Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cather, Aiken, Tolkien, Mallonee, Morrison

Lately I've been alternating between reading older novels, from past generations, and then something contemporary. The contemporary things have been fairly unsatisfying in the end, although full of promise at the start. The older books have been thoroughly enjoyable.

In the "older book" category is the one I've just begun, Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. Cather was a real craftsman with words, describing natural things beautifully, and loving her characters. I think her My Antonia is on of the finest novels I've ever read.

Speaking of reading older books, my sweetheart just finished Joan Aiken's The Whispering Mountain. She loved it and thought I would too, so guess what's on the top of my to-read pile! She says it reminded her somehow of The Hobbit, which she now plans to reread. Apropos of which, here's a pretty fascinating clip from a 1969 BBC video on Tolkien. His work had only recently become a publishing phenomenon at that point.

[HT: Jim Skaggs]

Apropos of nothing, I just read an interview with Bill Mallonee, who is most well-known for heading up the band Vigilantes of Love (one of my faves). Mallonee might have been the original hipster-Calvinist (or something like that), but he's Roman Catholic now, and has a very interesting perspective on the Evangelical interaction with art and culture. This is a really interesting interview because Mallonee is clearly struggling with a degree of bitterness. Well, honesty has always been one his strengths as a songwriter, I think. Anyway, here's a long excerpt from the interview, where he talks about his dissatisfaction with "bookstore Christianity," which is a label that I'm sure will be a fixture in my vocabulary from now on!
I don’t know. It seems like, by the time you’re 30 years old, you ought to know that the stuff in your skin is pretty inconsistent. I think there’s a tendency, my wife and I talk about this a lot, I think there’s a tendency for spirituality that comes out of the, well, let’s just call it “Bookstore Christianity,” the contemporary Christian bookstore mentality, there’s, to my mind anyway, there’s an element of being taught to walk in sort of a spiritual denial of what goes on under your skin. Or, you’re told that you really can have this victorious life where you sort of walk on water and you can rise above it all. My experience hasn’t been that way. I don’t know what the English play is, but “we’re not made of very stern stuff.” That theme has been underlying all of my music from the beginning.

I’m not saying it doesn’t work, I’m just saying I’m a poor specimen. Even though I believe in a historic resurrection, the power of the Cross and I’m glad when people find that bigger, higher life, but my attitude is that for some, you know what, it might just be a season. You have no idea where you’re going to be in 3 years, 5 years, and if you haven’t been tested, you really don’t know what’s under your skin. So much of CCM seems to be about insulating itself from the real struggles that people have. That’s what bothers me the most about it. It’s like when you put people in a room and you give them a buzz line to speak and some stranger walks in and they have no idea what they’re talking about. They culturally cut themselves off with this buzz language and they put it in their music and they put in their books and in their movies and the people who are starving for truth and starving for meaning and contact with God, they don’t get it. They feel like they can’t measure up, or they feel like it’s just bizarre.
Oh, man, that is so sadly true, and the thing is, after a while it's hard not to be dismissive, not to tune out the people who walk around with the buzz words on their lips. What I'd like to say to Bookstore Christianity is, "Oh, please, just stop! Just go away!"

There, now that I've got that off my chest....

It's Labor Day weekend, so I'm going up on Cripple Creek, which is a place where you don't do a lick of work and your best friend is a good woman and you have a few beers and maybe there's a caravan "painted wet and white" out there among the trees:


Glynn said...

I love Willa Cather, and I haven't read her work in years. A long time ago, I read Death Comes for the Archbishop, My Antonia and O Pioneers -- I was studying the Realists in an English course -- Cather, Edith Wharton, Jack London, and others. I think Cather was my favroite -- and you may have just inspired me to revisit her.

Bob said...

Yes, I'm really loving "Archbishop." My Antonia is such a special book and I think one of those you can call in its own way a truly American book, representing a slice of who we are as a people.