A MOVEABLE FEAST (Ernest Hemingway)

Some say Hemingway did more to influence American writing in the 20th century than any other writer. His style is blunt but descriptive, not excessive like contemporary novelists Margaret Atwood or David Foster Wallace (both of whom I enjoy). It’s remarkable how much he can accomplish is so little space.

A Moveable Feast gets its title from a letter Hemingway wrote to a friend:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as s young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

The book is a memoir of reflections from Hemingway’s time in Paris, where he lived with his wife and son in the twenties. If you’ve seen Midnight in Paris, you’ll recall all the artists and literary figures that lived there in this period. Hemingway was right in the mix, living in poverty, betting on horses, spilling ink in cafes, drinking lots of wine, and sizing up the likes of Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald.

His observations remind me of the importance of place. Be present. God is EverPresent. You will discover a richer texture to life if you engage the now, the experiences and people right in front of you, the scents curling up from your hot sandwich, the crunch of your lays potato chips, the vapid look on a strangers face, the plea for attention in a child’s cry, the realism of food-encrusted dishes waiting for a wash. Life deserves a better look.

Anyone interested in writing will absorb insights scattered nonchalantly through the narrative. His realism fixes scenes in your mind with moral bluntness. His commentary on social classes, personal failures, and the human condition are brief but penetrating. I’ve found a writing friend, and I’ve so much to learn from him.

 

THE DRAMA OF LIVING (David Ford)

This is a creative work by a British theologian who integrates the poetry of Micheal O’Siadhail, exegesis in the Gospel of John, and personal reflection. It’s quite unique in this regard. Any integrative or constructive theological work is challenging. Ford succeeds in generating theological insights, honoring his poet friend, and passing on wisdom. A couple of examples:

One of John’s favorite phrases, “eternal life” is not so much about “life after death” as “life after the death and resurrection of Jesus”–life, with others, adding in him, loved by him, and loving him.

“We are invited to recognize that the full truth is ahead of us, not already possessed, and that the best way to enter into it is together, ready to be surprised.”

His emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit is dynamic, creative, and inspiring. Reflecting on the challenge of living, he writes:

Without a ready-made script, we all have to improvise. But what feeds into our improvisations?

We have been given a mind, will, body, and Spirit-dwelling heart to improvise in life. This is liberating, exciting, wonderfully human. We improvise every day but under what influence?

Ford notes that the characters who grip us most, return to over and over, will build into our consciousness and shape our character. Some of these may be literary or distant; others should be close and incarnate–friends. His use of imagery like knots, scripts, and poetic lines are formative for the reader and a good reminder how important it is for Christians, of all people, to engage the imagination.

Unfortunately, Ford imagines some things that aren’t there. Some of his exegetical work is questionable, leading to unorthodox theological conclusions. For instance, he tries to make the case that God can be called by feminine or masculine terms since the tetragrammaton, YHWH, is neuter. While it is true that God both affirms and transcends gender, taking liberties to call him by unrevealed feminine names such as “Motherhood” is a stretch.

Nevertheless, Ford’s call to relate to God in more creative ways is a good challenge. After all, in Scripture we see God described as light, flower, tree, mountain, dove, wind, and so on. There is so much more to God than our tight theological description allow.