During a class discussion about Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, the question was asked, “How did a slow novel portraying a protestant minister in a good light win the Pulitzer prize?” Gregory Wolfe, the professor, suggested that the sincerity of the novel left critics shocked. He then spoke about the New Sincerity, which I had never heard about before. It is the idea that a new wave of honesty and simplicity is on its way to replace the current irony, self-consciousness, and jadedness of our culture.
He cited Sufjan Stevens, Gilead, Arcade Fire, and folk-nuevo bands like Mumford and Sons that earnestly sing about things they care about.
This idea gave me a lot of hope and excitement for the future and my generation’s role in it.
Today was the second day of classes. I am enrolled in Honors UFound (Christian foundations), a survey of music literature from ancient Greece to Bach, several music groups, and Topics in American Literature. The last class is taught by Gregory Wolfe, founder and editor of IMAGE, a prominent literary quarterly that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture. He is also director of SPU’s MFA in creative writing.
I wasn’t really expecting any strong cohesion between these courses because they are each from different departments: theology, music, and English literature. But something has already emerged. In UFound, we will divide into groups and focus on different major Christian traditions—I’m hoping for Orthodox. In the survey class, we will study church chants of different places and eras. And the first book we’re reading in the Am Lit class is Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. Mariette is right there on the cover experiencing ecstasy. I’ve received some odd looks. “She’s a nun,” I say, but that doesn’t change the looks.
The book is about a young woman, Mariette, who joins an order of sisters. SPOILER ALERT: Mr. Wolfe told us in class that she ends up with stigmata. There is so much tension building right now, in a weird nunny way.
The college search is hard for many people. Some lucky duckers know what they want to do and where they want to do it, only apply to that place, get accepted and attend. Others, like myself, have a vague sense of what they’d like to study and maybe a lead on a school they could be interested in. I thought that I’d like to study one of the liberal arts and I applied to eleven or twelve schools. Halfway through application season (January or so), I switched my intended major to music.
Some of my Christian friends have a strong sense of God’s will for their lives. Whether they use the phrase or not, you can tell they know—or at least think they know—which school God wants them to attend, what career God has prepared for them, etc. “God has a plan for you, and that is so beautiful and exciting!” This sort of language, although well-intended and true, confused me during my college search, and still does. The idea of ‘God’s plan’ wasn’t very comforting either, because I thought that it meant I had a one in twelve chance at choosing the Right School, and a similar chance at choosing the Right Major. There was a lot at stake and I didn’t want to screw my life up.
All right, close your eyes. Raise your hand if you think that sounds ridiculous and a little melodramatic. I see many hands in the air, belonging to agnostics, atheists, and believers alike. Oops, I raised my hand, too. Ok, hands down, hands down.
I still don’t understand the concept of God’s will, although I’ve learned that it involves a lot more freedom than I had previously thought. But I couldn’t see that in my senior year of high school. The fear that I could permanently remove myself from the Right Trajectory of Life added to my depression and anxiety, and was the cause of a couple panic attacks. I didn’t speak to anyone about this because I felt alone. Who would listen? Continue reading