As we mentioned earlier, Marilynne Robinson is a finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. The Guardian has short interviews with each finalist, including Robinson. In it, she discusses which of her books should be read first, her characters, and her literary heroes:
My heroes are, above all, the great 19th-century Americans: Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson and the others. I love the way they think. That place and time produced truly metaphysical fiction and poetry, which seems to me to be the highest achievement of literature.
The Man Booker International Prize will be awarded in a few hours, and should Robinson win, we’ll have complete coverage.
Marilynne Robinson delivered the convocation address at Sewanee: The University of the South on Friday, January 18. Her address begins at the 16:20 mark.
Robinson’s subject, modest as always, is the book of Isaiah, ans she opens with this line:
I will tell you something you are not likely to hear elsewhere: You live in a wonderful time, in a wonderful country.
Thanks to one of our readers for the link.
The Found Poetry Review celebrates the poetry in the existing and everyday. National Poetry Month 2013, FPR has created a ‘Pulitzer Remix’ project, in which 85 poets are writing found poetry from Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction novels.
Poet Cari Oleskewicz is working with Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, and will create 30 found poems from the text by the end of the month. It’s a cool project; we encourage you to check it out and follow along!
One of our readers points us to a short article by Marilynne Robinson, originally from the June 2011 issue of Harpers but reprinted with permission in The Christian Courier, on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
Her remarks on the KJV, its language, and its origins are both humorous (“The Bible is much thumped and little pondered”) and perceptive:
“These days the Bible seems to be used largely to shore up authority, or to legitimize political interests that claim a special fealty to Christianity. […] So it may not be obvious why people living in the Middle Ages who enjoyed the rare privilege of literacy would have put themselves at terrible risk in order to carry Scripture into the hovels of the poor and defeated.”
(Note: This article link is to a PDF.)
If you’re like us, you’ll be greatly surprised to read “Marilynne Robinson” and “Oprah” in the same sentence, but here we go: Marilynne Robinson wrote an article for O, The Oprah Magazine on generosity and courage, and its stark autobiographical vulnerability is absolutely worth your time — no matter your opinion of its context.
Robinson begins with a somber story about a cat, a bird, and a neighbor. “It is terrible to realize how little we can know about the real value of anything,” she laments at its end. “The first generosity may well be attentive respect.”
She goes on to tell a story of her one-day employment in a restaurant and the unrequited generosity of a coworker. “It flowed like silk from her hands. It was beautiful to her.”
In light of these tales, Robinson considers the story of the widow’s mite, arriving at this often-retweeted comment: “Generosity is also an act of freedom, a casting off of the constraints of prudence and self-interest.”
Our thanks to one of our (generous!) readers for this link.
One of our readers points us to a powerful sermon by Marilynne Robinson, preached on Reformation Sunday 2009 at her home church, the Congregational United Church of Christ of Iowa City.
She begins by giving the historical context of the Reformation and our present-day Protestant churches as heirs to its legacy. Drawing on Ephesians (the verses are not given, but presumably Ephesians 2:8–10), she explains predestination and salvation in the work of John Calvin:
“When Calvin uses the word ‘salvation,’ he means by it a gradual progress toward a ‘perfection of goodness’ which will by no means be achieved in this life.”
From this point, she considers the relation of the so-called “Calvinist work ethic” to Calvin’s and the Reformers’ understanding of salvation:
“The Reformers’ emphasis on the primacy of grace was not meant to discourage acts of justice or charity, but to give them a new value by freeing them of the motives of self-interest that were a consequence of their being done with an eye to one’s own ultimate benefit, and to acknowledge God’s majesty and his fatherliness more fully by freeing him from the role of tabulator of merits and demerits.”
She continues on, quoting Calvin at length to show the scandalous implications of this view of grace:
“I quote at such length because a libel and a slander have been circulating for the last several centuries to the effect that Calvin’s theology favors the rich. The thought has crossed my mind that if a stranger were to walk into the sanctuary just now, she might think I was denouncing the excesses of the current national and global economy. But no, to find such bold language coming from a pulpit, it is necessary to quote John Calvin, speaking to 16th century Geneva.”
She concludes by remarking on Calvin’s “paradoxical understanding of the human situation,” and this venerable remark about the importance of knowing our history — including our Reformation history:
“We are wrong to disown it [history], to estrange ourselves from it, as though we were not also children of Adam whose sins and errors will burden later generations.”
Another bit of Scriptural commentary from Robinson in The Christian Century, this time on John’s prologue and the commentary surrounding it in the Jewish Annotated New Testament:
“The incarnation is rooted at the most fundamental level in the act of creation.”
Our thanks, once again, to one of our generous readers.
My colleague Rev. Chandler Stokes preached a wonderful Easter sermon at our church this year on John 20:1-18. One of our readers points us to commentary from Marilynne Robinson on this very text, which appeared in The Christian Century last Easter. It is, as you might imagine, full of wonderful insight.
