Contemporary Christian Fiction has been a real eye-opener so far. We started off with O'Connor, Spark and Powers: three great Catholic short story writers. I like to do "The Geranium" and "Judgment Day" together since the second is a rewrite of the first, an attempt to move beyond God as purely reactor (see her letters). "The Portobello Road" and "Prince of Darkness" are also part of the biannual fun. But then we did Ann Rice, her ROAD TO CANA. Great for discussion. She has zeal, faith, and earnestness, plus I must admit it was a breath of fresh air to more from the density of more academic prose--though the three above are nowhere as painfully self-conscious as so many of the Iowa/Carver MFA types can be--to Rice's rich and airy style. Very poetic, beautiful, and nothing was lost really. Depth of perception, James' "lived life."
The rich part of that experience was seminar discussion. How she sees scripture, the deposit of faith and tradition all came up--no surprise. After all, theologically she's a squish, big-time, is basically defending her son's sinful homosexual lifestyle in the book. I say sinful for a reason--besides the fact that any premarital sex is so. The biggest failings in the book are 1) just what her sense of sin is, and 2) how she perceives Jesus. In the first case, she's a typical Obama, Winfrey, Keith K (my cousin) self-regulating kind o' guy. "Step aside church, I'll figure this out." Stating it baldly, for her, sin is anything that goes against the PC code. So taking issue with homosexuality or extra-marital sex or abortion would constitute the sins of homophobia, a repressed psyche, and misogyny.
Praise God for the Church--the real (and entire) Roman Catholic Church, the magisterium.
The second failing has to do with Jesus. She actually does a nice job of presenting Him in many ways. He's given to wisdom, not learning. He has a zeal for the Father's house, and he takes great pains not to hurt people, even if the expected response would not have appeared sinful. But I kept waiting for the power of God to show up in her Jesus. Maybe after He discovers that His time has arrived (with His fourth public miracle--at Cana!). But nope, Jesus is a squish, made in her own image. "We'll let the road surprise us!"
It got sad for me. What is the Eucharist if not to power of God breaking into the physical word, doing violence to it because He is God and wants to literally feed us. Jesus is heaven, He is power.
This became very clear for me when I was working on some sonnets based on the Gospel of Matthew. If you pay very close to the language of those passages, all you'll hear is power. No one has ever spoken like that, no one else has ever built the portico of heaven in words. And He just uses words like "fish" and "wind" and "God" and "love." It is a stunning piece of work--I know that's obvious to the informed, but how often do we miss that? Rice and the Hollywood squishies certainly have. Robinson too.
But I don't want to make this political. I'm no Bushie, republican. I grew up in Cleveland, in a union home, so I'm familiar with their solid critique of Glenn Beck and Co. If you don't think the poor matter you're just not paying attention.
GILEAD is a fine book, too, though I'm only 100 or so pp. in at this time. But it fails to comprehend the power of Jesus as well, probably because squishy Protestants (and non-squishies) don't have the Eucharist. What a great loss that is! I also object to the Quaker feel of the thing. My time at the Earlham School of Religion showed me that Quack-ers are in the main people with great heart, people with a real concern for the victims of war. But the down side of that is that they also could get pretty smug about it. (As I suppose is natural for anyone who wants to point to themselves as they dictate morality.) A liberal purtian take in the end: we elect, you not.
We all have our own sins, of course, but the last thing any of us wants to do is make Jesus the less because of that.
Anyway, it's been fun. I look forward to seeing what the students have to say about Robinson's richly poetic text.