“Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life.”
This is one of many lines in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead that I thought was beautiful . . . and I found another writer who agrees with me, and who wrote a much more legitimate and literary tribute to the book than you’ll find here.
Interestingly, the author describes himself as “more or less a fully paid-up atheist,” but he praises the beauty of this novel—which is the fictional first-person memoir of an old preacher—and says he is more drawn to Robinson’s writings than that of the New Atheist crowd.
Here’s why, in his words: “She makes an atheist reader like myself capable of identifying with the sense of a fallen world that is filled with pain and sadness but also suffused with divine grace. Robinson is a Calvinist, but her spiritual sensibility is richly inclusive and non-dogmatic. There’s little talk about sin or damnation in her writing, but a lot about forgiveness and tolerance and kindness. Hers is the sort of Christianity, I suppose, that Christ could probably get behind.”
He concludes, “I’ll never share her way of seeing and thinking about the world and our place in it, but her writing has shown me the value and beauty of these perspectives.” And then, “This is not the kind of voice I normally associate with religious people, and it makes me wonder whether we might not be listening to the wrong voices.”
And oh, this gives me hope, friends. Because if at least some people are listening more to Marilynne Robinson than Pat or even Phil Roberston to get their picture of what it means to be a Christian, then maybe there will be something compelling and redemptive in the popular conception of our faith after all.
And it made me realize: in some ways, we can contribute to what others think of when they think of Christians. Not just by our individual actions (though that’s a really big deal). But I think it’s also important who we give weight to in our culture. Who we listen to and choose to represent us matters.
Sometimes it’s almost entirely out of our control—Westboro Baptist, anyone?
Other times we get behind movements, celebrities, and dogmas that maybe we should give a bit more thoughtful attention to. Think about the trends and worship songs and Christian films and children’s curriculum with sketchy theology that tend to populate the Christian subculture. They may not all be bad things. But have you thought about the theology behind them?
If you have, great. We can move on, even if you happen to appreciate some things that I find a little too kitschy or cliché or out-of-context. I just think sometimes as Christians we need to think more theologically instead of reacting in support of anything that feels conservative, moral, or safe.
Celebrating the Hobby Lobby victory? Great! I’m glad. Me too, not the least because I am slightly obsessed with that particular store’s selection of patterned paper. But I hope that when you talk about the ruling, you understand the issues it raises and maybe have even thought about how other business owners of a different faith might apply the same freedom Hobby Lobby used.
Want to post a Christian meme on Facebook? Cool. But if it’s a Bible verse, it would be great if you made sure it was ripped viciously out of a totally different context. And that you’re not doing it just to get a reaction out of people or to try to look spiritual (and believe me, I’m sometimes guilty of that).
I’m not telling you to second-guess your every move and to try to fit in with the culture as much as possible. But I do think we’re called to be deliberate in our choices, even the little ones that don’t seem to matter at all. What we say about our faith is what people will associate with it—and that includes bumper stickers, blog comments, overhead gossip and status updates and political slogans.
Everything matters. This should not be intimidating (“Oh no…what does it mean if I implicitly endorse this song by standing here while it’s played on the radio!”). I think, instead, it should be encouraging, knowing that it’s not just the “big choices” that count, that our lives are more significant than that.
Live out the truth in a bold way—but remember that opera singers and babies screaming on airplanes are both loud, but only one is loud with beauty and purpose.
I tend to shake my head despairingly at what the world thinks about Christians without realizing that, at least in some small way, I can be a part of changing that.
Let’s live out Christianity in ways that would make even an atheist say, “That is beautiful.”