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Jesus Creed

Home and the Posture of Grace

A few years back a friend of mine, Jay Phelan, told me about a book about a pastor and a small town in Iowa and so I bought the book and was about 50 pages deep before I realized it was a novel and that Marilynne Robinson was a novelist. The novel, called Gilead, was short enough that, having found myself that deep, I went with the story and finished it off. I have myself to blame for purchasing and reading her next novel, Home.
I don’t know if I’ll finish Home, but I’ve entered her story world and I like this pastor Robert Boughton and his daughter Glory and her wayward brother, Jack, and the love of the father for his prodigal son. And her prose is mood-setting and leads me into a gentle, quiet and reflective place. And this section I’m about to quote reflects her prose and an idea I’d like to hear your thoughts about. What do you think of this “posture of grace”? The family has had a hard time with Jack, and forgiving him is a challenge:
“There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding. Her [Glory’s] father had said this more than once, in sermons, with appropriate texts, but the real text was Jack, and those to whom he spoke were himself and the row of Boughtons in the front pew, which usually did not include Jack, and then, of course, the congregation. If you forgive, he would say, you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace” (45).
Some of you read Gilead, which was itself a posture of grace.

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posted September 29, 2008 at 7:13 am

It’s not often that goodness is portrayed well in fiction. Badness, brokenness, and the grotesque are either easier to write about or hold our attention more easily. Robinson does a great job portraying goodness in a way that isn’t sentimental or preachy. This, in spite of the fact that the book is about a preacher.
“Some of you read Gilead, which was itself a posture of grace.” I wholeheartedly agree.

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Travis Greene

posted September 29, 2008 at 7:44 am

Yeah, Gilead is awesome. I can’t find my copy of it; I wanted to re-read it before getting Home. I probably loaned it to somebody because it’s so good.

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Skye Jethani

posted September 29, 2008 at 7:55 am

I was unaware that Robinson had released another novel. (I believe there was a very long gap between Gilead and her previous book.) Thanks for the preview, Scot. I’ll be sure to pick up Home. BTW, you should read Brandon O’Brien’s blog post about using (good) fiction for spiritual formation:

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posted September 29, 2008 at 11:20 am

A discussion of the three Robinson novels appeared recently in The New Yorker Magazine.
She also published a book of theological essays in 1998, with the title “The Death of Adam”.

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posted September 29, 2008 at 2:41 pm

I think I agree with the quote. (haven’t read the book)
Too many thoughts to put into words. Forgiveness is a campground with a private camping spot for each human being – we are all together alone in it.
Before I forgive someone who has hurt me deeply, understanding tends to blur with accepting excuses. To the degree that understanding frames the offense correctly, against exaggeration (obscure shades of Volf intended here – he worked against over- or under-exaggerating the offense of his abusers), then perhaps it is good. Seems to me that some offenses don’t have a much better explanation at their core than “I am a selfish sinner who did for me at the expense of you.”
I think that some of my least successful attempts to forgive have been tied to efforts to understand / explain. Some of my most successful attempts have come after simply declaring, “This person did x which has cost me y but I forgive him/her” – this before really feeling like it.
I would be curious to hear others express how they separate understanding – whatever that thought means to you – from making or accepting excuses.

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posted September 29, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Understand what? Understand the other person? Understand what’s behind the wounding? I think you can understand but not forgive, but when we do forgive, there is understanding that comes with it. I understand forgiving to be giving up my right for an eye for an eye. I understand forgiveness to be choosing to walk away from the wound, no longer visit it.

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Andie Piehl

posted September 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm

I read Gilead last month on my Kindle and have downloaded Home/ but have only read a chapter or two. I read before I go to sleep at night, but I wound up taking Gilead to work with me and reading it a lunch because I got so involved in it. I loved it and expect to enjoy the this new one, as well. I hope I do.
I second everyone’s endorsements of it.

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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm

How about a book without official chp divisions?! Defeats my sense of progress … and it makes me think Robinson wants me to feel that way.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm

This shames me as I started Gilead but got sidetracked elsewhere. Nothing against Gilead at all. I’m not a fiction reader, but I did find it interesting and need to pick it up and finish it.
I love this concept, “posture of grace”.

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karen spears zacharias

posted September 29, 2008 at 7:16 pm

I have just returned from a book trade show in Mobile, Ala, where I picked up the audio version of Home and the book. I listened to 5 of the CDs on the drive home yesterday. It is very well done, and I, too, am caught up in it. But mostly I’ve honed in on Glory and the frustrations she experiences in trying to be the good daughter and putting up with the wayward brother that she loves so, and resents even more.

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posted September 30, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Scot, after seeing at the beginning that there were only 2 chapters, if I my memory serves me, I really didn’t notice it. I did note that I was satisfied with the abrupt ending as it did. I hope in the future we get to meet his son in later book. Someone talked me into Edward Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, and I’m such a dog lover that I’ve found myself hooked on another novel, while Home sits on the table of contents on my Kindle ready to be picked up and finished.
I think I may have become a real novel reader again. There are many out there, but I haven’t read them in years. Now I can’t seem to find enough time to read as much as I want.

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tim atwater

posted October 1, 2008 at 9:42 pm

i read Gilead (and the short story “Kansas” in the New Yorker from it — straight out stunning) and besides being a beautifully told story it is still probably the most compelling (indirect) defense of Calvinist theology i’ve seen…
in a short piece i’ve seen by her since Robinson says she has been deeply moved by Calvin, Edwards, others since her college days… and in ways which i as a Methodist find oddly “progressive” (not in a linear or secular way)and persuasive…
Ever since, at least every other day i try to believe we are predestined for grace…
thanks for this posting! and the NYer ref above which i’ve copied to read…

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Ann Voskamp @ Holy Experience

posted October 3, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Compelling, to think we must forgive before we can understand, that forgiveness comes first. Be obedient first in the forgiving… and then we find what we seek: the understanding. Fascinating…
And echoes (perhaps?) of a quote from “A River Runs Through It”:
“For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with, and should know, who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Perhaps both quotes are saying the same thing? Love and forgive completely… even when we don’t understand completely.
And then maybe we will….

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