During our staff meeting this week, we again read vv. 16–17, in which Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus in the garden. Robinson comments on this encounter, “The risen Christ does not rebuke Mary for her error. He seems rather to enjoy the occasion of her surprise.”
I also like this line: “It is clear from the metaphysics of the prologue that John’s Christ might have appeared to his followers as an effulgence of holy light. Instead, as he does appear to them, he might be any man tending a fire at the shore, any stranger urged to share supper.”
There’s also a second vignette of her commenting on 1 John 1:1-2:2 as well.
A wonderful, lengthy interview, described as a “literary conversation on the resurrection of the ordinary,” between Marilynne Robinson and Paul Elie of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (her publisher) at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University.
Our thanks to Brad Davis for the tip.
So, this morning I Googled my own website, because I am THAT LAME, and I came across this very nice response to MR’s Calvin appearance last spring. It’s by Jerome Stueart, a gay Christian and writer of fantasy/SF who felt, understandably, that he was reporting from hostile territory.
I can speak to another side of Calvin College. It was the place where I learned that there were actively Christian LGBTQ… people. It was the place where I first heard their arguments.
This is not a compliment that Calvin College wants, but: going to school there started a process. The culmination of that process is that gay Christians have played such an important role in my walk with Jesus that I can’t regularly worship in a place that would deny these same people leadership roles. Not “won’t”: “can’t.”
And with that I am off to my gay-affirming Episcopal church. Happy Sunday, everybody!
The Center of Theological Inquiry (you kind of wish they’d change it to the slightly less presumptuous Center for …, but whatever) hosted an entire symposium last October in tribute to John Templeton, the investor, philanthropist, Presbyterian church elder, Princeton Sem trustee, and … uh, as of 1964, guy-who-renounced-US-citizenship-so-he-could-reduce-his-tax-bill who founded the Templeton Foundation. Part of the symposium included the Robinson-Marcelo Gleiser-Krista Tippett interview posted yesterday, and there’s also a fine “conversation [between] neuroscientist William Hurlbut and theologians Douglas Ottati and Darlene Fozard Weaver, on … Absence of Mind,” with Robinson contributing as well. A number of other talks are available at the link above, and, with the sociologist Robert Bellah and the Judaism scholar Peter Ochs in attendance (among others), most of them will probably prove worth your time.
Hat tip to one of our readers.
As if we needed another reason to love public radio, bougie totebags and all: Here are Robinson and astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser having a mutually respectful exchange of views. Whatever you think of Robinson, you’ll certainly be ready to read Gleiser’s books by the time you’re done reading.
Hat tip to one of our readers.
One of our readers found this excerpt from an interview conducted with Robinson last spring, on behalf of Image, by Jennifer Holberg, who ushers Calvin College English majors through the nineteenth-century Brits.
The Sunday New York Times has a ‘By the Book’ interview with Marilynne Robinson. Among the highlights, this beautiful quote:
A wonderful writer has given the best of herself or himself in the work. I think many of them are frustrated by the thinness and inadequacy of ordinary spoken language, of ordinary contact even with the people they know best and love best. They turn to writing for this reason.
The whole interview is sweet and poignant. Thanks to Chris Liebig for the tip!
Update: Regrettably, the original source link at The Free Library was taken down. We’ve been unable to locate another source, although JStor offers it for a free registration or with JStor access (check your local library!).
With her characteristic flourish and captivating insight, Marilynne Robinson sketches a vivid invigoration of the liberal Protestant vision in this essay.
The liberal, mainline core of Protestantism has been in decline for many years, as Barna reminds us, and with it goes the missional vision of social reform that for so many years grew organically out of the mainline churches and their broad, generous orthodoxy. (I write this from my mainline church office.) In their absence, conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism has risen to prominence, stressing personal holiness, salvation, and prosperity.
Robinson takes this narrowed individualism sharply to task:
[Personal holiness] suggests a sense of security concerning final things, though it is in fact a confidence not claimed even by the Apostle Paul.
As we’ve come to expect, she draws heavily on Scripture and the work of John Calvin in the process:
The liberal criticism, rejection of the idea that one could be securely persuaded of one’s own salvation and could even apply a fairly objective standard to the state of others’ souls, was in fact a return to Calvinism and its insistence on the utter freedom of God.
As the essay progresses, she has a good deal to say about the economic and political implications of this work:
What has personal holiness to do with politics and economics? Everything, from the liberal Protestant point of view. They are the means by which our poor and orphaned and our strangers can be sustained in real freedom, and graciously, as God requires. How can a Christian live without certainty? More fully, I suspect, than one can live with doctrines that constrict the sense of God with definitions and conditions.
This essay has appeared under two titles: First, as ‘Onward, Christian Liberals’ in The American Scholar, Vol. 75, No. 2 (Spring 2006), and second, as ‘Hallowed Be Your Name’ in the book Getting On Message: Challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel, Peter Laarman, ed. (Beacon Press, 2006), as well as in the July 2006 issue of Harpers.
Our thanks to a generous reader for pointing us to this archive and its bibliographic citations.