Marilynne Robinson is someone I have been meaning to read for a while now. My Mom got When I was a Child I Read Books last Christmas and she enjoyed it. So when I saw she had a new book out, I thought I’d pick it up from the library: The Giveness of Things: Essays.
I have to say that I was not a huge fan of the book. I completely respect Robinson. She writes with passion, and since it is a collections of essays, she is able to speak to many different topics. Her intelligence and thoughtfulness are easy to see right from page one. Yet I was not her target audience.
Robinson writes a lot about the USA and it’s history, especially where it is connected to Christianity. I am not American and don’t fully understand my neighbour to the south. In fact, it’s interesting that we exist on the same continent, yet are so very different. Another nit-picky criticism is her references to Shakespeare. Robinson is clearly a lover of Shakespeare and studies him thoroughly; I was never a lover of Shakespeare. I can appreciate and enjoy, yet I would not choose to read his plays on my own time. (That being said, I loved teaching Macbeth and Julius Caesar in my classroom.)
One of the biggest deterrents from keeping me from enjoying and buying into Robinson’s book is her love of John Calvin.
For Robinson, Calvin is her saint. He was prolific and did cause people to pause and think about their beliefs. He was a rebel against a corrupt system. Yet I grew up in an environment and Church that was pretty much opposite to a lot of Calvin’s ideas and interpretations. Arminian theology, from James Arminius who lived in the late 1500’s, believes heavily in the free will of humans to make decisions, guided by the Spirit. This way of thinking is found in Methodist churches, especially with John Wesley’s writing and thinking and as far back as the Dessert Fathers and Mothers in the early centuries of the Church. Although I am not an expert, I do know which side of the debate between Calvin and Arminius I’m on. So I had a hard time following along with Robinson.
Differences in nationality, literature, and theology aside, I did appreciate Robinson’s book. She has some beautifully clear ideas that are spot on! “Cultural pessimism is always fashionable, and, since we are human, there are always grounds for it. It has the negative consequences of depressing the level of aspiration, the sense of the possible” (Pg 29). Yes!
“One of our presidents, in bygone days, said that the only solution to the problems of democracy is more democracy. Things tend in another direction now. The word ‘capitalism’ has replaced the word ‘democracy’ as the banner under which we have flourished” (Pg 182). Yes!
“We know how deeply we can injure one another by denying fairness. We know how profoundly we can impoverish ourselves by failing to find value in one another. We know that respect is a profound alleviation, which we can offer and too often withhold” (Pg 286). Yes!
I respect Robinson’s collection of essays. From her 70 years on this earth, she is able to share her thoughts and observations about who we are as humans, living in this world together.
“There’s so much to be grateful for, words are poor things.” (Marilynne Robinson)
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.