Monday, May 31, 2010
More in the Praise of Fiction
I finished A Tale of Two Cities about three weeks ago and I just wanted to share some thoughts. I was just thinking that my discussion of these books are a little reminiscent of Julie Powell’s narcissistic (and seemingly—on the surface at least—meaningless) exercise of working her way through Julia Child’s 525 recipes in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it. Except in my case, I’m working my way through the Modern Library’s 100 Best English Novels. Each book that I read has many, if not hundreds, of commentaries written about them. But my observations are personal to what I, Mike, took away. But it is a little melodramatic to make the comparison to Ms. Powell.
I remember being taught a long time ago that any time I studied the Bible or had a morning devotion that I needed to find something profound that would “radically change my life.” With this high standard of success applied to each quiet time, each day, you quickly finding yourself going in circles. Okay, maybe more like spirals. The only question was it an upper or downward spiral.
Sort of in that same spirit, but not so intense, I want to make one observation of how that book impressed me. This is a little different than my devotional exercise because I don’t read the books looking for that life-changing cornerstone, but I read the books for pure pleasure. Then, afterwards, I sit back and look at the natural aftermath of that experience.
Early on I made the observation of that Dickens was one of the most descriptive writers I’ve ever read. I was overwhelmed with awe in his ability to use words to draw me in, into a parallel universe. The plot of the story wasn’t that complicated. It was story about relationships, some on the surface, and some lurking down deep between the lines. Certainly there was a story climax of substitutionary atonement. But beyond those things, and looking at my personal life, there were many strong messages about human nature.
An important message that I took away was the myth of the utopian mirage. This of course was about the French Revolutionaries. They were hurt people. Like one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “Hurt People Hurt People.” I don’t they had much of a choice unless it was total hopelessness and despair. But they devolved this utopian hope of revolution that would bring reason and justice. Maybe Maximmlen Robespierre would visit Paris today he would smile and say, “Yes . . . it was well worth it.” But the brutality, which followed the revolt, was far worse than that from which they rebelled.
Without wasting too much more space on the book I will add my personal observation.
When we see a problem, any problem, we start to formulate solutions. Before long we get emotionally caught up in that illusion . . . thinking if only, if only. But, as they say, you must be careful what you wish for.
I think of church life, especially protestant church life. From the time of the reformation, the church has splintered, splintered and splintered again. As you know, some of that . . . actually most of it . . . did not come as a lovingly disagreement among brothers. The Thirty Years War and other such conflicts were in the same brutal leagues as the French Reign of Terror.
This of course has continued up until the present time and even within my own attitudes. Just this week, the motorcycle church, which meets in our church, had a major disagreement with their parent church and started a new denomination. Our pastor alluded that it was a rough transition. I wasn’t there but (but I have been in the past in other church splits) where each side sees themselves as being the ones on God’s side . . . while the real conflict is usually very personal and has to do with the self-esteem of those involved rather than some edict from God. It’s been the same story throughout history.
But I too am often enticed and seduced by this utopian dream. Once I was sure that I could create the ideal (if not perfect) church and I tried. I worked hard on it and it ended with no less of a disaster (spare the bloodshed) of the early days of the French Revolution. Even now, while I am discontent with the status quo, it can be tempting to think that I could do better myself.
I think it comes back to the fundamental truth expressed by the concept of the speck and log in the eye. Like the French Revolutionaries (maybe thanks to prerevolutionary thinkers/writers Baron de Lahontan and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) people can believe that we are morally better than those at fault. Then, when we are released to express our dreams, we believe that utopia will ensue.
So I have no illusions, most of the time, that I could do things better. My flaws would taint my noble plans.
My next book, which was the only one which I could find in the used book store, is The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. I will save a few preliminary comments for next post.
Posted by MJ at 12:43 PM