James T. Keane, in a current America article titled “Wendell Berry: the cranky farmer, poet, and essayist you just can’t ignore,” asks this question:
“My reaction was a simple one: Did Wendell Berry just leap off the page and hit me over the head with a fencepost?”
Wendell Berry is one of those writers I can’t ignore. I recently read and reviewed his The Hidden Wound, is a profound essay on racism, written, not in 2018 but 50 years earlier in 1968. Berry seems to speak from somewhere else with a voice unlike other voices, and it got me to thinking who some of the other writers are who have spoken from somewhere else with a voice I cannot ignore. Here are some I came up with:
Marilynne Robinson. Her essays and novels, steeped in, of all things, Calvinism, challenge both modern scientism and our easy moral equivocation and dismissal of the relevance of God. I’m reading her lectures at Yale in 2010 right now, Absence of Mind.
C.S. Lewis. He brought his love and encyclopedic knowledge of old books and Christian theology to the questions of the day as well as in children’s literature in a way both timely and timeless.
Kristin Hannah. This is an author who keeps me awake at night, after I put her books down, with her strong female characters confronting personal and systemic inhumanity, often at the hands of men. They make me as a man want to fight against the wrongs done to subjugate women.
Eugene Peterson. I heard Peterson speak to the staff of the organization I work for after a hugely successful conference, warning of the dangers of believing too much in our success. He wrote trenchantly during his life on the calling of pastors, and how he saw many exchanging noble for ignoble work. He ought to be assigned reading for all our celebrity pastors.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I may not believe all he would say theologically, but I cannot ignore words that come out of resistance to totalitarianism and his experience of leading a Christian community of resistance.
Mary Oliver. I’ve only come to discover her poetry in the last few years, but her perception of the transcendent in the ordinary, the large issues of life in small incidents nudge me to be aware of the same.
Nicholas Wolterstorff. Wolterstorff is a philosopher who teaches at Yale. Whether writing about the death of a son, justice in South Africa, philosophy of education, or his defense of religious ideas in scholarly discussion, he brings head and heart, reason and passion together. Read his memoir In This World of Wonders and his “Advice to Those Who Would Be Christian Scholars.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Reading his sermons and speeches is like a trumpet call. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a powerful response to the moderate white pastors who counselled patience.
Fleming Rutledge. Anyone who would argue that women cannot preach or teach theology should read her work. Her The Crucifixion is the most significant theological work I have read in the past ten years. Three Hours is preached reflections on the seven last words of Christ. Advent is also quite good.
I don’t know about you, but in a world of amusement, distraction, and obliviousness, I need to be “hit over the head with a fencepost.” This is part of the company of writers who serve that function for me. These are writers who do not so much answer my questions, as question my answers. Who does that for you?