It was a political purpose. So I try to shift the public conversation a little over in the direction of moral and relational life.
The book addresses the commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose, including family and spouse, vocation, and community. But I read it as, first and foremost, a memoir of a journey toward religious faith. Often, though not always, the path to the second mountain is marked by hardships and failures. Men and women who live on the first mountain may find happiness, but people living on the second mountain find something deeper—joy.
Brooks defines happiness as the victory and expansion of the self, while joy is found in transcending the self and serving others. Brooks wrote this book not because he felt he had found joy, but because he wanted to study people who had. As he got older, he experienced more of the vicissitudes of life. It only made sense to me that they had souls. That some piece of them that had no material dimension, no size or shape but gave them infinite dignity, every single one of them.
It strikes me that this is the quest Brooks is on: to better understand the moral reality of things and more fully align our lives to it. Religious faith is a way to help him and many of the rest of us do that, though even for the most faithful, their understanding of things is at best partial, their ability to see things limited, their perceptions colored by their experiences.
We all see through a glass darkly. This disposition was undoubtedly reinforced by growing up in a secular Jewish home while attending an Episcopal school and, for many years, an Episcopal camp. He is one of the great, serious literary talents -— respected in prestigious places like the New York Times Review of Books —- who just fearlessly went out there and explored spiritual life and asked incredibly tough questions. I still find him one of the most reassuring writers out there about the power of faith to unite us, to unite all our stories.
But I think one could argue that, without a Frederick Buechner, it would be tougher for there to be a Ron Hansen. He has incredible integrity as a writer. I hope a lot more people find their way to his books.
DALE: Yes. You argue that they do preach in powerful ways. At ReadTheSpirit, we talk about religion as a revelation to be accepted -— while spirituality is the other strand in the double helix of faith -— a quest to be pursued. And most great faiths involve both strands: Islam has the hajj as well as the Quran, for example. Does that make sense? Those are not the same terms I use in talking about these issues, but yes this makes sense to me.
And who invite us to explore with them. DAVID: I went on an evangelical reading binge this spring and read a whole lot of the new evangelical books.
But a lot of those books get into trouble when they try to talk about the larger world. DALE: It is a problem. A lot of writers in the Christian subculture are terrible simplifiers. And this is a tough time to be a preacher. You point that out in your book. DALE: It is a tough time for preaching. Preaching today even from a pulpit is very difficult. Nobody wants to be preached at. Preachers who pound podiums, like parents who point fingers, have gotten bad press, and an artist who preaches is in suspicious company. Frederick Buechner says that ordination was a terrible career move. I love this passage.
We washed our souls in that same river.
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DALE: A sense of place is so powerful. This has been talked about in the work of southern writers particularly from Faulkner onward -— writing out of their sense of place. One friend joked that it could be my auto-biography! On the other hand, reading it may remind you why you love reading. Several of the books I listed in the last post were about those who love books, memoirs about reading, or the loss of reading in this electronic culture. On-line or on real paper, the debate rages.
These are important voices in the broader conversation about the ethos of our time and the habits of attention that are demanded by—and created by—the long-form reading of books. And so, here are a few books mostly about fiction books. We have plenty of others, but these are just a few I grabbed from our literary criticism section to illustrate the sorts of things we enjoy showing off and talking about. Short, clear, engaging.
Every college student, at least, should have a book like this. I was struck by what seemed like both dense and yet colorful prose, and radical, critical serious, flamboyant insight that demanded an utterly Biblical frame of reference. Much of it is on art and aesthetics, but there is good stuff on literature here, too, and a bit on theatre. If you have read his classic Rainbows for the Fallen World you may want to back up and read this. In these four great paperbacks he summarizes and explains classics of older novels and some serious devotional non-fiction as well, such as Pascal or Tozer. Boa on Dante or Austen or Dostoyevsky or Bunyan?
What fun! This collection explores the cultural impact of the OBC, particularly in light of debates about the definition and purpose of literature.