My book pile reveals a serious lack of attention to best-seller lists. I take note of them, but they seldom prompt me to chase down a newly-published item. I made an exception for The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. I couldn’t resist a subtitle like “A strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.”
Dreher, who is Eastern Orthodox, calls on Christians living in America to evaluate their beliefs, take them seriously, take a hard look at the prevailing culture, and prepare for tougher times ahead. Without resorting to panic or an apocalyptic tone, he offers a chapter-by-chapter accounting of various aspects of culture – education, family life, sexuality, politics, among others – and how they are now in radical opposition to authentic Christian life. He doesn’t write to complain, but to point a way to living in joy and confidence without accepting what he calls “cultural captivity.” “Love is the only way we will make it through what is to come.”
As someone whose professional life involves political engagement, I found Dreher’s assessment of the civic position of Christians compelling and accurate. Unlike some readers of The Benedict Option, I don’t interpret Dreher’s message as an exhortation to withdraw from civic life and into a shell. Instead, I hear him calling on us to reject fear and anxiety, and to keep in mind that our Creator is Lord of all. Civic engagement with that attitude would be a blessed antidote to a “horizon” that extends only as far as the next election.
In practical terms, Dreher calls for a return to the roots of Christian faith, to learn or re-learn what love and service mean, to recognize that there is such a thing as divine order. The formation of Christian communities will be a natural result not of fear, but of recognition of the things that are truly and eternally important.
Read the last chapter first. You’ll then be eager to read the whole book, to learn about the path that led to such a conclusion.
I spent a few recent weeks on Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. (Far in spirit from The Benedict Option!) Her sonnets leave me in no doubt of her gifts as a writer, and Savage Beauty invites even more exploration of Millay’s work. Nancy Milford, author of Savage Beauty, relies possibly too much on the reminiscences of Millay’s sister Norma. Millay’s own voice comes through nonetheless.
Found on the New Books shelf at my local library: John LeCarré’s The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life. LeCarré’s Smiley trilogy occupies a place of honor on my figurative bookshelf (which is actually a series of shelves, rooms, and piles), and I consider his The Honourable Schoolboy his supreme work. Now in his eighties, LeCarré has published a memoir of sorts for me to savor. The Pigeon Tunnel is not an autobiography or a linear narrative, but a series of episodes from LeCarré’s life that inspired some of the stories he’s written. I loved it.