushed-like. Nonsense it was, but calming. My brother did the same. Then I heard it. Someone was humming. I'd worked in barns most of my life and never known such a sound.

[oh dear!  somehow I accidentally deleted the rest of the excerpts for this book which I've already returned to the library...bummer!]


Author: N.T. Wright
Genre: theology
Published: InterVarsity Press (2009)

General Impression: For some strange reason, I've been stuck in N.T. Wright's acclaimed Surprised By Hope for about two years..  It's a good book and I want to read it;  I just haven't been able to get through it.  When I saw this sixty-two page booklet I thought, perhaps, I'd be able to manage that at least!

Handle it is an understatement.  I've almost memorized it.  It's that good.  Wright was able to affirm my lifetime of appreciation for the rescue from a doomed eternity Christ brought through His life, death, burial and resurrection, while at the same time expanding my imagination to the way that resurrection changes my perspective on the here and now.  His premise is that the resurrection enlivens us in the here and now, teaches us a new way to be human.  To be kingdom-announcers in this present day.

An Excerpt or Two (could almost re-write the entire book): 

"If you are to shape your world in following Christ, you are called, prayerfully, to discern where in your discipline the human project is showing signs of exile and humbly and boldly to act symbolically in ways hat declare that the powers have been defeated, that the kingdom has come in Jesus the Jewish Messiah, that the new way of being human has been unveiled, and to be prepared to tell the story that explains what these symbols are all about. And in all this you are to declare, in symbol and practice, in story and articulate answers to questions, that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not; that Jesus is Lord and Marx, Freud and Nietzsche are not; that Jesus is Lord and neither modernity nor postmodernity is. When Paul spoke of the gospel, he was not talking primarily about a system of salvation but about the announcement, in symbol and word, that Jesus is the true Lord of the world, the true light of the world."

"But if we are to be kingdom-announcers, modeling the new way of being human, we are also to be crossbearers. This is a strange and dark theme that is also our birthright as followers of Jesus. Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job, reorganizing the world according to some model that we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point."

"The way of Christian witness is being in Christ, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, so that the healing love of God may be brought to bear at that point....God is groaning too, present within the church at the place where the world is in pain. God the Spirit groans within us, calling in prayer to God the Father....The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God."

"The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even,  heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the postpostmodern world with joy and humour and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom."

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