“In the here-and-now, I vote—but always with a torn heart. I have not yet met a candidate or a political proposal that embodies all that I dream for…” -Steve Garber in “Making Peace with Proximate Justice”
My undergraduate degree is in political science, and I once imagined making a life for myself in Washington, D.C. During those years — thanks to a last-minute roommate gift and generous hospitality from a high school friend — I even attended a presidential inauguration. So it may come as a surprise that I haven’t voted in the past two presidential elections.
If I have a least favorite question in the English language, it might be: “Are you a Christian?” It’s a question that gets thrown pretty quickly in the direction of any artist or thinker or politician that shows an openness toward or seriousness about God or spirituality. My dislike of the question is first of all about what the question does. What I mean is, asking it is often a way to peg people as in-or-out, loveable-or-dismissible. Unfortunately this question gets asked in this way by many who believe, some who don’t, and probably everywhere in-between. But it seems to me that if these kinds of distinctions and categories have to be made, perhaps it might be best to let God be the One to make them.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’” -Jeremiah 29:4-7
Over the weekend, I was doing some online-literary-journal browsing, just some catching up, trying to see what’s going on in that world. The most interesting thing I found was an interview between Booth‘s Susan Lerner and Jonathan Franzen. In the interview’s introduction, Lerner calls Franzen “arguably the best living American novelist” — I’m never quite sure how we go about making and justifying these claims — but she was also quite clear that during Franzen’s visit to Indianapolis, he had been kind, present, and pleasant. If such a disclaimer seems defensive, you can forgive her because Franzen has such a tendency to make headlines in all the wrong ways. As the story goes, several years ago, he even pissed Oprah off.
“This is, as I said and believe, a book about Heaven, but I must say too that it has been a close call. For I have wondered sometimes if it would not finally turn out to be a book about Hell — where we fail to love one another, where we hate and destroy one another for reasons abundantly provided or for righteousness’ sake or for pleasure, where we destroy the things we need the most, where we see no hope and have no faith, where we are needy and alone, where things that ought to stay together fall apart, where there is such a groaning travail of selfishness in all its forms, where we love one another and die, where we must lose everything to know what we have had.” -Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow