Tag Archives | relationships

Confession and Justice | Kent Annan

Kent AnnanConfession produces freedom and restores right relationships, which releases the river of God’s justice to roll down.

—Annan, Kent. Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, 60.

Killing Yourself to Live | Chuck Klosterman

The cover of Klosterman's Killing Yourself to LiveWhat is it about premature death that makes musicians so famous?

That’s the question that Spin editor Sia Michel used to convince Chuck Klosterman to embark on an epic road trip across America to visit the places where musicians met their demise.

Killing Yourself to Live started out as a feature article for Spin, but ended up book-length when Klosterman decided to pack the story full of his musing on past lovers, turning this travelogue into a memoir. This article/book was supposed to follow a standard script. At the end of his journey, his coworker, Lucy asks him some questions.

Are you going to be able to write a compelling story that will dissect the perverse yet undeniable relationship between celebrity and mortality? Will the narrative illustrate how society glamorizes dying in order to perpetuate the hope that death validates life? Will you be able to prove that living is dying, and that we’re all slowly dying through every moment of life? (233)

That’s not the story Klosterman came up with, however. In the end he realized that “love and death and rock ‘n’ roll are the same experience” (234).

This memoir is painfully narcissistic (not to mention exploitative of his relationships), but his brutal honesty makes for compelling reading. Klosterman doesn’t seem to care what the reader will think of him or his moral choices. Add to this his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll culture and you get Killing Yourself to Live: a window into the mind of one of our generation’s best cultural critics.

—Chuck Klosterman, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (New York: Scribner, 2005).

Home | Marilynne Robinson

The cover of Robinson's HomeHome moves slow.

In this sequel to Robinson’s Pulitzer prize winning novel GileadHome takes us back to Gilead, Iowa. The plot moves as slowly as the small town it’s set in. Glory Boughton returns to Gilead to care for her father. Shortly thereafter, her brother Jack (the troublemaker) arrives. Throw in a few meetings with the Rev. John Ames, and that’s the entire plot.

Normally, this would be a criticism. Fortunately, Home is not normal! What makes this book special is the way Robinson writes about the relationships between two siblings, their father, and an aging (softening?) preacher. I’ve never understood characters the way I understand Glory and Jack. It makes me want to reread Gilead, now that I know them so well.

Since Home is written from the perspective of Glory (while Gilead was written as the memoir of the Rev. John Ames), there is not as much religious reflection to ponder. That said, Robinson’s understanding and exploration of the relationships between very different people leave the reader much to chew on.

Home is a fitting sequel to Gilead, and a fine novel in its own right. Yes Home moves slow—the perfect speed for this story.

—Marilynne Robinson, Home (Toronto: Harper Perennial, 2008).

Poverty and Shalom | Bryant L. Myers

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.

—Bryant L. Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, 86.

Gilead | Marilynne Robinson

The cover of Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonIf Marilynne Robinson wasn’t a writer, she could have been a therapist. I’ve never encountered a person who is able to so thoroughly understand the deep motivations of another human being as well as her. In Gilead, she writes with the honest voice of an elderly preacher living in the 1950s.

Gilead is the (fictional) memoir of Rev. John Aimes. Recognizing that his heart condition will soon get the better of him, he wrote this book to give his young son a way to understand him after his death. The memoir is filled with stories of his relationships to his family and friends both past and present.

This book resonated with me in a number of ways. As a father, hearing Aimes talk about the little details of his son’s life through the bittersweet lens of his encroaching death was very poignant. Take this reflection, for example:

At this very moment I feel a kind of loving grief for you as you read this, because I do not know you, and because you have grown up fatherless, you poor child, lying on your belly now in the sun with Soapy asleep on the small of your back. You are drawing those terrible little pictures that you will bring me to admire, and which I will admire because I have not the heart to say one word that you might remember against me. (104)

One joy in reading this book was Aimes’ love for theology. He read Barth and Calvin and was able to reflect with both theological depth and pastoral charity. Consider the truth in this passage, where Aimes remembers feeling challenged to save an unbelieving friend:

They want me to defend religion, and they want me to give them “proofs.” I just won’t do it. It only confirms them in their skepticism. But nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense. (177)

I suppose the most overarching quality the drew me into this book was Rev. Aimes’ honesty. It was almost unsettling read the life of a man who was so honest with himself.

Would that we all could live such examined lives.

—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004).

The Cocktail Party | T. S. Eliot

The Cocktail Party: A Comedy is painfully tragic from a Christian perspective. A wife leaves her husband because he’s having an affair. Years later, the second woman becomes a Christian and is killed on the mission field. The husband and wife meanwhile have worked at repairing their marriage and find solace in meaningless cocktail parties. True passion is punished while superficial escapism is rewarded. But I suppose that’s the irony Eliot was aiming at.

As you would expect, Eliot’s prose reads like poetry. The cadence and interplay of dialogue is sharp and lyrical.

This is a fine read from a 20th century master.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Tennessee Williams

I know I’m supposed to adore this book. It’s one of America’s premiere plays. “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize” is proudly stamped on the cover. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem to resonate with me. Perhaps it’s because I’m a minister, and this is a story of horrible relationships that would take any pastoral counselor ages to sort out.

The dialogue is quick and brilliant—I’d love to see it performed live. Williams did a fantastic job of displaying broken relationships; he just forgot to provide any hope for his characters’ future. In both versions of the third act, the resolution can hardly be considered even a minor step forward between husband and wife.

If you’re the sort of person who draws hope from relationships that are more damaged than your own, this might interest you. If you’re looking for an example of the human condition—family dynamics gone awry—this is an excellent case-study. I suppose I was looking for something more.

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