I’m making a wager that books will lead us to the future.
Heartlands came about as a desire to understand the present age, particularly from the perspective of rural America and rural church ministry. In the beginning I was trying to figure out why the place where I live seemed suddenly so strange to me. Things had shifted, and not just because of an unexpected outcome to the presidential election. We had been shifting for some time and no politician could claim credit for creating the Great Divide.
What we lost was texture. Red and blue became easy stand-ins for the complexities of our culture and we let the color labels define us. We latched onto them as identity markers. Who we are, in all our contradictions and quirks, was less interesting than a convenient narrative that prevented us from observing and thinking deeply.
As I wrote in a piece for Topology magazine, “Rural is Plural,” there was a tendency in some writers from the coastal cities that sounded like they were writing off the heartland. The reason Heartlands is plural is because there is diversity here, too, that is unrecognized. So I began to search for the lens and the language that would help me bring it to sight and voice.
The surprising thing is that literature has become one of the most useful tools in that search. You know—books. Stories have the capacity to carry so much more freight than other forms of communication. Good stories don’t force the world into neat categories and simple morals. Characters in a book should always be able to surprise us because, like real human beings, that have complex motivations that they don’t always understand. That’s certainly the case for biblical characters.
So the jaunts this blog has taken into books and interviews with authors like Alix Hawley, Trudy Hale, and Arlie Russell Hochschild, and with the photographer Michael Mergen, have ended up not being diversions but central to the whole project. Perhaps the best language for an age that has destroyed truth is the vernacular of art, which is groping, not desperately, but confidently in search of new truth. It’s obvious that the old vehicles have broken down—science, politics, and the like. But the arts still sparkle – underfunded as they are.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice” — T.S. Eliot
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice,” T.S. Eliot says in ‘Little Gidding.’ So I’ll keep reading and writing, awaiting another voice. Literature may not be the fluff we have presumed it to be. It may the gateway to what comes next.